Thursday, November 10, 2005

Gil Scott-Heron Posted by Picasa

The Revolution Will Be Live

The Revolution Will Be Live

The current story line of Doonesbury features young Alex in a college search back at Walden with her father. The story line resonates with my reflective mood coming up to my fiftieth birthday. It's another reminder of the then and the now.

In 1970 Gil Scott-Heron released “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” either depending on perspective a key composition of the civil rights movement or a coda to it. Scott-Heron is considered one of the godfathers of rap music and rap is a good-enough cultural artifact placing me on the far side of the generational divide. I-Pods have proved that 2000 songs are only a portion of the songs we all remember. For many of us of a certain age “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” is contained in our mental juke box if not our I-Tunes list.

Now with our buttoned downed lives talking about “revolution” feels as embarrassing as talking about our inflamed hemorrhoidal itch. Maybe Preparation-H commercials have so saturated our consciousness to relive us of embarrassment, if not the itch. The really embarrassing thing is not that we given up any pretense of fomenting insurrection, but that we have given up imagining a building a better world.

Charles Glass in November's Harpers contrasts the zeitgeist of London during the dark days of the Blitz with the aftermath of July's transit bombings. Glass writes:
By war's end, more than 40,000 Londoners had been killed in German bombing raids. The rest 'got on with it.'
The paralysis July's bombing inflicted on today's Londoner's is in stunning contrast to the normalcy with which Londoner's of a previous generation had conducted themselves while withstanding a staggering assault. On a single day near the end of the war, May 10, 1941, Germans dropped over 100,000 incendiary bombs on London.

Present day concerns for terrorist attack are certainly warranted, but our fear seems out of bounds. There must be more underlying our extreme feelings of insecurity than Al Queda. Glass points out that 1940's Londoners “believed they would forge a better world after the war.” Perhaps our fears of terrorists are so extreme because our imaginations have turned dark.

A couple of nights ago while thinking of a post the electricity went out leaving me in the dark just as my telephone began ringing off the hook. The electric is back, but the phones are still out. As I write this I'm waiting for the telephone company and hoping I'll be able to post this afternoon. I'm fine, so why does my temporary lack of telephone service seem like such a big deal? It seems the recent rough weather has undermined our confidence in the industrial civilization we all depend. Being with out phone and Internet is a trivial inconvenience, but a reminder that so much of my life is tied to the sprawling network of our industrial society, and have no desire to enter another dark age.

On November 2 the Washington Post's Dana Priest wrote an article revealing CIA detention facilities located in at least eight countries around the globe. Few in the government know anything about them. Administration sources told Priest that to acknowledge the program:
[C]ould open the U.S. Government to legal challenges, particularly in foreign courts, and increase the risk of political condemnation at home and abroad.
Priest's sources, of course aren't divulged, and Senator Majority leader Frist and Speaker of the House Hastert have promised an investigation into the source of the leaks. But Senator Lott pointed out with some authority that almost certainly the leaker was a Republican who learned about the detention programs during Vice President Cheney's trip to Capital Hill to lobby against enactment of legislation which would prohibit torture of detainees. Maybe Lott misspoke or his statements misconstured. But is there really any doubt where our government stands in re torture?

President Bush proclaimed in Argentina early this week: “We do not torture” a talking point taken up by Senator Kit Bond on PBS Newshour while advancing the importance of retaining secret interrogation techniques the pending legislation might constrain. To the Senate's credit a bill requiring that treatment of detainees be governed by The Uniform Military Code passed with 90 votes in favor. The House has not taken up legislation and some fear Hastert will delay any consideration so a vote can be held just before the Christmas recess allowing President to use a pocket veto. This political calculation, whether that's what they intended or not, isn't at all far-fetched. Americans are hunkered down and seem willing to let torture pass with a wink and a nod.

Discussions of torture generally turn to “the ticking bomb” scenario; asking hypothetically whether it's legitimate to torture someone strongly believed to know the whereabouts of a nuclear explosive hidden in some American city attached to a timing device. Hypotheticals aside, we know a little of the techniques Senator Bond is so determined to protect, it's apparent there's a pattern of sexual sadism involved. We've seen the bodies smeared with feces, heard the reports of prisoners doused with “menstrual blood,” and again and again about objects shoved into the rectums of detainees.

Digby declares, “We've become the Serbs.” The Serbs, however, took to the streets and through political action ousted Miljkovic and sent others packing to the War Crimes Tribunal. What's the likelihood of that happening in today's America? In the dark days of the Yugoslavian civil war there were few indications politics would triumph. Without NATO intervention, it's anyone's guess whether political action would have succeed. Still, if we Americans are the Serbs, at least we have to admit the possibility of our coming around. Can we together say loudly: torture is wrong? That requires a stretch of imagination, but I don't despair.

It's thirty-five years since Scott-Heron's “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” Substance abuse and living have taken their toll, but Scott-Heron has managed to produce a large oevere and is still at it. As I contemplate turning fifty the appearence of muscians and personalities of my younger days sometimes seems a little strange, as if I imagine them frozen in their youthful bodies; or that I imagine myself so. Living ain't easy, but I'm still loving living. Scott-Heron's lyrics still contain their wit and the bald truth. The revolution will not be televised.

Living requires action. Kurt Vonnegut made the observation recently on TV, "we're dancing creatures." We're creature who require imagination because we are capable of wise and despicable actions and only our imaginations determine which. We can imagine a brighter tomorrow and find happiness in endeavoring to make others happy. Or we can cower in fear and ignore what's best in us. Either way Gil Scott-Heron words are true:
The revolution will be live.


Kaunda said...

It seems in the comments that live links aren't supported, so it's a matter of copy and paste if you want to link to the articles. James Wolcott, and editor a "Vanity Fair" always has pithy comments at his blog Wolcott is a progressive and also a reader of a Libertarian-oriented Web site. Quite a useful site it is as it provides links to news articles around the world. And provides commentary. Paul Craig Roberts has strong anti-war opinions and it's nice to be reminded that there's a long and vital stream of that within Republican party history. Roberts was the writter I loved to hate during the Reagan years in the "Economic Viewpoint" column of "Business Week." I'm not sure where I peg myself politically. When it comes to the matter of the Republicans and five Democrats lifting habeas corpus this week, I'm with Roberts against that. More to the point, I'm with Senator Specter who characterized his opposition to the bill as "conservative." So maybe I'm conservative--probably not.

mark said...

The Revolution will not be televised .. it will be on line! It is blowing our hair back, streaming past our senses. Look at the numbers. This giant is stirring. Thanks to bright, clear voices like yours - keeping their local comunity pumped, forward looking, and alive.

Things will get ugly. Race, sexual orientation, fear of science, and anything else the NASCAR crowd will fall for will be trotted out. ... but if this giant stirs ... what a powerful force for ... correction it could be.

Africa is a clear mirror for our understanding of the world and ourselves, as we cower in fear of inconvienience, and revel in the titelation of remote threats.

This morning ... a dazzeling morning .. I steped out to pick up my PG and NYT and breathed deep of the peace and security, comunity, and stability of my little part of Polish Hill. Then I wondered if someone in Bosnia, or Somalia, or Darfur, .... or London before the war ever drew such a contented breath.