Co-creating a culture of peace
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‚ÄúIsrael regrets every injury to civilians. I call on the residents of Gaza: Don‚Äôt stay there. Hamas wants you to die, we want you to be safe.‚ÄĚ
This is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as quoted in the Jewish Daily Forward, cleansing the nation‚Äôs collective conscience. Is it really that easy to sweep away the moral sting of violent action? A captive population is being pummeled with missiles. Well over 500 Palestinians have died so far in Operation Protective Edge, three-quarters of them civilians and, of course, many of them children. But ‚Äúwe want you to be safe‚ÄĚ and wish we didn‚Äôt have to do this.
‚ÄúAt the same time, values and ideas which were considered universal, such as cooperation, mutual aid, international social justice and peace as an encompassing paradigm are also becoming irrelevant.‚ÄĚ
Maybe this piercing observation by Roberto Savio, founder of the news agency Inter Press Service, is the cruelest cut of all. Geopolitically speaking, hope ‚ÄĒ the official kind, represented, say, by the United Nations in 1945 ‚ÄĒ feels fainter than I can remember. ‚ÄúWe the peoples of the United Nations, determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war . . .‚ÄĚ
Ah, 1961. The year ‚ÄĒ certain aspects of it, anyway ‚ÄĒ are almost impossible to remember. ‚ÄúWhites only‚ÄĚ bathrooms, for instance.
U.S. Rep. John Lewis, legendary civil rights leader and crosser of lines, recently tweeted an ancient mugshot memorializing his arrest that year for using a ‚Äúwhites only‚ÄĚ bathroom in Mississippi and, in the process, amping up outrage against Jim Crow segregation in the South and intensifying the civil rights movement‚Äôs global resonance.
The video opens with a few bars of adrenalin-pumping music. We see a topsy-turvy camera angle, sky, trees, darkness, then a staccato pop pop pop that blends rhythmically with the music, but of course it‚Äôs gunfire, lots of gunfire, followed by a few urgent words in Arabic, then English. ‚ÄúDown here! Down here!‚ÄĚ
This chaotic excitement is Iraq, the evening‚Äôs International Hot Spot, brought to us by ABC. It‚Äôs the news, but it‚Äôs also reality TV and big league sports, rolled into an entertainment package of shocking cluelessness. OMG, ISIS is on the move. It‚Äôs winning. Stay tuned!
All men are created equal. All chattel are insured.
I saw the movie Belle the other day and a piece of it got stuck in my head. The costume drama, set in England in the 1780s, hinged on a real historical event: the monstrous voyage of the slave ship Zong in 1781, from West Africa to the Caribbean. Its cargo when it set out on its transatlantic voyage included some 470 tightly packed human beings ‚ÄĒ too tightly packed, it turns out. Disease ran through the cargo hold. Slaves and crewmen began to die. The ship got lost. They began running low on water. Eventually the surviving crew jettisoned . . . 132 live humans, still in chains. This was business as usual.
The world withheld love and he went to war. He was an army of one ‚ÄĒ another army of one, laying out his plans in secret torment, plotting his ‚Äúday of retribution.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúThe rampage shooters see themselves as moralistic punishers striking against deep injustice,‚ÄĚ Peter Turchin wrote a year and a half ago, in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre. In his essay, ominously titled ‚ÄúCanaries in a Coal Mine,‚ÄĚ which was published at Social Evolution Forum, he notes the upward trajectory of mass murders. Since the ‚Äô60s, they‚Äôve increased more than tenfold. Something‚Äôs going wrong in the world we‚Äôve created.
Step on the gas, step on a man . . .
Writing recently in The Nation, Chris Hayes drew an intensely unnerving parallel between the use of fossil fuels as an energy source and the use of slave labor ‚ÄĒ not a moral parallel, but a financial one, though money and morality have a perversely symbiotic relationship. Where there‚Äôs money to be made ‚ÄĒ especially enormous quantities of it ‚ÄĒ moral justifications come awfully cheap.
‚ÄúPeace, as we have seen, is not an order natural to mankind: it is artificial, intricate and highly volatile. All kinds of preconditions are necessary.‚ÄĚ ‚ÄĒ Michael Howard, The Invention of Peace
And here comes World War I, wrapped in World War II, wrapped in the Cold War: tremors on one of Planet Earth‚Äôs human fault lines.
Ten years ago, photos of the crucifixion ‚ÄĒ and worse ‚ÄĒ were released to the American public. The media still call it ‚Äúthe Abu Ghraib scandal,‚ÄĚ as though, oops, the awkward repercussions for Team Bush were the torture photos‚Äô primary horror.
No one talks about ‚Äúthe Auschwitz scandal.‚ÄĚ The depth of our moral wrong has yet to be plumbed.
