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Not iron again

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Friday, 4 August 2017 00:00


01If politics is the art of the possible, governance is the artifice of the sublime being reduced to the ridiculous in slow, sure, steps. Such as that of a republican government degenerating into a parody of the regime it replaced, while arousing the hopes of a once long-oppressed polity. 

The recent spate of protests, trade-union action, strikes, demonstrations, have tried and tested the mettle of the administration as perhaps never before. In what was initially perceived as a reflex action, the government was obliged to crack down hard on a plethora of stakeholders across the political spectrum. But as time goes by, and its stated response is seen as more of a deliberate strategy than knee-jerk tactics, there is growing concern that there might be a return to modalities of the nightmare immediate past… that this Government is beginning to resemble another in less than salutary ways. 

What follows is one man’s attempt to recast the tone, tenor, timbre, of that reality in a counterintuitive light. That it is peculiar without intention to be perverse goes without saying – even if what goes without saying also goes without understanding. 


In a short sharp sequence shown in slow motion, a film from boyhood has made a lasting impression, the memory of which returns now and then. A deadly snake and a hapless trapped rat are pictured facing off in a terrifyingly choreographed dance. It is a death scene in which one of the creatures is clearly condemned to depart this vale of tears: a moving series of snapshots from which it is so hard to tear one’s eyes away. There is little if any doubt in the mind of the viewer that the reptile will prevail over the rodent. It must. The law of the survival of the fittest is un-re-writeable. That nature red in tooth and claw must be true to itself cannot escape the cinematographer’s lens or sensibilities.

But the voiceover – David Carradine as the kung-fu master, teaching his young apprentice a valuable lesson in the ironies of life and death – invites the audience to consider an alternative reality. That subtle preachment still echoes in an empty corner of my mind. Here’s the gist of it: paraphrased by a perspective pleading selective amnesia; a voice from the past, with an application for all our todays for sure and perhaps some of our tomorrows.

‘Note the predator. It stares unflinchingly at its prey. Its eyes mesmerise. Death moves in, sliding sinuously. Life is not a possibility now. The power of the hunter has captured the hunted in a paralysing stare. The killer is helpless. The serpent is trapped. It is the prey. The small creature has entranced the merciless monster with its pleas. The victim moves in to strike. The snake has the rat in its death grip. It has lost. The dead creature has triumphed. There was no choice but for the snake to move in, hypnotised by the desire of the living thing to trick and trap its attacker…’


In short sharp sequences – as if being shown in slow motion – a filmic story from the painful maturing of Government – continues to02 make lasting impressions. These are memories being shaped which may return time and again to haunt the midnight repose of deposed tyrants. A strong and powerful Government and a hapless trapped public are depicted facing each other down in a battle of wits and wills. It is a lively scene in which one of the entities clearly has the advantage, the upper hand by virtue of its elected and appointed ethos. There is little if any doubt in the mind of observers that the Government is winning over the governed. It can or must. 

The rule that power corrupts and that relative power over their fellows makes monsters of mediocrities is being proven for the umpteenth time. That when things fall apart, the centre cannot hold. Or that when mere anarchy being loosed upon the world an iron fist being smashed in the face of rebellion results, is the proof of the Government’s power. The blood-dimmed tide of military might is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned. The better souls in State administration seem to lack all conviction, while those no worse off for being deposed are still full of themselves as much as they are still full of that awful passionate intensity. 

The voiceover – voices in the wildness, media commentators far from the madding crowd – invites their auditors to consider an alternative reality. Their subtle preachments echo in the well of silence. Here is what the voice of the prophet is saying, written on tenement and Facebook walls.

‘Pity the poor power of the prosecutor. The punisher stares unflinchingly at its subject. Its actions arrest attention. Discipline moves in, brandishing shield and truncheon. Safety and security are not the issues now. The power of the persuader has captivated the convicted in a sense-defying embrace. The power is helpless. Its mighty arm has been forced. Government is the victim. The small creatures of rebellion and revolt have inveigled the machinery of state with its protests, strikes, demonstrations. The victim moves in to strike. Brute force has the baying hyenas in a death grip. It has lost. The disciplined creatures and their political puppet-masters appear to have the upper hand. There was no choice but for the powers that be to move in, hypnotised by the desire of dissent to act in open dissidence under the guise of speaking truth to power…’


The time has come for us to see Government in a slightly more counterintuitive light. That conventional wisdom has cast it in a diabolical role more akin to that of its predecessor is a pity. In one sense, the administration had little choice but to respond in the manner that it did. Its rationale in decisions taken which set off the chain of events leading to the student, fuel, and other strikes may be less than clear, or salutary. However once set in its purposes there could be no going back on a path predetermined by forces – and previous choices – beyond the pale… of its own control, as well as that of other observers as well as players in the political arena. 

Caught between the rock of the globalism it desires to cultivate overseas and the grassroots changes it declares it seeks to inculcate at home, Government has to wear an iron glove over its silken fist. Where its predecessors strove to don a silken glove over their iron fists, the incumbent administration has been compelled to do the opposite – and run the risk of being perceived as exactly alike.

In years gone by but not time out of mind, the military was a mighty sledgehammer to wield over miscreants who would deny the State its sovereignty over matters of law and order, peace, territorial integrity, and the national interest. Today it is a twin helix being employed for purposes lawful if not mandated, in the same breath as purposes necessary but not welcome. To man ports during work strikes and unman protestors there, to secure fuel depot installations, to partner the Police in the battle against dengue – these are the province of governance deploying its security forces. 

But bloody heads and cracked ribs are a bullet away from the terrors of a despotic regime from the nightmare past we thought had passed. If coupled with Police apathy, half-felt poorly-expressed ministerial apologies that plead expediency over etiquette, and the fear even of a shadowy syndrome of the white van era returning, it can sound the death knell for snake and rat alike. It is a different public – protestors, protesting citizenry, and protestant dissenters – that the serpent of the State faces on the mean streets of today. 

Death to all tyrants – especially the pseudo-democrats who preach appeasement overseas and practise brutal bludgeoning at home… even if it can claim that the egregious outrageousness of the strikes (never seen during tougher rougher more terrifying times) warranted the pusillanimity of force.

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