The Lion and the Ox: The Winter of Our Discontent

One Law for Lion and Ox is Oppression.

— William Blake

Where is the place of understanding?  Where is wisdom to be found?

The  Book of Job

Info coming at us at the speed of light—gigabytes per nano-sec—and our horse-and-buggy bio-chem brains struggle with ancient grammars, syntaxes and texts!  Even our metaphors are now wretchedly overwrought: Not, “how to connect the dots,” but how to perceive, measure, record and duck the shot-gunned info-pellets rushing at our faces!  No wonder the world has gone gaga—not Lady!—for predictions!  “The world is too much with us,” so maybe those Mayan calendrical types knew a thing or two.  Maybe Nostradamus.  Maybe Cayce.  Somebody must know something!

Last decade, in September, ‘07, I posted a piece called “Can the Left and Right Unite?”  That was long before President “Hopey-Changey” had risen on his rhetorical pinions just long enough to foist on the gullible–one of the best bait-and-switch” acts in U.S. political history.  It was a year before the Lehman Brothers “Great Recession” began; before TARP; before Europe’s implosion; before Tahrir Square; before the B.P. and Fukushima disasters; before the Tea Party and Occupy Movements; before Bin Laden’s and Saddam’s and Kim’s and Gaddafi’s demise, and Representative Giffords’ near-demise; before the Supreme Court sanctified corporate, financial, electoral control; before the National Defense Authorization Act, etc.!

Four years ago, the chief divisions in the country had to do with prosecuting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—and most Americans were united in thinking “terrorists” the enemy, but not sure how to get them.  Nobody had declared the American homeland a “battlefield” in the War on Terror—with all the ominous implications of such a designation.

Now, the war in Afghanistan slogs on, and the shadow of our wars in Mesopotamia will haunt us through the ages.  The possibility of war with Iran is a warmonger’s wet-dream now—and the sheets are gross and soggy.  Now, perhaps, it can begin to be said and heard: It was Bushwhackian, Rumsfeldian, Cheney-Reese and Powellesque, Pearle and Wolfowitz idiocy to attack Iraq; and our heedless diversion and waste of resources has helped to bankrupt us financially and morally.  We’ve continued to hammer, frack and bomb our egg of a planet and now we’re dancing on a thin eggshell—and we’re mostly tap-dancing alone, not waltzing with a willing partner.

Not impressed by Obama’s card-shark, Mac-the-Knife routine, I sat out the last presidential election and urged others to purposively—not apathetically–do so, too.  But that was then.

As of now, there is only one candicate for whom I’d seriously consider voting.

The main reasons are: (1) He’s the only one who talks about our over-extended “Empire.”  He actually uses that word!  (2) He’s the most anti-war.  He talks about employing diplomacy a lot more and military force a lot less.  Give brains a chance!  (3) He is the only candidate who wants to abolish the Fed—and offers sound reasons for doing so.  (4) He presents well-reasoned arguments, not “9-9-9” style gibberish.  (5) He has argued his beliefts carefully and consistently for decades.  (6) His personal life has been a model of good citizenship and family values.

I’m talking about Ron Paul, of course, and I can hear the clamor of my “progressive” (formerly, “liberal”) friends wondering if I, too, have lost my prayer beads.  So, here’s my take: If we lived in a truly “free” society, where the masses had access to the skinny about how the System works, the high and growing levels of corruption and decadence in every branch of our government—federal, state, local—and if we had an educated working class, making the best-informed tactical and strategic moves to advance common values, able to work their way through the morass of media-corporate-government hype and propaganda… I’d say, Hold off, final victory will be ours!

But nothing today smells remotely like that!  This is not Sweden, Iceland, Switzerland, nor is it Never-Neverland where people don’t grow old and sick and tired and die.  We are a globe-straddling Empire, imposing our lifestyle and disposing of our opponents with engineered coups and revolutions, and our modus operandi is more akin to Tony Soprano’s than to the amorphous “good guys” we esteem ourselves. Surveiling and managing the planet, in ways that are often nasty and devious, we are well along the usual trajectory of past “super-powers”: expansion, over-expansion, attacks abroad and crumbling infrastructure within, and, finally, kaput, nada, nada y nada! 

