ENOUGH: An Eco-Feminist Easter Proclamation

Today is Easter, celebrated in the Christian world as the day that a tortured Jesus ascended from the Cross and was welcomed, reborn, into the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s also the end of the week of Passover, when Jewish people celebrate the miracle that saved their sons from death at the hands of their oppressive Egyptian overlords. And of course, it’s also Spring, when the entire northern hemisphere of Gaia garbs herself in green again and every living being revels in the rebirth of the plants that sustain us.

Note how the Judeo-Christian traditions weave persecution and war into the fabric of their most cherished myths. Christ died to wash away our sins, we are told, and the battles over his legacy have continued ever since. The Jews were reprieved at the original Passover, but hanging over that holiday is the knowledge of how many times in history they did not make it through alive.

In these early days of the 21st century, the peace and compassion that Christ died proclaiming is hard to find. Once again the overlords are engaged brutal power grabs backed by military might, destroying the lives of innocents and battering entire societies, entire ecosystems.

As the keening cries of grieving survivors rise up like smoke over the battlefields everywhere on our planet—and I am not just talking about humans, but about the beleaguered survivors of every species on Earth, all of us under constant assault by the lords of greedy destruction—a loud, deep voice seems to speak through me, proclaiming

ENOUGH.

It’s time to move beyond Abraham and the warring trinity of religions he spawned. It’s time to reconnect with our even more ancient indigenous traditions, which are steeped in a reverence for place—an understanding of the sacredness of the natural world, and our human role as caretakers of life.

It’s time for women to stand up as the bearers of life, for us to recognize our sacred responsibility to temper the aggression that has been ascendant during these past millennia of patriarchy.

Although it’s not fashionable to talk in terms of “the gender binary” these days, this evasion strikes me as yet another patriarchal ruse: when the women start getting strong, undercut them by making it taboo to talk about women and men. We’re all just humans, right?

Right, except that some humans—defined by their genitalia—still have more social and political power than others. And those humans—men—are still the ones who are out there fighting wars, running chemical companies, drilling oil, fracking gas, hunting animals, logging forests. Wherever you look, it’s men calling the shots of human civilization, and their playbook spells destruction for all of us.

I believe gender is a spectrum and our gender identities are fluid. All of us humans—men and women—have the capacity to be nurturers and protectors of life, as well as fierce warriors. Right now, we need a huge upsurge of the feminine, compassionate, gentle energy represented by that famous man, Jesus Christ, and in our time there is no reason why women shouldn’t lead the way.

Women, and men who honor the feminine principle of life, let us dedicate ourselves this Spring to reimagining a new relationship with Gaia, our Mother Earth. We are in a fight for our very existence, and our resistance will, as we saw at Standing Rock, be met with violence.

We will each have to decide how much we are willing to risk; what crosses we are willing to ascend; how much we are willing to make our lives an offering for all Life, as Christ did.

Let us understand that the wars being fought today in Christ’s name do not represent his spirit. Let us understand the true spirit of Resurrection this Easter: the eternal return of Life nurtured by the divine Feminine, our Mother Gaia. Let us vow, as Spring returns once more, to live and die in her service.

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Help Wanted: Willing Ring Bearer Seeks Quest

All week the energy of the summer solstice seemed to build in me. After a week of rain, the sun burst through and we had a whole week of clear, low-humidity days in which it appeared that you could see the plants growing happily, stretching their roots down into the soil and their leaves up towards the bright sky.

My peaceful backyard in the Shire

My peaceful backyard in the Shire

In anticipation of several weeks away (I’ll be making my annual pilgrimage to Nova Scotia soon) I spent a lot of time out in the garden, planting vegetables and annuals, weeding flower beds, mulching and staking and tending.

morning lettuce

morning lettuce

pumpkins

pumpkins

Garlic; note the gas tank in the background

Garlic; note the gas tank in the background

It’s always hard to leave a garden in the summer, when you know the minute your back is turned the invasive weeds will grow with vindictive vigor, the slugs will multiply and munch away at the lettuce, and the Japanese beetles will arrive to decimate the roses.

However, I must get away from the confines of my little corner of the world to clear my head and ready myself for another year—for me, as a lifelong academic, the year always starts with the fall semester of school.

Last night, in honor of the longest day of the year, my son and I took an evening hike up a local mountain, and sat on a rock ledge facing west as the sun slowly and majestically dropped towards the horizon.

