First I noticed an ad, in the New Yorker, I think, for the premiere of Alex Gibney’s new documentary Going Clear. Being a long time fan of his work I took note, knowing that it would probably wind up in my library in a few months or even less. His last work, the one on the infamous cyclist Lance Armstrong, invited me into the shadow world of world class competitive cycling and the dark underbelly of lies and criminal activity which used to, and maybe still does, sustain it. Alex has shown a deep concern for such publicly immoral behaviour, at least as far back as his piece on Enron (“The Smartest Guys In The Room”) and I’ve always admired him for that fearless muckraking. Even more so now as Going Clear seems to focus on Scientology and those who have managed to escape its clutches.
Now today I see the Rolling Stone profile of “TV tough guy” Jason Beghe, who is one of the talking heads in the film, and has already experienced the unwanted and ultimately costly scrutiny of anonymous slanders on his parenting abilities, and of private investigators, hired after his one man Youtube video criticizing the organization “shot around the world”. Having once been called by the organization’s leader David Miscavige “a poster boy for Scientology”, Beghe now calls Miscavige “a sociopath” and castigates the group for “thinking all their dirty tricks are justified because they think they are the one hope to save mankind”.
Excuse me for yet another profundity moment, but I believe we’ve just seen a universal law innocently described. How many groups, cults, parties and organizations have shown their true colours when their dirty tricks are uncovered and their devotees/operatives reveal their diligence as blindly unquestioning in service to the cause, the cause usually seeing its divinely mandated purpose as saving mankind from dissolution/chaos/hell/oppression/ignorance. Let me count the ways, as the poem goes.
Need I go through the list of governments, religions, intelligence agencies, militaries, unions, sects, cults, Communists and Capitalists both allowing their passionate idealism to sour into paranoia, … rebel armies, freedom fighters, medical systems, alternative health therapies, science buffs, climate change bunnies, environmentalists, various alien groups? Listen, the line self-replicates the more you stand within it.
It would seem to be a condition of our being, this saving us from ourselves, despite millennia of plagues, disasters, endless war, empires collapsing everywhere you look and civilizations crumbling into dust and deeply buried treasures, all of which finds the planet and the ecosystem rebuilding itself with gusto*, as souls return with big new ideas and that irrepressible impetus to rebuild, remodel and recharge that only the young can repeatedly provide.
If all these clubs of righteousness resort to dirty tricks to further their divinely appointed agendas, then surely their desires have morphed into manias which effortlessly manufacture tunnel visions of accuracy and certainty that bear uncanny resemblance to that of the sociopath fraught in his fevers? Sometimes it sure seems that way. The book/documentary of a few years back, The Corporation (by Joel Balkan) certainly pointed up the psychopathic tendencies of corporations and the more recent drama Michael Clayton certainly illustrated, with Tom Wilkinson’s riveting performance, the perils of a lifetime of defending a corporation’s willful deceit.
All this divinely ordained righteousness bleeding into psychopathic paranoia could give you a bad case of the existential jitters if you let it, but perhaps no more than the latest report of hairy loonies beheading innocents for the PR value of their cause somewhere in the dusty distance. Yet all of it, in its tragic foolishness, is subsumed, at least for me, but the following quote, which I have been conscientiously saving for a day like this. It’s by one Daniel Smith, writing in Harpers (May’14) a review of Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction.
“There are moments reading The Sixth Extinction where one is positively cheered by the geologic perspective on display. A giant rock smashed into the Earth baking it to a crisp – and still the planet recovered. More than recovered, – it thrived! So profligate and inventive is the process of evolution, and so resourceful and fecund are the planet’s life forms, that even now we can’t say how many species live here. Estimates have ranged from 3 to 100 million. And that doesn’t include bacteria or viruses.”
And so, regardless of events that seem like outcomes we will always be here (Earth), there (spirit), elsewhere (pick a planet) or that nirvanic nowhere of non-existence. In the meantime we deal with the zealotry of the righteous as best we can. Personally I find irony and sarcasm a great help.