Everybody knows the dice are loaded.
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed.
Everybody knows the war is over.
Everybody knows the good guys lost.
Everybody knows the fight is fixed.
The poor stay poor the rich get rich.
That’s how it goes.
Sometimes it takes a poet to capture the spirit of the times in a few words and images and Leonard Cohen in this poem certainly put his finger on much of the malady facing humanity in the 20th and 21st centuries. The first verse of the poem ‘Everybody Knows’ reproduced above is an excellent example. Furthermore, practically every verse in this poem turned song encapsulates some aspect of life during the neo-liberal phase of capitalism. For a start, in the game of life, under this system, the dice are certainly loaded against the working classes and in favour of the elite. Many of us have metaphorically had our fingers crossed most of the time. If Mr Cohen was referring to the end of the Second World War in the third line of the above verse, then certainly many of the good guys lost out. An estimated six million lost everything, including their lives. My father, part of the allied air force, in the UK sent here and there to fight fascism, survived but certainly lost his hair, his health, his teeth, his sense of fairness and eventually his job when he returned to civvy street in 1947.
He was one of a whole generation of Western pale-skinned working class survivors of that total war against fascism but who also thought they were fighting for something positive – the right of nations to self-determination. Yet he was accused of being a fascist when he later objected to economic immigration taking away much needed UK jobs and houses. Apparently he felt that he and his mates hadn’t fought for the freedom of ‘others’ in order to be economically and culturally replaced by them later or by their children later still. Millions had died, some from his own Nissan hut, in that war against an authoritarian version of capitalism categorised as fascism, but that didn’t matter. When capital and its supporters needed cheap labour in the UK, and recruited it from around the globe, people like dad became classed as neo-nazis, for objecting. No more evidence for such ill-thought out venom was deemed necessary than opposition to the importation of cheap labour. A fact which said more about the accusers than the accused.
He was not on his own. The same thing happened and is still happening in the rest of Europe and North America and perhaps elsewhere as an older generation that gave practically everything, except their lives and like dad, were (and are) routinely, unfairly and simplistically categorised as being the very thing they fought against. Dad was bitter about many things that had happened to him during the 1930s and the war, but like millions of others, grumpiness, a quick temper and an acid tongue did not induce him to become something he had fought against. Nor did many of that older generations children turn to fascism, practically everyone of my generation knew from parents, school and community the general reason for what what had taken place between 1939 and 1945. And of course, referring back to the poem, after the war was over, the class struggle to survive was in fact still fixed and everyone knows the poor stayed poor and the rich got rich – stinking rich in fact – whilst many of the poor got literally stinking poor, particularly in old age. And;
That’s how it goes –
Everybody knows the boat is leaking.
Everybody knows the captain lied.
Everybody’s got that sinking feeling.
Like their father or their dog just died.
Everybody’s talking to their pockets.
Everybody wants a box of chocolates.
And a long-stemmed rose.
That’s how it goes.
I shall assume that the boat leaking in this second verse refers to our mode of production which includes and supports the economy, culture, finance, politics etc. Practically everybody, except those in denial, knows that in all of these institutional arenas morality, integrity, fair play and honesty are indeed still leaking out of the system fast. Moreover, everybody knows the captains of industry, commerce, finance, education, state institutions and politics have lied and continue to do so when it suits them. Faced with a patriarchal, sexist political elite – all of whom are in the system for what they can get out of it and lie about their motives and deals – choosing who to vote for cannot be based upon their morality, truth or honesty – other criteria kicks in – and it has now kicked in big time.
And of course, millions of citizens globally, some worse than others, have now got a permanent existential sinking feeling concerning their present and future situation. It is one similar to, and frequently involves, the death of a significant other. In addition, everybody knows that our culture is based upon how much we have or don’t have in our pocket. It is also common knowledge that retail therapy, buying stuff, (epitomised by the box of chocolates) has become the ersatz (and diabetic inducing) sweetener for a lost sense of community belonging, well being and self-esteem. That’s currently how it goes. And of course, everybody knows. And that’s not all they know.
And everybody knows that its now or never
Everybody knows its me or you.
And everybody knows you live for ever.
When you’ve done a line or two.
Everybody knows the deal is rotten.
Old Black Joe’s still picking cotton.
For your ribbon and bows.
And everybody knows.
Bourgeois individualistic dualism now rules and everyone knows it takes the form of competition (there’s only one winner attitudes and practices) between individuals for jobs, homes, prizes, esteem and even partners. Everybody knows its a me, me, me culture and even the much needed me too movement starts with me and does not embrace the needs of poor ethnic women or those of the working class. Everybody knows we will soon be forgotten, unless we are lucky enough to have written a book, a piece of music, a poem or made an outstanding painting or statue. Simply emptying our bins, cleaning our streets, keeping our electricity and water flowing, growing our food, making our clothes, nursing us back to health, driving our trains and buses, etc., (just some of the real essentials for life as we know it) will not prevent us from sinking into a thankless obscurity.
Everybody knows the post-slavery deal and pre and post-war New-Deals were rotten and the majority of dark-skinned people along with poor pale-skinned people are still routinely entrapped in modern forms of debt and trafficked slavery. They are still relegated to the bottom of the current capitalist constructed socio-economic pile. And in this regard, everybody knows who still picks cotton and in particular who sews our third world manufactured clothes – because the latter is printed on every shirt and dress label. And yes again – everybody knows – that’s how it goes.
Sometimes it takes a poet only a few short stanzas, to make obvious a whole picture that should be obvious to all, and however artistically, tell it how it is. The poem goes on further with a some references to more personal issues which I will omit. Those interested can always obtain the poem or the song, which I strongly recommend, for it is well worth reading or listening to. Finally, I am no poet but inspired to write this short article by Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows, I offer my own feeble updated contribution to what everybody knows before signing off.
Everybody knows the seas are rising.
Everybody knows its getting too hot.
Everybody knows there’s too much rubbish.
But everybody wants more than they’ve got.
Everybody knows the worlds in trouble.
Yet everybody stays inside their bubble,
And buys more clothes.
That’s how it goes.
Yes indeed, Leonard!
Everybody knows – everybody knows.
Roy Ratcliffe (August 2018)