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Babylon a fall! - click opera
February 2010
 
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Sat, Oct. 4th, 2008 02:37 pm
Babylon a fall!

One thing the current financial crisis ought to be making us say (though I haven't seen anyone saying it yet) is "Shit, the Rastafarians were right -- Babylon a fall!". These past couple of weeks have seen the Rastafarian concept of Babylon looking stronger and smarter, and our own concepts about the efficiency and intelligence of the market system looking ever weaker and more stupid. If Bush and Blair and Brown thought that Babylon would save us, it's now becoming clear that it won't. Instead, Babylon is more likely to do what the Rastafarians have been telling us all along it will: Babylon is likely "a fall".



The Rastafarian concept of Babylon is one we all understand in its broad outline. Babylon is the white man's world, the oppressor's world, the world of the slave-taker and slave-trader, the world in which precious spiritual things are reduced to mere commodities. It's a world characterized by greed and dishonesty, a corrupt and decadent world, a world with no respect for nature and no respect for humanity. One should have as little to do with it as possible -- one shouldn't deal with Babylon. For, because of its endemic vices and iniquities, Babylon shall fade and Babylon shall fall, just like the reggae songs tell us.

Babylon in reggae and in Rastafarianism is a catch-all phrase, a metaphor. The real, historical Babylon, Wikipedia tells us, "was a city-state of ancient Mesopotamia, the remains of which can be found in present-day Al Hillah, Babil Province, Iraq, about 85 kilometers (55 mi) south of Baghdad." Interestingly, the current-day location of Babylon is occupied by the Americans, who are without a doubt the current-day metaphorical Babylonians too. Ominously, though, "all that remains today of the ancient famed city of Babylon is a mound, or tell, of broken mud-brick buildings and debris in the fertile Mesopotamian plain between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, in Iraq." Babylon was a holy city by 2300 BC and the seat of an empire by 612 BC. It boasted a globalization-friendly skyscraper in the form of the Tower of Babel and a world-standard tourist attraction in the form of the Hanging Gardens. And yet, by 141BC, Babylon was to be found "in complete desolation and obscurity". Babylon a fall.



We could call Babylon, the Rastafarian concept, a "cautionary metaphor". By tunnelling far back into the past, the Rastafarians point to the fall of one empire, map it to the current empire, and preview, by extension and with relish, its fall too.

As David Bardfield explains in The Roots of Babylon (The Dread Library), the concept as it appears in Rastafarianism comes from Marcus Garvey's teachings, which map the exile of African slaves in the Caribbean to the exile of Jews into Babylon, as described in The Bible. It's a word which is shorthand for a whole political program: "Instead of saying "Injustice must fall", "Poverty must be alleviated", or "Jamaican legislation must represent its people", a Rasta need only say "Babylon must fall".

Babylon represents a range of corrupt and unjust institutions: politics, police, laws, even cities are "Babylon".

What's really remarkable is that the speeches from both sides of the current US presidential debates could very easily be reframed (I'm sure there's a text engine out there that could do it with cut and paste) in Rastafarian terms. When McCain and Obama agree that "Washington is broken, and Wall Street is broken", or when they talk about greed and corruption being endemic, they're basically recognizing that they live in Babylon. Even Bush, admitting that the $700 billion bailout may not solve the financial crisis, is warning us that Babylon may not be easily fixable. It may, indeed, fall. In fact, in a long enough perspective, it's absolutely sure to.

Babylon has been a theme in my own music -- I even put an image of Haile Selassie on the inside of my 2006 album Ocky Milk. Here's a clip from a track on my forthcoming Joemus album which pits "the Babylon King" against his nemesis, a "Jahwise Hammer":

Jahwise Hammer of the Babylon King (excerpt) stereo mp3 file, 1.4 MB, 1 min 45 secs

Maybe one day this song will bring it all back: exactly where you were when Babylon began a fall.

49CommentReply

imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Oct. 4th, 2008 12:56 pm (UTC)


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pay_option07
pay_option07
Sat, Oct. 4th, 2008 07:48 pm (UTC)
Dogs pissing against the wall of Babylon

There are a lot of young and old pissers out there that are gonna fall.

"Jahwise and the Babylon King" is for sure a top chart single Nic!

I hope you get some air time somewhere.


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(Anonymous)
Sat, Oct. 4th, 2008 01:05 pm (UTC)

Booyaka.. Babylon im nah dead. Im Dow Jones still 40% higher than in 2003. Unemployment still lower than in 2003. W. Buffet highly invested in financial industry, stands to gain personally from bailout bill, so helps stir up false fears (or hopes, in your case). High tech pearl harbor is rite. Cranks and cynics have been declaring the end every year, going back to the beginning of recorded history.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Oct. 4th, 2008 01:10 pm (UTC)

You can't deny that Lee "Scratch" Perry has proven a more visionary economist than Alan "Scratch That" Greenspan!


