A LESSING IN WAR: WHAT HAPPENS WHEN VIOLENCE HITS, WHEN WAR IS DECLARED

If you get a chance, see the previous blog about Shi Tao, a Chinese journalist who has been jailed for sending an email to a pro-democracy correspondent (I believe in the States) “in which [Shi Tao] summarized instructions from the Central Propaganda Department about the correct political response journalists ought to take toward the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.”

Actually, Shi Tao’s courage offered exactly what Henry Kissinger didn’t, way back at the time of the massacre, when as an “independent observer” (running a company at the time called, I believe, “China Ventures”), he said on “the big TV”, paraphrasing, let’s not be too harsh on the Chinese government.

Thank you, Henry. That lie of impartiality was partial inspiration for this song, its second verse specifically.

Beijing Olympics, anyone?

But I wanted to give you a quote here from Doris Lessing that I have had to paraphrase for sometime, because way back I lost the book (Prisons We Choose To Live Inside), based on an Ideas Lecture series she’d given on CBC radion, I believe. The book remains missing, but I recently found the quote, in something I’d written a few years back.

When I read the comment in her book years ago, some part of it really imprinted on me, resonated, woke me up to the difficulty of being human, of negotiating and negotiations, of being peaceful.

Hold up what she says against what you’ve witnessed yourself, in the media, among friends, after 9/11 or any other horrendous event, and you may find it revealing.

We see the dis-ease all over the world, in varying degrees.

Lessing writes (pg 16):

In times of war we revert, as a species, to the past, and are permitted to be brutal and cruel. It is for this reason and many others, that a great many people enjoy war. But this is one of the facts about war that is not often talked about.

I think it is sentimental to discuss the subject of war, or peace, without acknowledging that a great many people enjoy war—not only the idea of it, but the fighting itself.

In my time I have sat through many hours listening to people talking about war, the prevention of war, the awfulness of war, without it ever being mentioned that for large numbers of people the idea of war is exciting, and that when a war is over they may say it was the best time of their lives. This may be true even of people whose experiences in war were terrible, and which ruined their lives.

People who have lived through a war know that as it approaches, an at first secret, unacknowledged elation begins, as if an almost inaudible drum is beating…Then the elation becomes too strong to be ignored or overlooked: then everyone is possessed by it.

These “forces”, whatever they are, exert an extraordinary pressure (I wrote an essay called Genocidosis, asking the same question from a different angle, when I was doing the two documentaries Uganda Rising and Hope In The Time of AIDS).

And institutional forces are similarly compelling on the individual, or the collective—indeed, both our responses and creations are interrealted and from human consciousness, manifested—self-evidently. Noam Chomsky once said:

I often have been asked what would be the first thing I would do as president of the United States.

Well, I would set up a war-crimes tribunal, in advance, for the crimes I was going to commit. I don’t mean that I am a bad person. But the way our institutions are structured, a person in such a position will be under pressures leading to criminal behavior.

I cannot think of anyone who has avoided it. So, I assume that I wouldn’t either.

I ask myself often, in my meditations: how much of what I do is free will? How much of what I do is just spontaneously—almost involuntarily—what this system (me) is compulsively doing, within the system it resides (biological nature and the manifestation of that system, human culture), despite having all the markings of individual, free thought?

It’s a humbling, disarming question.

A yogic saying is: “Habit is our second nature.”

Although not everybody wants either solidarity or greater community—I do—I write this wishing you inspired, expansive thoughts and actions, with discernment and compassion,

Pete

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