Requiem

Last week was the 40th anniversary of a music festival held on a farm in upstate New York. It was later described as three days of Love, Peace and Music, which arguably could also be called LSD, Promiscuity and Marijuana. Whatever you might think about it, the generation that attended was born in the post-war baby boom (there were 500,000 of them there), and is now about to verify whether Paul McCartney’s predictions in “When I’m 64” are true or not.

Country Joe McDonald, who for present generations would have to be considered obscure, sang a song about the Vietnam war at the festival which could well apply to Afghanistan today (“don’t ask me I don’t give a damn, next stop Afghanistan”). He is perhaps even better remembered for the “Gimme an F… What’s that spell?” rag.

Of course there is no longer a compulsory draft in the US, the UK and many other countries, but the worldwide recession has drawn many young people to the military as an alternative to unemployment. Lack of choice can become an obligation. The common ground is that young people are dying for reasons neither they nor their parents comprehend. The Karzai government recently approved a law authorising husbands who were denied sex to starve their wives. I would imagine this and many other violations of human rights are commonplace in that country as in so many others, but I don’t see the need to enshrine them in legislation. I can’t imagine it helps western troops to identify with the cause.

In the end, democracy will both win and lose. It will win in the occupying troops because public pressure will call them home, and lose on the ground of the occupied land, where the mindset of the country is not tuned to the right station. In medieval Europe, feudal life did not respect borders, power structures served individuals.

The Our Father and Hail Mary - a medieval cartoon

The Our Father and Hail Mary - a medieval cartoon

There is an excellent exhibition right now in Seville, in the Archivo General de las Indias, on the role of Spain in the Americas (the “Indias” misnomer is part of the whole Columbian misconception) which illustrates this very well. That same feudal structure is what we are trying to change, by applying a western mindset to societies which are 300 years or more away from the values we cherish. We have no chance. We can’t do it, they don’t want it.

Incidentally, the exhibition, which is extremely parsimonious in praising the role of Portugal in the whole process of XVth century discoveries, does concede that Juan Cabrillo, who discovered San Diego and made his way up the Californian coast all the way to Point Reyes (latitude 38 degrees, about the same as Lisbon) was actually Portuguese. Various websites state that he was in the service of Spain, but that is a modern mindset. Like Fernão de Magalhães, another Portuguese who is known in English as Magellan, Cabrilho served the King of Spain. Not Spain, which in any case only existed as a kind of conglomerate at the time, held together by fragile links of bloodlines and bloodshed.

This August has been a particularly sad period, brightened only by the appearance in print of The India Road. If you want a copy, you can get it from Amazon US or Amazon UK. I found two typos in short order which everyone missed. Nothing like the cold hand of the printed page, exposing the weakness of digital camouflage. Life is in many ways a series of small deaths followed by one big one, and as I said in an earlier post, you need to enjoy the process, not the end-point. As the great ecologist Howard T. Odum wrote, you need a macroscope so you can look at yourself and others around you from a sensible distance; only then can you understand your “ecosystem”. That perspective will cure all your little deaths. All kids should have things around them ending in “scope”. If you were lucky enough to have a telescope to play with when you were little, you were fascinated to see things close up, as if you were spying on the world.

When I was small, my mother explained that if I examined the stars, I would be looking at light from millions of years ago, and the object I saw might no longer be there. I used to love the idea that someone on the other side, with a really good telescope (with a TV screen, night vision and little green antennae) would be looking down and seeing dinosaurs wandering around 200 million years ago. The second thing you did with your telescope (apart from hit your kid brother or sister over the head) was to flip it around. And when you looked at life from that far away you had yourself a macroscope.

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