Oct. 9 2003
American Satyricon — part 2
You can run, but you can't hide — what will you do?
By John Kaminski
(American Satyricon part I on Rense for those who haven't seen it yet, or ya can find it here on RM as well)
"Vivamus, dum licet esse." ("Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.") — Petronius, Roman satirist, A.D. 27-66
Petronius wrote the original "Satyricon," a scathing lampoon of debauched Roman society that still intrigues readers today. The more familiar reference of "Fellini Satyricon" derives from the 1969 movie by the famous Italian director about the same subject.
Petronius was adviser to the emperor Nero (the infamous fiddler) in matters of conspicuous consumption. A high society bon vivant, he was a dilettante of all things luxurious, and known to turn a phrase without regard to whom it might offend.
Nero's court was notorious for its immorality and extravagance. Everyone's primary goal was making lots of money. Life at court was uncertain because Nero was capricious. Literature was used for flattery, personal advancement, and destroying your opponents.
Perhaps Petronius spoke out caustically once too often. In a court intrigue, a rival's jealousy turned Nero against him, and he was forced to commit suicide. However, before his death, he lampooned Nero in his will and sent the emperor a copy.
In Roman days, all it took to mete out capital punishment was for the emperor to order those who offended him to off themselves. The preferred formula was slit veins or proven poisons administered or consumed in the comfort of a hot bath. The big sleep, Roman style.
It seems incredulous to us now in our synthetic age that anyone would accept this fate and actually do the deed as ordered. Most of us fail to remember that two thousand years ago, Rome WAS the world, the entirety of every civilized portion of it, and to think of fleeing the emperor's command was as futile as thinking of escaping Ashcroft's military tribunals or howling that you have a right to a lawyer when you no longer do.
Echoing the same outspoken fears as Petronius, many questions I've received lately come from people fearful of freely speaking their minds, and yearning to flee these United States to escape this integrity-free zone that America has become. At least in matters of unchecked spending and truth telling, the Bush White House is not unlike Nero's court.
As our cities disintegrate into crime and chaos and the government eliminates many of the freedoms we have become accustomed to enjoying, those with sensitivity are checking out — and bolting to — idyllic venues with less fear of how the hysterical propaganda known as the Patriot Act is turning America into a new Soviet Union.
But as in the days of Petronius, there are plenty of places you can run to, but almost nowhere you can really hide.
Still, judging by my e-mails, many enterprising expatriates seem content and successful. I hear from Starguy, living the jungle high life on the Magic River in Malaysia, revelling in the availability of multicolored women and blissful aromatics; from the world-wise Ponz, doing his Paul Revere thing from an exquisite beach near Phuket on the sumptuous coast of the Andaman Sea; from a Canadian refugee firing off insightful essays from his unusual sanctuary in mysterious Tashkent; and from a couple of British escapees who set up their paradise gained at a beach house in Kerala complete with masseuse and cook.
There are definitely delicious niches to be found in out-of-the-way places around the world: teaching tennis in downtown Hong Kong, tutoring English in Guangdoc province; breaking bread among the friendly farmers of Rondonia.
Some have truly found their paradises, however temporarily; others, no matter where they have gone, still look over their shoulders, as we do here in America, constantly paranoid about seeing stressful shadows of the emperor's long and irrational arm.
Like the fishing guide I know in Patagonia, who told me a decade ago about the curious influx of New York Jews. More recent news brings the dispatch that Israeli commandoes have been sighted on a pristine fjord among the snow-capped mountains of southern Chile.
Or the couple from New Jersey who set up shop in remote Guatemala and keep seeing their neighbors winding up dead in the dirt. Or the bureaucrat pushing paper in the filthy cauldron of the Azeris, wondering when the whole scene will collapse and oil wells go up in flames. Or practitioners of permaculture on the shores of British Columbia wondering about those black helicopters beyond the next mountain range.
All made their escape; all still look over their shoulders for the ominous shadow of the emperor. I envy these folks their adventures, but not their shadows, which are similar to the ones that frighten us here.
Some travelers in search of new vistas and safer harbors, however, hear the echoes of Emerson, and the questions of why we are traveling and what road we are on.
The 19th century American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson saw only frustration and futility in traveling because he perceived "the indifference of places" and the ultimate irrelevance of new vistas.
"Traveling is a fool's paradise ... " he wrote. "I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea and at last wake up in Naples, and there besides me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from."
And where your paradise dwells also resides your question: what are you running from, or to? And, is what you found more relevant than what you left behind?
In the case of America 2003, you are undoubtedly running from the capricious oppression that kills people simply because they are in the way of some larger, ugly scheme. There is no real redress of grievances in America anymore, or at least not without huge amounts of money. But is abandoning the struggle for freedom really realistic, or even beneficial, or are you just trading one set of oppressions for another? Especially since it's an illusion that you can actually get away from the ubiquitous toxin that the American capitalist consumption machine has become?
With satellites and computerized bank records, with missiles that reach every corner of the world and money-hungry natives who can be paid to do anything, do you really think there is any place to safely hide on this shrinking sphere called Earth? Answer? Not for very long.
Putting large distances between yourself and your oppressor is a proven way of improving your own safety. Then, of course, there are those who don't escape geographically, but find their way to safer havens through more mental methods of seeing what's going on, by immersing themselves in traditional dogma, investigating UFOs, or following the instructions of mass market manufactured angels.
Inner escapees rather than outer exiles. Candidates for lamaseries, or, in more extreme cases, pursuers of passing comets wearing new sneakers. Those who think the world is all in your mind.
