Postdiluvian Peruvians - Poem by gershon hepner
It’s hard to manage as Peruvian
if faced by fierce conquistadores,
but harder still if, postdiluvian,
you do not follow all the mores,
for shocked and awed as was the Inca
you may be killed by men who tinker
with moral judgments if you libel
the people claiming that their bible
commands them to blow up all in-
fidels who don’t think it’s a sin
for women outside an oasis
to drive cars and uncover faces.
You don’t need Copenhagen or
the jeremiads of Al Gore
to know that waters are fast rising,
which is why I am now surmising
that, like Tupac Amaru, we
will let conquistadores be
conquistadores, having lost
the will to keep what will be lost.
A hard rain’s on the way, and dark
encroaches, and there is no Ark.
They say that Noah gave no warning
to men before the awful dawning
which brought with flood a cataclysm
untaught by any catechism
to prediluvians. We’ve been warned,
and all the warnings we have scorned,
and like the Inca, when we pass,
we’ll all be history, alas.
Inspired by an Op-Ed article by Leon Wieseltier in the NYT on December 27,2009 (“After the Flood”) :
Public life in America has never been gracious or rational, but sometime around 2003 we entered a new era of volatility and virulence. The causes were many. Foremost among them, of course, was the war in Iraq, an adventure that was justified mendaciously and executed incompetently, but may finally introduce an open and self-governing society into the Arab world and confer the blessing of political liberty upon the Shiites, the Sunnis and — who cannot rejoice over this? — the Kurds. After “shock and awe, ” I will never again be shocked and awed; but one’s feelings about the origins of the war have no bearing upon one’s analysis of its outcome. And after the extreme action came the extreme reaction. George W. Bush espoused the spread of freedom as an objective of American foreign policy, so many of his critics hardened their hearts toward the tyrannized peoples of the world and decided that democratization was another form of imperialism and that the fault for our mistakes lay in our moral vocabulary. “Realism” became the slogan of otherwise sensitive souls. Back and forth the debate went, more and more reflexively, more and more soaked in contempt, in a process of Manicheanization (forgive the ugly word, but it describes an ugly thing) that is not yet done.
A few months after the invasion President Bush signed into law a vast tax cut, thereby codifying a conception of political democracy that made room for economic (and for its influence, political) oligarchy. The implications of the tax cut (along with its predecessor two years earlier) were not merely economic. They were also moral and philosophical. It taught contempt for government — the very government that was busy with the hallowed (and very expensive) task of protecting America and in less than a decade would come to the rescue of some of its wealthy despisers. How can you love the Constitution and hate the order that it created?
The tax cut sundered the American community with a sharp new sense of the classes, and of the gap between them, which was experienced less as a challenge and more as a fate. And if you insisted on the remediation of these injustices, you were guilty of “populism, ” and later of “socialism.” As we became more cruel, we became more stupid.
It was also circa 2003 that the promised land of the Internet began to look increasingly like a wasteland. Finally we had a “national conversation, ” and look at it! In our worship of the machine, we chose to exempt it from rudimentary standards of facticity and decency. Instead it became an engine of outrages and sensations.
The electronic mobs began to form: this was the perfect technology of polarization. We came to inhabit a culture of angels and devils, in which a person’s first thoughts are his best thoughts, and the wildest statement of a belief is its best statement. Attention deficit disorder is no longer a disorder in America. It is a norm. Attention is now the disorder.
Not long after the war began, I visited the extraordinary show of Leonardo’s drawings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I recall a feeling of sanctuary, particularly as I examined his sketches of infants, which was a theme that especially delighted me in those days. Then I came upon his designs for warfare, and then his representations of the deluge, his great diluvio. There was a gorgeous and terrifying sheet called “Cataclysmic Deluge Striking a Town.” My escape was over. Was not my own time also somewhat diluvian? It still is. The waters are still rising. There is too
© 2009 Gershon Hepner 12/27/09
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