W(h)ither Empire

I finally got to see the movie Black 47. I’d wanted to see it in the theater last year, but it showed on one art house screen hardly bigger than my TV for a few days, and I didn’t make it. I was at the library two blocks from my house last week seeing if they had any guidebooks for Ireland I could check out, planning for my upcoming trip. They didn’t, but they did have this movie. Just watched, it’s now among my top 10.

A good portion of it is in the Irish language, which I’ve half aspired to learn for about 30 years. I got the Rosetta Stone package and I’m working on it, but even citizens of Eiré, who are forced to learn it, aren’t typically very fluent. Assertively nationalist, which is to say just appreciative of Irish culture, Black 47 is about as poetically condensed an indictment of British imperialism as anything ever crafted – a thinking man’s Braveheart. It gets all the complexity, and how even the perpetrators are in the end usually victims themselves. That we all don’t wake up every day celebrating that we aren’t starving is some kind of miracle, or curse. I’ve been ranting about Zen Buddhism losing the plot in this respect; they get one part right, in that there is and has been injustice (congratulations!), but they get the whole larger picture wrong, in their victim-identitarian Marxist possession. I’ve started two books, one about religious persecution of Catholics by the Brits, and the other about the Irish revolution spanning the turn of the last century. In the latter, I see so many parallels to today. So many young people thinking the answer was free love, magic, Marx, and endless rebellion against Bad Dad…

Humanity lives in epochs. Individuals live in generations. We wake up to it slowly, if at all, and are manipulated at every turn. At the end of Black 47, the heroic Irish victim of Empire says to the compromised but redeemed English victim of Empire, his brother in Imperial arms: “They will come for you. Don’t fight them. Go to America.” Those are his final words, as he keels over from a bullet in his side from the pistol of a foppish English “gentleman.” At its end, the movie is dedicated to “those who died, and those who left and never came home.” That dragged a quick involuntary tear out of me, feeling that weight. That’s Logos for you: the artful lie telling a deep truth. I feel Irish, somehow, and Scottish maybe, and certainly deeply American. Yet I am just as “English”, and not much else besides this short list, if the DNA tests are to be believed. Descended from barbarian and Christian kings, sure, but mainly peasants, serfs, sharecroppers, and sinners – as are we all. My last ancestor to immigrate to this country came from Ireland, in 1840. Some came more than 200 hundred years earlier. My grandad told me, sitting on the bank of a small pond in Lubbock, Texas, that his Irish great grandad fled English injustice to America, a teenager accused of stealing a horse. Each generation has worked hard to provide a better life for those who came after. Loving, selfish, flawed generation after generation. As an adult, I’ve found the records to prove it. Seven years after he arrived in New Orleans on the ship Bombay, Sgt. Thomas O’Brien died face down in a malarial swamp fighting for American empire in Mexico. His wife gave birth to a son a few months earlier, named Charles Homer O’Brien. C.H. as he was known later survived 5 years fighting for the Confederacy, a rank-and-file cavalryman in some of the most legendary and deadly battles of that conflict. I have other Great-x-3 grandfathers who fought on the other side. History, America, and empire are complicated.

Phillip K. Dick wrote in his destroyed 100,000 page mystical exegesis (and in his Valis Trilogy that synopsized those manic insights) that “The Empire Never Ended”, over and over, like a refrain. He was specifically talking about Rome as seen by the early Christians, but also how that past is now, and its not hard to see what he meant. He experienced it as the very plot of civilization. Yet here we all are, seven billion strong, never so collectively healthy, never so long lived or well fed, fewer now per capita in conflict on Earth than ever before. Crime stats in America continue their decades long descent; even school shootings are lower now than in past decades (no, really.) Do we hear about that on the evening news? Hardly.

It’s totally different now, but just enough the same to both give us clues, and discombobulate in equal measure. Logos will out, however, and we can lean in to that reality. Trust, even.

And I’ll add, I thought about popping over from Dublin to Liverpool, since that is where Thomas sailed to America from. I plan to retrace his steps at some point. But England has just jailed a man for the second time for the same crime, of asking convicted pedophile rapists a simple question, as a journalist. Thousands of citizens there are arrested and harassed annually for simply asking questions online, or expressing forbidden thoughts. England seems in 100 ways lost, and Western Europe is in even worse shape. I’m at least just glad I don’t have a Queen, and live under a clear Bill of Rights, however threatened it may currently be, as the corporate socialists scramble and skew.

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