Monday, December 06, 2010

South of the Border Amigos!

Welcome to the political corner where your correspondent goes on a long rant about the dark side of politics, the evils of capitalism and Oliver Stone's rather wonderful documentary South of the Border. Proceed at your own risk.

American politics are a joke. Two parties that differ only slightly in their dependence upon corporate interest are bedfellows with a corporate media-machine whose sole purpose seems to be to spread the neo-liberal capitalist agenda of Washington. To maintain their dominance these parties manufacture ridiculous cultural labels such as "liberal" and "conservative" that are as ambiguous as they are vague, centering around superficial issues the majority of which sensible voters couldn't care less about, in order to make it appear that choosing between Democrats and Republicans constitutes a real choice instead of simply maintaining the status quo and keeping any real political discussion at bay lest true reform take place which would endanger the dominance of the super-rich who either constitute or control the political elite of Washington, a new aristocracy which is just as odious, if not more so, than their European counterparts of previous centuries. In order to spread their dominance and increase their gain, this aristocracy has increasingly turned to globalization as an alternative to colonization, asserting their power through the fascistic dominance of the IMF and the World Bank or through means of violence and war. The Washington Consensus is entirely in service of the richest corporate majority, made ever more evident by the amoeba-like behavior of America's current clown of a president whose failure seems even more biting than his predecessor since everyone knew W. was a joke to begin with. Obama, having shown moments of intelligence, grace, nobility and political honesty is all the more tragic in his inability to push back even so much as an inch against the forces of destructive capitalism. For those of you who haven't heard, the Democrats just conceded to extend the Bush tax cuts for the ultra-rich for another two years, cementing an economic disaster so immense that it might result in the total breakdown of Social Security and Medicare, as suggested by Paul Krugman in today's NY Times.

And what does all of this have to with films? Not much; primarily I simply need a place to rant. Yet these thoughts are in-part inspired by a recent viewing of Oliver Stone's enlightening and entertaining documentary South of the Border. Before proceeding further I wish to say that I do not consider myself either a liberal or conservative (labels that are largely meaningless in today's cultural context) nor a capitalist or a socialist. Being an Orthodox Christan, I firmly believe that all purely human means to ensure human "salvation" (i.e. a utopian ideal) are bound to fail given our spiritual and metaphysical condition. The only way to truly help the world is to heal oneself and in the process "thousands around you will be saved," to quote the great 19th century mystic St. Seraphim of Sarov. This being said, the ancient Christian Church, especially in the East, never sought to distance itself from social, cultural and political involvement. It simply viewed these realities in light of the higher, transcendent and mystical truths revealed through the incarnation of the divine Logos in the person of Jesus Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Even though no philosophical or political system can ensure mankind's fundamental prosperity or flourishing - only a spiritual renewal and transfiguration is able to accomplish this - we are nonetheless called to transfigure all of our activities, both private and communal, in order that the love and mercy of God may flow through our every action. The different political systems are, in this context, neutral means to an end.

Most of today's political parties and systems not only fail to strengthen communities and to enoble and protect citizens but they literally dehumanize human beings, reducing them to atomistic individuals which in turn are reducible to economic entities, either as workers (communism) or consumers (capitalism). Both systems deny human personhood, autonomy and dignity. Given the fall of communism in 1989 rampant neo-liberal capitalism has become the most widespread, destructive and life-denying manifestation of politics in the world today. The Washington media machine wants one to believe that this system is intrinsically tied to democracy yet time and time again we see how it is antithetical to any form of true democracy and freedom, even to the extent that democratically elected leaders who oppose the Washington consensus and the ideology of the IMF and World Bank are forcibly removed, either through political machinations, assassination or war.

What is so refreshing, inspiring and exuberantly wonderful about the recent developments in South America, where several far-left political figures have developed socialist reforms aimed at granting increased economic control, power and stability along with political leverage to the countries poor and disenfranchised populations, is that even though many of these political figures and parties come with their own Pandora's boxes of problems, corruptions and scandals they nonetheless provide an actual, viable alternative to the globalized dominance of Washington, one which seems in myriad ways to be much more humane and just and in keeping with the spiritual teachings of the great philosophers of the past, including the gospels of one Jesus of Nazareth.

