Once upon a time I was visiting a gold mine in the Amazon jungle, guest of a group of mine managers concerned with community relations during turbulent times. Restless winds of revolution were blowing silently but ominously through the foliage; and they were looking for ways to safeguard their investments. It had just rained; a mist clung rapaciously to the stories-high trees that crowded the slick red clay-marram road. In the ditches churning with the runoff from the tempest, specks of gold dust glinted – a call to riches in a place that was poor and vicious. The great gate of the mine closed behind us, guards with shotguns patrolling the top as we drove the kilometers into the village. Garimpeiros – illegal miners, spending the day filling the streams with arsenic or mercury and the nights blind drunk in the taverns and whorehouses; the true goldmines of that bent place.
We stopped in the center of town; it was about midday, and we went inside the clean, polished clinic built by the mining company as part of their “corporate social responsibility” (someday I’ll write about that). We’d only been there for a few minutes when an angry mob – incited by the neighborhood malandro-cum-mayor – stormed the facility, closing off our only exit. They had sticks and machetes and a few had Molotov cocktails; many were drunk. They forced me and my companions into green-plastic waiting room chairs, where they proceeded to work themselves into a lather. People are not naturally courageous, and committing true acts of savagery requires some priming. They wanted jobs – never mind that the socialist government hadn’t approved the mining conglomerate’s license. Never mind that nationalization proceedings had already begun for a mine that would sit – to this day – disintegrating into the immense jungle as yet another lifeless cadaver in the vast graveyard of communism.
The rabble just wanted their jobs.
“You’re not leaving till we get our jobs,” as if the four of us could move the levers of government a thousand miles away. “We’ll hold you,” the snapping masses ejaculated. “I know,” one brave drunk soul said, “we’ll burn your cars” to howls of approval. “How about,” another suggestion, “if we attack the mine?” More voices – the afternoon heat was stifling, the moonshine buzz was starting to wear off leaving behind that headache which makes people cantankerous. “No,” a quiet voice from the back said. “We’ll kill you.”
And there it was.
Echo chambers are dangerous things. They occur when people surround themselves with only those who think like them, who believe like them, who look like them and act like they do and dream of only what they dream of. Who are offended only by what also offends them. It is a pre-historic process, a tribal process – the creation of clans is. Although in America it is dressed up using big words like ‘intersectionality’ and ‘cultural appropriation’ – it is the same. A coterie of ever-outraged becoming insular; the collapsing star of reason that becomes smaller and denser and more sectarian and from which the only thing that escapes the event horizon is hate. It’s how the Hutus massacred the Tutsis; how the Serbs cleansed the Kosovars.
‘Progressive’ America’s temper tantrum has been bubbling for a while. Riots; marches and assaults; social media meltdowns. The denigration of our highest officeholder and thus by extension our highest office (and the 50% of America who voted that way); the debasement of our grand old republic – an inebriated mob searching murderously for the bottom. And then when the cacophonous echoes in the chamber have drowned out every mind, in that twilight moment of ‘progressive’ madness it appears, a final act of insanity: a pantomime mimicking the most horrifying act of barbarism by our greatest foe.
‘Progressives’ love to talk about extremism – an epithet thrown liberally against anybody who thinks differently or holds to another code. But what is more extreme than holding aloft a bloodied, severed head?
I can’t get the image out of my head.
They don’t think of this, do they? Those whose new extremism finds its way to us as we sit on distant shores, defending them… And I’m worried I can’t get back to where I was before. They did that to me – the extremists, far and now it would seem near. Because I have known them all. I’ve ‘sheltered in place’ with my three year-old; I’ve dodged the bullets, evaded the bombs and risked the violence. I’ve passed sleepless nights warned that the blunt-knife-holders were coming. I have fought the evils of this world. I have done this because of my love of country – irrespective of who sits in a stately old mansion atop a swamp. But I will tell you that today I am saddened, because America has always been for me an idea deep like the Hoover Dam and broad like the Colorado River; canonized by successive generations of men and women who recognize that though we differ on so much, there is even more about which we can agree.
When I was a child, I would sometimes get worked up about something or something else; and it would go on for a time while I became more and more and more agitated until my father would grab my arm, stare at me with his piercing Hirst eyes under their bushy brows and say “BASTA!” Enough. For America – that time came when a comedian became a jester-barbarian to act out for her horde the parody of a great evil.
So now, through my also-piercing eyes under my own less-bushy brows I channel my father as I too say, “BASTA!”