Eric in woods

We were happy to find some friends up there—a caterpillar with beautiful markings, making its way up an oak sapling, and a pair of orange-and-black butterflies, sunning themselves just like we were.

caterpillar

butterfly

solstice sunset

As we walked down again in the last rays of sunshine, I couldn’t help thinking about the strong contrast between the peaceful, lovely landscape of my home ground, where for many of us the most urgent question of the day is “what shall we have for dinner?” or “what movie shall we watch tonight?” and the social landscapes that cry out to me every day when I read the news headlines—arid, violent, rigid, harsh.

Reuters photo taken June 11, 2014 in Mosul, Iraq

Reuters photo taken June 11, 2014 in Mosul, Iraq

 

This summer solstice, as I sit in my peaceful green American haven, Iraq is again descending into crazed sectarian violence. The news reports that “militias are organizing” or “Mosul was taken” focus on the politicians playing the mad chess game of war, and the young men drawn into the armies as battlefield pawns. There is no mention of the mothers, sisters and grandmothers of those politicians and young men. The women rarely surface in the headlines, and when they do, the news is not good: a woman who dared to go out to a rally stripped and gang-raped, for example.

We hear about women obliquely in the reporting about the incredible surge of refugees living in camps this year: of the 51 million people living in refugee camps under U.N. supervision, half are children—which means that a high percentage of the other half are probably mothers and grandmothers. But that is in inference I am making by reading between the lines; those women are invisible in the official story.

Syrian refugee camp in Jordan, now Jordan's fifth largest city

Syrian refugee camp in Jordan, now Jordan’s fifth largest city

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I have to recognize the incredible privilege I have as an American woman, living in the heart of the heavily guarded gated community that this country has become.

Other people around the world are paying the price for the peace and plenty I have here in my home. And not just people—the animals and insects and birds and forests are paying the hugest price of all to maintain my privileged lifestyle.

How long can I continue to live comfortably with this knowledge?

The more time goes on, the more I see how prescient J.R.R. Tolkien was with his Lord of the Rings series. Berkshire County, where I live, is indeed “the Shire” of legend—peaceful, productive, green and jolly. Outside our borders, far, far away, the armies of Mordor are mobilizing in the midst of lands laid waste by the industries of the Dark Lord. Few in the Shire are worried; the chance of those nasty people and industries actually coming here seem remote indeed.

JRR Tolkien

JRR Tolkien

In Lord of the Rings, it is Gandalf the wizard who serves as the bridge between these two very different landscapes. He gives Bilbo, and later Frodo, the charge of becoming the change agents who can make all the difference. The fight against the Dark Lord is fought on many fronts, but the quest to destroy the Ring of Power is paramount, and in order to destroy the ring Frodo must journey to the heart of the dark Empire itself.

I can’t escape the feeling that here in the quiet Shire where I live, ordinary people like me are being called upon, as Bilbo and Frodo were, to step up to the immense and dangerous challenge of resisting the darkness that is brewing on our borders.

But in our case there does not seem to be a Gandalf who can give us a mission and guide us as we set off on the quest. Not even the wisest leaders of the environmental and peace movements seem to be able to provide that kind of leadership. Worldwide, those leaders who claim to know with absolute certainty what is right and what to do are precisely the ones who are fomenting war and leading us down the path to environmental, civilizational suicide.

That must be why I am drawn to study with those who are exploring other epistemologies, outside of the normative range of politics, science, philosophy and religion.

Right now my bedside reading includes Anne Baring, Pam Montgomery and Pamela Eakins, along with Brian SwimmeMartin Prechtel, Bill Plotkin,  and Daniel Pinchbeck.

spring meadowWhen I look out into the green world stretching up towards our beneficent Sun, or glowing brightly under our sweet white Moon, I can see and hear the harmony that life on Earth evolved to sing. Put water and sunlight together, wait a few billion years, and you get this incredible lush planet, pulsating with life.

Human beings have flourished so well that now we have become overpopulated, an invasive species that is destructively taking over every last environmental niche on the planet. In a normal terrestrial cycle, we would go bust, our civilization would collapse, and with time the earth and the sun would gradually rebuild life in endlessly new creative forms.

Is that what is coming? Or will we be able to be the Gandalfs of our own generation, waking ourselves up out of our complacency here in the beautiful American Shire, and conquering the inner and outer Dark Lords that are laying waste to the planet?

