I had planned to wake up early last Monday morning to finish up a journalistic piece on Spain’s EU constitution vote the previous day. All that I needed to do was add the raw data which was going to confirm my already stated opinions on how voter turnout would be bad, and most voters would admit to not even knowing what the constitution was all about. Unfortunately, before getting to the Spain story on BBC online, I saw that Hunter S. Thompson had decided to end his life. I’ve never been his biggest fan, but have always been close to people who nearly idolized him. Thus, I was a bit shaken, though I knew I wouldn’t mourn him, because that’s not what he wanted. This wasn’t someone losing out to depression and drugs: this was a storyteller who wanted to control his own ending. Thus, I spent 5 days celebrating the life and times of Hunter appropriately: much alcohol and the occasional drug usage in making hard thought reflection. Now I finally have the occasion to continue my rantings on things like Europe’s constitution: a document amounting to a Cinderella story based on lies and propaganda. What made Hunter special is that his purpose was to blur the line between fantasy and reality, for no other reason than that line is always blurred, and pretending it isn’t amounts to bad journalism. In a world full of bad journalism and neo-liberal fantasies about eternal peace and happiness, it’s a shame there aren’t more Hunter S. Thompsons.
Everybody gets excited about talk about constitutions, because they are supposed to be the source of this wonderful democracy thing that we cherish so much. Just to remind people how much sense constitutions make, I would like to quote from the beginning of the American one:
We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Two hundred and twenty five years later and I feel lacking in domestic tranquility, and am still very confused as to what justice is. Actually, I thought I had a grasp on the concept of justice until I studied the topic from a philosophical perspective and realized that there is very little philosophical cohesion on what justice means: is it governed by some set of a priori principles that can be applied in any place and time? Are they inherently universal? Is justice a wholly empiricist mission wherein concepts of rights, equality, and meritocracy need be dealt with as they arise and not based on some sort of inductive principles?
Of course, everybody knows that the United States has not cared much for international tranquility. Many a democratic elected leader through the world has bit the bullet from the U.S. military machine, only to be replaced by dictatorial lunatics. Then there are the 50 something pre-emptive wars that the U.S. has waged since the end of World War 2, under the guise of policing the planet. I’ve been involved for roughly 7 years in organizing around anti-war and social justice issues, as well as attending national mobilizations of one variety or another. One important protest that occurs every year is against the School of Americas (now Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation) in Fort Bening, Georgia (SOA/WHISC). My trip in November 2001 for this mobilization was particularly Hunter S. Thompson-esque.
At this time, I hardly had any idea as to who the man was: my intent was just to participate in the mobilization and have a good time simultaneously. We drove off from Urbana, IL (home of the University of Illinois) in my giant 1984 Buick Electra, loaded down with a handle of Jack Daniels, a thirty pack of Ice house, a bottle of Ephedrin for keeping us up through the night, a 10-strip of acid, about 5 grams of marijuana, and 3 grams of opium. Arriving in southern Georgia after a night of polishing off the bottle of whiskey and pummeling god knows how many ephedrine pills into my stomach was not pleasant. I became the one and only person to ever vomit in the back of that beige b! east, and, lucky for us, we managed to find a gas station shortly afterwards with one of those heavy duty vacuum cleaners which managed to suck up the vomit with no real problem.
We then checked into our Howard Johnson over the border in Alabama, and were told by the front desk that “We looked like trouble,” to which we responded that we had “honorable intentions.” Of course, we eventually hit into the acid and discovered that it mixes well with opium: the opium serves to calm the anxiety present in many acid trips, thus turning the trip into a distant and pleasant euphoria. The hotel room was eventually left trashed and smelling like cigarettes and Captain Morgan, but we felt that the front desk worker deserved as much.
The protest the following day seemed slightly strange on the heels of our drug induced insanity of the prior couple days. The dichotomy present couldn’t have been clearer to me between peaceful protestors who commit their lives to making the planet more inhabitable, and the police whose purpose in life is following orders and repressing (essentially they do their job best when their intelligence is closest to that of canines). I couldn’t help wondering what police officers do with all of their free time: how can one experience so many years of life and not realize that their function on this planet is completely disgusting?
So WHISC/SOA exists for carrying out the crazy people’s idea of social morality and “justice,” and, of course, the crazy people are the ones in control. One must be crazy to want to have control.
Unfortunately, most people miss out on the absurdities that exist around us. That we have these utopian sounding constitutions, institutions, politicians and policemen living alongside starvation, suffering, warfare, violence, and other such maladies should be enough to shake people out of their seriousness. To be serious about government is to be serious about lies, corruption and idiocy. I could very easily pursue my due course within the channels of governance, but I would never be able to do that and feel like I was being a principled being.
All that has ever changed the world for the better are those who have fought for radical decentralization of power. Grand projects like continental constitutions are designed to serve the powerful few, who will quickly find their buddy within Brussels for carrying out their corporate interests. A neo-liberal Europe is not a united Europe: just a Europe tyrannized by a handful of giant corporations.
Hunter S. Thompson would describe this as business as usual in politics. He once wrote:
“Some people call politics fun, and maybe it is when you're winning. But even then it's a mean kind of fun, and more like the rising edge of a speed trip than anything peaceful or pleasant. Real happiness, in politics, is a wide-open hammer shot on some poor bastard who knows he's been trapped, but can't flee.”
It just might be one of those inevitable truths. The whole passing of this constitution seems all but inevitable, and the suicide of HST seemed that way as well. Perhaps politics as sleazy is just another one of those things that won’t be changed. We are best staying at the margins, deconstructing its absurdities, and hoping that, in the long run, people realize how fake these politicians really are.
Matt Reichel is an American expatriate and graduate student in Paris specializing in international relations theory. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Overturned: Strasbourg Denies McJustice