Dreams of terror, dreams of peace

This morning my son came down to breakfast with a queasy look on his face.  “I had a dream that I killed a baby,” he said.  “I was shooting with a machine gun at these guys, and the baby was in the way.”

I hate the fact that this kind of violence, which kids are exposed to through the media constantly these days, creeps insidiously into their sleep, invading their dreams.

The subliminal violence is everywhere.   This same son, a 9th grader in a typical American public high school, is reading Lord of the Flies for English class and All Quiet on the Western Front for Social Studies.

Lord-of-the-Flies-1963-fi-007Lord of the Flies, you’ll remember, is about how a group of adolescent boys, turned loose on an island without any adult authority present, morph into “beasts” who bully, torture and kill one another.

All Quiet on the Western Front is about World War I, and my son’s teacher is sparing the class none of the gory details of that war; in fact, a whole section of the paper my son has to write about the book is supposed to enumerate all the challenges ordinary soldiers in that war faced, from freezing muddy trenches to disease to field amputations, rats and artillery fire.

Last month, this same teacher had the kids reading 1984 and spent a lot of class time talking about how the surveillance tactics and physical brutality in that book related to real-life episodes of torture and detention camps in the history of China and the Soviet Union.

In short, my son’s imaginative life lately has been saturated with violence, for which the peacefulness of our home is no match.  And he is one of the more sheltered boys growing up today; I do my best to keep him away from violent movies or military-style and gangster video games.  We don’t even have TV at home.

When dreams like this emerge at our breakfast table, they remind me that the apparent peacefulness of a small American town like mine is terribly fragile.

With every mass-murder shooting incident that occurs, the fine veil of civility frays just a little more.

The truth is that the United States has one of the most heavily armed civilian populations in the world.

It would not take much, in terms of social unrest, for those guns to come out and the “beastly” side of humanity to emerge, a la Lord of the Flies.

That’s what worries me when I contemplate climate change scenarios involving catastrophic storms like Haiyan that result in power outages, fuel and food shortages—which could happen here in the U.S. just as easily as anywhere else.

What we should be doing now, in the time we have left before climate change gets truly out of hand, is strengthening our bonds as communities.

Never mind the dysfunctionality of our Congress, the bashing and competitive trash-talking that too often passes for ordinary public discourse in America today.

On the local level, we can do better, and indeed we must.

Every community in America should be starting to plan for how it would respond to disruptions in power, fuel and food supplies.

We can’t rely on FEMA to ride in to the rescue.  We can’t afford to entrust our survival to the guys with the biggest guns in our area.

The Transition Town movement has it right in their focus on building strong, resilient communities and re-learning valuable pre-industrial skills.  But they need a greater sense of urgency.

My son’s dream is a warning that we ignore at our peril.  There is no time to waste.

What are we waiting for? Violence and climate change in our brave new world.

Finally, in the Sunday New York Times, a report giving empirical evidence of what we already knew intuitively, that climate change leads to violence, and that it’s going to get worse as the planet continues to warm.

For a couple of years now I’ve had a haunting premonition that violence is going to come even to the comfortable, beautiful corner of the world where I live.

We saw how fast tempers flared when Hurricane Sandy created gas shortages down in the New York metropolitan area.

What happens when our industrial food supply starts to fail, given the inevitable and already-occurring wildfires, droughts, tornados and floods?

When people get hungry, survival-of-the-fittest kicks in, and it will take serious riot police to keep order when the supermarkets run out of food.

The authors of the new report say that their findings “are particularly important for what they imply about the future. Many global climate models project global temperature increases of at least 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) over the next half-century. Our results imply that if nothing changes, this rise in temperature could amplify the rate of group conflicts like civil wars by an astonishing 50 percent in many parts of the world — a frightening possibility for a planet already awash in conflict.”

Frightening indeed. What to do with this new knowledge?