‚ÄúWe cannot afford to lose another decade.‚ÄĚ
My God. There‚Äôs more darkness in this quote than the New York Times intended. I winced when I read these words of Ottmar Edenhofer, co-chairman of the committee that wrote the latest United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC report, which the Times quoted in a recent editorial headlined ‚ÄúTime Is Running Out.‚ÄĚ
OK, mankind, it‚Äôs time to grow up, and I see a good way to start: Change the wording of Genesis 1:26.
Change one word.
Last week, I quoted that Bible verse in a column about the increasing velocity of climate change: ‚ÄúAnd God said . . . let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air,‚ÄĚ etc. Dominion! Nature belongs to us, to suck dry and toss away. And thus we moved out of the circle of life and became its conquerors, an attitude at the core of the Agricultural Revolution and the rise of civilization. The momentum of this attitude is still driving us. We don‚Äôt know how to stop, even though most people now grasp that we‚Äôre wrecking the environmental commons that sustains life.
Somewhere between these two quotes lies the future:
‚ÄúAnd I would like to emphasize that nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúThe Judeo-Christian worldview is that man is at the center of the universe; nature was therefore created for man. Nature has no intrinsic worth other than man‚Äôs appreciation and moral use of it.‚ÄĚ
A mind is a terrible thing to test, especially a child‚Äôs mind ‚ÄĒ if, in so doing, you reduce it to a number and proceed to worship that number, ignoring the extraordinary complexity and near-infinite potential of what you have just tested.
‚ÄúIn every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúIt was loaded with meaning and death.‚ÄĚ
Oh lethal, ticklish topic. So many people love guns and swear by them ‚ÄĒ many of them people with whom I am otherwise in essential political agreement. And it‚Äôs not like I relish a debate about ‚Äúgun control,‚ÄĚ a tug-of-war about limits that offends most gun lovers and causes weapon-buying sprees after every mass murder.
‚ÄúAfter Russia invaded Crimea, a senior American official vowed to ‚Äėmake it hurt.‚Äô More than two weeks later, Moscow has given no sign that it feels any pain, and the challenge for President Obama is whether he is willing or able to inflict enough to change the Kremlin‚Äôs calculus.‚ÄĚ
This is the New York Times, of course, yet again parroting the insecure right, ignoring history and reducing the terrifying complexity of international politics ‚Äď and the great global longing for peace ‚Äď to a lethally simplistic game of winning and losing. It‚Äôs the kind of coverage we get in every political crisis, inevitably shutting down whatever collective intelligence we‚Äôre capable of manifesting and reducing the public to spectators at a geopolitical wrestling match.
White flight, corporate flight . . .
I grew up just outside Detroit and have felt an ache in my heart for this bleeding city for so many years now. It‚Äôs long been one of the country‚Äôs designated loser cities, beginning in the 1960s, when change hit it hard. The phrase at the time was ‚Äúurban blight,‚ÄĚ a social cancer with unexamined causes that, in the ensuing years, has gotten progressively worse.
There has always been a ‚Äúdeep state,‚ÄĚ as Mike Lofgren described it in a compelling essay recently published at BillMoyers.com ‚ÄĒ a predatory consensus of money and political ideology that serves only its own endless growth and functions in pristine autonomy from any sort of democratic process ‚ÄĒ but defining it begs an enormous question: Can we actually build a world that isn‚Äôt run by its shadow interests?
And what is this going to take? Can good will and big principles stand up to Wall Street and the Washington consensus? Perhaps even more to the point, if it‚Äôs even possible, how much time do we have before war and climate change rip the human experiment to shreds?
No matter how bad it gets, we can look inside ourselves and find hope, possibility . . . the future. And when we find that, we know what it means to build peace.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs like I‚Äôm in a never-ending battle with my brain,‚ÄĚ Kayla said. ‚ÄúThey called me Crazy Kayla. I have anger problems. Someone messes with me, I lose it. I was molested, raped, physically and mentally abused. I was in 127 different homes. I have a 3-month-old baby . . .‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúWhen you go to dig your fields, or make a pot from clay, you are disturbing the balance of things. When you walk, you are moving the air, breathing it in and out. Therefore you must make payments.‚ÄĚ
Oh, unraveling planet, exploited, polluted, overrun with berserk human technology. How does one face it with anything other than rage and despair, which quickly harden into cynicism? And cynicism is just another word for helplessness.
‚ÄúThe standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.‚ÄĚ
This is how we talk about learning, growth and the human future?
Things are getting worse in the American classroom, not better. The experts and the special interests purporting to fix the educational system are continuing, instead, to asphyxiate it.
The young guys were half a block ahead of us. Nothing was happening except that they were walking. A police car pulled up behind them, slowed to their pace, aimed a spotlight at them.
