Monday, September 6, 2010

The Last Lecture of the Semester


The energy revolutions at the end
of the fifth millennium ushered in
a strange aberration, democracy,
they themselves labelled it, ignoring
the norm that nearly all humans are
destined to be serfs. The very origin of
the word democracy reveals its fallacy.
It comes from the antique Greek meaning
People, but ignores Plato’s teaching of
the need for a rational elite. Equally
forgotten was that other ancient seer
Thomas Hobbes. Our own philosophers
rightly place due stress upon authority.
The idea that common people know
what is good for them quickly revealed
its flaws. As the millennium ended
the elite increasingly used the rhetoric
of democracy to hide their necessary
use of power. Fear of fanaticism led
to the mob’s acquiescence. The idea of
people power was quietly dropped. What
is interesting is how teachers turned to
the example of primitive Rome when
the serfs lost the instinct of discipline.
As you know when they realised they
couldn’t defeat the Chinese Empire
their leaders resorted to military force
with great destruction & chaos. Some-
one had to step in to ensure rationality
prevailed. We did. You needn’t bother
to study anything political in this period
after Louis XIV. However, there will be
a question on the impact of technological
changes upon society in that period.

For those returning we will pick up
the distributive restoration of law &
the scientific breakthroughs that
underpin our constitution. For those
of you - yet to be determined -
joining the contingent to deal with
the frontier problems I wish you well.

In the review of ‘Goya Rules’ in Poetry New Zealand 41 this poem is mentioned. The reviewer, Nicholas Reid said 'You think you've got the measure of McQueen as a miniaturist: a man who likes the pithy, concise statement. And then he throws fantastic curve-balls at you. The long poem 'Return' could be read as one of the great science fiction (or at least alternative reality) poems; and as for 'The Last Lecture of the Semester', irony and all, it takes a long view of history to its limit.'

When I showed the review to a friend he asked ‘What made you write it?’ Good questions deserve an answer. Compiling their science fiction anthology Tim Jones and Mark Pirie called for possible entries. I had written some. But I sat down and wrote a couple more. One, ‘The Return' they accepted. It is more SF than the other, this futuristic/historic one..

‘Last Lecture’ reflects historian Harvey. Ever since I read H.G.Wells’ ‘Short History of the World’and his ‘Time Machine’ I’ve been interested in the vast sweeps of history. What state will the planet be in at the end of this millennium? Historical trends can be perceived in hindsight. It’s easier to do this than predict the future. Futurists can overlook the obvious and there is always the unpredictable.

For the poem’s theme I took a possible trend and teased out its implications. Humanity wavers between two forms of governance, absolutism and what we call democracy. The poem assumes the cyclic nature of power, sometimes it’s the few, sometimes it’s the many. I agree with English novelist E.M.Forster who said ‘two cheers for democracy.’ Sometimes the ‘many’ can be wrong But I’d sooner live with that than in a tyranny.

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