The authors urge political leaders to “call for new and creative policy reforms designed to tackle the challenge of adapting to the sorts of climate conditions that breed conflict — for instance, through the development of more drought- and heat-resistant agricultural technologies.”

I hardly think that the answer lies in agricultural engineering.

In the time we have left before chaos sets in we should be re-localizing agriculture, setting up distributed energy networks and re-learning the old arts of drying, salting, canning and cold storing agricultural products.

Indian Line CSA, one of the first in the nation

Indian Line CSA, one of the first in the nation

We should also be disarming our civilian population and focusing on creating strong community networks of mutual support.

For all our cleverness, humans are just primitive beasts when our bellies are empty—primitive beasts armed, at least in Fortress America, with deadly assault weapons.

The nightmares of the Congo, Somalia and Sudan, not to mention Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, could easily start up here too, when food is scarce and sectarian violence begins to flare.

The truth is that we can’t rely on national and international leaders to undertake meaningful “policy reforms”—not when they are being held hostage by Big Carbon, Big Ag, Big Chemical/Pharma and Big Finance.

Delusional these corporate giants may be, but they will be going down with the ship holding fast to their belief in the value of limitless human economic growth, stable climate be damned.

We who believe that another world is possible need to hold fast to our own belief that the world won’t end when those giant glass towers in financial districts worldwide go down.

We can build that new world—not through technology and arms, but through community and collaboration.  Bottom-up, not top-down.

It’s true: we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.  And given the impending climate crisis, there’s no point in waiting anymore.

Harvesting at Indian Line Farm, Berkshire County MA

Harvesting at Indian Line Farm, Berkshire County MA

Learning from mass murder: we must pay attention to our young men

If this past week had been written up as a movie script, I would have rejected it as totally over-the-top, beyond belief.

Two young Chechen immigrants successfully wreak mayhem and turn a city upside down with their improvised explosive devices, in the very same week that the U.S. Senate Republicans successfully beat back a bill designed to stiffen background checks for gun purchases.

Gabrielle Giffords

Gabrielle Giffords

The beautiful, brave Gabrielle Giffords publishes an impassioned piece in The New York Times, condemning the cowardly Senators who put the interests of the National Rifle Association over and above the interests of the American people.

Meanwhile, down in Texas, an explosion in a chemical fertilizer factory flattened a whole neighborhood, killing at least 15 people and injuring more than 200.  The cause of the blast is still unknown.

And the whole middle section of the country was inundated by heavy rains, storms and severe floods.

Fire, air, earth and water, all the elements seem to be drawn into an intensified dance these days, speeded up along with the 24-hour news cycle.

As the bizarre manhunt for the two Chechen bombers unfolded, and the whole country went into virtual “lockdown” in sympathy with the people of Boston and eastern Massachusetts, it felt like we were suddenly waking up to find ourselves in Baghdad.  Things like that don’t happen here.

Until they do.

boston-bomber-suspect-dzhokhar-tsarnaev I don’t have TV in the house, so I got most of my information on the situation in Boston from print media and radio.  But even the few pictures I saw were enough to convey the sense that the official response to these boys’ stupid act of random violence was hugely disproportionate.

Against a lone 19-year-old kid, thousands of law enforcement officers of every stripe were deployed, in full riot gear, toting rifles, traveling around the deserted streets in armored vehicles.

The kid was presumed to be “extremely dangerous.”

How dangerous could one kid be?

I understand that the concern was that he might have had a bomb or a suicide vest that he could detonate at the very end.

But that is not the way the story went.  In the end, he came out with his hands up, just one stupid, confused kid who surrendered to the police without a peep.

His life is over.

Ours will go on.

In the wake of this latest act of violence within our own borders, we need to take a good hard look at the role of the U.S. as a fomenter of violence, both at home and abroad.

Unknown-1 Not only is the U.S. the largest exporter of arms and weaponry in the world, but we are also the biggest developer of violent video games worldwide, the ones I am betting those Chechen boys loved to play.

