Reflections of a Wandering Cypriot Philosopher Part 6
New York City - Writer and philosopher Maria Prodromou reflects on the 'Occupy Wall Street' movement and its lessons for Cyprus. The article is published in six parts. Click here for Part I, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5
Part 6 - About a month ago I went to a screening of “10 years of Terror” at the Guggenheim museum in New York City. The film is directed by Brad Evans, a professor of philosophy at Leeds University and Simon Critchley, also professor of philosophy at the New School, NYC. The film, created as a response to 9/11 and its aftermath, comprises of a series of talks by eminent thinkers such as Saskia Sassen, Michael Hardt, Noam Chomsky, and Zygmunt Bauman (among others) and closely examines the enactment and ramifications of violence in our modern times. These intellectuals provide brilliant and acute analyses of our current state, breaking down and demystifying the issues which surely bewilder most of us.
Even though I cannot urge you enough to visit their website and listen to these talks (www.historiesofviolence.com) I find it extremely unnerving to concur with the postscript to the film, a quote from Woody Allen’s 1979 “My speech to the Graduates”: “More than at any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly”.
Despair and hopelessness is where we are now. This is the despair and hopelessness of people like myself, who have spent a good decade of our lives breaking our necks over books to understand and even critique some of the world’s most brilliant minds, and all we have to show for it are massive debts and empty titles (the only use I have found for my PhD – besides writing articles like this one - is the title “Dr.” on airline reservations. For some stupid reason, they treat you with more courtesy!).
Shortly after the death of Steve Jobs, an anecdote which summarizes our predicament circulated around the internet. Here is a variation of it: “Ten years ago, we had Steve Jobs, Bob Hope, and Johnny Cash. Now we have no jobs, no hope, and no cash”. Humor is always welcome, especially given that the logical or, for some, emotional conclusion of despair and hopelessness is suicide. Insofar as the other option is concerned, we’re also getting pretty close to total extinction either by means of war or the depletion of natural resources, to name but two of the means with which total extinction is being brought about. The point I am trying to make though is that either of those paths leads to the same unacceptable end: self-destruction.
Perhaps though, the postscript to the film was meant as a warning…
So how do we begin to get ourselves out of this mess? A good starting point would be to reclaim our capacity for envisioning that things could be otherwise and snapping ourselves out of the self-defeatist slumber we’re in. Enough with the mentality of the victim “Why bother? Nothing is going to change…” Well, if you don’t bother, if you don’t even try, it is absolutely certain that nothing indeed will change. And it is time we take responsibility for ourselves and the world we live in.
We are not simply victims of Wall Street or whoever and whatever “Wall Street” is disempowering you. We gave away our power a long time ago, and we are giving it away every single day in ways infinitely more surreptitious than voting for corrupt politicians (such as, how we choose to spend our money and time. Are we giving our money away to multinationals that profit at the expense of child labor somewhere in a hidden corner of the world? Are we killing time on Facebook and Twitter living out the phantasy of being the star in our own reality TV-show? “As if you could kill time without injuring eternity” wrote Thoreau a century and a half ago).
It is high time we liberate our imagination from its media-controlled shackles. That power which alone can foresee and create the future, has been reduced to vicariously living out whatever disaster or phantasy is being broadcasted on TV or plastered in advertising. This is pornography on a global scale. Pornography is not restricted to porn. Pornography in the wider sense trades on people’s needs - whether the need is sex, security, hunger or freedom - and their representation in a shocking and sensationalist manner in order to arouse and sell. Advertising is pornography since its primary aim is to arouse the viewer into buying something; the politicians’ rhetoric is also pornographic since it manipulates a discourse and economy of fear to arouse the public into buying the lies they sell.
I am going to close this already long article with a conversation I overheard the other day at Washington Square Park between a Veteran and a young man. The Veteran was explaining to the young man that the protestors are trying to make this a major political issue.
The young man asked: “I’m with you on that one, but how are the protestors going to get that to happen?”
The Veteran answered: “They’ve already started, they’ve already started. Even Obama commented on the protests that show the frustration and anger of the American people. And that’s why we’re out here in the streets. That’s the only goddamn way to get change. Martin Luther King did it and they tried to bully and harass him, they tried to get him to stop demonstrating and he just couldn’t do it because he knew that if he gave up others would give up. So we’re here to inspire the country. We’re here to say to other people in other cities ‘Get off your ass! Stop watching American Idol and Survivor and do something for your country!”
The young man responded with “I mean, I understand, I’m just hoping, S**t! I wanna see change and I want this to happen…”
This is the veteran’s reply, which really, does not require any further commentary:
“But you can’t just want it. You gotta work for it. You gotta get out and work for it. Every f*****g day. And that’s what I do. I get up in Queens at 5 o’clock in the morning and take the E train all the way to the World Trade Center and make sure that my brothers and sisters are safe (author’s note: he’s referring to the protestors that set up camp there). You gotta make sure that they’re safe…”
Read the entire series here - To contact the author, email: email@example.com