Andrew E. Hall jumps the wire and escapes the industrial zoo.
The windows of Frigidaire icebergs, frozen in prickly heat, The vanishing cream victims, the drip-fed amnesianique, Where the test card melodies warn you in powder-blue pseudo-Bellaire,
Germs and flies alarm you, they whisper the word Xpelair,
The eyes of the night, sub-zero, peep through the widows of sleep,
Everyone’s husband is a hero, and ghost insurance men creep,
Through the Valley of the Long Lost Women, dreaming under the driers,
Eating and sleeping and slimming, according to what is required …
– John Cooper Clarke
Hammered we are. Hammered with televised and digitised images. Hammered with messages and memes – about dictatorial ignominy, imminent doom, ubiquitous gloom.
I got a Skype message today from a friend visiting Japan – apparently reactor four at the Fukushima nuclear plant is smoking again. She’s frightened and doing a runner … back to our part of the world.
Europe is an economic train wreck – rife with the societal disconnects that result from massive unemployment, and cultural and economic ghettoisation.
America is mired in recession and wars … and still talking up conflict with China at some point in the future. Barak Obama is repeatedly hammered with the Republican meme: “black is not beautiful”. Religious fundamentalists there are up in arms and down in legs about the temerity of same-sex couples who want their loving relationships acknowledged in the public space … simply seeking the same social rights (and rites) that other loving couples enjoy.
Individuals in Western “democracies” are regulated into zombie-esque existences ruled by clocks and corporate commissars; by commitments to the conformities of the work place. By scare tactics that there will be no social safety net when they are no longer able to spend hours a day commuting to an “office” – that, given the extent of electronic highways and byways these days, is probably a largely redundant concept – and to surrender to their wage slavery and borrowing behaviours.
I was contacted by a financial advisor the other day – goodness knows how he got my number (and if you’re reading this, rack off and leave me alone) – little did he know that I am perhaps the last person on earth who needs the “services” he offered. Not because I am reluctant to take advice, but because I have a very tenuous relationship with the other part of his job description. He was somewhat taken aback when I outlined my long-term plan in the following manner: “I’m going to try to work for as long as I can, and then commit a timely suicide …”
Just digressing to the office thing for a moment: Recent reports out of Australia have revealed that mining giant, BHP-Billiton, has circulated a directive to employees that at the end of each working day they must clear up and put away personal effects on their desks and in their work stations … and … that the eating of garlic shall be forthwith prohibited … even out of work hours.
For f**k’s sake.
Where was I? oh yes …
Bankers and billionaires have become iconic despite their pernicious practise of pillaging every little village. A case-in-point: Barclays banking executives and traders have been busted for interbank interest-rate-fixing over a period of years. The bank “settled” with British and American authorities for a bargain basement $450 million.
And the penalty “suffered” by Barclays CEO, Robert E. Diamond Jr. for the ignominious activity that probably cost punters billions (by way of artificially inflating the cost of borrowing)? He resigned and walked away. Investigations into the scandal are likely to spread to other mega banks like Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, and Deutsche Bank.
Can you imagine the opprobrium (not to mention punitive proceedings) you or I would be subjected to if we, basically nicked, a mere fraction of the monies manipulated by Mr. Diamond Jr. and his minions?
Money talks, the rest of us get rogered.
In the search for a replacement for Mr. Diamond Jr., the New York Times says: “The bank’s new chief will have to satisfy investor demands for profits and growth, while convincing the public, politicians and regulators that Barclays has strengthened its internal corporate governance.”
Investor morality is an oxymoron. And that’s very much part of the problem – greed is not only good, it’s the only game in town. Corporate governance has become a running joke with the unrelenting push by Western governments to deregulate these institutions that were founded upon notions of responsible management of clients’ funds.
The Labour Theory of Value (posited by, a largely misunderstood, Karl Marx during the Industrial Revolution) has been labelled “heterodox” – not conforming with accepted or orthodox standards or beliefs. The theory has the audacity to suggest that the value of a commodity is related to the labor needed to produce or obtain that commodity (i.e. the input of workers).
Dead and buried as much as the man whose observations about the erosion of workers’ rights when capitalist industrialists persuaded the ruling classes to ring-fence the “commons” (public access lands where people could graze their domestic animals and grow things) in England; enact the so-called “Poor Laws”; and consign the economically disadvantaged to “work houses”.
You can read all about it in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist.
Karl Marx’ grave might be a communist plot (and the poor bugger is probably rolling over in it) but we should all take time to consider the consequences of the present-day perversion of craven capitalism … which has little to do with the vision projected by the progenitorial Adam Smith.
The machine is broken. Those who inhabit it have become ghosts.
Run like hell!
… or get out that bottle of chardonnay you’ve been saving for a rainy day, and drink it.