Why should we expect that we can promote violence by all kinds of channels, and remain immune to it within our own borders?

What goes around comes around.

If we were serious about wanting peace and security, we would start by radically shifting our focus from creating implements of destruction—be they chemical fertilizers, assault weapons or games that encourage violence—to waging peace.

Waging peace—what would that look like?

One of the most urgent tasks is to change the way young men are socialized.

Let us not for a moment forget that every single act of mass violence that has taken place here in the U.S.—every single mass shooting, every single bombing—has been the work of young men.

Young men are do-ers.  They have heroic dreams—and in Western culture, it’s the young men who can slay the dragon or vanquish the ogre who are considered heroic.

We can honor and nourish that warrior spirit in our young men in ways that celebrate heroes who use their strength and talents productively, to safeguard ordinary people.

I suspect that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is someone who would have made an excellent warrior for good.  He was obviously smart, resourceful and could handle himself well under great pressure.

For reasons as yet unknown, he–like Newtown gunman Adam Lanza, Norway gunman Anders Breivik, Aurora, Colorado gunman James Holmes and so many other young men whose names stand for infamous mass murders—chose to walk on the dark side.

We need to be paying attention to the accelerating rate of these crimes.  They are a sign of the dark times we are living through.

Those of us who believe in peace must recommit ourselves to raising our own internal lights higher, beacons for others to rally around.  Those of us who have the great responsibility of raising the next generation of young men—parents, teachers, employers, mentors—must recognize the tremendous importance of our task.

In the past thirty years, there has been a great deal of attention paid to rethinking the way we socialize young women.  This is definitely essential work.  But we forget about our young men at our own peril.

Taking up arms against a sea of troubles

marathon-explosion-people-on-sidewalkIn the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing this week, like everyone else I’ve been thinking again about violence.

I am not a total pacifist. I do think that there are some situations in which violence is the only sane route to follow.

I could never be one of those Buddhists who try to send loving-kindness to their torturer.  Sometimes I even have trouble “turning the other cheek” if someone has offended me.

I am a Scorpio: I hold grudges, I brood, I sometimes lash out (though mostly in fantasy, very rarely in real life).

I am very sensitive to oppression, injustice and abuse—although sometimes this sensitivity manifests as a willed numbness, a deliberate refusal to see, because if I allowed myself to really take in all the oppression, injustice and abuse that saturates our planet daily, I would drown in my own howling depression and the guilt of not doing enough to combat it.

To combat it.  The verb choice there, which came out instinctively, is not innocent.

Is it possible to combat the violence of oppression, injustice and abuse without using violence?

What does sending tong-len or turning the other cheek accomplish besides emboldening one’s opponent to ever more impunity?

I believe there are times and occasions where violence is the only answer and the right answer to oppression, injustice and abuse.

But that is quite a different kind of violence from what happened in Boston this week.

Random violence that breaks into a festive, sunny day and kills and maims innocent bystanders is a totally different form of violence than the measured, carefully aimed violence of righteous resistance.

0415-boston-marathon-bomb-13Bombs loaded with nails and bb pellets, set off low in a dense crowd, are calculated to inflict maximum damage on soft exposed flesh and limbs.

Did whoever set those bombs enjoy the panic that ensued, the blood in the streets, the shock, the horror?

I can only imagine this perpetrator as a sadist, because unlike with the 9/11 attack or even the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, there isn’t any apparent symbolism in this attack that makes any sense.

I can understand rage against the U.S. Government, and against the World Trade Center.  Although I could never condone killing innocent people in the service of that rage, I can at least see and comprehend the mindset that saw such collateral damage as instrumental in making a larger statement.

But what possible message could be sent through killing athletes and sports enthusiasts on the streets of an ordinary American city like Boston?

I wish the perpetrator would come forward and stand behind this act of violence.  I want to try to understand the motive, the fury that could have prompted such a carefully calculated crime.

