Taking up arms against a sea of troubles

marathon-explosion-people-on-sidewalkIn the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing this week, like everyone else I’ve been thinking again about violence.

I am not a total pacifist. I do think that there are some situations in which violence is the only sane route to follow.

I could never be one of those Buddhists who try to send loving-kindness to their torturer.  Sometimes I even have trouble “turning the other cheek” if someone has offended me.

I am a Scorpio: I hold grudges, I brood, I sometimes lash out (though mostly in fantasy, very rarely in real life).

I am very sensitive to oppression, injustice and abuse—although sometimes this sensitivity manifests as a willed numbness, a deliberate refusal to see, because if I allowed myself to really take in all the oppression, injustice and abuse that saturates our planet daily, I would drown in my own howling depression and the guilt of not doing enough to combat it.

To combat it.  The verb choice there, which came out instinctively, is not innocent.

Is it possible to combat the violence of oppression, injustice and abuse without using violence?

What does sending tong-len or turning the other cheek accomplish besides emboldening one’s opponent to ever more impunity?

I believe there are times and occasions where violence is the only answer and the right answer to oppression, injustice and abuse.

But that is quite a different kind of violence from what happened in Boston this week.

Random violence that breaks into a festive, sunny day and kills and maims innocent bystanders is a totally different form of violence than the measured, carefully aimed violence of righteous resistance.

0415-boston-marathon-bomb-13Bombs loaded with nails and bb pellets, set off low in a dense crowd, are calculated to inflict maximum damage on soft exposed flesh and limbs.

Did whoever set those bombs enjoy the panic that ensued, the blood in the streets, the shock, the horror?

I can only imagine this perpetrator as a sadist, because unlike with the 9/11 attack or even the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, there isn’t any apparent symbolism in this attack that makes any sense.

I can understand rage against the U.S. Government, and against the World Trade Center.  Although I could never condone killing innocent people in the service of that rage, I can at least see and comprehend the mindset that saw such collateral damage as instrumental in making a larger statement.

But what possible message could be sent through killing athletes and sports enthusiasts on the streets of an ordinary American city like Boston?

I wish the perpetrator would come forward and stand behind this act of violence.  I want to try to understand the motive, the fury that could have prompted such a carefully calculated crime.

I am not naïve; I know there are many very good reasons that people all over the world hate the U.S. and Americans.

And there are good reasons for Americans ourselves to be angry at our society and government, with its ever-increasing inequality, its investment in environmentally destructive policies and products, its build-up of weapons at the expense of the services that citizens have a right to expect and demand.

There is a staggering amount of oppression, injustice and abuse in the world, not just by people against people, but also by people against the natural world—and thus there is a hell of a lot to be angry about—and even to take up arms about.

But setting off bombs on a street crowded with families and athletes?

That is just more senseless violence–meaningless, useless, a squandering of lives and of anger that could be much more appropriately focused and channeled.

Yes, sometimes violence is necessary, sometimes it’s a good thing.

But the violence we are seeing on at ever-increasing rate here in the U.S. is an empty, hollow kind of violence; the violence of a sadist kid who likes to pull the wings off flies.

And worst part of it is, we seem to be on a roll with it.  Our young people entertain themselves with violent movies and video games; our military-industrial complex continues to grow with ever more sophisticated means to inflict violence abroad; our chemical and industrial destruction of the environment continues unabated.

We live in a violent world of our own making.

Can we who believe in peace, harmony and justice make things right without taking up arms ourselves?

I wish I knew the answer.

Shaking the crystal ball: the future is what we make it

As I slept on my last post, the ominous words “civil war” kept resounding discordantly in my mind.

Am I really advocating for civil war?  Me?  I’m so non-violent I won’t even let my kids bring an x-box or a Wii into the house, for fear they might play violent video games.  I’m so non-confrontational that when I get angry I get quiet, not loud.  I find violence of all kinds so abhorrent that probably the only thing that would get me enraged enough to fight back is, precisely, violence, especially if visited on the defenseless: animals, children, trees.

