Curtain Raiser

Disrupting the Dictators’ Ball, Colltalers

Last week was again dominated by acts, whims, and tweets of a selected, if not unbearable, group of strong rulers, so used to suck out the air of the headlines. Life, never bound by their theatrics, has had a hard time earning a moment of our crowded attention spans these days.
Kim Jong-un talked about nukes? Breaking news. Cuba’s Castro dynasty exiting the world stage? Stop the presses. The president’s lawyer is about to spill the beans? Tells us all about it. But not long ago, not all news were driven by megalomaniacs in power. Allow us, if you would.
Yes, the cruel North Korea ruler saying that he’ll halt the country’s nuclear program is important. If the tiny island that challenged the West is changing hands at the helm, there are global repercussions. And the fact that the U.S. president has been caught again lying to the American people, is definitely worth debating. But we should be weary about two things. One is about the absolutely low credibility of these leaders.
For all those not yet buried, if something is on an all-time supply shortage is what elected, and not so much, politicians have been saying and its gargantuan gap from reality. Even for professionals sharper at deception than magicians, a few records must’ve been broken as of lately.
And yet, even as many seem to have somehow stretched their tolerance to falsehood, that isn’t the visual media’s emphasis when it pretends to inform us about the news. Consequences for being untrue are rarely linked to the liars and although that in itself should be news, it often isn’t.
Something else makes every relatively thinking creature to take pause about ‘facts’ being dictated by a group of individuals usually at odds with them: the power of a leader comes from representation; if he or she speaks out of sync with their constituency, either by ignorance, omission, or, oh, yes, because they did not actually elect them, then what’s being said remains in the fouled realm of their self-aggrandizing.
And then we’re back to the beginning. Either self-centered or self-appointed, or both, autocrats favor the version

which assures their survival and preservation. That, regardless if the preservation of truth itself, and survival of its defenders, far from assured, is actually under attack.
It’s been half a century from 1968’s turmoil, violence, but also transformation and attempts to change directions of the world, as the rest of the 1960s came to be known for. As the decade spread out to the next, we hit a moment of pause with the global oil crisis of the 1970s. Similar in implications to the survival of our species as the dawn of the nuclear era had been, there was an awakening of sorts, looking back at it all.
Suddenly, research into new sources of energy got off the ground, and as oil corporations secretly investigated the impact of climate change on their business, as we now know, there was a sense that mankind either evolves or disappears. And some positive things did come out of it.
Talks about a new, unified Europe, redirecting centuries of war, for instance, and by the mid-decade, the election of the arguably last truly peaceful U.S. president, Jimmy Carter, signaled that we could, indeed, reset the clock towards global harmony. It was perhaps inspired by this dream that the Cold War all but imploded, nuclear treaties were resigned, and Latin America, ever so slowly, began its return to democracy.
We could add others elements, such as the Man on the Moon, a benign consequence of the vicious arms race of the 1960s that actually gained more relevance than its somber origins, if only for a second. But cynics and contrarians would argue, with some reason, that that’s cosmetics. Indeed, such somewhat overly optimistic view brushes over wars, massacres, famine, and all the other monsters we cultivate with pride from time immemorial. Still, that pause we’ve mentioned involved millions of people and hundreds of years of history to get to a particular point. And for better or worst, what’s happening now is a direct consequence of that given moment. The difference? tyrants were not getting elected.
Cut to now, and there’s not just a resurgence of a political extreme right jockeying for elective positions, and often winning them, but also a disturbing amnesia about history, as far as the Holocaust, military dictatorships, and the Gilded Age are concerned. Let alone the state of permanent war the world has been living under for at least 30 years, and the obscene, and ever increasing, gap between haves and have-nots.
So for now the news to be dictated by the Kims, the Putins, the Trumps, and the Erdogans, along so many minor, and no less toxic, despots, is not just tragic, but also an insult to the many who dreamt, and died and got assassinated, in the name of a different and more equanimous Earth. Thus, the little reason to celebrate the April 22, this year, even though people around the world got out to reaffirm their commitment.
For what no authoritarian voice possesses is the sound of awoken crowds fighting to regain control over their own narrative. Women and men, workers and visionaries, teachers and students, they will always count more that the raging, self-servicing homilies of mediocre leaders.
They can only sow ‘fear and mistrust between’ men, their rule being ‘uniformity, which is the perversion of equality,’ as the philosopher Hanna Arendt wrote. Let’s fight for the individual, and vow to choose a different future. Let’s reset our priorities and have faith – as Carter named his 32nd book – which is independent of religion. After all, 518 years ago yesterday, Brazil was discovered, so all is possible. Cheers WC


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