My Brother, My Likeness


Love of country cannot be equal to love of state; that is, no more than the public can ever entirely be the people.  In the America I had been raised to love, the government was never your friend, and that was something I was taught by an ex-Marine father who was yet always faithful.  He had taught me that in America, the government is just a little bit less the enemy of the people than in other countries, and reminded me that I would not want to be living in Red China or the Soviet Union, where bureaucracy administered proctol exams take place more often and without vaseline. This was a time when we just about had the Man on the run, but just as he turned his back to do so, we turned ours and then he turned back around and hoodwinked us. We have been in his chains, in his prison house, ever since.

In the prison-house that is the State–and there are plenty of analogies to be drawn in the comparison of a state and a prison–the people have been the bitch of power ever since. We are all of us punks, good publicans nevermore the people. I keep saying this, I know. I imagine people in Jerusalem in the third century BCE telling Jeremiah to shut up. The Terrible Forty in Athens did likewise to Socrates, until they forced him to kill himself. The High Priest in the Temple of Jerusalem around 30 AD did likewise to rebel heretic Yehuda Ben Miriam, asking the Romans to try him for sedition after the priests of the temple could not find him guilty of heresy. I am no Socrates, no Christ of any kind. But Jeremiah has been my favorite prophet from the Old Testament. Jeremiads being a forte of mine. America today deserving of them no less than Yerushalayim two thousand two hundred years ago. We still read the story of Cain and Abel. It is part of our collective unconscious, this murder of Abel by Cain. How are we able to turn away from this story and not see Muslim and Jew in Gaza, Protestant and Catholic in Belfast, the Chinese in Tibet, The Russians in the Ukraine, tribes divided by colonialism in Africa subjected to neighboring majority tribes inside newly formed National boundaries and the impulse toward genocide. Genocide in Armenia; Genocide in former Cambodia; Genocide in Darfur and in Congo; Genocide in Europe under the Nazis, by the Bolsheviks, by Stalin, by Milosevich, by the Red Army in Berlin in 1945, by the Japanese in Bataan, in Nanking China; by Muslim, Hindu and Sikh in the border regions of India and Pakistan; by one dictator after another–is genocide really a term defined by arithmetic?  

Of course what my father said was unquestionable then, as were many of the received ideas about the world we took for granted and used as our prime rationale for wanting to live in what we called the greatest country in the world. We did beat our chests, as I imagined many good publicans in the Soviet Union did, and continued to do here in New York in one or another ESOL program where I taught and had to listen to the most disrespectful, arrogant and condescending anti-American diatribes, one delusion after another about how great the Soviet Union was, ironically from Jewish refugees who were, out of the other side of their mouths, telling us how awful it was there, how endemically anti-Semitic and how, if they were communists, they were forced to be communists by the very Russians who supposedly hated them and did not trust them. The lies were piled on top of one another in rotting stinking heaps.

I would listen to one after another in a long line of chest beating Russian Ashkenazim who out of one side of the mouth claimed to be victims of anti-semitism and out of the other how much better anywhere in the Soviet Union they were from was than here in shit America or shit New York. Listening to any former citizen of any of the republics of the former Soviet Union or to people from China, I see that coming from the greatest country in the world is available to all people everywhere. When I listen to people from Poland or Italy, Mexico or Chile, Turkey or Algeria, Egypt, Israel or Greece, Albania, Iran or Afghanistan, each is all of piece the same, the best, the greatest, superlatives the same everywhere. Beckett was right, there is no condition that human beings cannot get used to; the abused child protects the reputation and the image of the abuser parent. He or she lies to protect that parent; they will create an alternate story, a fiction for others outside the family to hear.

In Italy, all the criminals are Italian, virtually all of them; in Turkey, the same, Turkish. Black Americans still kill more blacks annually than were murdered during all the years of lynching. Muslims are still the greatest killers of Muslims, as organized crime in Japan is organized by Japanese. Russian speakers sell Russian-speaking girls into prostitution, as do men of all countries sell girls into sexual slavery. Germans in Germany were Nazis; in Poland, the Nazis were Polish. In the concentration camps, Jew betrayed Jew, Pole, Pole, Frenchman, Frenchman. Each to his own. No one more easily disposed to robbing me than another man like myself. Cain is Abel’s brother; and you, my hypocrite reader, my brother, my likeness, I am as you are both Cain and Abel to my Abel and Cain.


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