PEACE AND JUSTICE FILES: HEAVY THOUGHTS ABOUT LEITKULTUR

(My column for May 2017)

I have “gone to ground” for the time being in Krefeld, a city of about 225,000, near Düsseldorf in western Germany. I am staying with my cousin and his wife while I figure out what’s supposed to happen next.

Cities like Krefeld throughout Germany have become the endpoints for the journeys of many conflict-displaced refugees (“Flüchtlinge” in German) – around 3500, I am told. There is also a much larger number of economic migrants who have come looking for work, some of whom have set up businesses. Turkish barbershops, convenience stores (“Kiosks”), and pizzerias are everywhere; the latter frequently also serve “Döner,” a halal variation of the Greek gyros.

Döner has become so popular in Germany – as has, say, Mexican food in the US – that one could almost say it’s become part of the culture.

And as you might guess, that kind of development bothers some people.

The German Interior Minister, Thomas de Maiziere, set off a bit of a stir here recently with an op-ed in which he attempted to articulate some basic values of what Germans call “Leitkultur.” This word means “leading culture” or “guiding culture” – though sometimes it gets translated as “dominant culture.”

Minister de Maiziere’s essay generally makes unsurprising and not-particularly controversial points about the important roles played by history, philosophy, and the arts in the shaping of modern German society, and the value of hard work and education. (He gives special shoutouts to Bach and Goethe, for example, though not Nietzche or Wagner.) But a couple of his suggested principles seem specifically intended to be direct swipes at certain aspects of Muslim culture. “We are an open society. We show our face. We are not Burka,” he writes.

To this last point, the Gruenen Jugend, the youth wing of the Green Party, responded curtly: “We are not Lederhosen, either.” De Maizere’s piece has drawn similar scoffs and critiques from other politicians and organizations. (If you’d like to explore further, I suggest the English-language website Deutsche Welle, which has many articles on this topic.)

My cousin thinks that the whole kerfuffle is a pre-electoral stunt – there are state elections coming soon, and Federal ones in the fall – and the discussion will wither away thereafter. He’s probably right. Issues of culture and identity are hot buttons, after all, guaranteed to touch a nerve and bring out the voters. But it’s a critical discussion that should not just be kept alive, but expanded.

Part of de Maizere’s problem, I think, is that in stopping at the national level he fails to take the next logical step. He writes, “We remain, non-negotiably, part of the West, proud Europeans, and enlightened patriots,” but it doesn’t occur to him that there might be another layer, a global “Leitweltkultur” if you will, a set of common human values that can guide the relationships between nations, cultures, and individuals alike. This would include not just the already largely acknowledged values of human rights and mutual respect, but a clearer articulation of the rights – and responsibilities – of both “hosts” and “guests.” In the unsettled times to come, as more people are uprooted by cultural and climactic unrest, this will become increasingly important.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, we’re about to go grocery shopping. We’ll pick up some currywurst, maybe… perhaps some hummus and falafel… After all, it’s all good.

SPEAK LOCALLY – WITH A GLOBAL VOICE

The problems that we face – such as climate change, inequality, and the resurgence of authoritarianism, nationalism, and militarism – are global in scope and nature. We may feel isolated in our local struggles, but it is a very powerful thing to realize, as I have in the course of my travels, that there are quite literally billions across the planet who are waging similar struggles, feeling similar feelings, and seeking similar solutions. So when you speak locally, use that global voice, knowing that you are not alone.

Once I had a castle

Once I had a castle
But it fell down stone by stone
It’s alright, it was just a hassle
For I lived in there alone

Once I had a golden chain
I wore it cross my chest
Then I lost it in the driving rain
But it was really for the best

And once I had a silver ring
That my love gave to me
At least she didn’t take it back
When she’d had enough of me

My To-Do List

  1. Help establish multi-party democracy in the United States.
  2. Encourage the surgical separation of Christianity and Capitalism.
  3. Help facilitate the transition to
    1. The Next American Republic.
    2. A New Values Economy.
  4. Further develop & expound the philosophy & methodology of “Serious Silliness.”
  5. Finish & disseminate creative works (songs, essays, etc.).
  6. Develop a better relationship with/understanding of mortality; find an opportunity for a good & useful death.
  7. Have fun in the meantime.

