Friday, June 23, 2006

Raca, or "Fool"

The Beatitudes have it that Jesus told his followers not only to avoid killing others, but to avoid the anger that might lead to killing. In particular, he cautioned us not to call others “raca,” or fool: not to belittle others, or hold them in contempt.

This has been on my mind since reading some of the feedback from last week’s www.truthout.org posting, which included contemptuous comments about how we’d each be dead if our immune systems refused to go to war against infectious invaders, presumably an analogy for how America would be dead if Bush had refused to go to war against infectious Muslim suicide bombers.

This analogy, given factual developments since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have inflamed anti-American sentiment in the Middle East and spurred a jihadi recruiting period beyond Osama’s wildest imagination, isn’t such a good one, even assuming a goal of nationalist self-preservation.

But nation-states are increasingly irrelevant. As Barry Lopez writes: “In a mature nation, where terrorists might be understood as part of a worldwide awakening to the specter of finite resources, and to the strategic and tactical planning required to secure ownership to fresh water, petroleum and grain fields, it would be possible in political discussion to raise the subject of the fate of Homo sapiens.”

Then again, we can look at the epidemiological increases in autoimmune diseases and cancers, as microcosms of global self-destruction through war and environmental self-destruction, and self-destruction through unchecked capital and productivity growth, all four rampant. As Katrina Berne writes in her book on Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome:

“We tend to oversimplify the problem, believing that a germ causes an illness; therefore, conquering the germ will allow us to become well again. The illness process is actually a complex interaction between a susceptible host and a triggering agent. The agent alone doesn’t cause the illness; it acts as a catalyst in provoking the vulnerabilities of an organism. The unicausal approach is tantalizingly simple. All we have to do is identify the culprit, kill that rotten germ, and be well again. But as in any war, the problem is not as simple as merely obliterating the enemy. That doesn’t solve the problem; there will always be other enemies.

It’s the same for America. We are a cultural organism whose complexity, financial and military dominance of others, and technological vulnerabilities were revealed by the triggering agents on September 11, 2001. Even more interestingly, in light of recent revelations about U.S. troops killed by the Iraqi soldiers they had trained to kill, is that we go around saying “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Then we train those enemies to become our enemies too. With each war, we prepare the next. For more information, look under: “Taliban, American support for” cross-referenced with “Osama bin Laden.”

But I keep coming back to this fool business, because I don’t want to be angry at others for making their arguments, and treating the apparently indestructible idea of pacifism, which has survived millennia of efforts to quash its power, with contempt.

Two prominent bloggers provide another example in Crashing the Gates. They made the excellent point that progressive interest groups need to see our common interests and band together to elect better leaders, even if individual candidates may not vote perfectly on every issue all the time. We can’t afford to backbite each other; the stakes are too high. And yet in the same book, the authors felt it was fair game to belittle pacifists, who they describe as naively encouraging people to “visualize” peace, as if a mental exercise will make flesh and blood suicide bombers stop killing.

First off, vision matters a great deal. It’s not a complete strategy; visualizing isn’t all we need to do to bring about world peace. But it is a very early part of the process, and an aspect that needs to be steadily maintained throughout all the days and years that any person or group works on war and peace issues. We need to think about the world we want, to take steps now toward making those ideas real, because the terrorists and those who attempt to make them and their grievances disappear through bombs, are certainly working out their own vision of the good, and taking concrete steps to make their ideas real.

John Edwards is starting to talk in terms of steps to a visualized better future, with his plans to cut poverty in America by a third over the next decade. And, as Michael Franti writes, “We can bomb the world to pieces/but we can’t bomb it into peace.” The Pentagon has so-called “War Games,” involving thousands of soldiers practicing killing maneuvers by land, sea and air. We pacifists should have “Peace Games,” involving thousands of regular people practicing mutual care-giving exercises, across neighborhoods, state borders and oceans and mountain ranges, and especially across war zones. Such exercises in making this world – certainly not the best of all possible worlds – better, begin with imagination. They don’t stop there.

More to the point: Is it possible to advocate coalitions without showering contempt on those most likely to join the coalition? What is the purpose of critiques that cut down those with whom we disagree? Who benefits when even those with many overlapping interests turn on each other?

One of the main arguments against pacifists actually has nothing to do with pacifism itself. The argument is: “You can only speak freely of your pacifism because men fought and died to protect your freedom. Shut up and stop biting the hand that protects you by killing on your behalf.”

But looking back over history, there’s as much or more evidence to support the assumption that it is war that will shut us up, not advocating peace. Long before other pacifists and the peace idea make us vulnerable to onslaught by foreign invaders, our own governments, citing national security in wartime, will round up dissidents, including intellectuals, pacifists, artists, therapists and other creative, nurturer types, for detention, torture and execution. It’s luck that we haven’t been rounded up yet, or (equally unprovable) it’s the very fact that we do speak against war on behalf of those silenced within war zones. The military decision-makers have no interest in protecting my kind, or preserving our voices to carry the ideal of peace through this generation to pass it on to the next.

As long as they “stay the course,” we pacifists will stay our course too.


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