Monday, September 19, 2005


After watching part of a CNN program on the discord and distrust that exists between India and Pakistan, after following the blame-game that is ongoing in the aftermath of Hurrican Katrina, after living in a country for two years where everything the Vietnamese say and do is regarded as a potential precursor for another invasion of Cambodia, I'm reminded, constantly, of the most prophetic, powerful, eloquent words spoken in the twentieth century -- not by Churchill or Chamberlain, Carter or Clinton, Kate or Allie, Puffy or Diddy, but by Rodney King, victim of the L.A.P.D., who said sometime after getting the holy shit kicked out of him: "Can't we all just get along?"

That's what it all comes down to, doesn't it? That's what are parents try to teach us from the get-go, isn't it? Get along. Behave. Listen to others.

But the older I get, the more I realize that we all are infants. We all want to do what we want, when we want it, to who we want. This does not discount goodwill, no, because every aspect of human nature has its flipside that sometimes cancels out its own inverted image; it does, however, seem to say that we never really do 'grow up'.

Just think up the shit that we fight over. Land. Money. Pride. The fact that you believe in one spiritual deity, and I believe in another. I mean, seriously. Just look at Northern Ireland and Lebanon and Iraq; just examine the histories of these places, the wars of these places. It's all about people with different beliefs not listening to others of other beliefs. Over the years, over the centuries, the original beliefs become almost irrelevant to the violent cause; what matters is the grudges that have been developed. The great thing about kids is that they are born without grudges. They don't know jackshit about diddlysquat, and that's a great, almost holy thing. They are blank slates waiting to be filled. It's just so often that we give into our own, baser natures, and paint those slates with darkness. We paint them black, as the Stones might say.

I don't know. It's just, this is a fucked-up country. The news out of The Cambodia Daily seems to be getting worse and worse. The convenience store down the road from me had two of its clerks shot in the legs a few (late) nights back, the shooter being a customer who took umbrage to the fact that the staff actually asked him to actually pay for the bottled water he was holding in his drunk, trembling hands. And the Phillipines Embassy, another place just around the corner from where I live, had the apartments across the street from it attacked by drunk s.o.b. with an AK-47, out to settle a grudge.

People in the west truly underestimate the pride involved in 'saving face' over here in the orient. If you insult somebody, if you demean them, accidentally or otherwise, you could get killed. (In Cambodia, I'm talking about.) What usually happens, especially in the countryside: A group goes dancing; somebody's toes get stepped on; a fight ensues; shots ring out. Add alcohol and AK-47 and the bad shit starts to go down. As a foreigner, I don't stay out late and mind my own business, and everything's cool. (Usually.)

But in a poor country, when the gap between the have and havenots is fucking monstrous, when everybody, I mean everybody, has in some way, shape or form been affected by five years of Khmer Rouge rule, the normal rules of what we consider civil society don't apply. The rich keep getting richer, and the poor stay poorer. The rich get drunk, arrogant, and offended. The poor sap working the till at the Star mart gets shot in the legs. And the homeless and the motodops will stroll on by, looking for an accident, waiting to see if anybody's dead, and, if so, what comes next. Who cleans up the body? Who takes it away?

The thing is, I see the news and read the news and all of these huge, important, complex international issues are little different than the dude who steps on the toes of a wealthy drunk. Can we all get along? I don't know. The evidence says no.

Except for the other parts, the daily 'please' and 'thank-yous' that make life worthwhile, the endless examples of kindness and mere civility that we take for granted. I notice the bad stuff and forget about the good stuff.

Maybe we can't get along, collectively. But individually, man to man, woman to woman, we can and do still reach out -- not in malice, but in tenderness. And often, more often than one would think, somebody is more than ready, almost anxious, to reach out to us, too.


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Le Will said...

Well said, I felt the same frustration when I lived in Guatemala and witnessed the horrible gap between the rich and poor and systematic racism against the indigenous people there. It can get to you after awhile but then you meet someone or witness something that can bring back hope in some small way.

Christa said...

Isn't it difficult to feel good about humanity when you read or watch the news? It is dominated by the terrible and horrific instances in the world and rarely do they focus on the positives. I can only imagine the vast difference between the "haves" and "have-nots" in Cambodia, or other countries like it, being that I have only lived in America. But I do believe what you are witnessing is truly something to behold. I can't imagine living in a place where people opening have AK-47's or are still dealing with all of the craziness that was during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. I recently started wearing a bracelet that has the golden rule written on it, because I figured, it couldn't hurt to remind myself to be a little nicer here and there. Maybe that's all we can do, try to be nicer to people and remind ourselves to treat others the way we want to be treated. Unfortunately, there will always be the "others" who don't play by those rules. As always Scott, a well-written post!

Muktuk said...

Yeah, I saw fighting on the streets daily when i was in Turkey between men upset at something or other. It's like a grand scheme of overcompensating for being run over by a third party that has nothing to do with what the actual conflicts are they're fighting about.

Maybe there is no example of accountability in the paternal governments, so they proceed as if there is none.

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