Continue reading

Excerpt from The McAdooiad: The Vale of Pundits

(In my epic-in-progress poem The McAdooiad, a political consultant leads an expedition to Hades to conduct a focus group there. While there, they are given a tour by the shade of someone who might be Mark Twain, or maybe Kurt Vonnegut, or possibly both. They travel to the section of Hell called the Vale of Pundits.)

“Hell has expanded since Dante’s day,” the guide explained.
“More than just nine rings – indeed, nine times nine sets of rings,
A great anti-amusement complex, a vast park of punishments,
Mall upon mall of maulings, subdivisions of sufferings,
For those who could not, would not, dared not repent.

“Construction continues, new Hells are designed, approved, erected,
But it cannot keep up with the influx of souls – hence your delays upon entry.
Still for all the mass production, for all the identical highrising rows,
Yet there are some who have rated their very own personal dooms,
who have crafted their eternal homes, which even now await their architects.

“Ah, we have arrived. Come, gentlemen, behold the Vale of Pundits.”
The huge conveyance rattled to a stop, its doors sighed open
And roughly spewed them onto a lofty platform.
Before them swam a frothy miasma of shifting positions,
A sight that made them dizzy and disoriented.

Like the froth of bathtub suds, when a young child empties
The whole container of Mr. Bubble beneath the faucet’s roar;
But also like a pit of lava, bubbling, erupting, red-hot heaving –
So did this jumble of enclosures appear
To the travelers’ bewildered eyes.

“Each of these spheres,” explained their white-haired escort,
“That you see before you, stands ready for its guest.
These are for those who sold their gifts to the highest bidders,
Who betrayed both their craft and their fellow beings
To deceive and divide, to satisfy the needs of the powerful.”

“Somewhere in this Hell … here, this one: see this vast, empty plain?
In its midst  there lies a table; behind, a comfortable leather chair.
On the table sits a great golden microphone, and an ashtray with a cigar.
There is a man who has condemned himself to sit behind that microphone
Forever, and smoke that cigar, and talk and talk and talk and talk….

“Trying to convince someone, anyone, that he does not belong there.
The microphone, however, will not be connected to anything.
Only he will hear himself, and he will hear only himself
But he will not even be able to convince himself.
Because no one could ever make him change his mind.”

“And here! Oh, look, you spinners of words:
For here is something you may perhaps find instructional.
Behold this scene, see these halls of mirrors?
Here shall languish a man, who mastered the art of litany;
The lie, repeated enough times, he made to seem truth.

“So every word here uttered, each sound made, shall rebound
Unendingly, to the eternal torment of those poor Irish ears.
But this is the bed which he himself has made.
Here, I can demonstrate…” and leaning close, the guide
Whispered one small word: “Benghazi”

Like the clanging of bells in a clocktower, as evening’s sun
Disappears behind the tenements, or the sounding of klaxons
That warned of impending bombers, the word
Fed back upon itself, building force without remorse or mercy,
Until the travelers thought their heads should indeed explode.

It lasted but a second, this great cacaphony, this
Tsunami of dreck, but it left them all grey faced and ashen.
“Tell me, Guide,” said Barychnikov, his beard trembling,
“I recognize these men of whom you speak. What of
That woman, tall and gaunt, who so delights in outrage…”

“Say no more,” the guide replied. “She of whom you speak
Has such great pain created, such revulsion caused,
With such carelessness and cruelty, with such deliberate malice,
That were I to show you the fate that she has created here
Your minds would go mad, and your hearts shatter.”

“One last ere we move on…” He turned with bushy eyebrows
Towards the churning mass, and one sphere moved to the front.
They saw a great rotisserie, a turning spit, above red-hot coals.
The spit was empty, but standing all around were monstrous,
Hungry, clutching hands eagerly straining towards the fire.

“Here shall soon reside a man, once powerful, a leader of the pack,
Who built an empire from falsehood and fright. Of great bulk
And greater ego, he forced himself upon the women in his employ,
Enslaving them to his appetites. So here he shall spin, if you will,
While he is groped, prodded, molested, and worse.”

A random bunch of my favorite songs

Other than setting apart the Top Thirty-or-So, these are in no particular order – I’ll just post ’em as I think of ’em… These are some of the songs that can make me stop in my tracks, turn up the radio, dance in my chair, drive a little too fast, or sing along at the top of my lungs…. These songs make my scalp tingle, my heart race, or my mind soar. Some of these songs are part of my self-definition; some mark particular moments, or even eras, in my life… So, feel free to pick one you haven’t heard of, look it up, and check it out.