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(Anonymous)
Sat, Oct. 4th, 2008 01:29 pm (UTC)

Only recently, you were praising China which is just as Babylonian.


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(Anonymous)
Sat, Oct. 4th, 2008 01:40 pm (UTC)

Now you're just surfing the zeitgeist, Momus. Everyone is saying it's the end of America, "Anglo-Saxon" capitalism in terminal disarray, etc... But zeitgeist predictions of the future are always just exaggerations of the present. Empires eventually fall, yes. But at every moment, there is always someone saying the end is nigh. As for America, people have been talking about its fall my entire life, from the oil crisis in the 70s on. I think it's still a bit early to signal America's fall. A nasty recession, yes. The fall of Empire, no.


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bugpowered
bugpowered
Sat, Oct. 4th, 2008 02:41 pm (UTC)

As for America, people have been talking about its fall my entire life, from the oil crisis in the 70s on. I think it's still a bit early to signal America's fall.

Your entire life? Oh, my.

Do you seriously think this time-span is anything but an instant in historical terms?

And, yes, the crisis develops.


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qscrisp
qscrisp
Sat, Oct. 4th, 2008 02:08 pm (UTC)

And don't forget the Frosties:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LcDVmvsz9aE


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bricology
bricology
bricology
Sat, Oct. 4th, 2008 06:00 pm (UTC)

"Babylon is the white man's world, the oppressor's world, the world of the slave-taker and slave-trader, the world in which precious spiritual things are reduced to mere commodities. It's a world characterized by greed and dishonesty, a corrupt and decadent world, a world with no respect for nature and no respect for humanity. One should have as little to do with it as possible -- one shouldn't deal with Babylon."

What a charmingly romanticized notion! Of course, in the anti-Babylon (located somewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa, one presumes), the "precious spiritual things" are no less commodified, although to get that spell removed it will cost you three chickens, rather than a tax-deductible donation. As for "respect for nature and humanity" -- well, let's just say that the black-on-black atrocities in Darfur suggest otherwise (where, by the way, one can still obtain slaves.) Or the villages in which women are declared "witches" and driven out of town. Or the places where female genital mutilation is practiced. Or...

Still, this posture against "Babylon" did produce some pretty songs, so perhaps that balances out the societal abjection that came with making them.

And I, too, have been hearing of the imminent fall of American since the '70s; approximately as long as I've been assured of the impending Second-Coming. I wonder which will come first?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Oct. 4th, 2008 06:27 pm (UTC)

We really need some kind of Godwin's Law for references in these sorts of discussions to clitorectomy. Just as wheeling on Hitler has become lazy shorthand for the pure, indefensible evil of safely-dead regimes, so clitorectomy has become lazy shorthand for the inarguable inadmissability of the cultural practises of others. In both cases, our own failings are presumably excused.

Shall we call it "Maidenhead's Law"? Summed up, it would say: "Anyone who mentions clitorectomy in an attempt to discredit other cultures and vindicate their own is... Hitler."


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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Oct. 4th, 2008 08:27 pm (UTC)

So how would you define Babylon, the metaphor?


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand





eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
Sun, Oct. 5th, 2008 12:19 am (UTC)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military-industrial_complex


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robinsonner
robinsonner
the maven
Sun, Oct. 5th, 2008 01:49 am (UTC)

So no ones tempted at all by the Illuminati/Bilderberg organised crisis takeover and tightened control theory?
Mandelson's back in a British War cabinet with outsiders like the head of HSBC. These raasclaat all go to the same parties don't they? Mandelson was spotted on MS co-founder Paul Allen's yacht one New Year.

Mind you they have cunningly wheeled OJ Simpson out again as a distraction.

When the Three Sevens Clash! (Dow Jones Industrial dub remix)

Edited at 2008-10-05 01:53 am (UTC)


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jessantsion
Jessant
Sun, Oct. 5th, 2008 02:53 am (UTC)

I don't see this as Babylon falling. It's a chance for the US to become more Eastern in it's principles. It's an opportunity for change. Framing it as destruction isn't helpful. That will just make people fearful.

Amin al-Basri (an Arabic immigrant to the US) predicted that the demiurgic dollar would no longer be the god of the US at some point in the future but that it couldn't happen unless the US became more Eastern.

This is a quote from his book about this process:

"But the Americans are neither Pagans—which is consoling—nor fetish-worshipping heathens: they are all true and honest votaries of Mammon, their great God, their one and only God. And is it not natural that the Demiurgic Dollar should be the national Deity of America? Have not deities been always conceived after man's needs and aspirations? Thus in Egypt, in a locality where the manufacture of pottery was the chief industry, God was represented as a potter; in agricultural districts, as a god of harvest; among warring tribes as an avenger, a Jehovah. And the more needs, the more deities; the higher the aspirations, the better the gods. Hence the ugly fetish of a savage tribe, and the beautiful mythology of a Greek Civilisation. Change the needs and aspirations of the Americans, therefore, and you will have changed their worship, their national Deity, and even their Government. And believe me, this change is coming; people get tired of their gods as of everything else. Ay, the time will come, when man in this America shall not suffer for not being a seeker and lover and defender of the Dollar...."