We’ve always been an Empire—check out latter correspondence between Jefferson and Adams. … Our nastiest business, our Civil War, had a lot more to do with managing the newly acquired Western territories—agrarian or industrial motif?—than with freeing slaves.  (Do we really think recently arrived Irish immigrants wanted nothing more than to get drafted into “Mr. Lincoln’s War”?  Check out the New York City draft riots for a quick refresher!)

We like to tell ourselves we’re the kind of people who only go to war for noble reasons, but the fact is… we’ve been the most successful conquerors in human history and we’ve stirred up hornet’s nests everywhere.  We have been the “Now” people, barely looking back, whose forward motion has been propelled by carrots dangled by illusionists.

When the present moment is as slippery as this one, people are apt to take solace in nostalgia for simpler times or in  fantasizing a better tomorrow.  (When miscreants like Newt Gingrich are taken seriously as “historians,” you know we’ve got serious problems about learning from our past!)  About “tomorrow”–we’re a species condemned to hope.  Hope and Imagination are always “leaps of faith,” but they work better when they are informed.

Eighteenth-century “Romantic” poet Blake was on the cusp of England’s Industrial Revolution—and he didn’t like the smell of things!  A visionary from childhood, seeing angels in trees, he thought anyone could be a prophet… so long as they carefully examined life whirling around them and life within.  “Truth can never be told so as to be understood, and not be believ’d,” he wrote.  Two hundred years later, our crystal balls are murky and all our messengers are suspect.

As we spin out of whirligig 2011 into the free-fall gravity of 2012, about information-overload, we may cry out with Job, “Where is the place of understanding?  Where is wisdom to be found?”

The U.S. has done some terrible things in this world and some would say we’ve been in a kind of karmic blow-back since 2001.  We collectively grieve, rightly so, at the horror of a woman losing her parents and three children in a Christmas-day blaze in Connecticut.  How senseless, tragic and bizarre!  Can a loving God permit such horrors on Christmas day?  To understand the kind of tragedy that has befallen Iraqis since our invasion and continuing occupation, one would have to multiply the Stamford horror about 1 million times over the past eight years!

Not because he has done evil, but simply to test and prove his faith and goodness, Job’s children and grandchildren are killed, his cattle killed, and he is cursed with boils.  And his wife asks, “Dost thou still retain thy integrity?  Curse God and die.”  She is empathetic; she sees her husband’s searing wounds and advises him to choose the oblivion of death instead.  Job tells her to stop talking foolishness; he will suffer much more, if need be.  And…, he does.  And before it all ends with a show of force and a little more info—straight from the Whirlwind’s mouth!—about how things really work, Job tells his three comforters (really, intellectual tormentors), “Till I die, I will not remove my integrity from me.”

“Integrity” is the key word in this extraordinary, pre-Grecian drama.  And if we are going to get through our next pivotal year intact — and, very likely, re-constituted — it is essential that we understand that concept the way it was meant back then.  It is similar to our word “integer” or single unit, and its meaning has a Taoistic, Asian flavoring rather than our looser, modern sense of “general honesty” or “decency”—difficult and noble as those virtues are.  Rather, the sense here is of “wholeness.”  Job can no sooner remove his identity than he can remove his skin.  His integrity is all-of-a-piece with whom he is—his identity, his being.

Now for Blake: the ox has his “integrity” being an ox, and the lion his just being him.  Both are powerful with legit claims on the world to sustain them as they are and wish to be.  You wouldn’t want to pull a wagon with two lions and you wouldn’t want to take down a wildebeast with a couple of oxen.  Each has its place, each does its thing; and if the lion can lie down with the lamb, he can also lie down with the ox.

