Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Co-Opting

Calling me early in the morning, my mother is excited, enthused and troubled all at the same time. She vocalises a half dozen idioms about striking while the iron is hot, having a bird in hand, making a stitch in time and the hay while the sun shines. She cries something about the amazing turn of events that have swept the talking points of the tiny nation.
"Quickly," is her urging, "Quickly you must write some politically-minded material! Post it all over your blog! The time is ripe, it is oh so ripe! Post something that attacks this-that policy! Say something about the non-democratic nature of the government! You study this political science stuff, you'll think of something! Write! Write away! Write like the wind my son!"
She rambles loud and long and keeps telling me to write something political, and it will only be when she takes a breath that I can edge a word in: "Why this turnabout, oh mother of mine? Wherefore comes this change of heart/mind and worldview? You once discouraged every single political idea of mine, and now you encourage? Why?"
"My son my son," she speedily counters, "do you not read the newspapers? Do you not see that the Gayle-girl has become an overnight celebrity? There are rumours abroad that soon she will be taken up into the whirlwind of the establishment, to a high-paying job and a scholarship or somesuch great reward! She has challenged the establishment and the establishment has gallantly come back with a co-opting! Imagine, my son, a co-opting! A chance to join the establishment by espousing anti-establishment views! Fate would not be so kind! Oh opportunity of opportunities! Oh chance of all second-chances! Now you can upgrade yourself to superscales beyond the known alphabet! Now you can pay for that home that I can live in with you and your wife and your dog and yet there will be privacy and peace! Now you can pay for a real car, and not some weekend dalliance that restricts your every move! A promotion, oh sweet promotion! Write my son, write! Write in hope that they will see your criticism and smile upon you, sending the chariot of fire in your direction and catching you up in the wind of the heavens!"
"But mother," say I, "all my adult life [cueing a single bold tear down one cheek] I thought you had wanted my silence, my inaction, my apathy! And this transformation - this smacks of nothing but cold and calculative opportunism! I will come across as believing in absolutely nothing! I will come across as the shameful fair-weathered thinker, picking-choosing the opinions that suit the winds, playing to them for profit! There is no pleasure in that! There is no honour, oh mother! No honour at all!"
Silence on the end of the phone - she is thinking to herself about my sudden objection to her value system. A gulf between generations. A strange and unexpected think-for-himself moment. What would she say?
"My son my son, you decide what you want - whether you want to cling on to some silly thing called consistency in eyes of man and wider society or not. But you just remember that at heart you are still constant: you care for your family and that has never changed! Because you care for your family, you WILL do THIS to get a call up to a higher level of the establishment! Do so, my son! Do it, and you know that it is LOVE! Do it NOW and we will know that you love us all even more! Do it, and you shall be my one true son!"

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Idealism is Today, Apathy is Forever

My momma always said that if we were meant to think for ourselves, a government wouldn't exist to do the thinking for us.
She also said that if we were supposed to speak our mind, there wouldn't be so many different language and so many ridiculous slangs and accents and peculiar cultural expressions that made no sense to others from different cultures. She always said that if you didn't understand each other so often, then maybe we weren't meant to say anything in the first place. I asked my teacher about it one time and he said it sounded like Socratic silence. I checked what that meant with my momma and she said that if we were supposed to be learning from school, then why were we leaving it after taking an exam? After all, if it was that good, shouldn't we stay in school our whole life?
I asked my teacher about staying in school forever, and he said that was something called lifelong learning. When I told momma about it, she said lifelong learning sounded like some cheap attempt at earning money from people who thought they still needed to be in school (and momma said they didn't, obviously), and making them pay for things they wouldn't use and didn't need.
But my teacher said that we were all in school to make the world a better place, to learn and grow and contribute. He kept using the word 'contribute' the whole year long, and momma said it sounded like a seedy fund-raising attempt, for some new building for some bourgeois purpose like fine art or classical music or smarty-arty dramas which only rich people had the luxury to appreciate and blather on about.
So I took my teacher up on the whole 'make the world a better place' thing and I realised that it was about being idealistic - that it meant we hoped for (and worked really really hard for) a nicer, kinder, brighter society, one more civilized and more open to alternative points of view; one more embracing of different people, and one more discussive, consultative, and so on. I tended these ideas in my head and the swirled like shining objects, pieces of heaven, and the good life that would be if we fought for them.
I wrote letters and emails to my political leaders, urging them to change some of their policies - to be kinder to the aged, to implement something approaching welfarism (because we should be able to afford it), to allow freedom of speech during elections and not to censure blogging for any political discussion, to remember local talent and not let the foreign talent eat us alive, to remember the streaming system in the education ministry and how it fossilized strata in society and divided rather than united people, to never forget that an opposition voice was important and shouldn't be ignored, and to look carefully at offering people the upgrading of their homes as a carrot for re-electing the government. I put my heart and soul into all these things and spoke up all the time and did my best to rage rage against the system.
In the final analysis, all momma said was "my son my son, this is all pretty prose and big ideas that in the end mean nothing - your idealism is today, but apathy is forever... if you are apathetic you will survive, and if you stay out of the battle (choosing some, or really choosing none) you will live, and if you don't speak up you won't be noticed, and if you stay anonymous they won't accuse you of anything because you're slippery like a wraith- unknowable, unfathomable, non-existent and nowhere to be found - my son my son, this is the way that you will make it through this life - there is no use being pinned to an opinion that you will want to die for - there is no use being filled with all this youthful idealism when in the end, you know that older and wiser, years from now, you will look back on all of this and laugh at your silliness, mock your assumptions about the brittle ripple you are making in the big pond that is society - but it isn't a pond, my son, it is an ocean, and you are a bleeding-heart-pointlessly-vociferous teardrop in that ocean. Stop now. Idealism is Today, Apathy is Forever."

Saddened, I trudged to my room to survey all my hopes/dreams and blog entries about what I wanted to make happen. And I knew she was right.

And thusly I created this blog, a paean to apathy and not speaking your mind, and how it is a virtue to be nurtured and writ large across the fabric of the nation. I will keep writing, I will never stop, until all tongues are silenced, and all minds have quietened their inquiring, and all idealism has turned itself over to its impermanence and its inconsistencies, and died with the passing sickness of youth.

Apathy is forever.