Esteemed Reader: March, 2004 | View From The Top | Hudson Valley | Hudson Valley; Chronogram
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Esteemed Reader: March, 2004 

“If you wish to see the truth
then hold no opinion for or against anything.”

—Hsing Hsing Ming

As I stood on line at the café today glancing at the New York Times, I looked up to see an acquaintance eyeing the headlines.

“So, what you think about the Democratic primaries?” he asked.

The man had a tone of repressed hopefulness, like someone who expects the worst but secretly anticipates the best. And his question carried the assumption that I, as publisher of a magazine that expresses a political point of view, harbor a corresponding degree of concern and opinion. He was wrong.

“There are several answers to your question,” I began. “First, the Bush cadre is a band of ruthless criminals that has already demonstrated it will stop at nothing to gain and hold power and to further its self-serving agenda of waging illegal wars of aggression on sovereign nations and US citizenry. So it’s clear that they will lie, cheat, and steal, using anything from electronic vote-rigging to assassination and staged terrorist attacks to ‘win’ the election in 2004. As far as I can tell, the Democratic primaries are irrelevant.”

He nodded solemnly.

“But this is not important,” I continued. “It is simply the work of machines within a machine. For all intents and purposes, free choice doesn’t exist. I mean, did you see The Fog of War, the documentary about Robert S. McNamara, the Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War?”
“I sure did!” he replied brightly. “During the war those of us who really saw its stupidity and horror considered McNamara to be the ultimate villain. But in the film he seemed like a really sensitive and intelligent man.”

“Exactly. He was an intelligent, charismatic, and loyal cog in a machine, and these apparently positive traits were his failing. In his eagerness to be helpful to his President and country, McNamara was oblivious to the horror of his deeds not because he was evil, but because, like all of the world’s great villains, in his ignorance and buried conscience he thought he was doing good!”

“Do you mean to say that criminals aren’t responsible for their crimes?”

“It isn’t so simple. We are all machines within machines. We don’t have any real choice because we are asleep, dreaming dreams about who we are, where we are, and what we are to do. It is a world of sleepwalkers dreaming our lives, very much like the plight of humanity in The Matrix. The politicians with their fingers hovering over the nuclear missile launch buttons are some of the most deeply asleep.”

“Well then, it seems like the whole system must be flawed.”

“Yes, our institutions are vestigial and meaningless. Particularly politics. Clearly the changes required to avert a planetary disaster will not be accomplished politically. The system is too, well, political.”

“What else is there?”

“What’s more to the point is what we do personally. We suffer under the illusion that our ‘opinions’ about issues predefined for us by the government and media matter one whit. They don’t. What matters is that we strive to get free of our own automatism, to wake up and look for what is truly relevant and important.”

He looked anxiously toward the counter. Just then the coffee orders came up and we took our cups to a table.

“You know,” he said, “what you’re saying is pretty radical.”

“Yes. Revolutionary, even.” I pressed forward. “Listen,” I said, “remember the blackout last summer?”


“What was the atmosphere?”

“It was unnerving…but it was kind of nice. I got together with some friends and made dinner by candlelight.”

“Exactly. Without the computers, televisions, canned air, and music, people actually began to relate to one another. There was a feeling of anticipation and togetherness on the street. All the pressure of commerce and personal advancement was released for a few hours and we actually connected with one another. There were even people playing music on the streets—something I’ve heard less and less in recent years. People got out of their shell of perpetual fantasy and started relating to something real.”

“But don’t you think politics matters?” He sounded a little desperate.

“The problems facing humanity now don’t have a political solution. Globalism failed because it became clear that economic expansion has limits. Now we return to an archaic and vestigial nationalism. This will fail also. The change that is needed will arise when people begin to relate to one another in a really interdependent and conscious way. This cannot be legislated. It will only come about when we are forced to do it because the infrastructure fails, or because, seeing that the need to awaken is necessary and desirable, we choose it. That would be a real choice.”

My friend and I had a long, deep look into one another’s eyes. There was a tacit understanding that nothing further need be said. We stood up from our table and ventured into the day.

—Jason Stern

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