I am not naïve; I know there are many very good reasons that people all over the world hate the U.S. and Americans.

And there are good reasons for Americans ourselves to be angry at our society and government, with its ever-increasing inequality, its investment in environmentally destructive policies and products, its build-up of weapons at the expense of the services that citizens have a right to expect and demand.

There is a staggering amount of oppression, injustice and abuse in the world, not just by people against people, but also by people against the natural world—and thus there is a hell of a lot to be angry about—and even to take up arms about.

But setting off bombs on a street crowded with families and athletes?

That is just more senseless violence–meaningless, useless, a squandering of lives and of anger that could be much more appropriately focused and channeled.

Yes, sometimes violence is necessary, sometimes it’s a good thing.

But the violence we are seeing on at ever-increasing rate here in the U.S. is an empty, hollow kind of violence; the violence of a sadist kid who likes to pull the wings off flies.

And worst part of it is, we seem to be on a roll with it.  Our young people entertain themselves with violent movies and video games; our military-industrial complex continues to grow with ever more sophisticated means to inflict violence abroad; our chemical and industrial destruction of the environment continues unabated.

We live in a violent world of our own making.

Can we who believe in peace, harmony and justice make things right without taking up arms ourselves?

I wish I knew the answer.

Time to show some backbone on gun control!

Another summer, another mass shooting of innocent civilians.

Another round of media feeding frenzy on the tragedy, another collective outpouring of sympathy and outrage from the public, another set of poses and postures from politicians for and against increased regulation of weapons in this country.

It’s gotten to be so predictable, it’s hard to get that engaged, although of course one has to pause and reflect on the horror of being mowed down in one’s seat in a suburban movie theater.

The truth is, it’s amazing that this sort of thing doesn’t happen more often in America.

After all, we are the largest gun manufacturer in the world.  We’re also the largest producer of violent entertainment in the world, from BATMAN to video games to pornography.

Barring countries actively engaged in civil war—Syria, anyone?  Israel/Palestine? Congo?—we sport the most heavily armed civilian population in the world.

As the pundits have been saying repeatedly all day, states like Colorado have no regulation at all over who can buy assault weapons.  Any Joe can walk in to a gunshop and walk out with an AK-47, no questions asked.

With policies like that, is it any wonder lethal weapons end up in the hands of loonies and psychopaths?

Everyone knows what needs to be done: we need to make it much harder to obtain weapons, especially assault weapons.

After all, we don’t let kids get into cars and drive them without training and licensing, because we know cars can be easily turned into lethal weapons.

But actual guns, whose sole purpose is killing, we sell over the counter without screening or comment.

Back in the 1980s, it took a coalition of furious mothers to start the movement that eventually led to much stricter punishments for driving drunk, as well as greatly improved education for teens on the dangers of drunk driving.

Remember MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving?

Candy Lightner, founder of MADD

Those grieving mothers had lost their children to our nation’s lax drunk driving enforcement, coupled with a permissive, boys-will-be-boys culture, and they weren’t going to take their personal tragedies lying down.

Neither should we.

I want to see rallies in every state capital, demanding gun control legislation effective immediately!

I want to see Gabrielle Giffords at the head of a march on Washington, insisting that our nation’s leaders do more than put the flags at half-mast and shed some crocodile tears over the loss of innocent lives today.

Gabrielle Giffords

 

Gabrielle Giffords after being shot in the head

I want our society to show some backbone!

Not just on this issue, but on all the difficult issues that face us nationally and internationally today.

Enough sitting back and waiting for the next tragedy to strike.  Time to put down the remote, get off the couch, and get down to the business of making ourselves a better world.

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.

Living on the trigger’s edge

I am always worrying about our vulnerability as individuals living in a contaminated environment, or about the instability of our planetary ecosystem now that global heating is underway.