First, my Top Thirty-or-So Essential Faves as of the moment…

  1. Kate Bush, “The Big Sky”
  2. 801, “TNK (Tomorrow Never Knows)”
  3. The Beatles, “It’s All Too Much”
  4. Roxy Music, “The Thrill of It All”
  5. Brian Eno, “No One Receiving”
  6. Peter Gabriel, “Solsbury Hill”
  7. Blue Öyster Cult, “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”
  8. REM, “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”
  9. Moody Blues, “I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)”
  10. Talking Heads, “Life During Wartime”
  11. The Who, “Eminence Front”
  12. John Cale & Brian Eno, “Spinning Away”
  13. The Horse Flies, “I Live Where It’s Grey”
  14. Talking Heads, “Stay Hungry”
  15. Pink Floyd, “One of These Days”
  16. Laurie Anderson, “O Superman”
  17. Bjork, “Human Behavior”
  18. Moody Blues, “Legend of a Mind”
  19. Simon & Garfunkel, “The Boxer”
  20. David Byrne, “Big Business”
  21. Paul Simon, “Cool Cool River”
  22. Talking Heads, “Psycho Killer”
  23. George Harrison, “Art of Dying”
  24. Radiohead, “Subterranean Homesick Alien”
  25. Gary Numan, “Cars”
  26. Brian Eno, “St. Elmo’s Fire”
  27. Talking Heads, “Burning Down the House”
  28. Moody Blues, “Story in Your Eyes”
  29. Depeche Mode, “Never Let Me Down”
  30. Talking Heads, “Road to Nowhere”

And now some others…

  • Talking Heads, “I Zimbra”
  • Natalie Merchant, “Carnival”
  • Radiohead, “Creep”
  • Bush, “Machine Head”
  • David Bowie, “‘Heroes'”
  • Jane’s Addiction, “Jane Says”
  • Pink Floyd, “Us and Them”
  • Peter Gabriel, “I Have the Touch”
  • King Crimson, “Discipline”
  • David Byrne, “Five Golden Sections”
  • Talking Heads, “Houses in Motion”
  • Emerson, Lake & Palmer, “Lucky Man”
  • Cat Stevens, “Wild World”
  • Radiohead, “Karma Police”
  • Foo Fighters, “Everlong”
  • Pearl Jam, “Black”
  • Eddie Vedder, “Big Hot Sun”
  • David Byrne/Brian Eno, “America is Waiting”
  • Human Sexual Response, “What Does Sex Mean to Me?”
  • The Beatles, “I Am the Walrus”
  • Synergy, “Breakdown in World Communication”
  • Stephen Foster, “Hard Times Come Again No More”
  • Bjork, “I Miss You”
  • Kate Bush, “Deeper Understanding”
  • Laurie Anderson, “Big Science”
  • Tom Tom Club, “Wordy Rappinghood”
  • Roxy Music, “Out of the Blue”
  • Cat Stevens, “Peace Train”
  • David Byrne, “Big Blue Plymouth”
  • Bob Dylan, “Subterranean Homesick Blues”
  • Natalie Merchant, “Wonder”
  • 10,000 Maniacs, “These Are the Days”
  • Radiohead, “Fake Plastic Trees”
  • Talking Heads, “Nothing but Flowers”
  • Gary Numan. “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?”
  • Wall of Voodoo,”Mexican Radio”
  • Jimmy Eat World, “Sweetness”
  • Tori Amos, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
  • Melanie, “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)”
  • Talking Heads, “Don’t Worry About the Government”
  • Harry Nilsson, “Jump Into the Fire”
  • Rod Stewart, “(I Know) I’m Losing You”
  • Paul Simon, “American Tune”
  • Soundgarden, “Black Hole Sun”
  • Bush, “Everything Zen”
  • Brian Eno, “Third Uncle”
  • Plastic Bertrand, “Ca Plane Pour Moi”
  • Talking Heads, “Crosseyed and Painless”
  • Elton John, “Madman Across the Water”
  • Mason Williams, “Classical Gas”

Limerick for The Hague

A fellow arrived at the Hague
With symptoms both dire and vague
When he spiked a fever
They called Unilever
Who said “Sounds to us like the plague.”