Tag Archives: Icarus

Homage to Catalonia.

20 Dec

Come close to my clamour,

people fed from the same breast,

tree whose roots

keep me in prison,

because I am here to love you

and I am here to defend you

with my blood and with my mouth

as two faithful rifles.

— Sitting upon the Dead, Miguel Hernandez.

(An edited version of this essay appeared on mylaw.net)

The Spanish Civil War is a bellwether for humanities geeks. For most, it was just one more brutal event in a brutal decade: with things like the Holocaust and atomic bombs to report, how interesting are a bunch of anarchists running around trying to change the world? There are a smattering of those in every war. For us nerds, however, the war means much more: it was a harbinger, a prophecy, a betrayal. This was as true at the time it happened as it is now; which is why all the eccentrics and writers of the world were drawn to the battle like moths to a flame. It was a war in which, as Auden once wrote, poets exploded like bombs.  Think back to any mid-century poet or journalist, and odds are they were annealed by fires across Spain. Orwell describes a very cosmopolitan Catalonia, brimming with Italians, Frenchmen, Germans, Poles, not to mention the Russians; Neruda, for that matter, made his way all the way from Chile. Spain, too, offered up her own literary sacrifices: Lorca, killed by Franco in Granada; Miguel Hernandez, lost to prison and pneumonia.

Orwell was amongst the first wave of these adventurists, and Homage to Catalonia is a bitter love-story about the country and the ideals he was determined to save. It begins in 1936, when Orwell first joined the POUM militia on the Aragon front, and closes in 1937, when he is running from Barcelona with the police, as he put it, one jump behind him. The story of how a soldier became a traitor is the story of Homage to Catalonia.

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Via Media

4 Jul

I was once asked to comment on a paper called “How to Subvert Democracy: Montesinos in Peru” in law school.

Montesinos was the Head of Intelligence in Peru in the ‘90s, when Fujimori was in power. Via SIN (how’s that for evocative language?), he bribed his bosses’ way into power. He paid off parliament members, judges, newspapers, and news television channels – this last he paid the most money of all. The authors provide several  explanations:

  • Television channel owners are generally richer than the average politician. In an endemically corrupt system, they get box seats.
  • Channels  influence public perception more than individual judges and senators do.
  • He had to buy all the news channels in order for his control to be effective, while he just needed “enough” judges and politicians.

Finally, they argue the fourth estate — gagging the press amounts bypasses democratic institutions, and thus a democracy produced a dictator. All fine points that miss something basic. Fujimori wasn’t a dictator.  He was formally elected, and not by a banana republic margin, even if he did wrangle himself a third term in power.  Once Peruvians found out about the scandal, he obligingly ran away. Besides, tyrants don’t pussyfoot around buying off television channels. They kill offensive journalists.

The capture of the media isn’t something Montesinos dreamt up, and it isn’t a symptom of corruption. It is a symptom of governance in sufficiently “evolved” societies. It undermines democracy, but that’s only relevant if one separates the idea of democracy from the working of democracies. Fujimori wasn’t a dictator, he was Eco’s Man from Television, an early model Clegg or Obama.

This is a president intent on charming the pants off the gullible, and the tragedy is that so many of these people exist. Democracy was to free us of the personality cult and encourage debate on policy. So where did all the skeptics of the liberals’ fond imagination go? Where are all those American people who should be wondering right about now why their country has such mystifying foreign policy? Why aren’t there more? Cos they’re all watching Gossip Girl and Survivor: Tiny Island. What about all the Indians who should be wondering why our government puts people into ghettos? We, too, are watching Gossip Girl, but then we live within an empire, so ’tis to be expected.

For decades, people like Guy Debord have warned us of the difference between spectacle and symbol, of the inhumanity in being an audience to suffering. I won’t go into the whole capitalism-alienation-apathy argument here, but surely tis evident that the mass media isn’t geared for a thinking citizenry. If a thinking citizenry is what democracy demands, we doom ourselves to failure. This isn’t subversion of democracy, it is annihilation, and it happens everywhere.

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