What is the quest that is mine to carry out? What is yours? If we at least start asking these questions, with the greater good of the Earth in mind, perhaps the answers will emerge in time to set humanity on a better path.

solstice sunset dark

Will All The Good Fathers Please Stand Up?!

It’s Father’s Day 2014, and I am distraught when I look out into the world and see the ascendancy of the kind of distorted, testosterone-driven style of masculinity that is antithetical to good fatherhood.

A good father, in my book, uses his strength, wisdom and social capital to protect and empower his own and others’ children. He is rational and clear-thinking, but also not afraid to own his emotional side, to display his loving, nurturing nature. He is constructive in his social engagements, and tries to think ahead to ensure that his family, and by extension his society, will be as safe and prosperous in the future as they are currently, under his wing.

A good father uses his physical strength, or picks up weapons, only in defense of himself and his loved ones.

A good father would never harm a defenseless child, or send one deliberately into harm’s way.

So who are these men and boys who are gang-raping innocent women in Egypt; gang-raping and then lynching teen girls in India; going on mass-murder sprees in the United States; and sending yet another generation of boys into ideologically driven wars in the Middle East?

Who are these men who are kidnapping and brutalizing whole schools full of young girls in Nigeria; shooting in the head girls whose only crime is to want an education; kidnapping and holding as sex slaves innocent teenagers who comply out of terror?

I know, and you know, that there are a lot of good men out there. We all know many good fathers, brothers, husbands, friends.

These good men are the ones who, as New York Times columnist Charles Blow wrote recently, need to stand up and insist that the aggressive, punishing, domineering style of masculinity has no place in the 21st century.

Masculine strength, absolutely. But it should be the strength of a benevolent patriarch, using his power to nourish and strengthen others.

Screen-shot-2013-12-16-at-4.18.49-PMAlthough I know President Obama has disappointed many, I still hold him up as an example of a good man: a good father, who works tirelessly to improve the world that his young daughters will be entering in the coming years, and a good leader, who has been doing the best he can to reach out a helping hand to those who need it—students, the elderly, immigrants, women. I doubt any one of us who landed in his shoes in Washington D.C. could do it better, so who are we to criticize?

On this Father’s Day, I salute all the good dads out there, including my own, and I implore you: use your social capital and power to condemn violence and destructiveness; to model and promote the peaceful, nurturing, kind human relations that the world needs now.

Grassroots heroism: what we need now

The image that stays with me most from the blockbuster superhero action film The Avengers is not the thrilling climax when the hero uses all his power to wrest a nuclear missile away from its collision course with Manhattan and up into space, where it explodes a waiting battleship of nasty intergalactic invaders—although that was pretty thrilling I have to admit, especially in 3-D!  Man, that movie packs some powerful special effects!

But no, what really struck me were the scenes of ordinary human beings on the ground, dressed in their regular 21st century civilian clothing, sipping their lattes and strolling about midtown Manhattan one moment, and the next moment being terrorized from above by sinister alien rampaging monsters and soldiers.

Without Captain America, the Black Widow, the Incredible Hulk and the other heroes, all those people would certainly have been totally destroyed within minutes—and not just by the aliens, but by “friendly fire” as well.

This scene resonates with me on two levels.

On the one hand, it goes to show yet again how quickly an apparently normal, peaceful morning can turn to nightmare when militarized violence shows up unexpectedly.

And on the other hand, it underlines how deeply dependent we human beings are on the idea of the charismatic leader, the savior, the hero who will leap into action and save the day for us.

This has been true since ancient times, and it appears to be cross-cultural: every culture has its heroic myths and legends, in which men and women with superhuman strengths and powers do battle with dark forces on behalf of the rest of humanity.

Watching politicians of The Avengers decide to send a nuclear missile to destroy the entire city in order to kill off these alien soldiers, an order that their general resists but an ordinary pilot obeys, I am uncomfortably reminded of how much danger we are probably all in, every day, thanks to decisions made by the men in charge, who sit in remote splendor in faraway bunkers like the gods on Mount Olympus of old.

I want to see a movie made that points the way to a different model of heroism.

