Today I went to Beirut to interview a lady on WTO and other issues. Amazing conspiracy theories I heard. People here seem to be very fond of these kind of stories. Like there is some secret world government, the Israelis are all behind it, the Americans are controlling everything, etc. It is a celebration of one’s own victimhood in the guise of a courageous realism and it displeases me. The world is simply too complex for a handfull of people to be in charge. It is also not a healthy attitude. In fact it is kind of religious to believe in conspiracies – finally there is some meaning in all the randomness, finally someone to pin the responsibility on, someone to blame. As my former head of departmetn Oliver used to say: “There are always to big theories: the conspiracy theory and the cock-up theory. I tend to go with the cock-up.” I think he was right.
In the afternoon Ale and me were checking out the American University of Beirut, one of the Middle East’s most prestigeous schools. The’ve got a nice campus that’s full of cats and their own beach. There are also a lot of nice bookshops in the area and we found some good stuff. Accidentally we also ran into the American Language Center and since they had started a course of Arabic only yesterday we joined the beginners class. The course is affordable and there are only three other people in class, so it is not too bad. It’s just that it is four times a week in the afternoon. I would have to take time off from work and then travel back and forth all the time and that would mean going out of Beirut in the rush-hour, a real pain in the back.
Then in the evening we attended a talk by an environmental NGO on Free Trade Agreements and Agriculture. Looks like Lebanon is set to join the WTO and it might just wipe out their local farmers. They just can’t compete with the European farmers receiving all those subsidies. It will also bring GMOs into the country. Not good news, seems Lebanon’s food sovereignty is going out of the window. According to my conspiracy theorist the next things to be sold off are the health system, electricity and finally water. She might have a point there. We need a trade campaign, clear as water.
On the way home in the car, while I was driving up the mountain and all the oncoming cars where shining me right in the eyes with their brights in spite of my furious efforts to blink at them with mine, eventually raising a very explicit middle finger out of the driver’s window in the night – so while I was blindly winding my way up the serpentines, Ale performed another one of her monologues. This time about why all machines, especially flying things like UFOs, spaceships and aeroplanes in cartoons always have a self-destruct button. You know those things that someone presses accidently and then a female voice calmly tells everyone that they have 30 seconds to leave the ship before it will explode. And of course it is impossible to turn off the countdown. So now it’s only 20 seconds. The point being that all those cartoons are coming from Japan, and as we know, the Japanese are also the masters of Kamikaze – or suicide attacks. So this is where all this shit with suicide bombing is coming from and we should get the Japanese for it. Right on.
This makes me think of a Japanese poem for children that I am trying to tell myself when getting up:
Every morning when I open my gate
I enter the death battle zone
And I will encounter seven dreadful enemies
I think it is this very poem that Frederique Beigbeder, or was it the other French dude?, stole for his book ‘The extension of the battle zone’. In it he argues that under capitalism the principle of competition is being extended to ever more areas of life. For example in the olden days everybody got to have sex. You may have had an ugly hag you had to marry and stick with but at least you got some action. Then, in the 60s, emerged the cult of the body beuatiful. The result of it is that now a few good looking and/or rich people get all the sex and the others get nothing. Having seen pictures of the author on the back of his book I really hope for him that he made a lot of money with it.
I feel I owe this one to the few Japanese I know: Imagine you believe you come from nothing and you go to nothing. This life is all you have. Now you can do the existentialist a la Camus and say god is dead but instead of committing suicide I will source the meaning of my life within myself. This is not about simple hedonism and just enjoying every minute of your life to the max. This is about leading an ethical life in the midst of meaningless, random existence, according to your own rules without relying on anyone else. That’s hard enough. But now add to that the idea that your self is an illusion and that you want to respect your ancestors and that you owe it to them to fullfill your duty. And if you don’t do that you were socialised to feel such intense shame that you will want to kill yourself rather than to live as a failure. Respect to all who found a way to live with that pressure.