But leavergirl‘s comment this morning has got me thinking again.

She says: “We don’t have to toughen up, but we do have to get more cunning. No street demonstrations will bring a better world. Such things force surface changes with more or less the same problems underneath. The system knows how to coopt, and knows it very well. What will bring about a better world? Living the changes at the local level.

“It’s mindboggling that people think they can “force” changes via demonstrations and protests. After all, the people in power don’t know how, even if they wanted to. We all have to invent it as we go!”

Just as it doesn’t make sense to try to fight big money with more money, it doesn’t make sense to fight violence with more violence.  And she’s right that change has to happen at the local level–that is the whole “be the change” idea.

But can we afford, in this age of globalized capital and planetary climate change, to focus locally and ignore what’s happening on the national and global scale?

It seems to me that we have to do both.  We have to do our utmost in our own homes and backyards and town centers to push for the principles we believe in.  But we also have to keep an eye on the big picture, and add our voices to the chorus calling for a change in the grand narratives that drive social policy in boardrooms and legislative chambers.

Standing up and being counted in a protest does matter.  Voicing public dissent to master narratives, as I’ve been doing in this blog, also matters.  Practicing non-violence and respect in one’s home and community is also important.  That’s what the fourth point in my Manifesto is about:

4. Model egalitarian, collaborative, respectful social relations in the private sphere of the family as well as the public spheres of education, the profession, government and law.

Thoreau’s model of civil disobedience, like Gandhi’s and Martin Luther King’s high-minded non-violence, were effective tactics of resistance that had real, tangible results.

So no, I am not advocating for civil war.  I don’t want to see it come to that.  I am, however, saying that we cannot afford to sit back and hope for the best, or wait and see, or let others worry about it.  We just don’t have that luxury anymore.

I look around me and see so many of my friends who are parents investing so much time, energy, thought and care in the raising of their children.  We worry over every test score, we make sure they eat their organic vegetables, we carefully shield them from violence and pain.

How can we be so focused on the local care of our children that we miss the big picture, which is that the world we will soon be sending them out into is in crisis? How can we not take it as part of our parental duty to do all we can to ensure that when our children grow up, their planet will be intact and able to support them?

On New Year’s Day I had a conversation with my son that keeps ringing in my ears this week.  He expressed his anger at previous generations (including me, of course) who have so degraded our environment that as he now looks out into his own future, he cannot be sure that he will have any chance of realizing his dreams.

We talked about possible future scenarios, including one that seems to be coming up in various conversations lately: conditions of scarcity leading to armed gangs marauding in the streets and taking whatever they can find.  “We would be fucked,” he said bitterly.  “We don’t even have a gun in the house!”

There it is again.  Would having a gun in the house make us any safer?  Isn’t the problem precisely that there are too many guns in too many houses?

And is it inevitable that conditions of scarcity would lead to violence? Maybe it’s likely, but are there steps we can take now to promote a different outcome?

Back to the importance of the local.  Strengthening local communities can head off a dog-eat-dog mentality.  We are all in this together.  Together, we created the present moment we now stand on; and together we will create the future.

What future do we want?  We all want abundance; peace; stability; security.  I don’t think anyone in the world would argue with those general goals.

We have the knowledge and the technology, right now, to achieve these goals, worldwide.

We do!  If we turned our best and brightest minds to the task, we could drastically reduce our carbon emissions within a decade, while still enjoying electricity and heat through solar, geothermal and wind.  We could drastically improve energy efficiency and get rid of our wasteful consumerist mindset.  We could stop making bombs and missiles, and instead refocus those trillions of dollars into education and social welfare, including intensive sustainability efforts on all fronts.

We could do this.  But again, we need that unstoppable groundswell of demand for change. Locally and globally.  NOW.


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