He goes on to talk about what will change America, saying:

"From his transcendental height, the Superman of America shall ray forth in every direction the divine light, which shall mellow and purify the spirit of Nations and strengthen and sweeten the spirit or men, in this New World, I tell you, he shall be born, but he shall not be an American in the Democratic sense. He shall be nor of the Old World nor of the New; he shall be, my Brothers, of both."

Perhaps, I'm romantic but these words are comforting to me.


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Oct. 5th, 2008 06:57 am (UTC)

my god momus, your lack of intellectual rigor is blindingly obvious, again; and bricology has, like many before, spelled it out for you. stunning, how quickly and simply, too.

someone else mentioned your addiction to simplistic, binary assertions about the world, as well -- funny how that's exactly what you consistently rail against Bush and Co. for doing!

What you do is really show your own limitations when you play this "stick up for the victims" game; because, what is inevitably true is that your "victims" are also perpetrators of another sort. When you finally stop playing this game, you'll start really seeing the world as the complex place that it is, and more importantly start actually being consistent in applying your principles to it.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Oct. 5th, 2008 09:11 am (UTC)

Bricology wants there to be a moral equivalence between the weak and the strong so that the strong are let off the hook. With your "victims are perps" line you seem to agree. That's very convenient for you, but it's wishful thinking.

There was a lot more intellectual rigour in my original post, which looked at the concept of Babylon as a real place and as a metaphor for rastafarians, and noted the emergence in mainstream American political discourse of some distinctly "Babylonian" criticisms.


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Re: Babylon - (Anonymous) Expand


georgesdelatour
georgesdelatour
Sun, Oct. 5th, 2008 11:14 am (UTC)

Rastafarianism is very much a Judeo-Christian heresy, not at all like Confucianism, Shinto, Zen etc...

I always loved the way Bob Marley would slip into mock King James Bible English:

"Why boasteth thyself / Oh, evil men
Playing smart / And not being clever?
I said, youre working iniquity / To achieve vanity (if a-so a-so)
But the goodness of jah, jah / I-dureth for-i-ver

So if you are the big tree / We are the small axe
Ready to cut you down (well sharp) / To cut you down

These are the words / Of my master, keep on tellin me
No weak heart / Shall prosper
And whosoever diggeth a pit / Shall fall in it, fall in it"


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Oct. 5th, 2008 12:12 pm (UTC)

So if you are the big tree / We are the small axe

This maps as well to Certeau's idea of the tactic versus the strategy as to the Old Testament story of David and Goliath.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Oct. 5th, 2008 02:54 pm (UTC)

"I see an empire falling. And I don't want it to go this way, I really love this country."


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bugpowered
bugpowered
Sun, Oct. 5th, 2008 03:25 pm (UTC)

Jahwise Hammer of the Babylon King (excerpt) stereo mp3 file

I don't know if you were going for it, but this is very late 80s early 90s Momus with a few more bleeps.

I could even swear I hear an Emulator III in there...


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Oct. 5th, 2008 07:32 pm (UTC)

You'd have to ask Joe, he did the backing. Actually, he did a completely different backing -- for Ashes to Ashes -- then I cut it up and completely rearranged it and made a new song out of it. Then Joe rearranged my rearrangement. Then he rearranged his own rearrangement. Then I put some of his first rearrangement back into his new arrangement. Then I added the ending from my original rearrangement of his... well, you get the picture.


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georgesdelatour
georgesdelatour
Mon, Oct. 6th, 2008 09:21 pm (UTC)

Nick

Continuing the Bob Marley "Small Axe" theme, I found this link:

http://www.smallaxe.net/sxspace/conversations.php

Also, if you're writing about Scotland, I'm sure the Sensational Alex Harvey Band covered the song, though I can't find any links. So a Scottish Rasta meme may have something going for it.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Oct. 17th, 2008 05:34 am (UTC)
iMomus Hates America!

I don't know why I read this blog... I must be a maschoist. I like what you have to say often, and I start to get in engaged and then all of this anti-american drivel starts flying and it just depresses me. Not all Americans are terrible, just like not all Europeans are terrible! See how it works? But no we're Babylon, or as the Conservatives here in the U.S. say "Satan" or I don't know anymore, all of this is just confusing. I'm going to go hate myself now, for trying to understand the world and not live in a self reflexive backwater of vulgar American pop culture. Doh!


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