I went out for dinner Wednesday evening in Calgary with an old friend. Ruben and I met for the first time over dinner in Canmore while I was still in IBM. A mutual acquaintance had suggested we would get on and their expectations were exceeded. We discovered a common heritage in the WSCF where we had both been activists (although separated by several years) . We have met several times since and its rare to find someone with whom you share values, beliefs, concerns and hopes. The conversation ranged far and wide despite the growing blizzard outside (which would strand me in Calgary airport for eight hours in the morning).
One of the things we talked about at length was the similarities between the world we live in and the Weimar Republic. Now in terms of music, theatre and literature this was one of the most creative periods in human history, but also one of the most tragic in terms of political neglect; the failure to see the dangers of the growing Nazi movement. Neglected operas such as Die Vögel, the slow emergent rhythms of the writing of Mann, the savagery of Brecht all contrast with the barbarism of what was to come. My favorite movie of all time is Cabaret, for its ability to capture the essence of this period. The most disturbing scene is the drive into the country where the blond blue eyed arian stands up to sing in most pure of voices Tomorrow belongs to me. The scene is a rural idyll and gradually all the people stand to join in the anthem. As they leave Brian turns to Maximillan and says Do you really think you can control them.
The flourish of new forms of art is a feature of our age. Think of Birtwhistle’s magnificent Minotaur, Roth at his height (but not at his depth), David Hare, Pollock and many others. We allow the media to amplify prejudice, swiftboating is the strategy of choice for the right, Fox News is considered a news, programme not a parody, the UK elects two racist fascists to the European Parliament; short term financial expediency triumphs over sustainability and ethics in the day to day lives of our institutions. Add to that the sense of injustice, growing gap and consequent disquiet between those who have and have not, which we fail to address. Not to mention the rise of fundamentalism (Islam, Christian, Atheist to name a few) and consequent polarisation, the creation of a hostile other. Start to see the repetition of a pattern?
Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. A failure to engage with the substance of political choice, the surface triviality of the soundbite and the triumph of popularism over substance are the marks of our age, hopefully they will not be its death knell. To paraphrase Ruben: Gaia probably regards us as an interesting experiment, intellectually able to sustain discourse with her, but we will destroy ourselves before we destroy her. In the final scene of Cabaret the Master of Ceremonies turns from the cabaret as the fractal images of shattered glass reflect the swastikas on the arms of the audience. Who the future belongs to is our choice, but it has to be made.
Acknowledgement to Gaping Void, whose daily piece of art on the back of a business card was most apposite.
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