Thursday, December 9, 2010

Mere Anarchy

Another outrage from the United States Senate! Despite the wishes of the electorate to whom they are answerable, despite the collective wisdom of the military brass, despite the response from men and women serving in the ranks, a sufficient number of senators vote to reject the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." It's an outrage that such an obstructionist minority (40 - 57 in the Senate vote) are able to derail this one-time democracy, and make us the laughing stock of those many countries more enlightened than we.

Now, to what I was going to write about. These lines from W. B. Yeats's "The Second Coming"
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

I woke up thinking about the lines yesterday morning--well, actually, it was only the second line that came readily to mind, in the context of the recent release of floods of documents from Wikileaks. Whether you agree or not with Julian Assange's action, or in his assertion that it was taken in the altruistic, public-spirited interest of transparency, can we agree that it was anarchistic? Anarchy used to be mostly a matter of crazy people throwing bombs at people they didn't like, or publishing wildly worded polemics against government. Their influence was limited. They were what was referred to as the "lunatic fringe." These days, with instant access to the Internet at his or her disposal, the anarchist wields global power. In the case of Assange, it appears that his gesture sparked a fellow-anarchistic zeal in hackers and bloggers of all stripes, as evidenced particularly in the digital assault on international credit card companies that followed his arrest. Now, no matter how seemingly "powerless," a single person with a grudge--a Private Bradley Manning--can set the world in an uproar overnight.

It's perhaps that unprecedented access to power and influence, in part, that fosters the widespread spirit of anarchy in America today. It's apparent not only in the single Senator who can--and does, at will--gum up the works for the entire country. I think it's also manifest in the Tea Party, in the frenetic support for bomb-throwers like Sarah Palin, in the blogosphere in which I myself participate with glee. We are all anarchists, we all reject the authority of anyone other than ourselves, we all feel free--myself included!--to spout our opinions to the world. We all loudly proclaim for our freedom from every constraint (or at least the ones we don't happen to like) and are delighted to fight for our individual rights, even if they run counter to those of effective government, or society, or the world in which we live. We have become a nation of rebels, each out for ourselves no matter the cost to others: "Things fall apart," Yeats writes; "the centre cannot hold..."

Okay, I see the "blood-dimmed tide," but I'm not so sure about that "ceremony of innocence." It's those last two lines in this section of the poem, though, that really struck me. I had forgotten them--or rather I had forgotten them in this particular context. But don't they ring awfully true? "The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity"! Are we speaking of Democrats and Republicans here? Or what? I'm no Rapturist, but I look around me and I wonder whether we're not due for that "second coming" Yeats writes about. He sees it as as a "rough beast" that "slouches toward Bethlehem to be born." I see that rough, slouching beast as the future we're preparing for ourselves--the nightmare world of a depleted Earth and an anarchy of human beings pitted violently against each other.

What do you think? Here's a link to the whole poem.


mandt said...

Yeats was referring to the anti-Christ. The wise among us might want to file for salvage rights when all those precious metals are left behind after the Rapture. Yeats failed to add the line:" The best lack a sense of irony and the worse a sense of humor." :)

roger said...

"..can we agree that it was anarchistic?" no. we can't.

and who would you suppose is responsible for denial of service attacks on wikileaks? which government?

i'm not privy to assange's inner motivation, and i'm not sure who leaked what.

i am sure that expressing opinions is not anarchy.

PeterAtLarge said...

Roger, I don't know, but I'd see Assange's action as a deliberate thumb in the eye of authority. What "opinion" is he expressing? He's just dumping a lot of information. No opinion expressed, that I'm aware of.

roger said...

i was referring to those of us offering our opinions. that wasn't clear at all was it.

i see assange more as the kid who says our loud that the king is naked (a good thing to have said out loud). much of what was revealed confirms some of our worst suspicions. the cables and other communications were apparently accessible to more than 2 million people, any one (or more) of whom could have "leaked" the info.

the response is just more theater. IMHO.