But one thing I don’t usually worry about is whether my son will be shot and killed on his way to buy candy at the corner store.

This is a mark of my privilege as a white person living in a predominantly white neighborhood in a small, relatively wealthy town in New England.

My sons are in fact half Hispanic—their father is of Mexican heritage—but they “look white.”

It would never have occurred to me, before learning of Trayvon Martin’s recent murder at the hands of a neighborhood vigilante, that one of my kids, coming home from the local convenience store wearing his hoodie up because of the rain, could be accused of robbery and fatally shot by one of my neighbors.

There is so much that is wrong about this scenario that I hardly know where to start.

I deplore the racial profiling that turned an innocent kid into a moving target.  I abhor the despicable behavior of the local police department, which chose to let the killer go free—with his gun!—without even holding an investigation.

But there is a more fundamental issue here that we as a society need to confront.

Why are there so many civilians with guns in our country?

This is at the heart of all the school shootings that have been occurring with alarming regularity in recent years.

It is of deep concern to the millions of victims of domestic violence in our country, who must live in fear of the gun in the drawer.

It is certainly at issue in the Trayvon Martin case, where a young man lost his life because of a trigger-happy “neighborhood watch” patrolman gone bonkers.

It is high time we as a nation stood up to the NRA “right to bear arms” folks and began a serious national conversation about gun violence in our country, and around the world.

***

I spend quite a bit of my professional life teaching and writing about violence that happens in other countries.

When you teach college classes in literature and human rights, you are often reading accounts of genocide, civil war and ethnic cleansing in places like Africa, in Asia, Central and South America, the Middle East.

My students and I regularly read horrifying stories of how civilians are caught in the crossfire between heavily armed warring groups.

One side is usually the state-funded military and police, the other side an oppositional force, labeled “terrorists,” “subversives,” “rebels,” or “freedom fighters” depending on your ideological viewpoint.

In between are the ordinary civilians who are generally just trying to keep their heads down and survive.  Women are especially at risk in these situations: vulnerable to rape themselves, they are often forced to watch their children raped and tortured, their husbands executed.

It’s easy for us to think about this kind of violence as something that only happens far away, and to feel that we here in the U.S. are morally superior and righteous.

Easy, that is, until we stop to consider two important aspects of these faraway conflicts that are almost never discussed in the news media or in college classrooms.

One, in virtually all cases of civil conflict worldwide in the past 50 years, the guns and other weapons have been supplied by U.S. arms manufacturers and dealers, or their European counterparts.

Two, in many cases, the folks on the ground in hot spots like Iraq, Afghanistan, or Congo are fighting proxy wars for First World corporate control of resources. In other words, they’re fighting Wall Street’s wars.

So we here in the U.S., despite our self-righteous sense of moral purity, are in fact deeply implicated in every violent confrontation taking place over there in other parts of the world.

***

What does this have to do with Trayvon Martin?

Let me spell it out.

The same gun manufacturers and dealers who are arming, say, the Syrian Army and the “opposition forces,” or the Ugandan Army and the Kony “rebels,” are also supplying guns to American servicemen like Sergeant Bales, who flipped out and massacred innocent Afghan civilians in their beds last week; to American police officers who regularly appear in the headlines for unwarranted use of lethal force; and to American civilians like George Zimmerman, who shot an unarmed teenager walking home through his own neighborhood—a supposedly safe gated community in Florida.

And this doesn’t even begin to touch on gang violence worldwide, or narco-violence, all of which is carried out at gunpoint.

With so many guns floating around in our society, it is inevitable that innocent people are going to get shot, all the time, every day.

Here in the U.S., and around the world, we need to rethink the heedless way we have given gun manufacturers and dealers such freedom to operate.

Giving anyone and everyone access to a semiautomatic weapon is just asking for violent confrontations among civilians, and between civilians and police.

As a global civilization, we have put too much emphasis for too long on unbridled freedom to create, even when what we are creating leads to destruction and mayhem.

