The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

“Noboru Wataya probably had some special power, and he knew how to find people who were especially responsive to that power and to draw something out of them. How he managed to do it and what the occasion was I have no idea, but at some point Noboru Wataya increased his violent power geometrically. Through television and the other media, he gained the ability to train his magnified power on society at large. Now he is trying to bring out something that the great mass of people keep hidden in the darkness of their unconscious. He wants to use it for his own political advantage.

“It’s a tremendously dangerous thing, this thing he is trying to draw out; it’s fatally smeared with violence and blood, and it’s directly connected to the darkest depths of history, because its final effect is to destroy and obliterate people on a massive scale.”

Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

Published in 1995, this passage from The Wind-Up Bird chronicle struck me as particularly applicable today. But then I suppose it would. In the book Murakami details atrocities of wars long over repeating themselves throughout history. No matter the war, no matter the conflict, violence, sadism, torture again and again demonstrating our own powerlessness to combat the darkness within us.

So here we are, with a madman in the whitehouse, his one talent, his all powerful weapon, the ability to bring out something that the great mass of people keep hidden in the darkness of their unconscious and use it for his own political advantage.

Is it as hopeless at it feels? Is all truly lost?

Scientists say it is. Too late to reverse the inevitable death of the planet. Well, it’s all connected, isn’t it? Our mistake was in living like it wasn’t.

Movies lie, well, most media lies, particularly when it tells you it won’t. Never trust anyone who says, “You can trust me.”

“What’s the good news? What’s the bad news?” Kurt Vonnegut often asked his audiences, rhetorically of course. He lived the bombing of Dresden; its complete annihilation. Centuries of historic art and artifacts turned to dust in moments. That’s what he wrote about in Slaughter House 5. That and how men fight and die, when they’re lucky. When they’re not they keep living and remembering, carrying a burden of shame. They know what lies within men’s hearts, within their own and now they must try to forget it. How does one know that and return to a normal life?

Men know how men die. Men understand that violence. Let me tell you how women die. It’s entirely different.

No, perhaps not today.

What’s the good news? What’s the bad news? Vonnegut said that Hamlet knew. Hamlet who learned his uncle killed his father to marry his mother, from his father’s ghost. But we all know that ghosts can be extremely unreliable. They may not be who they say they are at all. They may simply be spirits preying upon human weakness, feasting upon the energy of our sorrow. Or they may be nothing more than a manifestation of our darkest dread, the product of a disintegrating psyche consumed with emotion too heavy for the vessel.

Who hasn’t been there?

Nevertheless, it does seem plausible because it feels true. And what is truth except that which confirms the things we already know? Facts be damned.

So Hamlet confronts his mother and kills Polonius, an annoying nat of a man, but father to his financeé, so well, now they have that in common, he and Ophelia, fatherless. Still, not a great way to start a marriage.

Which was never to be because there’s a play Hamlet commissions to shame his uncle into a confession and in his zealotry he humiliates Ophelia for sport, it would seem. Anyway, she kills herself.

Nothing good comes from Hamlet’s actions. I suppose that’s what makes it a tragedy. So what’s the point Vonnegut wanted to make? Something about good things might bring bad results and bad things could bring good ones. I must be leaving something out of his Hamlet analogy because I can’t remember one good thing that comes out of anything Hamlet does. Although, there’s a bigger picture. Perhaps, from Hamlet’s perspective, he is fighting for justice. From everyone else’s perspective, he’s a tyrant-in-waiting ready to behead his political enemies because his father’s ghost told him to.

Our lives are not a hero’s journey. Happy endings are a lie. Yes, that was it. Vonnegut wanted us to know that happy endings could bring bad beginnings, with the reverse being true as well.

So where does that leave us? Somewhere in the zip code of hope? That this terrible thing may not be the end, but the beginning of something, if not good, then at least better?

That’s hard to see. Reality lives outside the realm of imagination and theory. Good news. Bad news. There’s just a lot of bad news. I could go through it, a litany of all the bad things that have ever happened. But I won’t force you to look at it. Heck, I can’t look at it.

The next question. Is it fate or can any of us create the change to bring about something good? Will our actions lead to justice or just more tragedy? Isn’t there a road that’s paved with good intentions, but ends up somewhere bad?

I think, do you want to know what I think? I think we have to try to do something. David Mamet, in 3 Uses of the Knife, wrote that often we prefer to stand up and rush around boldly instead of doing any actual thing that matters. Yes, so instead of marches and Facebook rants, in place of things that look like doing something, we do an actual thing to make the world around us a better place.

I know what you’re thinking, but just listen. This is all I’m going to say. We’re in a battle everyday and whether or not any one of us recognizes the part we play in it, what we think, how we act, the words we say, place us squarely on one side or the other. When someone can use the forces of television and the media to draw out the worst in us, then the reverse must be true. It must be true that if we choose to live, even in the smallest ways, better, kinder, more generously, when no one is looking, we can push back the rising darkness. That’s its vulnerability. It overlooks the smallest of us, the least important, the powerless because it thinks its inoculated us, rendered us useless in society. But it does not have our thoughts and in that way, our actions could create a ripple effect that goes all the way to the top to topple the tyrant.

It’s just something I’ve been thinking about.

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