October 12th, 2011 19:44 EST
Territorialism and Bullying on The Web
Territorialism must have something to do with annual migrations back to breeding grounds in prehistoric times, but if there is one thing social networking has taught me it`s that territorialism is alive and well in cyberspace.
Fiercely guarded threads, pandering, pissing matches and taunts are common, even in literary spheres. Why should cyberspace be different from the earthly environment we`ve desecrated? Did I expect a giant stride in our emotional intelligence? Well, yes, I did. I thought that the digital acceleration of our communications would open borders, redefine the game, throw open the doors of churches and clubs. But I see the same insider/outsider tensions that seem to be shredding American society, the same fences made of snideness and snarkiness and who-are-you smugness.
Everybody wants to be inside, to define territory, to exercise a kind of intellectual and ideological patriotism that takes no prisoners, puts newcomers through the hoops, and defines mine " as everything I haven`t managed to wrest from you. " If it persists on the web, why wouldn`t it thrive in Wall Street? There is but a thin line between greed and proprietarianism.
We`re still chopping up property into lots and shouting, Nobody`s going to tell me what to do with my property whenever an alien idea rears its suspect head, even in cyberspace. We`re still asking strangers for their papers, still building fences at the border, and it doesn`t seem to matter whether we`re defending a country or an idea or a notion.
We cannot imagine a culture without patriotism and territorialism, which, of course, are joined at the hip. And because we can`t imagine it, we can`t reach it. Most of us wouldn`t even want such a culture, because it`s just so satisfying to keep someone out of something, to ban, bar, prohibit, inhibit and exile. It`s so pleasurable to be inside the circle, standing guard against those shadowy figures outside it. It`s so self-justifying to belong to the right club. And in order for us to belong to the right club a much larger number of people must belong to the wrong club.
Our national obsession with communism and socialism is rooted in territorialism. I remember vividly in the 1950s how zoning of any kind was labeled communist. The idea of submitting to certain ordinances for the common good was deemed suspect and repugnant, and still is in many quarters. The destruction of the environment was and still is viewed as an inalienable right, and the Native American view of the environment as a scared gift was disparaged as primitive, whereas in fact it strikes me as far more sophisticated than the foreign " idea of eminent domain.
That said, in the music community I notice a far more open-hearted attitude towards the unfamiliar, towards names that might not do you some good in your careerist pursuits, than, say, in the literary community. I see less dogmatism and defensiveness in the music community. It puzzles and intrigues me, because both the literary and music communities are attuned to the nuances of sound, the one clearly more than the other.
I recently witnessed and took part in, to some degree, an increasingly in-your-face dialogue about accessibility in poetry in which crass language was used to bully participants of a different persuasion. If we would take no prisoners in such discourse, " why would we be surprised that our dysfunctional Congress behaves similarly? Dogma and discourse get along about as well as ketchup and salad.
How could I have possibly thought that digital egalitarianism might prevail? What planet had I been living on? Certainly not the one we`re busily despoiling in the name of free-market capitalism.
Just the other day I saw a Facebooker trying to insert himself into a literary conversation, one that was presumably open to all comers. He probably hadn`t read the entire thread, and so some smart-ass seized this excuse to diss him. And this has what to do with this thread?` asked the smart-ass. We`ve all met his ilk, just the kind of professor you hope you don`t get in college. The same thing happened to me a while back when I had reached the limits of my French in a literary thread and resorted to English, because I knew most of the participants spoke it. If you can`t use the language, absent yourself from this thread, commanded some Parisian s(h)it. I smiled because I read his French well enough to know what he was saying. Ten years ago I would have responded, but with age occasionally comes some wisdom if not fatigue.
We wrap ourselves in all kinds of flags, some of them made of sentences. Sometimes when I read these threads on Facebook I remember the explosion of flags after 9/11. You knew that while most of us were expressing our solidarity and love of country, some of us were expressing our xenophobia and racism, our insistence that only we belong and everyone else must prove loyalty.
There`s hope, to be sure. I see discussion threads on Facebook that hearten me, that hearten others. I see kindness and courtesy, but, as in our politics, I see savagery and stupidity. Perhaps my fond hope that an era of digital accelerants will draw us out of our armed camps will come to pass over time. It was only a few years ago that establishment publishers were pooh-poohing e-books, after all; now they`re betting the ranch on them.
Djelloul Marbrook`s first book, Far from Algiers (Kent State University Press, 2008) won the 2007 Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize and the 2010 International Book Award in poetry. Artists` Hill, an excerpt from his unpublished novel, Crowds of One, won the 2008 Literal LattÃ© first prize in fiction. Artemisia`s Wolf, a novella, was published by Prakash Books of India early in 2011. Alice Miller`s Room, a novella, was published in 1999 by OnlineOriginals.com (UK) as an e-book, and Bliss Plot Press of Woodstock, NY, recently published his novella, Saraceno, as an e-book. Orbis (UK), Smashwords.com, Potomac Review (Maryland) and Prima Materia (New York). His second book of poems is Brushstrokes and Glances (Deerbrook Editions, 2010). Recent poems were published by American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, Oberon, Meadowland Review, The Same, Reed, The Ledge, Poemeleon, Poets Against War, Fledgling Rag, Daylight Burglary, Le Zaporogue, Atticus, Long Island Quarterly, ReDactions, Istanbul Literary Review, Arabesques Literary and Cultural Review, Damazine, Perpetuum Mobile, Attic, and Chronogram. A retired newspaper editor and Navy veteran, he lives in Germantown, NY, with his wife Marilyn, and has lifelong ties to Woodstock.
Del`s book, Far From Algiers: http://upress.kent.edu/books/Marbrook_D.htm
New review of Far from Algiers: http://www.rattle.com/blog/2009/05/far-from-algiers-by-djelloul-marbrook/
Artists Hill, Literal LattÃ©`s fiction first prize: http://www.literal-latte.com/author/djelloulmarbrook/
His blog: http://www.djelloulmarbrook.com
His mother`s art: http://www.juanitaguccione.com
His aunt`s art: http://www.irenericepereira.com