Chemical companies are given a free hand to churn out thousands of new chemicals and put them into the market without sufficient testing for longterm effects on humans and the environment.

Car manufacturers are given a free hand to drive national transportation policy, prioritizing highways over mass transit at great cost to the environment.

Oil and gas companies are allowed to drill ever deeper, their profits pushing our entire political system into a status-quo paralysis just at the time when we need to be vigorously mounting a huge R&D effort in renewable energy sources.

Shooting a kid, bulldozing a rainforest, poisoning an aquifer…these are just differences in degree.

Next time it could be my kid, or yours—at the hands of a crazy civilian, or an enraged policeman.  It could be your tap water catching fire from gas fumes, or a tornado spawned by global heating running amok in your neighborhood.

I’m tired of living under the constant threat of violence.  I say it’s time to hold the gun manufacturers and dealers, the oil and chemical companies, the car manufacturers and all the other agents of destructive technologies accountable, and tell them in no uncertain terms that enough is enough.

Let’s use our prodigious technological capabilities to make our lives better, not to create ever more sophisticated means to take lives away.

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?

 

Taking responsibility for the violence

Marie Colvin

I have to admit that I was not paying much attention to the bombardment of the city of Homs, Syria—now in its 20th day—before the deaths of two Western journalists there this week.

That is completely typical of me as a Western observer sitting comfortably at my desk, far from the tumult and terror of war.

I sat complacently at my desk during the bombardments of Sarajevo in the 1990s, and Baghdad in 2003-4.  I was hardly aware of what was going on in Rwanda during the genocide there in 1994.  Glimmers of awareness come and go about the current violence in the Congo, or in Burma.

For the most part, I go about my business like any animal would, focusing on what’s in front of me.  As long as my belly is full and my personal security is not threatened, I can give a big yawn at the evening news, and go peacefully to sleep.

The attitude of the Western public—especially among Americans—rides the border between ignorance and indifference.  We’d rather not know—so we focus our attention elsewhere, on news that either appears to concern us more directly, or has a more soporific effect.

Oscars, anyone?

Death of Whitney Houston—OMG what a tragedy!

And let’s check in with the Republican horse race, shall we?  Will it be Santorum or Romney this week?  Ho-hum….

Sarajevo, 1994

Meanwhile, innocent civilians, many of them women, children and elders, are dying every day in Syria, just as they did in Sarajevo, Baghdad, Sudan, Libya…the list goes on and on.

This list concerns us Americans for one very good reason: our country is the biggest arms supplier in the world.

That means we enable all these bloody wars.  We build up dictators by selling them arms.  Then when they misbehave and start killing civilians, we wring our hands and act as if we had nothing to do with their rise to power, hence no responsibility for their misdeeds.

If Americans were serious about wanting a peaceful world, we would start by converting our weapons manufacturing plants to peaceful purposes.

Instead of machine guns, let’s make solar panels and sell them to world leaders.  Instead of tanks and jets, let’s export educational software and lightening-fast hardware.

Instead of sending military personnel to deal with civilians in other countries (as they did so ably this week, burning Korans in Afghanistan), let’s send teachers and doctors and enthusiastic, open-minded young people in every profession.

Americans need to understand that we bear a responsibility for the death of every child who dies as a result of a US-made weapon, no matter who wields it.

Giving up violence has to start with giving up the weapons that enable it.

Let’s dare to think outside the box, and put our hearts, minds and bodies in the service of peace.

Shaking the crystal ball: the future is what we make it

As I slept on my last post, the ominous words “civil war” kept resounding discordantly in my mind.

Am I really advocating for civil war?  Me?  I’m so non-violent I won’t even let my kids bring an x-box or a Wii into the house, for fear they might play violent video games.  I’m so non-confrontational that when I get angry I get quiet, not loud.  I find violence of all kinds so abhorrent that probably the only thing that would get me enraged enough to fight back is, precisely, violence, especially if visited on the defenseless: animals, children, trees.