Everywhere one looks in the world today one sees tension and divisions, strife, a lack of clarity, and a constant resort to the dialogue of guns, knives and bombs.  Did we fight the Cold War only to inherit a world gone mad, dividing along ancient fault-lines—Sunni/Shiite, Jewish/Muslim, Christian/Muslim–and along new ones of class?  Half of all Americans are at 200% or less of the poverty level for a family of four.  To put it another way, fifty percent of us are not “getting by” or just barely getting by, and most of those who are “better off” are scared as hell.  And people who are scared are easily manipulated—especially when doused with fear of foreign threats.  (Just ask Goebbels!)

Amidst the maya of illusions and delusions, we stumble along in our made-up world.  We can only see through a glass darkly, and the glass is a fifty-inch wide-screen HDTV with surround sound—and 3-D is coming!  Amidst the maya, we lose precision in our language, our discourse, our thinking, our literature, our relations with each other, with the powerful and with the downtrodden.  Professor Gingrich, commenting on Herman Caine’s alleged sexual abuses, remarks that he is “sorry for he and his famly.”  That’s it!  I’m outta hea’!   Here’s a guy who brags about being an “historian” and the two dozen books he’s written, and he doesn’t know the objective case of pronouns?

I don’t put much stock in American elections anymore.  (Maybe we need “international observers”… but who do we trust?)  The best one can hope for is what Ed Sullivan would call, “a really good shew.”  We put far too much faith in the figurehead of our president when our history since Kennedy should have shown us that even a top banana can be easily peeled—exploded in the public square, and then re-packaged as an aberrance, anomoly, a myth.  So now we’re stuck with this: Even an election victory that championed populist values of both the Left and the Right would be hemmed in by thousands of special interests and lobbysists, not to mention billions of contrapuntal bucks!

That’s what we’re up against… and any New Populist campaign must recognize those electronic realities.  Nevertheless, such a campaign would mean a voice raised and heeded.  It would mean a resurgence of resistance to the Neoliberal agenda of war and exploitation that both Left and Right can now oppose.

The best reason for the lion and the ox to collaborate is, ironically, to maintain their integrity!  Because the Corporate State is rapidly robbing all of us of cherished core values like “live and let live,” a “helping hand,” “all in the same boat” and the “individualism” essential to thinking and acting without duress.  The media mish-mash of sounds and images adds to the kaleidoscopic confusion, and no one seems to have remembered to unwind a string as we approach the Minotaur’s lair.

The real enemy of Occupiers and Tea-partiers is not the other guy, but the faraway robotic types guiding the predator drones above our global rafters.  How do you make sense of it all when you’re beaten down and scared of losing your home, your job, your health, your family?

For years I was for a woman’s right to choose… and I still am.  But, when I heard Paul speak of his experience as a young doctor, going into one hospital room where an aborted fetus had been unceremoniously discarded and walking down the hall into another where every effort was being made to save a mother and her life-endangered baby… I saw his opposition from another point of view, and felt the sincerity of that point of view.  Now, to counter-argue, one might say that to prevent the need for abortions better sex education should be available.  And that adoptions should be encouraged, etc.

Better sex education… and better every kind of education!  Had we not fallen so notoriously behind in our test scores, we might not be in the mess we’re in now.  Had we paid attention to the infrastructure of education, bridges, public utilities, transportation and communication, the Arts, we’d be able to get through this next hell of a year standing together, with a lot more equanimity.

“Opposition is true Friendship,” Blake wrote.

The “separation of Church and State” that Americans cherish was never meant to be a separation of morals and the State.  Yet, it is our moral core, our “integrity,” that has been lost amidst the funhouse mirrors of commercialism, consumerism, militarism, ethnocentrism, more and more and more.

In this winter of our discontent, the war clouds gather and austerity miseries grind the souls of those who have no homes, or broken homes.  We’re in a poisoned mine shaft and the canaries are singing. … Can we interpret their varied notes in time?

Gary Corseri has published articles, fiction, poetry and dramas at hundreds of venues worldwide, including, Dissident Voice and The New York Times. He has published novels and collections of poetry, edited the Manifestations anthology, and his dramas have been produced on PBS-Atlanta and elsewhere. He has taught at US public schools and prisons and at US and Japanese universities. He has performed his work at the Carter Presidential Library. Gary can be reached at: gary_corseri@comcast.net. Read other articles by Gary.