Op-Ed by Janet Phelan
It has been said that there are only two kinds of people who can change the world—the criminal and the artist. The former does so through his lust for power, the latter through seeking out the sparks within our souls and in so doing, setting us free.
The criminal acting within society may face retaliation and imprisonment. The smarter criminal seeks high office, thereby evading normal legal restraints. The 20th century saw the ascendancy of the smarter criminal, in Stalin, Pol Pot, Hitler and George Bush. When the US dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, she invoked and enabled the criminal within her. From that point on, the free world began to succumb to the criminal element.
The criminal seeks, above all else, power. This power is subsequently deployed for the criminal’s personal aims. While the criminal in high office may and does seek to delude his flock—through token evidence of his “benevolence”—his ultimate allegiance is to himself. In advancing his aims, he may seek cohorts with similar ideology, but ultimately he is for himself.
The artist works contrarily. He seeks to illuminate and therefore free us from the common human condition, which is the imprisonment in self. The very same imprisonment that impels the criminal is the focus of the artist. Working at the still center in the turning world, the artist frees us from the shells of our prison, our self-interest and self-serving, and invokes our connection with the “Other.” Whether this “Other” is spiritual, whether it invokes Nature or our common humanity depends on both the vision of the artist and the capacity of the recipient. Whatever the “Other” is, it is not you.
Or, to be more accurate, it is not “I.”
In her 1971 collection, Power Politics, poet Margaret Atwood wrote:
Imperialist, keep off
the trees I said
No use: you walk backwards
admiring your own footprints
In this quatrain, Atwood captured the conflict between the power broker and the artist, who seeks to protect our world while the “imperialist” seeks his own reflection and reification.
In another poem in the book, she cynically notes:
It would be so good if you’d
only stay up there
where I put you, I could
believe, you’d solve
most of my religious problems…
Again, she illuminates the core aim of the powerful, which embodies the desire to become ever more powerful, possibly even immortal.
At this juncture in America, we face a crisis in criminality. Our leaders have chosen to ignore the rights and very existence of those in other lands, invading and exterminating on thin and unsupportable claims that the other countries have weapons of mass destruction. In fact, these are our weapons of choice and we are using them liberally to destroy sovereign peoples.
But we are not stopping there. Like Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot, our leaders are also attacking their own civilian populations. Often this is done through a legal system gone mad—accusing and jailing people who try to defend the rights of others is a favorite tactic, as well as disbarring and therefore disabling lawyers who also try to defend civil rights. However, our leaders are not stopping with “lawfare” and are engaged in other, more covert actions against US citizens, including, but not limited to fluoride in the water, GMO foods, chemtrails, vaccines, lead in the water and a potential deployment of a pandemic agent, through tweaked water systems.
The second amendment is useless to us here. We cannot effectively protect ourselves against this amalgamation of force and weapons with our pea shooters. And the invocations of the second amendment may also deter our attention away from the core of this crisis in criminality.
Adrienne Rich may have foreseen and captured the intentionality of the crisis in criminality when she penned these lines in the mid 1980s:
Violence as purification: the one idea.
One massacre great enough to undo another
one last-ditch operation to solve the problem
of the old operation that was bungled…..
At the core, the crisis in criminality points to a general relinquishment of exactly what our artists seek to invoke—our knowledge of the “Other,” however we can define it for ourselves. Through fear, through intimidation, through threats of force or promises of enrichment, our leaders have captured our souls. They have induced their bureaucrats, their police, their social workers, their press officers, their corporate liaisons, that is is better for them personally to go with the program. And what is this, if not soul capture?
In a poem entitled “In Praise of Feeling Bad About Yourself,” Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska writes:
….A jackal doesn’t understand remorse
Lions and lice don’t waver in their course
Why should they, when they know they’re right?
Jackals, lions and lice. We are being reduced, through our complicity, to predators and bloodsuckers.
Writing in the poem, “Whispers of Immortality,” TS Eliot reminds us that
….The sleek Brazilian jaguar
Does not in its arboreal gloom
Distill so rank a feline smell
As Grishkin in a drawing-room.
What then, are our options? Are we to let the criminals who have seized control of our government, of many governments, to simply capture our complicity, our conscience and our souls? We do have a choice here. And this choice may in fact rewrite the future.
As Atwood writes:
….I rest here without power
to save myself, tasting
salt in my mouth, the fact that
you won’t save me…
We must, in fact, save ourselves. I posit that as long as we are complicit, as long as we abet the criminals through our silence, our evasion of the “Other,” we continue to strengthen and enable the criminals. The only antidote to criminality lies in its opposite.
None other than Bob Dylan suggested this when he wrote: “To live outside the law you must be honest.”
Invoking every level of “Other,” TS Eliot wrote in 1930:
…Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
and even among these rocks
Sister, mother and spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated
And let my cry come unto Thee…
The crisis in criminality can be seen as a crisis of spirit. In spirit it must be addressed and in spirit, overcome. And with the awakening of spirit, of necessity comes action. Writing in 1983, Adrienne Rich stated:
I make you no promises
but something’s breaking open here
there were certain extremes we had to know
before we could continue….
The Artist vs. The Executioner: The message is not so hard to understand. Free your soul and the rest can then unfold. As it must, if we are going to endure and overcome.
Janet Phelan is an investigative journalist and author of the groundbreaking , EXILE. Her articles previously appeared in such mainstream venues as the Los Angeles Times, Orange Coast Magazine, Long Beach Press Telegram, etc. In 2004, Janet “jumped ship” and now exclusively writes for independent media. She is also the author of two collections of poetry—The Hitler Poems and Held Captive. She resides abroad.