Instead of the superhero, David against Goliath type tale, I want to see, on the big 3-D screen with all the lavish special effects and brilliant actors, a tale that celebrates the ordinary heroism of people on the ground, who—understanding the danger of militarism and the mechanized violence that pervades human civilization, from agriculture to energy to education and entertainment—come together to offer whatever skills, talents and gifts they have to the common pool of resistance.

In this movie, the human beings would not cower on the ground while the battle of the titans raged overhead; they would not sink to their knees before the might of an alien invader; they would not follow blindly wherever the men with guns and uniforms told them to go.

Instead they would use the power of their collective will and determination to demand a change of course, and insist that it happen.

What I want to see celebrated on the big screen is the kind of grassroots resistance that we saw on the ground this past year in Egypt and other Arab Spring hotspots, or in the General Assemblies and protests of the Occupy movement.

Egyptian women protest in Cairo, April 2011

It is happening already in real life.  Hollywood and Marvel Comics, maybe it’s time to break with the fixation on the past and try a new story.

Women Must Stand Up For Peace & Security

A deranged soldier, armed with gun and knife, walks off the base into the nearby small town, and massacres 16 people, including 9 children.

No, it’s not the plot of the latest Schwarzenegger movie.

It’s real life in Afghanistan.

Or Oslo, Norway.

Or Homs, Syria.

Or the local high school or university in Anytown, USA.

What happened in Afghanistan this week is part of an ever-escalating pattern of violence visited on innocent civilians by armed men.

Janjaweed

Whether the men are sponsored by a state (ie, they’re soldiers), are part of armed militias (think Taliban or Janjaweed or Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army) or individual “rogue” psychopaths is immaterial to the victims of the violence.

The larger point that must be reckoned with is that we cannot expect to live in a global society dripping with arms and saturated with constant virtual and real instances of violence, and come away unscathed.

Americans are always so shocked when the violence happens in our backyard, as in school shootings or Timothy McVeigh-style bombings or police brutality against unarmed Occupy protesters.

We’re shocked when our soldiers, “our boys,” commit atrocities while serving in the armed forces abroad.

But how can we expect our boys to be immune to the general atmosphere of violence that we all live and breathe—young boys and men in particular?

People like to argue about whether playing countless hours of shoot-em-up video games results in more violent youth.

All I can tell you is that the military now uses video game technology to teach warfare to young soldiers, and one of the goals is precisely to overcome the natural human aversion to killing, especially killing those who haven’t done you any harm.

Lt. Col. David Grossman

In the class I teach periodically on gendered violence in military culture and war, we read excerpts from the work of Lt. Col. David Grossman, who maintains a website called “Killology.com.

Grossman, a psychologist who has become one of the most sought-after military and police trainers in the U.S., if not the world, defines “killology” as “the study of the reactions of healthy people in killing circumstances (such as police and military in combat) and the factors that enable and restrain killing in these situations.”

Grossman began his career teaching soldiers and police officers “the psychological techniques needed to develop Mental Toughness, a Survival Mindset, and a Hardened Focus,” integrating “psychological skills with physical and tactical training… to achieve maximal performance excellence as a modern warrior.”

Interestingly, now he not only offers training in the psychological “hardening” necessary to become a socially sanctioned killer—ie, a soldier–but also has begun to write and speak out against media violence, which, he says, teaches children to kill.

I think he would agree that what happened at Abu Ghraib a few years back, or in Afghanistan this week, when ordinary American soldiers go haywire and start torturing and killing civilians, is not just a case of a few bad apples.

If we allow our kids to grow up playing “harmless” violent games that are ever more realistic, gripping their imaginations and giving them access to the bloodthirsty, adrenalin high of killing, we can’t expect them to be agents of peace, especially when, as soldiers, they are further trained for war and given real weapons and the authority to use them.

My heart bleeds for the victims of this latest massacre in Afghanistan.  I can hardly imagine the pain of the survivors of the family of nine children and their mother annihilated all in one foul blow.

They aren’t the first, and they won’t be the last innocent bystanders to be caught in the crossfire of a senseless war.

I think of the many other places in the world where civilians have been caught in the crossfire of baleful enemies: Central and South America in the 1970s and 80s, when the US and USSR funded proxy wars that wreaked havoc with innocent local communities; current conflicts in Africa and the Middle East that are really about the control—by outsiders, the same old Great Powers–of ever-shrinking resources; the list goes on.

Like the Russians before them, the American military is preparing to throw up its hands and give Afghanistan back to the warlords.

