Friday, July 2, 2010

There is Nothing that can "Never Happen Again"

The expression first became a rallying cry during the First World War, with the slogan “Never Again.”  Then there came Buchenwald, and it was “never again” all over again.

Katrina was a natural disaster piled on top of Army Corps indifference, which was never to be allowed to happen again.

The more recent worldwide financial debacle really concentrated minds worldwide, so that, two years later, heads of finance from the countries that make things happen (even things that are never supposed to happen again) gathered in Toronto to make sure that this particular event should never happen again. The President returned home with an assignment from the countries that America used to tell what do do, which was to kick domestic opposition into line to create a Consumer Protection Agency (or whatever it’s called, don’t hold me to names) so that at least if this does happen again, it won’t be our fault.

The President was unwise to hold that it would never happen again.  But hardly less wise than BP that has been assuring us that thanks to its good faith and its technical know-how what we could all a “magnitude ten” oil spill would never happen again.

Never?  With more than 3000 oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico alone, not to mention those we haven’t been told about in other oceans and on other lands.

Or, less spectacularly, the gas rigs whose numbers remain secret, on lands that used to be picture postcard perfect, throughout the country, fracking, or fracturing the soil hundreds of yards down, pumping scarce water laden with chemicals into once fertile land, sending fumes into the water pipes of nearby kitchens, causing them to burn in contact with a match.  At this point, the question becomes: “Never what?”

Never more jobs lost, never more private prisons built, never more men in search of work arrested, never more soldiers turned into invalids - never more what?

I don’t know if it was due to his famous poem “The Raven” that the early nineteenth century writer Edgar Allan Poe is seen as a forerunner  of science fiction, but surely our powerless lives today, would have been considered science-fiction in his time.

The hero of Poe’s poem hallucinates a black raven sitting unruffled over his bedroom door, repeating only one word: ‘Nevermore”.  He mourns the loss of his love Lenore, and asks the raven if there is “balm in Gilead”, to which the answer is also “Nevermore”.
Still not getting it, the poet implores:
‘Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,

It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels named Lenore     But: “Quoth the raven,`Nevermore.'”

Now, with a dramatic gesture the poet orders the beast to:

“Get back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!”

“Take thy form from off my door!.... and leave no black plume as    a token of that lie...!”
“The raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming

Unable to accept the finality of death, Poe wanted desperately to bring back the past.  We, very differently, imagine that we can prevent its repetition.   But like Poe's demon, we are dreaming.

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