Deconstructing the 'Haves' and the 'Have Nots'

The greater the 'nothing,' the more transparent one becomes, and the more the 'nothings' or the 'have nots' pretend that they do have a life, the harder it is to see them.

Alon Idan
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Alon Idan

A good propagandist
makes a vacation resort out of a manure pile.
If there’s nothing to eat, he argues
that a slim waist improves everyone’s appearance.
Thousands who hear him talk about the highways
are delighted, as if they had cars.
On the graves of those who starved to death or were killed
he plants laurel bushes. But long before things had come so far,
he spoke of peace, as the cannons rolled by.

− from “The Necessity of Propaganda,” by Bertolt Brecht ‏(translated from the German by Jon Swan‏)

The entire construction rests on the assumption that you are a “have not.” That you have no time, that you have no strength, that you have no interest, that you have no desire, that you have no ability, that you have no need, that you have no reason, that you have no inclination, that you are not in the mood, that you have no way of knowing.

The state of being a “have not” is always painted in the colors of nature, of necessity, of force majeure. And, within this natural context, you must keep yourself going, you must survive, adjust, become accustomed, fight.

Adjustment is the state to which the construction aspires: a war between one “have not” and another “have not” over a small slice of “something.”

Lo and behold, the tiny “something” suddenly becomes God: a small piece of fat that is thrown down from the heavens in order to give meaning to being a “have not.” A small piece of “something” that can enable the hegemony to be a “have not.” A little “something” that can enable people to continue the ecstatic dance of “having nothing” − the dance of those who know that they do not know and who no longer have the strength to know why.

Examples of ‘having something’

Erella from Mifal Hapayis, the national lottery, who telephones subscribers to inform them that they are prize winners, appears to be a piece of this “something.” As if from heaven, to keep him under the spell, she phones Itzik from Petah Tikva, who is on the verge of economic/emotional/social collapse, to tell him he just got money for a new car. So now everything has worked out just fine.

The “Iranian threat” is a piece of this “something.” It bursts forth whenever the leader wants his people to stop spending their time on things that could undermine the possibility of his continuing to be a leader. He takes a salt shaker, fills it with 200 grams of the “Iranian threat,” and begins to sprinkle it over the salad of Yossi from Ra’anana and Devorah from Netanya.

The “Big Brother” television reality show is another piece of “something.” The program puts a bunch of people with huge problems into an aquarium so that people with problems that are not as huge can believe that they are actually without any problems at all. So we see this guy sitting there with his one big fat problem and saying to himself: “Hey, how about that − and here I thought that I was the one with a problem!”

“Shimon Peres” is another “something.” He is perfect for the role of president: almost 90 and with the energy of a young fellow who has just been released from his period of compulsory military service. He keeps on saying “nanotechnology,” and every morning he drinks the juice of half a squeezed lemon. Meanwhile, at home, people are reciting “nanotechnology, nanotechnology, nanotechnology, nanotechnology.” After that, they squeeze half a lemon.

There are many “somethings” whose role is to continue maintaining the “nothings.” And the greater the “nothing,” the more transparent he or she is. And the more the “nothings” or the “have nots” pretend that they do have a life, the harder it is to see them.

What would happen if?
If you had ‏(the time, strength, inclination, reason, desire, way of knowing‏), it is doubtful whether all this would work out. If you had ‏(the time, strength, inclination, reason, desire, a way of knowing‏), the construction would collapse, would break up, would shatter. If you had ‏(the time, strength, inclination, reason, desire, way of knowing‏), you would open your eyes. You would look at the world and nod your head. You would say to yourself, “Oh, so this is how things look.”

Perhaps you might get angry at first, or want to take revenge, or even mourn for a while. But you would still be living your life.

Really alive

But you are a “have not.” And you will never have all these things. Because everything has been constructed so that you will never have them. And everyone knows that you are a “have not.” Because you are a “have not” and everyone knows that you are a “have not,” you have no choice but to continue to imagine a reality despite the bandages on your eyes, to imagine feelings despite the bandages on your heart, and to imagine happiness even if the scrap of fat tossed down from the heavens is not happiness but is rather just one more way to kill someone who tried to reach the sun.