No, no, can’t do that because you’ll probably be drug tested at work in the morning and summarily dismissed. Or compelled to endless hours of drudgery at AA meetings, in the absence of what you really need – a 12-step programme for dealing with the turpitudes of the workplace, and kicking the garlic habit.
I saw it all coming many years ago, and have a profound understanding that you just can’t make a decent spaghetti Bolognaise without using heaps of garlic, so I got the hell out of Dodge. Go east young man.
To be honest I wasn’t that young, just very tired. Tired of newsrooms where “news” became a metaphor for infotainment and a banal banter that lacked any substance … you might have noticed that things have not improved in that respect. Tired of creeping though the corridors of The Academy where students became a metaphor for money.
Bali rose like an incandescent pearl on my horizon.
I don’t know why, but when I arrived in the ‘90s I was surprised to find many others who, like myself, had decided that flight was more efficacious than fight. People who, when reminded about past lives in their home countries, either crossed themselves, performed Taoist finger yoga, or pretended they were from New Zealand.
Ah, the verdant Balinese panoramas; the spectacle of magical ceremonies; the dance and drama; the creativity of these ingenious people in arts and craft; the ultimate flexibility in our relationship with notions of “time”; the prevalence of joy; the bonhomme enjoyed between people from every part of the globe; the ability to share a beer without being scowled at. Not a necktie in sight. No suits. People smiling at each other without fear of physical assault. Brilliant!
You could even go to Kuta in those days and have fun without becoming embroiled in the brawling of drunken Australians.
There were still rice fields in Ubud’s Penestanan, and a group of people who used to gather at Ibu Putu’s ramshackle warung for fantastic Indonesian fare, a few arak madus, conversation, conviviality. We all used to get together at various venues – Casa Luna, the Yogya Café, Coconuts – to watch movies played from laser disks. We had that most important and wondrous thing … a community.
Jodi Picoult says of community in Second Glance: “Heroes didn’t leap tall buildings or stop bullets with an outstretched hand; they didn’t wear boots and capes. They bled, and they bruised, and their superpowers were as simple as listening, or loving. Heroes were ordinary people who knew that even if their own lives were impossibly knotted, they could untangle someone else’s. And maybe that one act could lead someone to rescue you right back.”
Perhaps the metropolites of the West should take some time out to reflect on the musings of Kurt Vonnegut on the subject:
“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”
… because there is a trend and tendency for metropolites in the West to lock themselves away in what John Mellencamp refers to as their “little pink houses”.
Loneliness, alienation, anxiety and notions of “achievement” have become commodified in the West – appropriated by self-help and personal growth “gurus”, religious types, and “therapists” of various ilks. People are battered with the meta-meme: “you are incapable of dealing with your own shit” (but pay me, in cash or kind, and we’ll work it out). Causal factors in people’s distress are conveniently ignored because those factors are often to be found in the machinations of the dominant paradigm itself … in the mechanical, as opposed to organic, reflections we are confronted by when those of us, who are not actually psychotic, walk into the room of mirrors.
The “gurus” understand this and play upon it (whilst embracing, with felicity, that the dominant paradigm is what it is) for their own covetous ends. But in saying that, there are probably some who are somewhat altruistic. Some …
The very notion of what “psychosis” actually is, is not shared between Western and Eastern philosophies, phenomenonologies, and, indeed, treatment regimes.
South African ethno-botanist, Dale Millard, who has conducted extensive research in traditional communities, and lives part-time on Bali says: “The wider (Western) medical profession is limited in its understanding of – and ways of dealing with – health issues, especially if those issues incorporate some component that might be regarded as ‘socially unacceptable’.
“The obvious ones are those that involve some kind of mental aspect (schizophrenia, for example).
“If someone’s seeing visions or hearing voices … you’re crazy mate.
“But in many parts of the world it is regarded as a spiritual affliction.
“You can see the same way of dealing with (some aspects of) mental health here on Bali – where there is a raised awareness of the value of ritual and belief (and where the sufferer doesn’t have to fit in with fabricated norms).”
Meanwhile, here we are … cruisin’. The tension in neck and shoulders has subsided to the point that you can see your earlobes again – and not just because you can get a massage every day for a couple of bucks. It’s a freedom thing. It’s a liberation thing. It’s a place that not only encourages, but demands, that you take responsibility for your own shit. An empowering thing.
It’s a rising above the interminable rule sets (that are applied above and beyond simply being a law abiding citizen) and coercive legislations that are pasted over Western peoples like some sticky web – while bureaucratic spiders skitter down to see if you’re tasty enough to eat. Here we seem to be able to make our own rules – by an informal consensus process – regarding appropriate versus inappropriate behaviours.
But wait a minute …
As Lou Reed says: “something’s happening here”.
