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Memory & The Resistance

I believe it began with a comment from Bruce Springsteen. Soon after the coup in November 2016, The Boss was asked for his opinion and he said that, he guessed, they (himself, the band, like-minded people everywhere) were now, The Resistance.

Of course, this being America, and the era of the corporate dictatorship, the phrase was soon a marketing tool deployed by nearly everyone to use for their own reasons.

Sadly, because this is America, The Resistance is really nothing more than

this:

Recently I watched a famous actor do an imitation of a famous talk-show host who has been dead for 20 or so years.

I’m old enough to remember when the host was the king of the late night world of television and there were only three networks that mattered. It was a flawless imitation booth affectionate and nuanced and displayed the precision the actor is known for.

It also felt like a hinge that could no longer be well oiled and was due for retirement. It happens like that because when we traffic in ephemera we set ourselves up for irrelevancy. In his essay, Exactitude, from Six Memos for the Next Millennium, Italo Calvino spoke of the dangers of living in a world full of an unending rainfall of video and film each one a sharp point of now yet condemned to fade as memory is replaced with a perpetual what’s next.

Memory is a kind of authority. Authority enforces its own relevancy. It’s not just that one listens to an expert its that one believes in the idea of expertise and in systems that insure the passing of knowledge.

Authority of course, like most things, is easy to abuse and easy to fabricate resulting in charlatans and gangsters of varying danger. There’s the office bully and the schoolyard thug and at the other end of the spectrum there’s the self-appointed goon and his army of malignant trolls who pull off the triple sowcow and stick the landing by, on the one hand, denouncing experts as inherently fraudulent (elitist privileged urban foreign and usually Jews while insisting that they’re not bigots or fascists) and at the same time demanding that they be taken seriously as experts precisely because their ignorance, lack of training, study, and ethics, makes them the perfect person to lead everyone else out of danger to a mythic sort of safety full of prosperity.

Sandcastles are often fun to build and people with a certain talent can construct wonders that, of course, everyone knows, can’t last. Certain monks can be found who make mandalas out of sand precisely because existence is fleeting and our gestures, or efforts at endurance let alone eternity, are in the end fated to fail.

Years ago a group of monks visited a professional baseball team. They spent days making a sand mandala and it was wrecked by a child who saw a vast stretch of colored sand and quite naturally thought – that’s for me. The monks were of course not upset. It was, they said, the natural order of things and a perfect illustration of their point.

They also stopped by the locker room of the baseball team, chatted with the players and, when asked, blessed the bat of the team’s third baseman. Who hit three home runs that day.

Yes, he was a well-established slugger but, he had faith and the monks had blessings and the home team won.

Everything fades. And yet, paradoxically, knowing that, and understanding the significance of how things pass, requires knowledge. It even requires, wisdom.

At the end of Fahrenheit 451, the rebels have set themselves the task of remembering. Each of them becomes the keeper of a portion of a book so that when asked they will recite it and pass it on to the listener. They are libraries and they are books and they are essential.

They are, having taken action, and set themselves on the gears of the machine, the genuine resistance.

 

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