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What Was The Life That We Were Living?

Billy Talen

6th January, 2009

We interrupt our regular programming for a moral advisory...

No, the reverend is not too depressed to complete his sermon. I wish to thank all of you in the congregation for your patience with me. I have in the last month fallen down into the dank flesh of my own pulpit, into the steaming darkness below. Oh, to stand in the light again, to look out across the tens of thousands of Ecologist faithful. Oh, we are a megachurch by God! Change-a-lujah!

In our last sermon, I suggested to you Brits that parades, petitions, embarrassing newspaper stories about the Downing Street memo, etc, don’t work anymore. I went on to counsel you that to save the earth you must show a willingness to offer the ultimate sacrifice, yes, to meet the Christ cowboy devils on their own terms: fight them to the death, Alamo-style. But the editors of The Ecologist have pointed out to me that you have been mad dogs in the noonday sun (which never sets) for centuries now. So, this Sunday, I have a much more difficult request, children. For the sake of the world, forego the Stiff Upper Lip.

Stiff Upper Lip was the lead story here in the States when the bombs blew in London. The TV said: ‘And today, the day after the tragedy, the English are going to work! Look!’ (Images here of taciturn workadays with briefcases.) ‘We see here the courage of everyday life! The pursuit of normalcy! Facing down the terror! Why – it’s the famous Stiff Upper Lip.’

Bush and Blair and their commercial press – oh how they pushed the ‘normal’ portrait at the same time that they constructed a second rhetorical front for the opposite of normal, the abnormal, the ‘terrorists’. Now, as some of you may know, the Church of Stop Shopping is located in New York. I watched the second airplane land on that normal day in the south tower of the World Trade Center. On 9/11, too, that old life we were living became our much-missed Utopia. B and B intoned then, with violins pumping, ‘Let’s get back to that old life.’ They haven’t noticed that we are watching them warily as they explain that we’ll kill our way back to our old beloved life. Although, when did a silent audience ever stop Tony Blair? He has become the international poster child for the Stiff Upper Lip.

The truth, once again, is hidden in plain sight. What would be ‘normal’ really? What would normal be if you and I sat down and talked it through? Well, we might take the most normal structural unit of society, the corporation, which most of us get on the bus and duck into the Tube to travel to on a normal morning; and we might consider how a corporation is only considered healthy if it is officially exploding, expanding every quarter regardless of the consequences. This ‘growth’ is studied, reported in breathy tones, and the smiling hard-right Christians in suits who ride this cancer are our public leaders… But wait, should our species praise this cancer? No, let’s say ‘not normal’.

But how do we work our way out of the rhetorical riddle that these consumer politicians present to us? They have avalanched us with their idea of normal and want us to go back to our commuting and consuming. What do we do? No – DON’T START ANOTHER DAMN MARCH! It won’t work to shout, ‘No, we’re more normal than you!’ They just call us terrorists if we shout too loud. We can’t face them and argue in rigged contexts, in which B and B and their marketing advisers anticipate our every move. We may have to DO SOMETHING RADICAL – and that calls for a complete dissolution of the upper lip: let’s ASSUME OUR GUILT. Yes, imagine that we ourselves placed the bombs in the buses, and that the buses were packed with Iraqi innocents, going about their normal day. Because that is what we do, children. We put on that fatal bus human beings and animals and plants and anything alive: we make the earth take that ride.

But guilt is not the issue here, change is. We are bombers. Most of our bombs are delivered by stealth technology, cloaked in normalcy. The radioactivity laces the wind; the six-pack plastic rises into the air twisting with the diving birds; the petroleum products stain the algae under the poles. Our bombs are covered over with normal life, and breaking through that sustained lie of normalcy – that would be coming back to life. Commuting to that job, when our work would be to stop our own bombs – that is the Utopian life that we seek. That is heaven. And so let’s do the normal thing and save our own souls.

Amen.

This article first appeared in the Ecologist September 2005

 

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