They were African-American (did you guess?), numbering maybe half a dozen. They weren‚Äôt intimidated. Some of them stopped, stood staring at the police car, talking to it; this had obviously happened before. The spotlight continued to shine in their faces. Other young men crossed the street in front of the car and joined the crowd. The game went on for a while: the slow saunter, the cops driving along next to them, the light in their faces.
Iraq vet Ross Caputi‚Äôs film opens with a fleeting synopsis of the American heartbreak ‚ÄĒ and the bandage we tape across it.
His documentary, Fear Not the Path of Truth, is about the U.S. devastation of Fallujah, in which he participated as part of Operation Phantom Fury in November 2004, but the first couple minutes give us an overview of his hometown, the ‚Äúformer industrial city‚ÄĚ of Fitchburg, Mass.:
Every night gunshots lullaby me to sleep
In ruins of abandoned buildings
the broken glass is
where we bottle up all our broken dreams. . . .
Hold the dream with me, as it breaks loose from Jameale Pickett‚Äôs poem. Something beyond the insane dance of crime and punishment is happening, at least this year, this moment, in Chicago‚Äôs high schools. Young people are getting a chance to excel and become themselves, as more and more schools find and embrace common sense, also known as restorative justice.
‚Äú(Chris) Christie is the caricature of a Third World despot,‚ÄĚ writes Chris Hedges of the reeling New Jersey governor. ‚ÄúHe has a vicious temper, a propensity to bully and belittle those weaker than himself, an insatiable thirst for revenge against real or perceived enemies, and little respect for the law and, as recent events have made clear, for the truth.‚ÄĚ
And he still might wind up becoming our next president.
‚ÄúIn Iraq, al-Qaeda launched an offensive to take control of two cities, Fallujah and Ramadi, that U.S. troops sacrificed heavily to clear of terrorists between 2004 and 2008.‚ÄĚ
And so the new year begins, with a heavy dose of same old, same old. This is the Washington Post editorial page, which Robert Parry dubbed the neocon bullhorn, blaming the al-Qaeda uprising in western Iraq on President Obama‚Äôs withdrawal of troops from that country, along with his failure to invade Syria last fall, all of which, the editorial charges, adds up to complacency in the face of growing danger and a lack of protection for ‚Äúvital U.S. interests.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúI‚Äôm dying to know what it‚Äôs like to love somebody ‚ÄĒ to know what it feels like to be wanted.‚ÄĚ ‚ÄĒ Art Corneau
So we need a documentary to break the Code of Shame. It‚Äôs called A Hard Name and came out in 2009; it ran on Canadian public television. (The film is online but, unfortunately, can‚Äôt be viewed in the U.S. ‚Äúdue to rights restrictions.‚ÄĚ) Director Alan Zweig found seven ex-prisoners ‚ÄĒ five men, two women ‚ÄĒ and just let them speak. The result was the opening of a raw wound: the public exposure of something so deeply hidden, so wrapped in cynical taboo, I could barely listen without screaming: Why?
Iran! So long our enemy-in-waiting, just asking for it, y‚Äôknow?
No wonder Americans are confused about the idea of maybe not going to war with that country one of these days, at least according to USA Today, which reported: ‚ÄúThe White House and Iran face an uphill selling job to convince Americans to embrace the interim nuclear pact negotiated with Tehran last month.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄôTis the season to feel rage and heartache about the economy.
I feel hope as well, praise the Lord, thanks to Pope Francis and the alley behind my house, where nothing of value goes to waste.
I‚Äôm the kind of person who can‚Äôt throw anything away, but sometimes I have to anyway ‚ÄĒ an old microwave, a sewing machine that hasn‚Äôt been used in 20 years, a threadbare easy chair, tangled computer wires and other excruciating miscellany ‚ÄĒ and when I do, it‚Äôs usually gone within a day, if not an hour. When I can no longer find value in what I possess, others see it as a gift from the universe.
What goes around comes around . . . and around, and around.
Last month, the day after I left Santa Rosa, Calif., a 13-year-old boy carrying a toy replica of an AK-47 was shot and killed on the outskirts of that town by a Sonoma County deputy sheriff with a reputation for being trigger-happy. The officer had ordered the boy to drop the ‚Äúgun,‚ÄĚ then in a matter of two or three seconds opened fire, giving him no chance to comply.
‚ÄúThe only premise of the book was to just go out and listen.‚ÄĚ
And the book, edited by Miles Harvey, who is quoted above, is remarkable. It‚Äôs one of a kind, as far as I know ‚Äď How Long Will I Cry? ‚Äď the first publication of a newly formed nonprofit organization called Big Shoulders Books, which is affiliated with Chicago‚Äôs DePaul University. It‚Äôs available free of charge, because . . . how could a cry in the wilderness be otherwise?