Rootsie's European Roots  

The horror! The horror!  
July 31, 2003
By Rootsie

"And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic Mills?"

William Blake watched his city of London enter into modernity at the end of the 18th century. Like any good prophet, he envisioned the outcome of which he lived to see only the beginning, the factories fouling air and water, the grinding filth of poverty in the industrial age. With the first global satellite link in 1962, our planet gained the capacity to regard itself, and what did our eyes with grief behold but Mr. Blake's vision magnified and proliferated, everywhere the same strange fruits of modernity. If truth be told, there is not a fish on the planet safe to eat. And pity and mercy and charity, those things which Mr. Blake most despised, define the relations between rich and poor. In the West we have a middle-class blunted and narcotized by the creature comforts which pass for freedom, and they loathe the poor, who remind them too unpleasantly of where they come from, and inspire fear of where they might end up if they don't fall into line with this New World Order.

And all the time, the tiny minority with its lock on practically everything is crowing about progress and manufacturing imagery of the blinding light of earthly power, like the Enron headquarters, impudently thrusting its gleaming towers of steel and glass toward heaven in challenge to 'God', replacing 'God' with 'goods', 'prospects', 'the future'...

In 1830, Edgar Allen Poe created out of his own torment the literary genre of horror. Nathaniel Hawthorne joined him. Stephen King is their heir. It is an American horror, and it rose concurrent with the dawn of the Industrial Age. It is the shadow-image of all that those proto-capitalist Puritans enshrined in their theology of America, their 'City on a Hill', light of the world.

Poe's images of entombment, decay, and nightmares of utter darkness and absolute whiteness read like Jungian eruptions from the unconscious. They are the dark underside of this progress, these skyscrapers and cooling towers and rockets to Mars.

Horror is the soul's response to reality denied. Somehow the moral equation in this most morally trumpeting Western tradition has been lost.

We get misty-eyed over the nobility of our humanitarian mission in the world. We are singing in our chains. The sorrow songs of the black slaves are more appropriate to the time. Tell ole Pharoah let my people go. At least someone here has a grasp of reality.

The "God" who blesses America is no god I want dealings with, silent and distant and wrathful at turns, erupting at man-made scapegoats, partial and querulous, conveniently out-to-lunch when the really bad stuff goes down, conferring grace in the last moments of a depraved life, but unable to undo the damage done in the course of that life.

No wonder nightmare images compel Americans so:
monstrous aliens bursting tooth and claw from unsuspecting host-bellies, unearthly stalkers, flesh-eaters, blood-drinkers, the living dead. Throughout the history of Western contact with the nonwest, the invaded and conquered have experienced the white invaders this way, as parasites murdering their hosts, as vampires and consumers of human flesh, calling upon the same images Americans use to scare themselves silly.

In the same way that the Western media manufactures consent, it manufactures fear, and particularly xenophobia, the fear of 'the other', the stranger, the fears with which so many horror movies concern themselves.

Glued to the television, afraid to step out the door, people's fears are amplified and manipulated in order to create a benumbed acceptance of the very real horrors of the world: as long as I am safe I am okay. 'Homeland Security' has an Orwellian irony: we privileged ones in our cozy livingrooms by our very privilege are the instruments of horror for the rest of the world. And truly the most dangerous outsiders are those of us who insist on leaving our comfort zone to fraternize with those who are unlike us, meeting strangers,seeking reasoning, relation, cooperative meaning-making.

It is so simple, the way out of this horror. We live in the hearts of those we reach out to. We grow in the strength of living to bring goodness to others, and this is our natural state. Horror is a warning scream-"Danger Will Robinson!"-Wrong Way Do Not Enter. We are covered in gore from the nightmares of the CEO's in their spotless palatial homes and three-piece suits, with their lives of 'civic virtue', as they carve up the planet and sell pieces to the highest bidder. The real 'Freddies' and 'Chuckies' are so slick you never suspect them, you invite them right in. You wish your daughter would marry one.

We don't like talking about evil. We leave that to the 'religious fanatics.' We think it's good to have religion, but not too much, not enough so that it might actually change our lives. Rather than contemplating the evil effects of our way of life, we sublimate our anxieties through outlets that distract us from our complicity.

The only love we recognize is the love of the marketplace, where it is all about trade, acceptable risk, profit and loss. By not engaging with the truth of what is, we cheapen all of our sensibilities.

But real love keeps happening, and in every generation there are ones who bear witness to the beauty of lives lived in devotion to the truth.

This is the first time in human history that we can all see all of us, online and real-time, and this fact is, I am convinced, what will save us in the end. And the horror is a start-it pinpoints the problem, and the unease, the dis-ease, which calls for its cure. The solution does not lie in yet another 'purple pill', the magic potion which allows individuals to function competently in a dysfunctional society. Purple pills simply, make the horror go down better.

In Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, the imperialist adventurer Kurtz utters "The horror! The horror!" as his last words. He is not referring to the savagery of 'darkest Africa', of Congo where the novel is set. He is seeing into the heart of Europe's darkness which manifested in 8,000,000 murdered over 30 years, largely for the wild rubber that rimmed Mr. Goodyear's newly-invented tire. The horror Kurtz saw in Congo was the horror of his own self reflected, the horror of what the West had become.

I end this as I began, with Mr. Blake:

Is this a holy thing to see
In a rich and fruitful land
Babes reduced to misery,
Fed with cold and usurious hand?
Is that trembling cry a song?
Can it be a song of joy?
And so many children poor?
It is a land of poverty!

Truly, a most appalling moral poverty describes the condition of the Western soul. The last 200 years, 500 years, have been a nightmare, but it need not be mine. It is, do not mistake it, a conscious choice to move from the horror to a life of integrity and taking responsibility to stop having the way we live here visit untold horrors on others.


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