All religions are really posited on the Buddhist model, which convinces its adherents that a special somewhere else is really more important than the actual here and now. Although Buddhism isn't the oldest of the world's extant religions, it nevertheless encapsulates the attitude of all of them that this world is to be endured, but there is a better place to strive for, even if you need an ikonic object like Jesus to focus on.
The Buddha we know (Siddartha Gautama, the Buddha Sakyamuni who lived c. 550 B.C.) taught that ignorance produces desire, unsatisfied desire is the cause of life, and life results in old age, disease and death, i.e., suffering. To overcome suffering, therefore, it is necessary to escape the cycle of life and death; to escape the cycle of life and death, it is necessary to extinguish desire; and to extinguish desire, it is necessary to destroy ignorance.
All too often the magic formula many religious people use involves denigrating someone else as their designated bad guys, infidels, or cattle.
I think that someplace or other in most of the holy books (although the only place I'm certain of it is in the works of Mohammed — peace be upon him) is a recommendation that says other religions unfamiliar to you should be respected. Even Krishna says it: all who pray to any god also pray to him.
Of course, the Western religions that have come down to us have pretty much lost that flavor, as a wrathful Jehovah bellows out his murderous commands that those who don't follow him are no better than grasshoppers (check the popular lists of Jewish names for non-Jews for the definitive glossary in this matter).
Throughout the world religious elitism remains one of the chief causes of murder, mayhem and hatred, even if only used as a pretext for criminal plunder and is not a doctrinal order, as is so often the case with American evangelicals in foreign countries. Fear of the stranger is not relieved by these vicious religious codes so pornographically articulated in the Judeo-Christian Old Testament (also known as the Pentateuch and the Torah), and the killing continues unabated.
Among the enervated rhetoric I hear so often during our troubled times is a noticeable increase in this hateful religious condescension. One only need focus on Belfast, or Ahmedabad, or Ramallah to understand my point. A slight difference in language of the divine description or skin pigmentation is all that is needed to trigger shouts to murder the dirty stranger, even though the actual customs of the enemies are not really very different .
The Jews, of course, are everyone's top target for vilification, and justifiably so for their continuing torture and extermination of the hapless Palestinians (which for a half century has been the world's most egregious atrocity), their perverting of the governments and media of countries not their own, and the growing realization that Jewish influences have fundamentally altered the character of all societies in which they have achieved a significant foothold.
The most regrettable aspect of criticism about the Jews, however, is that most of it comes from other denominations whose own histories are not exactly spotless when it comes to human decency and open-mindedness.
Jewish depredations in the areas of media and government cannot be successfully exposed by those espousing other creeds that may only replace one brand of social manipulation and spiritual coercion with another.
The difference is that Jews don't practice what they preach, as is evidenced in the internal policies of Israel, which are racist in the extreme, contrasted with practices of diversity they champion in other countries. What is becoming obvious in the world is that Jews preach assimilation of minorities in other countries but strictly resist such notions in their own.
One other significant Jewish manifestation in other countries in recent years has been the appearance of "hate" laws. In many countries in Europe, it is a crime to question the official version of the Nazi Holocaust. Why has this clear violation of freedom of speech been permitted?
If Holocaust deniers can't prove what they say, let them be exposed and ridiculed in the court of consensual public opinion. Don't prevent them from speaking their pieces.
Preventing anyone from speaking about anything only reveals that those making such restrictive laws definitely have something to hide, which is exactly the case with their Jews and their pathological passion to hide in their own victimhood as a ruse to conceal their exploitation of others.
So those who seek to escape from the venality and bestiality of our present version of petro politics should stand forewarned that by escaping into religious dogma they run the risk of becoming part of the very problem they wish to flee.
Just as those who flee to foreign lands in search of Shangri-la may encounter something far worse than they might run across in their present, depressed neighborhoods where neighbors will snitch on each other for money.
I myself have need for neither of these crutches, agreeing with Emerson that traveling long distances to romantic destinations only takes us further away from ourselves and our loved ones, and adopting esoteric spiritual practices only takes us further away from the troubled, three-dimensional world right in front of our eyes that desperately needs our compassionate and intelligent help.
One of the great hoaxes of history is that people need holy men to guide them to do what is right. All holy men really do is make money off people's real fears and provide their sacred sanctions to a demonic kaleidoscope of crimes.
This so-called need for spiritual guidance and how humans are essentially spiritual beings reminds me of the recent story from Africa in which a herd of passing elephants freed a collection of antelopes imprisoned in a corral by local farmers who planned on having them for dinner.
All animals have compassion as long as they're not hungry. Hungry animals necessarily kill for food. It's nature's way of maintaining her balance. But kindness and justice are not necessarily human traits. We are only animals trying to make our way through this short journey called life, and we don't want to hurt anybody if we don't have to. Not unless we've been taught to.
People intrepid and ingenious enough to manage to wander around the world in search of their own nirvanas, or those motivated to seek more resonant explanations of why we are all passing through this existence at this time, are both exactly who we all need providing input in this frightful era in American history, when bribery has replaced honesty and kids grow up seeking the big score rather than trying to build rewarding and purposeful lives. We need that questing honesty to repopularize morality and compassion in this current culture of pious thieves and hypocritical holy men.
So, for those out there on foreign beaches or seeking out new dimensions with either ecstatic mushrooms or eloquent epistles to the Ephesians, this is a call to come home, to come back to earth, to return to the here and now and fight for what is honest and good. The people of Earth simply can't afford to have their best and brightest wandering off disillusioned in forlorn forests or lost in imaginary battles with ancient gods of questionable intent.
Come home soon. We need you here now.
Don't miss America's Autopsy Report, a collection of John's Internet essays.