In South of the Border, Stone interviews several democratically elected leaders of south American countries, most notably Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and Evo Morales of Bolivia, who have been not only vilified but demonized by Washington's media servants (just as there is hardly any difference between Democrats and Republicans there is little or no difference between Fox and CNN - except perhaps in slight degrees of ridiculousness and slavish servitude to the forces of ignorance and darkness). Chávez has been an especially polarizing figure, a former military general who led an unsuccessful coup in Caracas in 1992. He rose to power in 1998 after the country had suffered for years at the hands of political figures puppeteered by Washington, the CIA and international capitalist interests. Venezuela, one of the most important oil exporters in the world, quickly found itself at the center of an all-out geopolitical attack by neo-liberal forces, resulting in a Washington-sponsored attempted coup in 2002. The coup failed and the Venezuelan poor reinstated their democratically elected leader.

Stone does an admirable job separating the wheat from the chaff when it comes to disinformation from the US press. His film is extremely one sided, as it is designed to be, not as a Michael Moore type propaganda piece but rather as giving voice to a side whose voice has become all but extinguished in the international political sphere, namely that of an alternative to rabid capitalism and globalization. Chávez and Morales, along with other political figures interviewed by Stone, such as current Cuban leader Raúl Castro, are obviously not perfect political alternatives, not by any means, yet whatever crimes they may be guilty of ("human rights infractions," as it is termed by the American media) seem to pale in comparison to the corruption, brutality and ruthlessness of Western capitalist regimes such as the United States and Great Britain, including the war in Iraq which now has a minimum civilian body count of at least 100.000 people (

 I definitely recommend the film to anyone, especially young Americans. I love America a great deal. It is a country of complete polarities, both vibrant, wonderful and beautiful yet also crude, dangerous and greedy. America defined the 20th century and it may well define the 21st. Whether or not it will do so as a beacon of hope and benevolence, using its technology, science and economic might to help foster growth, cultural prosperity and peace in the world, or as the prime representative of a life-denying capitalism whose utilitarian focus on the bottom-line is so absolute that people will stop at nothing, not even the senseless slaughter of innocent women and children or the eradication of native cultures, people, values and traditions in order to ensure the continued prosperity of the ultra-rich, remains to be seen. The only way in which America can actualize its potential greatness is for it to reclaim the vibrancy in art, poetry and philosophy that once promised to define it, a vibrancy represented by people such as Whitman, Thoreau, Emerson, James, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, F.D.R., Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Allen Ginsberg, John and Robert Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain and America's ancient tradition of Native peoples who lived for centuries on this continent in relative harmony with its nature and with one another. If America is to be great young people need to seek spiritual enlightenment, to study philosophy, to appreciate what is beautiful, to study and love art, poetry, song and dance, and to engage politics as free and responsible citizens whose main goal should be human flourishing and the sharing of resources economic, intellectual and spiritual and not mindless conformity to consumerism, ignorance and spiritual death, the results of the great lies of free-market idealists and professional politicians. Do I know how such a renewal could take place? Of course not. Yet the first steps are obvious, though excruciatingly painful to take. First of all people need to stop voting for Republicans and Democrats. The millions of Americans who don't even bother to vote due to their cynicism and beat-down attitude towards the system need to be mobilized and offered a viable alternative. There needs to be a renewal in America's universities, coffee shops, churches, synagogues and mosques where young people of different races, religions and ideas come together to discuss how to break the stranglehold of the forces of materialism, ultra-rationalism, greed, capitalism and neo-liberalism. So Viva La Revolucion, wherever the hell it may begin. 

Postscript: For an excellent, polemical take on the move towards the left in South American politics, written in language which is nearly as crazy as the preceding rant, take a look at Pirates of the Caribbean: Axis of Hope by Tariq Ali. 

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