Friday, April 18, 2008

same old

whoever first suggested that the best thing to do with power was to give it away omitted the obvious rider: that this needs to be an endless event. it is not enough - having come to accept (as all but the hapless and insane needs must, in all conscience) that power is a poisoned chalice that as sure as eggs is eggs will corrode one's moral compass the longer one enjoys it - simply to pass the buck: the big question is not, to whom should one pass it (since passing it to anyone is akin to handing them a container of nuclear waste), but what to do with it, period.

it goes without saying that anyone who wants power - ie everyone who aspires to political office in any way shape or form - is as little to be trusted with it as a psychopath with a bazooka. the tricky thing for every aspiring politician is to assure an electorate that's desperate to believe that honesty in a politician is possible that they - uniquely in the history of global politics - might be that person, if we'd only give them the chance to prove it. the most successful actually believe this themselves (the art of politics being as much about self-delusion as about social deception) - I'm even prepared to admit that a lot of politicians go into politics because they passionately believe that their passionate beliefs, hitched to their starry-eyed idealism, might enable them to change things for the better.


it's hard to imagine that someone like Robert Mugabe was once a much-admired freedom fighter - a hero and a liberator in the eyes of his fellow Africans struggling to emerge from under the yoke of British colonial oppression. the path from hero to despot, alas, is all too well-trodden in the history of post-colonial statehood. almost certainly, if Nelson Mandela had remained in office as South African president, his mythical status as - uniquely - the only honest man in world politics would have become deeply compromised. whether Mr Mugabe's opposition successor-in-waiting, Morgan Tsvangirai might be able not only to rescue poor Zimbabwe from the economic ruin caused by Mugabe's inept leadership, but also to retain the supposed integrity of his position (as compared with the transparent gangsterism of Mugabe's administration) is 100% fantasy. once in power, Mr Tsvangirai would have to resort to exactly the same tactics as his predecessor in order to maintain any sort of order at all - the generals would just have different names. 'twas ever thus.

and - sad but true - it's hard to have to accept that looking back on the administration of a President Obama from some point more than ten years hence will be an exercise accompanied by any less sighing and grinding of teeth and more or less concealed mutterings about failed promises and disappointments than has followed in the wake of any one of the forty-three of the buggers. this is not cynicism. this is pragmatism, pure and simple. the only people who have anything good to say about ex-leaders are those who have benefited materially from either their economic chicaneries or their patronage. and it is they - if they happen to have influence with (or happen to own) the media - who decide the degree of hagiography that will henceforth apply to that person in the carefully constructed version of history that they will thenceforth inhabit.

now and again, however, we do arrive at a spectacular nadir of incompetence in our leaders of choice, and the examples of such catastrophes as a Mugabe or a Bush provide us with a future benchmark of failure.

so every cloud has a silver lining.

the best bit about the politics game, like Christmas and marriage, has always been the anticipation: the hope of future betterment on the new broom principle is enough to make the blood race and get us cheering for our candidate of choice. it is testament either to our obdurate optimism, hopeless laziness, or intractable stupidity that we continue to invest the collectively enormous power we have as a society in the palpably compromised hands of our so-called leaders. one day we might finally realise that this power thing is as superannuated as pack-hunting the woolly mammoth with flint spears - that power is to corruption as rat-fleas is to plague, and that maybe there are other ways of doing things that don't always end in tears.

Monday, April 07, 2008

the greeks had a word for it

as someone who has never needed a dog needing a walk as an excuse for taking himself for a walk as and when he felt like it (and is therefore doubtless considered at best eccentric and at worst - well, cry havoc and let loose the poodles of paranoia), it goes without saying that I don't 'do' sponsored: whether it be swims, runs, pub quizes, or we're all mad here gurnathons, count me out - what I do for fun, I do for fun, pure and simple, not tied to some delusional excuse that I'm actually doing something worthy at the same time.

it's become almost impossible to consider walking around the world, or indeed anything slightly more adventurous than picking your nose, simply because you feel like it, because you feel like having an adventure, any more - there always has now to be some specious charitable justification for anything that's considered in any way outside the box of normative, taxable behaviour - yet one more example of the triumphantly - and eye-wateringly cynical - rebranding of parsimony as philanthropy.

the ever-widening rift valley that keeps the ever-richening rich from having to have any truck at all with the ever-poorening poor is a landfill of reneged pledges planted with a minefield of excuses and evasions. that there should be such a shortfall between the functioning requirements of the health and education services, for example, (the two categories that spring to mind as seeming to be most commonly associated with fund-raising funathons) that they have come to rely on this regular income from sponsored haircuts and three-legged races bespeaks a doctrine of abject despair in regard to our commitment, as a society, to an equitable distribution of the common wealth to the common weal. clearly, tragically, given the choice of kicking the latest cabal of self-serving dickheads who presume to serve us out of office and back to the troughs they came from for failing to do so or helping some fake-titted and -tanned local TV newsreader airhead up the teetering career ladder by sponsoring her arduous and plucky attempt to stay awake through a repeat of last year's Eurovision Song Contest to raise funds for who cares what - we'll opt for the latter every time. it's become a cultural habit, through a very very clever piece of social engineering that's turned unofficial taxation into a feelgood whilst keeping us blind to the reasons why such extra taxation should be necessary in the first place.

I suppose if I were to try to explain this by suggesting that the only - the only - substantive purpose that slebs serve is to suck us dry of our own sense of self in order to serve theirs, which, in turn, is entirely and utterly in thrall to the relentless meatgrinders of the oil, pill, and war economies that sustain the culture that promotes them, you would (quite rightly) start looking at your watch and remembering a pressing prior appointment. it used to happen to Cassandra all the time. it happens to be true, is all. you know I'm right, really.

charity - as in Christian charity (and, presumably, in all its analogous pan-religious manifestations) - is by definition selfless - a quaint idea that got lost in all the me-me fun of the nineties. I'm not one to bash the book very often, but there is some stuff in there that's so sweet it bears as much repetition as any episode of the Simpsons. in the catchily-titled Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, for example, he talks about agape (Greek for selfless love - but you knew that of course) thusly:

*agape (chapter 13: verse 4)

* is longsuffering (i.e. tolerant, patient)
* is kind
* is free of jealousy, envy and pride

and (v 5)

* does not display unseemly behavior
* is unselfish
* is not touchy, fretful or resentful
* takes no account of the evil done to it [ie outwardly ignores a suffered wrong].

- and more of the kind, until verse 13, where he summarises, fairly famously, "And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love."

thus was born the central tenet, not only of the religious movement that dominated and defined Western culture for the next two thousand years, but of all subsequent spinoff notions concerning elevated interpersonal relationships that involve the use of the word 'love'. (confusingly, agape got translated as 'charity' when Jerome made a proto-bible in Latin from the original Greek in the fourth century, and that got carried over into the Authorised King James Version in 1611, but all that's best left to the theology scholars to explain.) it's something you either dig or you don't - the idea that love isn't on the market for trade of any kind: it's either freely given, unconditionally, or it has to be called something else. a surprising number of people don't subscribe - the ubiquitous pre-nup is evidence enough of that - for much the same reasons, I guess, as words like 'equality' and 'freedom' are bandied about as totems of belief in blatant defiance of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. the momentum of the commodification of everything is as near unstoppable as it's possible to be short of some sort of extinction event right now, but hey, who wants to live in a world where crazy men can't mutter to themselves and take solitary walks just for the hell of it?