The Konformist

September 2001

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Run, Humans, Run

by Mickey Z.

In the 1999 German film Run, Lola, Run, the female protagonist is magically given three chances to cope with a thorny situation. Like the reset button on a video game or computer, Lola gets to go back and start from the beginning if she screws up.

September 14, 2001: There are people outside my building holding candles, waving flags, and singing the National Anthem as an SUV cruises by with the words "Nuke 'em" soaped onto its rear window. They are all craving normalcy. Even with the severity of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, the ultimate goal at the end of the day is always normalcy. This allows for the authorities to pronounce amidst the fear, sorrow, doubt, and anger, "Don't worry. Things were bad before but now, we1ve gotten everything back to normal."

Normal. Perhaps that's precisely where the problem lies. What is normal in our country and on our planet? What type of society have we humans cultivated as we sit arrogantly atop the intellectual food chain?

The New York Stock Exchange was shut down by the attacks, but once things return to normal, Wall Street will go back to making decisions that impact horrendously upon the large majority of the globe and the top one percent of Americans will continue to own wealth equal to the bottom 95 percent.

Cars will again have free reign on the island of Manhattan. The toxic haze caused by the Two Towers collapsing will be replaced the normal toxic haze induced by America1s automobile culture (not to mention the normal amount of air traffic). That SUV owner I mentioned earlier will wipe the soap off his window and continue driving in a nation where an area equal to all the arable land in Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania was paved in the last centuryÐan area that requires maintenance costing over $200 million a day and bloated military to keep the oil flowing.

The individuals I heard singing songs of patriotism will dwell in the normalcy of 1200 citizens incarcerated each week, 4000 new cases of cancer diagnosed each day, and 19 insect species becoming extinct each hour. They1ll step over homeless people to go buy clothes made in sweatshops or prisons or by slave labor while 52 of the top 100 economies are the planet aren1t countries, they1re corporations. The largest employer in the U.S. will still be Wal-Mart and 50 percent of their employees will still qualify for food stamps.

Our children will vaccinated and medicated to attend school. Every day, 80 percent of Americans will take a potentially addictive prescription drug and 52 percent of those drugs will still be either pulled from the shelves or relabeled because they1ll prove to be more hazardous than studies had indicated. Normal means 100,000 Americans per month will continue to lose their health insurance while two million disabled people are still held against their will in nursing homes.

Automobiles, trucks, and other fossil fuel-burning vehicles still kill a million wild animals per week in the U.S. - not counting tens of thousands of family pets. One hundred animals species a day become extinct, 100 million animals per year die in laboratories, and 15 million animals are slaughtered each day although up to 14 times as many people could be fed by using the same land currently reserved for livestock grazing.

Normal means land mines and the death penalty; it means racial profiling and slavery.

It means gay-bashing and sexism and the shooting of abortion doctors.

It means pesticides, homicides, and suicides.

Normal means GMOs, HMOs, HBO, and the WTO.

The FBI, CIA, NSA, and KKK.

It means banned books, COINTELPRO, and the war on drugs.

Strip malls, strip mining, and strip joints.

Normal means television and junk food and Nike sneakers.

It means global warming, the greenhouse effect, topsoil depletion, and nuclear proliferation.

Normal means religion and advertising and public relations and the so-called free market.

And it also means consumerism and capitalism and bunch of other 3isms.2

When is all back to normal, innumerable children will be sold into prostitution. five thousand Americans die each day due to heart disease or cancer while 5000 Iraqi children die each month thanks to U.S.-sponsored sanctions. An average of 2,174 people will die each day due to war. Nine of out ten will be civilians. Five out of ten of those civilians will be children. Each day, 27 American children will die from poverty and starvation, 60 million people will starve to death each year worldwide, and every two seconds, somewhere on this planet, a child starves to death. (How many have we lost while you read this article?)

During the crisis, many New Yorkers (and Americans) felt some semblance of solidarity. Strangers shared smiles and tears. When "normal" reappears, horns will honk, pushing and shoving will return, and we1ll all pass each other on the street without so much as a glance.

In his 1941 classic, The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, Henry Miller contemplated what it might be like to bring back an American Indian to life and show him the steel mills of Pennsylvania. Miller imagined him thinking: "So it was for this that you deprived us of our birthright?" Miller pondered, "Do you think it would be easy to get him to change places with one of our steady workers? What sort of persuasion would you use? What now could you promise him that would be truly seductive?"

I think I know what might persuade that resurrected soul. A reset button, just like the one Lola had. For if this is the best humanity could produce with the gift we1ve been given; if this is what is accepted as normal by the majority of Homo sapiens on the planets, what we really need is another try.

Postscript: For years, I've endured the complaint about my writing being too negative and I1ve already heard that this particular piece offers no solutions. Many people imply that unless a critic expounds a specific strategy for change, the critique is worthless or too negative. The problem with this understandable retort is that it misses the crucial role critical analysis plays in a society where problems are so cleverly disguised. When discussing the future, the first step is often an identification and demystification of the past and present. In order to hit the reset button, we must first all agree that we got it wrong the first time.

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