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2 November 2007


You can't scare monks with shellsuits

By Simon Munnery

“Look” they say, don’t they? People generally and Australian media figures particularly – politicians, experts, opinion mongers. It’s the verbal equivalent of grabbing the listener by the lapels. “Look mate, it’s like this…” meaning, “your arguments, facts, whatever are all very well; but look at things from my perspective and you’ll see.” It precedes not a rebuttal or refutation (that would be “No, mate…” and might lead to genuine debate) but a hijacking of the argument. See things from my perspective; you can’t argue with that. And why argue anyway? What a waste of time.

My friend Anthony plays piano, saxophone, and bass guitar. It’s quite a sight. Not much of a sound mind you; you’d hesitate to call it music. Undoubtedly it is music; for if one person says it is then that’s enough; it’s music. And Anthony at least insists that it is – loudly, repeatedly, between blairs on the sax. We, the listeners, say “That’s enough” – but he ignores us. And who are we to argue with art?

May God bless those Burmese monks. Before this Buddhism seemed practically irrelevant to me; like an advanced form of humming or something. Now Buddhism’s up there, on the world stage, taking on Islam, battering Christianity. Suicide bombers are willing to die for what they believe in and kill others; your monks are prepared to die – and not kill anyone; that’s practically Jesus-esque that is.

Monks are tough opponents if you’re the state: moral lives can’t be ridiculed. What can you threaten them with – solitary confinement? They do that already. Death? They believe in reincarnation. So what did they do to the monks they captured? They made them wear civilian clothing. But I bet some of those monks caught each other’s eyes across the prison corridor and in denial of their shellsuits flashed to each other “No! We are monks.”

Oi Nokia! Can you hear me? Course you can’t; you’re a multinational – you hardly exist. There’s no Mr. Nokia; not any more, even if there ever was. (Also I’m typing this not shouting). Nokia’s a kingdom with no king; a board of directors probably, a chief executive – all servants – supposedly – of what? A brand, a name, a company; less than an idea.

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States are like companies; fictional entities that expand or get swallowed up – like bubbles rising to their deaths. It’s bizarre that private companies are encouraged by the state; it’s like a patient welcoming in cancer. Perhaps there should be a UK loyalty card. Or perhaps not. The debate continues and that’s the main thing.

The Nokia ad I saw on the bus lamented the purported fact that we no longer know the butcher, the baker, the grocer etc., that we haven’t time to speak to each other. Of course not: the butcher, the baker, the grocer and everyone else have been replaced by Tesco.

And even if you’re lucky enough to live near one of the last remaining unsupermarkets the chances are you won’t have time to get to know the shopkeeper; you’ll be too busy on the phone – and even if not, you’ll be in a hurry – there’s lots of calls you’ve got to make.

Is it just me or is there a shade of hypocrisy in Nokia‘s lamenting? A phone manufacturer moaning about the lack of face-to-face communication?

Nokia’s current catchphrase “connecting people” yearns to be prefixed by “dis-“. Sure, they connect people – by phone, for money: it’s not a charity – and even charities aren’t charities; they’re businesses with a large charitable public face. Almost all modern businesses have some charitable element attached. It makes it difficult to criticise a product when 10 percent of whatever their accountants choose to define as profit apparently goes to something that sounds good. But by connecting people by phone you disconnect them from the world. You’re on the phone: you’re not there.

Far from connecting people in the sense of bringing them together what Nokia does is impose a tax on being apart – while making being apart possible, and thereby necessary.

The horror of the holocaust is the efficiency with which it was done; that millions were killed without mercy as if by a machine. That’s why Schindler’s List is wrong – presenting/promoting the ray of light denies the darkness: Viewers leave comforted knowing they’d have been Schindler. They wouldn’t. There was only one Schindler; and millions of Nazis. We were the Nazis.

The counter argument runs that portraying heroism promotes heroism, creates heroes. No. It creates millions capable of imagining themselves to be heroes and no more: Everyone knows how to watch films; imagine you’re the hero. That’s it. If you’ve any sense you grow out of it; though perhaps never quite. Spiderman, Superman, Batman, Presidentman. Clint Eastwood, Bruce Willis…

Didn’t George Bush say – about the invasion of Iraq – that God told him to do it or something? Importantly, not at the time. I mean, if at the time he’d said, “We’re going to war! Why? Cos Gawd has told me to do it. Yee-haa!” then fair enough. But since he didn’t and gave other reasons for invading Iraq then one way or the other he must have lied surely? In which case either God told him to lie to us – as well as invade Iraq – or he did it off his own bat. In which case he’s a bit naughty isn’t he? Or his media advisors are. More news later…

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