Identifying the archetype of ‘those who have’

First option: a poetic tongue ‏(cliches are sentences approved by the masses‏), patriotic language ‏(“We have a wonderful country!”‏), brightly polished shoes, carefully combed hair, symmetrical arm movements ‏(symmetry = perfection‏), elegant body movements, half a smile on a plump face, a pat on the back from time to time, a bit of slang tossed into your speech from time to time; a visit to the market from time to time, premeditated friendliness ‏(“I was absolutely moved to tears when I saw you with the medal; you have brought much honor to your country and to the Jewish people!”‏).

Second option: the person who contributes to the community ‏(clandestinely, of course, although, by chance, I happened to hear that you made the donation‏), who has a tower named after him in some hospital ‏(moments before they finally depart from this world, the patients are very appreciative of the tower‏), who is staying in Israel because he is a Zionist ‏(“I could be making lots more money abroad but Israel is my home”‏), who frequently gets a “haircut” ‏(everything will be done legally, don’t worry; those people who studied business administration and law will take care of everything‏), who is a friend of the person with the poetic tongue, the well-tailored suit, the tie, the half-smile.

Third option: the person who says that he was really moved and who says that he was really moved even afterward as well; who promises that we will all be moved next week as well and the week after that, who − after everyone has been moved, suggests that we all go buy things at this supermarket; who − after everyone buys at that supermarket − buys a black jeep, then buys a home in northern Tel Aviv; who then flies to Thailand for a month and then comes back, again says he is moved and that he will be moved in the future; and who in the end gives a newspaper interview in which he confesses that he is depressed.

The possibility of moving between worlds

“Economics and business administration.” This is not a university department; it is simply a metaphor. People do not go to learn how to manage; all they want is to enter the magic pipeline that turns the “have nots” into the “haves” ‏(those who finish their studies with a “magna cum laude” subsequently acquire all the desired trappings of being one of the “haves”: “stock options,” a “golden parachute,” “bonuses,” an “adjustment period” and so forth‏).

Your moment

After all, you are what you are, no more than that. A grain of sand in a hurricane. You go through the motions of looking, reading, hearing, understanding, feeling. You have a few minutes, but not more than that, to live. And, lo and behold, the show has already started. But, after all, you have just come home from a day’s work and now you are with your children, and tomorrow you have to get up early − and your eyes are already starting to close; your body wants to turn itself off, and the night is demanding its share. All of this entire construction is sitting on our closed eyes, on your brain that has already turned itself off, and on your body that just wants a little quiet, on the night that is demanding its share. Perhaps tomorrow, perhaps next week, perhaps next year.

This is simply too much, you mutter to yourself, this is simply too much. In your dream, Erella from the national lottery is telling you over the phone about the prize you have won and, in your dream, you are frightened by the “Iranian threat,” and, in your dream, you are laughing at the dumb broad from “Big Brother.” Then you suddenly wake up, muttering “nanotechnology, nanotechnology, nanotechnology, nanotechnology.”

A turning point

Everything looks so natural, everything looks so clear and understood and permanent. Who would ever have thought that instinct is the construction and that our urges are dictated by the machine? But sometimes, sometimes, something becomes cracked in the process. Something twists out of shape, becomes crooked, becomes scratched, becomes damaged.

If there is any chance of seeing what is hiding inside the construction and if there is any chance of making a hole in the transparent plastic cover of existence, and if there any chance of breaking the mold, of erasing the borders, of changing what is pretending to be nature − it is hidden in the flaws, in the scratches, in the distortions, in the weak points. And sometimes all that needs to be done is to listen to what the machine has labeled as a defect. To listen to the crazy person. To the unfortunate person. To the weak person. Especially to the weak person.

The more there are suffering, then, the more natural their
sufferings appear. Who wants to prevent the fishes in the sea
from getting wet?
And the suffering themselves share this callousness towards
themselves and are lacking in kindness towards themselves.
It is terrible that human beings so easily put up with existing
conditions, not only with the sufferings of strangers but also
with their own.
All those who have thought about the bad state of things
refuse to appeal to the compassion of one group of people for
another. But the compassion of the oppressed for the
oppressed is indispensable.
It is the world’s one hope.

− “The World’s One Hope,” by Bertolt Brecht ‏(translated by Michael Hamburger‏)

Deconstructing the 'haves' and the 'have nots.' Illustration.