Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Oozlum protocol

David Seaton's News Links
Yesterday, I wrote about Stanley Anne, Barack Obama's mother.

Her life and the life of her children, which, if you have lived in expatriate communities as much as I have, are not that unusual or exotic, sadden me. Some unbreachable loneliness, some endless purging of context, of freedom as a curse more than as a blessing.

All of it is deeply familiar to me and it brings back memories of dozens of Americans: families, broken, half-families and wandering individuals that I have known over the years. Some of them, when I ever think of them, I miss. Ships that pass in the night. Many farewell dinners. Too many.
Take my true love by her hand lead her through the town
Say goodbye to everyone goodbye to everyone
She and her children are people I could have easily known; I think I would have liked Stanley Anne and I imagine she would have liked me too; intelligent, flakey people with a sense of humor often have.

Being a Celt, certain types of sadness are pleasurable for me in a way similar to the Portuguese "saudade," and I tend to nurse melancholic feelings along to see what juice they have in them.... Melancholy is like the dear pig, all of whom, except for his death screams, is either useful or delicious.

Thinking about Stanley Anne and ruminating on the sadness her story dredges out of me, I remembered something that Felipe González, the former president of Spain, and an extremely intelligent and perceptive man, once said about Americans.

I'm quoting from memory, González said something like, "Americans are sad people, I find them touching" (me enternecen). My first reaction was to find his remark condescending and offensive, but after thinking about it at length, I decided he was right.

What is this sadness, where does it come from, what is it about?

Everybody, even Thomas Friedman, has read that bit in the Communist Manifesto, describing the action of capitalism on society that goes, "All that is solid melts into air" The full paragraph goes like this:
The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It ... has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment” ... for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation ... Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones ... All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind. (emphasis mine)
Taking that as my text, I would preach that as America is and always has been the absolute vanguard and the world's most enthusiastic advocate
of capitalism, logically no other people have ever felt capitalism's effects half as directly or half as powerfully as Americans have. If we add to that the deracination of the process of immigration, then we also talking about people who have had all the defenses and the retarding effects of "feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations" already stripped from them when they arrived. More than even the British who invented it, Americans therefore stand naked before the forces that "melt all that is solid into air" with all that is holy profaned.

That leaves the American "at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind". How to avoid that self-examination is the central task that Americans have set for themselves.

This has led to a frantic search for new "veils of religious and political illusions" to make all of this contemplation of "
his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind" bearable.

The man and his companion whose statue grace this post are symbols of an industrial effort at distraction from the "naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation" and the "uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation" which make up the actual warp and woof of our lives.

The consolation would be that since American society has advanced far further on this road than any other, if capitalism is ever to take the path of the Oozlum Bird*, it will be in America first. DS
*The Oozlum bird, also spelled Ouzelum, is a Legendary Creature found in Australian and British folk tales and legends. Some versions have it that, when startled, the bird will take off and fly around in ever-decreasing circles until it manages to fly up itself, disappearing completely, which adds to its rarity. Other sources state that the bird flies backwards so that it can admire its own beautiful tail feathers, or because while it does not know where it is going, it likes to know where it has been.


RC said...

Being Irish, Portuguese and also an ex-pat, I definitely absorbed the vibe in the first part of your post and while I am not so sure of the usefulness or desirability of saudade, which is the human condition and not just Portuguese, Celtic or Brazilian, it's hard to deny that it exists. Hell, it hangs around me no matter what I do. But then you move on into the Marxist realms and the Oozlum phenomenon and I can't relate.
I think exploitation has been around far longer than the idea of America {US} or the bourgeoisie. Is it OK on this blog to disagree intensely with Marxist Theory? Old Karl definitely seems to be one of your pets, and hey, it is your place here, but really, if his theories and their application were all that great, I think by now he would have at least a few successful governments modeled upon his concepts. And they would be....? As for Walt and Mick I believe they are straight out of the Barnum Branch of American exploitation. I believe you would place Obama somewhere upon that same continuum. I have no problem with either your classification or their activities. I think all of that is legal. But, yes, it does arouse the saudade in my person. In fact, most of the activities of humankind are rather depressing.

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

What I mean RC, is that the system that melts the solid into air is much farther advanced in America and the population, because they are the descendants of uprooted immigrants are more vulnerable and "meltable".

RC said...

I think that being the emigrants from other places, so many US citizens and want to be citizens are much more prone to realize when the good times are all gone and it's time for movin' on. The mystery for me is why they haven't. So, on this score, I would have to say, based on the facts, your theory works, mine doesn't. I returned to the US for a week long visit in 2005 after being absent from the country completely for 18 years.
I traveled and made stops from NYC to Connecticut and then all the way down to North Carolina, by car. In answer to my question {asked of everyone, family and strangers alike} what the hell is going on here?, everyone said "What?". I quickly came to realize it was the frog in the slowly heating pot phenomenon. No one seemed the least bit concerned about the political skulduggery. Now, however, they phone and write me and they are very alarmed that the economy has crashed. So the story seems to be that loss of constitutional rights and freedoms is a negligible event, but a pancaked pocketbook will get one's attention every time. I'm still going over your Oozlum allegory and trying to fathom the idea. I'm also wondering why so little talk on the campaign trail about the economy, or lack of one.
The middle class is genuinely frightened by current money events and the closer to the housing shocked areas one is, the more dire the feeling.