Shortly after the second war in Iraq began, I bought a popular bumper sticker for my car that read, “If you are not outraged, you are not paying attention.” I was outraged, as I imagine most of you reading this post were as well, by the outrageous actions of the Bush administration in conducting his pre-emptive strike on a country without the capacity to harm us, suspending habeas corpus in the name of national security, torturing prisoners, blithely ignoring the threat of global warming, plunging us into unprecedented debt, and thumbing his nose at both national and international law, all with what I would consider a cold, dark, hidden core attitude of violent intent. Or, if he did not intend to violate, damage and abuse the entire country for his own benefit and that of his corporate cronies, that has certainly been the result.
Beyond the actions of this dangerously misguided man, however, I am also outraged and utterly alienated by the violent culture in which I live, which as I perceive it, has been teetering on the edge of self-destruction, sliding down the slippery slope a little more each year. Everywhere you look, and whatever your place in life, it is not hard to see an incredible build-up of intensity and severity in the untamed forces that we ourselves – collectively and individually – have unleashed. In the immediate future, within our lifetime, we face the cumulative impact of environmental devastation, fueled by population explosion, aggravated by consumer mentality and corporate culture in denial of natural limits and natural law, setting the scene for the resource wars of the future, an unstoppable flood of refugees, increased genocide, and increased pressure toward totalitarian repression of individual rights.
As a child of the 60s, I thought the world would be a different place by the time I became an adult. It is a different place, but not in the way I have imagined it. If anything, the culture of violence that seems to make the world go round has become more entrenched, more institutionalized, more acceptable to more people who have become increasingly resigned to it.
Although there are many good people in the world – those like the participants in Andrew Harvey’s workshop – who truly want to make a difference and leave the world a better place for their passage through it, there are also, it seems to me, increasing numbers of what Daniel Quinn referred to as “takers” in his book Ishmael – people who are just out to get what they can get and to hell with everyone else. I see these people on the highway when I drive, in my spam box when I check my email, on television during rare occasions when I watch it while out on business, and right here in my own small, relatively insular community. While most of these people are not outwardly violent, according to the dictionary definition, their actions do violate, damage and abuse – other people, the environment, and the social fabric of the culture we share. These people, of course, existed when I was growing up, have always existed and probably always will. Yet, it seems to me that, by and large, we now live in a culture of takers, where the covertly violent arrogance of widespread self-aggrandizement has become the norm.
As our culture continues to indulge this pernicious attitude, we careen by fits and starts toward the abyss. Our collective hopes and expectations have recently been raised by the election of Barrack Obama to the US presidency. Certainly this is a vast improvement over the recent administration, and I do continue to hope that change of the kind, scale, and scope that is necessary to create a sustainable, humane, cooperative culture is still possible. At the same time, I fear that we have passed a point of no return; that no amount of back-paddling at this point, can save us from plunging over the falls into chaos and destruction.
I am not a pessimist by nature; but neither can I be an optimist without sliding down the slippery slope of denial. Thus the dilemma that took me to Andrew Harvey’s workshop, and generates my interest in the intentionality behind violence. For if violence is merely a force of nature, as B___ suggests, then I see little hope for our future. If it a matter of intention, then we can choose something different.
This is the fourth in a series of ten blog postings that include the following installments:
Into a Mars-Pluto Portal
Looking for the Sacred Activist Within
A Dialogue About Violence
My Chronic Mars-Pluto Angst
My Personal Mars-Pluto Story
Putting Your Question to the World
Taking Out Your Teeth Before Going Into Battle
Falling Down Into the Bottomless Well of Compassion
Questing for Common Ground
From Violence to Compassionate Strength