In the post-Eat, Pray, Love era there has been an influx of people who have either forgotten, or were not aware of, the golden rule of travelling: check in your baggage before you get on the plane. Hordes of humans who aren’t looking simply for a bit of peace and tranquility – like me and my friends in the ‘90s – but for some form of salvation.
It isn’t Liz Gilbert’s fault – she was a lovely person when I met her all those years ago. I was there when the whole love thing happened. I’m in the book – that became some kind of biblical reference for those who want what Liz found here.
And with this influx came the industrialisation of what used to be the domain of village-based service providers – who had spent lifetimes developing and refining their healing arts and crafts. With the industrial and corporatist putsch in personal growth and healthful pursuits come the attitudes and platitudes, and exploitative practises, that are very much part of the Western psyche – although often draped in a veneer of Eastern philosophy.
I had the misfortune one day, while I was dining at my favorite Chinese restaurant – on Tumpek Landep, the Balinese day for metal things – of watching some Californian woman blessing her companion’s scooter in the car park. Nearly choked on a wonton I did.
There’s Laughing Yoga … where the guru’s opening address consists of: “Anyone heard any good jokes lately.”
Swimming Pool Yoga is a goody … where the teacher gently drags a student around by the head and whispers soothing mantras while other students stand in the shallow end directing happy thoughts at their colleague. It goes like this:
“Relax, be at one with the water and breathe …”
Student’s inner voice: “There’s water going up my nose.”
“Be in the light and visualise it expanding out and around you.”
“I think I’m drowning.”
I once thought I might sign up for a tantric sex course … until I contemplated what the group training regimen might involve.
Seriously though, there are huge numbers of people paying extraordinary amounts of money to learn from other people who portray themselves as “experts” but whose credentials are virtually – or in any other way, for that matter – impossible to verify.
I have an acquaintance who, in the space of six months, accumulated an equivalent number of proficiency certificates for her Eastern-philosophy-based pursuits.
Talented and committed she certainly is, but I felt that such fast tracking was a bit beyond the pale.
Apparently you can get a yoga instructor certificate in some places by doing an intensive course that lasts a mere month. Now that’s someone I’d be really interested in “studying” under …
Perhaps I’m just being heterodox.
But in 15-plus years of calling Bali home I’ve not really noticed that the relatively recent pervasion of personal growth industries giving rise to any increased awareness – spiritual or otherwise. The community I remember so fondly seems to have evolved into a tapas of sub-cultural cohorts that exude a certain smug superiority … who compete for the holy buck and, unfortunately, are all too often emulated by Balinese people who want a slice of the “spiritual tourism” pie.
There are some good people about though, very good (in all ways shapes and forms), like Ieie who quietly goes about his business of teaching White Crane Silat in Ubud – a martial arts style that was passed to him by his father who founded the first Indonesian school for the style in Bogor, Java in 1952.
“I always liked the way my father taught because he encouraged certain … freedoms … which encouraged students to form their own relationship with the art,” Ieie says.
He also points out that to become proficient in Silat takes around 10 years of consistent training – maybe more.
The creeping commercialisation and coporatisation of life on Bali is not limited to transcendental tourism. These Western values are being applied with a ubiquity and rapidity that is mind-boggling. The explosion in numbers of real estate agencies and property developments all over the island is another manifestation of the West’s assault on the East. Again it’s all about the injection of massive amounts of money and a taking advantage of relatively lax planning laws. There are certainly local winners in this equation, but little or no time is spent reflecting on who or what the losers might be.
Haste has become a societal norm. Though what the hurry is all about no one seems to know. Haste in getting from point A to point B (which, as we all know, is basically pointless these days given the gridlock affliction). Haste in our communication habits – which have little to do with actually talking to one another. Haste in the achievement of life’s goals. Haste in trying to get in front of another person in a supermarket checkout queue.
People are looking a bit angrier – and not so much at each other.
Thankfully the Balinese people cling to their cultural imperatives … just … before hopping back into their jeans and t-shirts, and catching up on all those terribly important text messages they missed out on while the ceremony was in progress.
But, you know what? It’s still a good place to be if you can shut out the white noise created by the breathing down our necks of the behemoth that is inappropriately named “Western culture”.
There’s one strategy that can be deployed to circumvent the lack of probity displayed by bankers, real estate agents, personal growth gurus, and other forms of branded bombast: water-boarding. Yep, water-board the bastards for as long as it takes to satisfy yourself that you can actually receive what all their promotions and promises say you’re going to receive. It’s technically outlawed by the UN (though not by the Americans), but then again so is the skullduggery that many of these types get up to while they sneakily segue into a seductive sales pitch.
Either that or just become heterodox, and go for a long walk in the rice fields … without your dumb smart phone.