But leavergirl‘s comment this morning has got me thinking again.

She says: “We don’t have to toughen up, but we do have to get more cunning. No street demonstrations will bring a better world. Such things force surface changes with more or less the same problems underneath. The system knows how to coopt, and knows it very well. What will bring about a better world? Living the changes at the local level.

“It’s mindboggling that people think they can “force” changes via demonstrations and protests. After all, the people in power don’t know how, even if they wanted to. We all have to invent it as we go!”

Just as it doesn’t make sense to try to fight big money with more money, it doesn’t make sense to fight violence with more violence.  And she’s right that change has to happen at the local level–that is the whole “be the change” idea.

But can we afford, in this age of globalized capital and planetary climate change, to focus locally and ignore what’s happening on the national and global scale?

It seems to me that we have to do both.  We have to do our utmost in our own homes and backyards and town centers to push for the principles we believe in.  But we also have to keep an eye on the big picture, and add our voices to the chorus calling for a change in the grand narratives that drive social policy in boardrooms and legislative chambers.

Standing up and being counted in a protest does matter.  Voicing public dissent to master narratives, as I’ve been doing in this blog, also matters.  Practicing non-violence and respect in one’s home and community is also important.  That’s what the fourth point in my Manifesto is about:

4. Model egalitarian, collaborative, respectful social relations in the private sphere of the family as well as the public spheres of education, the profession, government and law.

Thoreau’s model of civil disobedience, like Gandhi’s and Martin Luther King’s high-minded non-violence, were effective tactics of resistance that had real, tangible results.

So no, I am not advocating for civil war.  I don’t want to see it come to that.  I am, however, saying that we cannot afford to sit back and hope for the best, or wait and see, or let others worry about it.  We just don’t have that luxury anymore.

I look around me and see so many of my friends who are parents investing so much time, energy, thought and care in the raising of their children.  We worry over every test score, we make sure they eat their organic vegetables, we carefully shield them from violence and pain.

How can we be so focused on the local care of our children that we miss the big picture, which is that the world we will soon be sending them out into is in crisis? How can we not take it as part of our parental duty to do all we can to ensure that when our children grow up, their planet will be intact and able to support them?

On New Year’s Day I had a conversation with my son that keeps ringing in my ears this week.  He expressed his anger at previous generations (including me, of course) who have so degraded our environment that as he now looks out into his own future, he cannot be sure that he will have any chance of realizing his dreams.

We talked about possible future scenarios, including one that seems to be coming up in various conversations lately: conditions of scarcity leading to armed gangs marauding in the streets and taking whatever they can find.  “We would be fucked,” he said bitterly.  “We don’t even have a gun in the house!”

There it is again.  Would having a gun in the house make us any safer?  Isn’t the problem precisely that there are too many guns in too many houses?

And is it inevitable that conditions of scarcity would lead to violence? Maybe it’s likely, but are there steps we can take now to promote a different outcome?

Back to the importance of the local.  Strengthening local communities can head off a dog-eat-dog mentality.  We are all in this together.  Together, we created the present moment we now stand on; and together we will create the future.

What future do we want?  We all want abundance; peace; stability; security.  I don’t think anyone in the world would argue with those general goals.

We have the knowledge and the technology, right now, to achieve these goals, worldwide.

We do!  If we turned our best and brightest minds to the task, we could drastically reduce our carbon emissions within a decade, while still enjoying electricity and heat through solar, geothermal and wind.  We could drastically improve energy efficiency and get rid of our wasteful consumerist mindset.  We could stop making bombs and missiles, and instead refocus those trillions of dollars into education and social welfare, including intensive sustainability efforts on all fronts.

We could do this.  But again, we need that unstoppable groundswell of demand for change. Locally and globally.  NOW.

 

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