Of civic duty


“(…) The rangy dog darted from between the wheels and ran ahead. Instantly the two ranch shepherds flew out at him. Then all three stopped, and with stiff and quivering tails, with taut straight legs, with ambassadorial dignity, they slowly circled, sniffing daintily. The caravan pulled up to Elisa’s wire fence and stopped. Now the newcomer dog, feeling outnumbered, lowered his tail and retired under the wagon with raised hackles and bared teeth. The man on the wagon seat called out, “That’s a bad dog in a fight when he gets started.” Elisa laughed. “I see he is. How soon does he generally get started?”. The man caught up her laughter and echoed it heartily. “Sometimes not for weeks and weeks,” he said. He climbed stiffly down, over the wheel. The horse and the donkey drooped like unwatered flowers. (…)” – from Steinbeck, John – “The Chrysanthemums”.



by Milena Albu


You know things are bad in the world, when the quiet ones rise and are quiet no more. Ignorance is like a blanket, indeed like a warm and comfortable place for many. We accept it and snuggle at its breast as it is part of who we are. In our heart of hearts, we all want to feel safe immediately, regardless of the immediate safety of others. Breaking the habit of quietly passing by is, in itself, a resource consuming achievement; and in a system of immediate gratification, consuming resources is viewed as something deserving immediate reward. Leaving – even if just for an instant – our cherished comfort zone is the fruit of gut-wrenching battles with ourselves, and otherwise: with those struggling to convince us of the greater purpose we’re doing it for. We don’t know it at the time, but we learn it soon enough: this is a mere first step in a long road of incertitude, frailty, and often, deception. For outside our comfort zone and all this time, oh, so right under our noses, things kept on happening: things we wouldn’t necessarily approve of, things we didn’t believe possible, and a myriad of other things we didn’t even know of: and one feels generally small when faced with a great deal of many things. Internalizing all of these things that were done takes time and, generally, makes one feel powerless.

If one does not approve of them, how does one undo them? The predicament of “it’s already been done” is not automatically followed by the logic of “undo it”. Most of us out there have many an issue to face. Some are very real, very palpable, though not exactly palatable. Others, like the fog of war or plain fear, are the subject of constant tearing in the brittle fabric of our indignation. For we know how to be liked ever since we were children – it’s an instinct naturally budding from within – but we don’t exactly know how to make ourselves feared.

So we learn by doing; we rally against the common enemy: a blowfish in the bank of tuna. Whether the blowfish takes his name from the private sector (be it the Lehmann Brothers, Chevron, El Dorado or Gabriel Resources), or the public sector (corruption ridden governments; unscrupulous politicians) the underlining is the same: these entities stand flag for failure; a failure of the punishing kind. But we are torn already, between the screeches of queens of hearts – “Off with their heads!” – and the faint echoes of Beccaria’s just punishment. While we all want justice done, the “hows” and the “whys” differ: and to make it all the more trickier, justice is deaf to our plea, deaf to the constant uproar coming by land and sea.

Society as we know it has failed us once more: and when the alarm bells went on, nobody rushed back to the drawing boards, nobody panicked, nobody made sketches. Instead everyone kept staying inside pocketing money, thinking that if it all fails, they can always jump ship. It turns out, they can’t. And neither can we. Because all the other boats have either sank or they’re on their way down and there’s nothing to look forward but the bottom of yet another pit. How does one paint a monochrome future, then? How does one live to tell the black and white tale of a tomato?

Amongst you, I too, have a great deal of questions and I too, press on: for another day and another day, and the day after that; for my children, for their children, and their children’s children: for life and for the sole certainty that life will find a way. And like the rangy dog in the chrysanthemums tale, I too feel fear and curl in a ball “with raised hackles and bared teeth” facing, yet again, an Orwellian world. I too am slow to rise. But unlike that dog, I know it has to be done, and I do it: I know their power is nothing but our power, bloated and mutilated in ways we would’ve never consciously allowed it to be. And I say we muzzle them and take that power back, think it over and try again. Dip a sword in it and plant it in the stone, for the worthy to take, if we must, but just not leave it up to them. Where they failed there’s room for another way. And by them I mean people like you and like me, for they’re not any bigger, nor any rounder and certainly not any better. Bring on the next I say, and if they’re bad, then bring the next ones too: until finally, we’ll get it done already!

Photo: Cristian Vasile

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