It will be a disaster for the women and girls there, who had begun to hope that a more liberal mindset might prevail and help them shake off the bonds of radical Islamic gender-based oppression.

Perhaps it is up to the women of the world to rise up together to insist that our men and boys stop pouring so much time, energy and money into creating and using lethal weapons, and representations of violence.

We have seen what happens when we let boys be boys and play with their guns, real or virtual.

Can we afford to stand by and watch the endless replay of rapes, homicides, massacres, the endless parade of crippled bombing victims, the burned, the sightless, the psychologically damaged for life?

I am losing faith in the ability of the men in charge to solve this problem.

Back to Lysistrata!

If we want life, we women have to walk boldly forward and manifest our visions of peace, security and cooperation.

We need to create a procession of the world’s women, those who will stand up for peace and nonviolence—a procession so long, so wide and so loud that it cannot be ignored.

Women of the world, the future is in your hands.  What will you do with it?

 

From war games to peace games, it’s time to stop playing games

I am having an uncomfortable feeling of déjà-vu as the winds of March come up, blowing us headlong into an uncertain spring.

Ten years ago we were reeling in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.  Governments and the media were howling for retaliation, and the massive U.S./NATO war machine was gearing up for a fight, first with Iraq, and then with Afghanistan.

Now it’s an Iranian president who is talking tough and daring the U.S. and Israel to bring it on.

Have we learned anything from our misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan?

We have a different, much more cautious and diplomatically-minded president minding the store.

But what can he do when American troops are so stupid—even ten years after being embroiled in on-going nation-building efforts in the Islamic world—as to defame the holy Koran?

How can he possibly convince potential Islamic allies that the US means well when it’s so glaringly obvious that we are insensitive, boorish bullies?

It’s shocking that the troops were so mismanaged that such a huge mistake could have been made.

First there was a report from some remote province in Afghanistan that a few Marines had urinated on dead Taliban fighters.  That was bad enough, but no—the US military had to take it further and actually start BURNING A WHOLE TRUCKLOAD of Korans.

WTF?

I mean really!  How would we like it if a bunch of Muslim soldiers came to one of our states and starting burning Bibles and Torahs?  It smacks of unbelievable cultural arrogance, coupled with unbelievable tactical stupidity.

So now two American officers have died in the ensuing protests in Kabul, along with two other American soldiers killed in one of the outlying provinces.

Killing an American military officer in Afghanistan is like killing a police lieutenant in New York City.  Do that and you’re asking for it.

Sparks are flying everywhere these days, and there’s way too much dry tinder sitting around.  It’s impossible to see exactly where all this is heading, but it sure isn’t in a “and they all lived happily ever after” kind of direction.

Once again, it’s necessary for ordinary American citizens to stand up and be the friction that stops this war machine from advancing.

Occupy has gone underground for the winter, it seems, but it’s time for all of us Americans to start sending messages to our leaders, in no uncertain terms.

We do not want war.  We want peace.  We want to live harmoniously with our neighbors and fellow global citizens on this planet and we demand that our military representatives respect other cultures, as we would want to be respected ourselves.

I know I will be patted on the head and told that it’s more complicated than this.

But it’s not.  It’s very simple.  This is how it is:

Human beings have over-populated the planet.  We are now fighting over limited resources like water, arable land, fossil fuels and natural resources.  That is what the fuss over Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran has been about.  That is what is going on with Syria, Sudan and Libya as well.

It’s all about the dangerous and difficult demise of the premise of unlimited growth and a globalized economy.

We now face the prospect of more war for two reasons:

1) so that we can burn up a lot more resources and have to rebuild them, thus cranking up our military-industrial complex and giving a boost to the economy in an election year;

2) so that we or our allies can gain control of valuable and strategic resources.

High-minded ideals like democracy, human rights and humanitarian aid have nothing to do with it.  They are what you bring in to mop up when the resisters are lying belly-up in despair.

And meanwhile climate change looms over us all.  All these little diversions are just so many more irrelevant goose chases that keep us from focusing on what’s really important: working feverishly to mitigate and adapt to climate change before we are swept away.

World leaders are playing a dangerously, devilishly simple zero sum game.  But we need to change the rules of the game now so that all of us can win.  Because if we don’t, one thing is certain: we will all lose, even those who currently seem invincible.

It’s that simple.

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