All states and all cultures are home to a heart of darkness. All individuals carry one, sometimes more. The heart of darkness is all around us, we can reach out to it. Conrad gave it a name and a persona, Kurtz, who was an ivory trader reputed to have ‘gone native’ and Conrad would have us believe that there was little difference between ‘civilized people’ and ‘savages’, that the dividing line was ill-defined and that civilized man and man the savage co-existed in a single breast.
Conrad’s heart of darkness was famously filmed as Apocalypse Now, and it slides up the same river he described in search of a soldier gone rogue who sees himself as a god. Brando as Kurtz does and says little beyond ... “the horror…the horror.” The film is enigmatic, more about questions than answers and ambivalent about the madness, the horror, but with a tacit acknowledgement that madness and darkness lie within for all. The last words we hear in the film come from the radio on the small patrol craft that had gone upriver carrying a cast of unfortunates in search of Kurtz.
“PBR Street Gang this is Almighty, over.” And the screen fades to black.
There was nothing steeped in high art and filmic masterpieces in the death of Priyantha Kumara, a Sri Lankan factory manager who was horribly murdered by employees of the factory that he managed. Hundreds participated in his butchering. It is alleged that he had committed a blasphemy by taking down a poster for a political party that was said to contain words from the Koran. This was enough to enrage those who first tortured him on the roof, then beat him to death and dragged his body, its arms moving as if in life, to a place where they set fire to it, all the while filming their actions on their smart-phones, cheering and rejoicing at the death of a man, who minutes before had the rest of his life before him, a wife and children, a home. A place in society.
The heart of darkness came and ate him whole. It was not one heart but many, hundreds of hearts, that acting in concert and with malice aforethought tore him apart, ripped life from him and folded him in the blackness of collective hearts that were willing, nay eager, to see him dead.
The police arrested many and there are clips of them being aired, of the culprits in jail cells, more than happy to display their dark hearts, and to proclaim that they would do exactly the same again given the opportunity.
These men to a greater or lesser degree are all murderers or willing to aid and abet murder. The chances of any of them being found guilty in a court of law are remote indeed. There is no PBR slipping up the murky waters of today’s Pakistan carrying a crew, intent on the cancellation of a dark heart, be it one or many. There are no ‘goodies’ about to ride to the rescue, to see justice done for Priyantha Kumara and the heart of darkness is the one that Pakistan wears on its dirty sleeve.
There was the obligatory bleating in some sections of the media and the agencies of law and order went about their business, looking busy and doing nothing of much consequence and they knew it. The dark hearts currently under lock and key will leak out back into everyday life and the nation will once again take them unto its bosom as it always does.
But here’s the thing. Every one of the men now arrested—or not—is in some way, great or small, a criminal having committed or at the very least condoned a dreadful act. What is most unlikely is that this collectivity of murderers had committed much in the way of criminality in their lives hitherto. They were— and to all intents and purposes still are—ordinary men. Unremarkable outwardly. No obvious deviant traits.
What is so awfully remarkable is that in mere seconds they found and activated their individual hearts of darkness and pursued and killed a man because their hearts, those dark hearts, told them to. All of them.
Conrad signposted it for us, named the parts, and gave us a framework by which we may gain a small understanding of the horror, the horror. But he was not making a fresh discovery more excavating and labelling a human aspect that we all carry, the Heart of Darkness.
“PBR Street Gang this is Almighty, over.”
Chris Cork is growing old disgracefully in Pakistan, which has been home for a quarter-century. Bibliophile, occasional cyclist, compulsive scribbler with a lifelong inability to suffer fools gladly. Currently writing for an online newspaper in Pakistan, he will happily write anywhere, any time in exchange for money. Passable cook, cat-lover, reasonable shot with small-bore weaponry, retired sailor and mountaineer. Open to offers, preferably legal.