Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Of Exasperation and Democracy

I sometimes send an email update to a few hundred people to inform them of my creative activities. To my latest update I added a paragraph detailing some of my main reasons for not voting in the U.S. (Not much changes, here’s a link to what I had to say about voting two years ago.) This paragraph was not only pertinent to the time I sent out the mailing (a week before the 2008 presidential elections) but also to an audiovisual installation of mine Registering Our Exasperation currently on exhibition at the Melkweg in Amsterdam.
I will not be voting in the upcoming U.S. elections, though I am eligible to do so. I see the electoral situation as not so different from that of Belarus, wherein the democratic process is so obviously flawed that participation only seems to indicate legitimization. I wouldn't bet on a horse that I knew in advance would not make it to the race. Only the extraordinarily well-funded are given access to the public through mainstream media. And they--the well-funded (and forked-tongued)--maintain attitudes that are so obviously divergent from the majority of the people that even with their obscene funding they will not allow other ideas to compete for public attention and support. I am not suggesting that there is no difference between the two main actors this particular year, but that the difference does not speak to the breakdown of democracy. Given the various extinction-level crises that an American president sits at the helm of, I am not willing to be pragmatic in the question of government, at least not with regard to the illusion of choice. As I have written many times before, this is not only an American issue. However one chooses to participate in democracies flawed or perfect, I advocate a particpation in community that obviates mega-powerful, centralized governments. To be clear, I am refering to the kind of participation that Henry David Thoreau had in mind when he wrote "Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence." Because without a community actively defined by those who live within it, any government is irrelevant and any election is ridiculous. If it is change that one wants, it is change that one must do (and not change that one must vote for).
Anyway, I received a number of thought-provoking responses, some from people who share my attitude. The majority of the substantive responses, however, were from people who thought my decision poor, although all agreed with the notion that American democracy is in a very sorry state. But the suggestion seemed to be vote for the candidate who is black, because he is black, and that is historic, and he talks about change, and change would be good, and the other candidate is really much much worse. Which all may be true, but how that would address the democracy issue I do not know. As it happens, I found this to be exasperating, again appropriate to the work I am presenting at the Melkweg. So I wrote the following to be made available at my exhibition. It has some cursing in it.
How do I register my exasperation? How do I indicate the frustrating understanding I have come to that mega-nations & governments run by madmen are causing all of the problems—problems that, year in & year out, someone, somewhere, is telling me I should solve by voting for different madmen? Could everyone please stop telling me to vote?

Go ahead & vote, vote, get your candidate or political party of choice to win some sham election, vote. Pat yourself on the back for participating in democracy & then go back to sleep for the next few years, while politicians & the corporations that own them ride roughshod over the earth, killing people & rivers, enslaving children & the integrity of genes, slaughtering languages & rainforests, mocking democracy.

Or do they? Do they mock democracy? Hitler, Mugabe, Lukashenko, Hussein all won elections. Even that shit-brained son-of-a-bitch Bush nearly did, twice. What is democracy anyway in our age of perverted information, when all information is commercialized, when shit floats, when access to your intellect is sold to the highest bidder, when soundbites will have to suffice because neither you nor your candidate have time to read the policies drawn up in backrooms by people whose names no one even knows?

How do I register my exasperation? Stop telling me to vote. Stop telling me to participate in a counterfeit electoral process, in a democracy in which political parties can be divided over whether human industry is cooking the planet or not, over whether the violence should be conducted by insufferable idiot jerk-offs or charming intellectuals, over whether this or that group has the right to self-determination, over whether torturing someone constitutes ‘torture’, over whether the integrity of borders is more precious than the integrity of the lives of those who wish to cross them, over the extent to which women’s reproductive rights & the civil rights of homosexuals threaten the nation.

I am not part of a community that stretches across multiple mountain ranges, over rivers, beyond the corpses of once-proud & impenetrable forests, that has asserted its right to pave the planet & pour chemicals into the eyes of bunnies to create new cosmetics or find cures to cancers the culture causes in the first place.

No. How do I register my exasperation? What place does democracy have in the mass extinctions we are witnessing, mass extinctions of a magnitude only seen when a comet smashes into the planet or an ice age covers it for centuries? Vote. Vote for liars who pay lip service to the builders of bombs, to the financiers of fire & brimstone, to the high priests of pedophilia and misogyny, to the conquerors of carbon, the gangsters of genetics, the vanquishers of forests. Vote for them & encourage everyone around you to do the same, get the vote out, they say, get it out. Rock it. Get it out & then go back to sleep, & in a few years’ time another cast of back-alley elite, socialite sociopaths will dance on camera for you in expensive suits, with flecks of corporate shit in their teeth & the fresh blood of a million children on their breath.

You raise your voice & say no, no, these are not my nations & this is not my way, these democracies are killing my planet, my first & last & only beloved planet, & listen to the response you get, they say, with less subtlety than Chavez or bin Laden: but do you want a dictatorship? And that’s when you realize just how shallow all this fuckin’ democracy is, you knew it stank, you knew it was false, a fraud, a fake, but it wasn’t until democracy loving people—& it’s true you are surrounded by intelligent and creative people, & they love democracy, just love it, every time an election comes around they get hard with hatred for the greater of two evils—but when such creative, intelligent, imaginative & democracy loving people as those around you fail to imagine anything but this violent shithouse, this fiction, this sham, this obscenity parading as righteousness, this vile method to slowly annihilate the whole goddamn toy, well that’s when you ask, how do I register my exasperation? How do I register my exasperation? How, midst all this skullduggery, all this shallow & pernicious blather, do I register my exasperation?

For a while, I listened to the radio program Democracy Now! I listened & I listened & all the guests were getting tortured or incarcerated or had brothers & sons about to be executed for the color of their skin or the sexual orientation of their partners, or were lawyers fighting against the latest surveillance laws & bipartisan gladhanding to fund more war & on & on & on. So I took away the words & left the aspiration, meaning both what these beleaguered activists & dissidents wanted and literally the sound of their breathing & pausing while they spoke. And it sounded like exasperation. They were all exasperated, like me, perhaps like you.

This was in 2006 & everything they were saying was something no one wanted to hear, people just wanted the economy to go up, up, up & for news of the wars to go away. Well the wars are still here & at the moment the economy stinks the way it has always stank to me, like shit, but back to the artwork in question all that audio of exasperation was of things no one wanted to hear, so I put it together with the text from my video Things You Cannot See, which I had just made & the two seemed to go together very nicely, things you cannot hear & things you cannot see, I put them together & gave the work the title Registering Our Exasperation, & so to answer the question How do I register my exasperation? I think a pretty decent start is to make some art, something that relates & transports at the same time, in which the content goes together very nicely, as artwork should, form is important after all, yes, to make some art & to talk to people, to vote with my whole influence & to turn my back on the madmen.