Some thoughts about Integrity — Picking the Lesser Evil

Have I missed something?  Did those who read ghostwritten speeches on teleprompters even mention the word WAR?  The Economy’s been discussed and debated for years now – and all over the map – with rare mention of its leading expense. Taxes have been mentioned now and then, of course, though most of them go for the war(s).  Interesting.

P. W. Bridgman was a Nobel Prize-winning physicist with a philosophical bent. In his 1959 book, The Way Things Are, he wondered if it is even possible to live a life of integrity with the present make-up of society. He wrote: “If the contemporary individual wants to live a life of intellectual integrity he pretty much has to do it on his own. Society as a whole is not interested in this and in fact is often positively hostile.”  It seems to me, too, that language itself has been so violated and compromised that truth-telling is nearly impossible.  It’s always easier to lie than to tell the truth, and there are few incentives for integrity.

Therefore, we speak of voting for “the lesser evil.”  Therefore we feel entirely disillusioned, and we no longer expect honesty from the warring politicians. We watch with fascination – which the media stir up from even the most reluctant of us who are sworn not to waste our time with futilities.  Josef Goebbels himself couldn’t do a better job of brainwashing us into total submission.  We are going to admire and obey — or resent and rage — against the winner of the propaganda fireworks, but we’ll never really trust him.

“Considerations of the common good” will always be a myth. We have long since accepted the most nonsensical of pretentions:  we are willing to imagine, as with children hearing a fairy tale, that those who read from teleprompters statements assembled by dozens of researchers, consultants, pollsters, and ghostwriters are speaking deeply felt convictions.  As Holden Caulfield would remind us, it’s all phony.

There are many realities the public – and elected representatives — know but will not admit.  Naturally they know that it is foolish to risk their lives going about their daily activities vulnerable to any berzerker who goes roaming with an assault rifle.  But they are content to abide with the fictive assurance that an Eighteenth Century document insists that it be so.

I quote P. W. Bridgman again:  “…the individual must be prevented at all costs from saying out loud” many of our most obvious truths. “The political arena is no place for the practice of individual integrity…A wilful refusal to see things as they are is a more acceptable compromise than to be a martyr for integrity.”

Copyright (c) 2013 by David Ray    www.davidraypoet.com

                                                     IS GODZILLA BACK?

            In 1954, the movie producer Tanaka Tomoyuki, desperate to come up with a hit, posed a question: “What if a dinosaur sleeping in the Southern Hemisphere had been awakened and transformed into a giant by the Bomb? What if it attackedTokyo?” And he had his hit! 

            The fact that the movie and its comic book and toy spinoffs have been regarded as Grade B pop culture does not obviate the reality that inspired the film.  There are conferences devoted to the putrid old rubber lizard; fans seek his claw prints, just as starry-eyed Star Trekkers turn up at jamborees.  They collect kaiju eiga dolls and videos.  They swap signed pictures of stars. They download thousands of pages of trivia. 

            To Americans, Godzilla (Gojira inJapan) was an entertainment, but to a nation recovering from the attacks onHiroshima andNagasaki, the visions of supernatural demons, serpent deities inhabiting remote valleys, and dragons that could traverse water, land, and sky were conflated with the horrors of atomic weaponry.  Like the city-leveling eggs of woe that had been dropped from the Enola Gay, the image of a raging monstrous reptile reflected an angst-driven zeitgeist.  The atom was, to say the least, suspect.

            “The original Gojira was a sincere horror film, intended to frighten rather than amuse, which engaged honestly – indeed, even grimly – with contemporary Japanese unease over a mounting nuclear menace, untrammeled environmental degradation, and the long shadows of World War II,” wrote William Tsutsui in Godzilla on My Mind.  

            Yet there were already on the scene plenty of enthusiasts who were promoting the peaceful uses of nuclear power, as if a bargain could be negotiated with a temperamental deity. Thus Godzilla, if pacified and appeased, could bestow blessings. He would become a raging out-of-control tyrant, spewing deadly radioactivity and knocking down skyscrapers with flips of his tail only if inexpertly and disrespectfully treated.  

            Both apocalyptic visions and real events had for generations been reinforced by a history of earthquakes and volcanoes, typhoons and tsunamis, floods and landslides –  familiar catastrophes to the Japanese. But myths also had it that a dragon could be controlled. Like children awakened from bad dreams to be comforted by parents who had already fed them tooth fairies and Santas, people around the world were, and are, asked to trust authorities.  We have spin doctors who can convince us thatChernobyl, Three Mile Island, or even the present ongoing nightmare inJapancan be taken in stride and that risks are minimal. 

            Call us Luddites or not, there are doubters who are reminded of T. S. Eliot’s lines, “This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper.”  Bombs are, to be sure, big bangs, and there are many whimpering contributors to war, pollution in its myriad forms, and global warming. Godzilla and his fellow monsters don’t pay attention to good intentions. The question now is the same the Japanese posed years ago:  Can we make peace with Godzilla, or find other and less risky ways to satisfy our insatiable thirst for energy?

            With the triadic disaster of earthquake, tsunami, and meltdowns now advancing as if fed by mythical demons, I may not be the only citizen of the world who wonders if Godzilla is back – in our dreams and in the morning’s news.  

 Copyright (c) 2011 by David Ray

This article appeared in The Arizona Daily Star, 4/8/11

Last night at the University of Arizona Poetry Center a group of contributors to the new anthology, New Poets of the American West, gave a reading, and I read four of my poems, three of which were about recent events in Arizona. One of the poems, e.g., is about two “illegal” immigrants who were killed by a train after arriving successfully at the edge of Tucson. In the Hispano-phobic climate of Arizona today, this incident is, unfortunately, hardly unusual. Another poem, “Arizona Satori,” contrasts the wisdom of a silent saguaro with our own efforts at achieving clarity. The audience was particularly responsive to my dedication of these four poems to “ethnic studies,” a program that is being viciously attacked by politicians for clearly ideological reasons.

Regarding this issue of ethnic studies, I also sent a letter to the Arizona Daily Star about the ideological racism involved in attacking this academic program of the Tucson high schools. Obviously, my position is regarded as disrespectful to authority. This hostility to being outspoken reminds me of the “heat” I have taken because of my book, The Death of Sardanapalus and Other Poems of the Iraq Wars. When I was attacked for my meanness toward George W. Bush and his gang, I pointed out that I would quit attacking him when he quit attacking others. My rage didn’t take casualties, and I feel the same way about the vicious attacks on an academic program trying to bring dignity back to non-white citizens.

By the way, I still have a few copies of The Death of Sardanapalus, which you can order through my web page.

It’s 2011!

On this blog I plan to discuss ideas that I also explore in poetry, fiction and essays, and I’ll even share a few of my letters, both published and unpublished, to editors.