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arts and culture | imperialism & war

the vision thing

at this historical nexus, all progressive people must unite. humanity hangs in the balance.
it should be clear to anyone who has been paying attention lately that we are at a crossroads in this country, standing once again at the brink of world war. at stake is much more than the lives of the iraqi people and the soldiers who will be directly involved in the attacks; all of the possible scenarios and alleged justifications and outcomes have been discussed and i need not rehash them here. i believe the deeper issue is the future facing us if the powers in washington are allowed to launch us down the orwellian path of endless war. nothing short of a new dark ages faces humanity as this reign of terror strengthens its grip - first wiping out bagdhad, then moving on to iran, syria, north korea, columbia, or whatever region they choose for whatever reasons they conjure up.

that much is obvious. what isn't so obvious is the other path, the alternate future: nothing short of a second renaissance created by and for the people of the world who are beginning to mobilize and join together to resist the horrors of war...

the first path is easy, seductive, and quick: we americans can sit back and shut our mouths and let it happen. we're good at that, actually - admit it. there are some here who like being at the top of the food chain, and don't question the use of overt force to keep us there. in too many ways we are, as oscar wilde remarked, the "only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between."

but those two oceans that once kept invaders at bay now isolate us, have made us myopic and paranoid, xenophobic and arrogant. and with all the systems in place to indoctrinate us from birth into believing all the lies, all the deceptions, all the party lines, we have arrived at a point where a huge number of americans are simply incapable of understanding or appreciating why the world perceives us so differently. the events of 9/11/01 - whatever conclusions you draw about who perpetuated them and why - presented an opportunity for introspection, questioning, enlightenment. of course, that opportunity was quickly lost, and here we are 18 months later poised to unleash unspeakable carnage around the world... more business as usual.

the second path is infinitely harder. to affirm life, to seek wisdom, to take an honest account of our lives as individuals and find our place in the world, requires effort. discipline. painstaking and emotional work that, as americans, nothing in our consumer society has prepared us for. this is most evident in the posts on these message boards by the trolls, be they "freepers" or agents provocateur or just angry, frightened people who are lashing out any way they can. it is difficult to read these discussions that so quickly degenerate into pointless name calling, "us" vs. "them", and exhibit all the unthinking sound-bite mentality of a jerry springer episode. it's sadder still when the exchange is between people who are, ostensibly, "on the same side." very few things in life are black & white, and there are often many sides to an issue; sometimes there is a need to take a stand, when compromise is difficult or impossible. what is lacking, from what i can see, is the ethical or moral framework for making those stands...

i believe that more often than not it is compromise, creativity and flexibility in thought, word and deed that determine the best outcomes and choices in a given situation. the question i ask in every situation is simple: where is the line between the rights of the individual and the rights of the community, where community may be your family, your neighborhood, your country, or even the whole world. finding that boundary is fundamental to making a reasoned and principled argument for or against any decision.

it seems most americans (and, as an american who has not, sadly, travelled abroad nearly enough, i can speak only to what i experience firsthand) fall into the trap of acting out of fear and very narrow self-interest, adopting ideological foundations that are geared to reinforce that, and they don't integrate or examine or question very deeply. you can see this expressed in the rigidity of thought and the inability to empathise with contrary points of view. it is intellectual laziness, ultimately, and the shocking and sad truth is that our society as it is today could not function any other way. a nation of 300 million thinkers, poets, philosophers? a world where all people in every remote corner of the globe are actively engaged in deep, profound, philosophical debate about what it is to be human, to marvel at and question the paradox and miracle of consciousness itself, to use that consciousness to choose ways of being and living in the world and provide enlightened stewardship over the earth that sustains us?

the capitalists would have you believe that we'd all starve to death. they have a point, perhaps; if we all sat around pondering our navels we might not get a lot "accomplished." (would that be such a bad thing?) in a system built upon scarcity, competition and isolation, rather than abundance, cooperation and community it makes sense: stamp out independent thought, reasoning, freedom to question, freedom to choose anything outside the proscribed limits of consumerism. a cynic might say that what we see today is the inability TO think, reason, or question... it's simply being bred out of us. (listen to politicians for any length of time and you too will be convinced.)

it seems almost all political movements these days still agree on a set of basic premises that have largely gone unchallenged for a long time now. that's not to say that they're entirely wrong; just that to tacitly accept certain notions and not examine them since "everyone knows that..." is dangerous and false. it is equally ridiculous to believe that "human nature" is something we can know and predict at either end of the political spectrum, from the vision of utopian anarchism that is based on the inherent goodness of people to the justifications for authoritarianism that ruthlessly attempts to control every thought and action because people are inherently stupid or dangerous or incapable of acting in their own enlightened self interest. or even the notion that a nation imbued since birth in a system of consumption and exploitation can't someday change, transform itself beyond that. stranger things have happened.

i have struggled my entire conscious life to put into words the need for a new way of thinking, to give voice to the simple message that things just don't have to be this way, or this hard. we have made the world as it is today. we can change it. the world seems to have arrived at this juncture where one highly organized group, with a focused agenda and a powerful array of resources at their disposal, have begun to lay bare their plans to use increased aggression and violence to openly control the world's resources and economic systems. the difficulty in countering these forces is that time and history are not on our side, at least in the short-term; the world outside our shores, which has borne the brunt of our economic and military coercion and intervention over the last century see things very differently than the people here who just simply cannot imagine that everything they've been taught is a lie.

in organizing any kind of response, to challenge this power, to resist effectively and create real change, the biggest hurdle is breaking through that fog and reaching people who have been literally brainwashed into believing that the usa can do no wrong. and at first they will hate you for it, they'll resist, they'll fall back on waving flags and taking comfort in the warm pablum spewed from the teevee and they'll want to stay unchallenged, certain, sure that the world is just like the nice man on the screen says it is despite the fact that the curtain has been thrown aside and the great oz is just a fake.

that takes real effort. patience. courage. remember when you had to confront the difference between what you read in your textbooks and saw in the news with what was happening on the streets in the real world? when you had your "aha!" moment? when you first pulled at the thread and saw the whole web of lies unravel? millions of americans today are desperately clinging to the illusion. the media is shamelessly and just as desperately trying to help maintain it. so WE have to find ways to bring them to truth, bring them to sanity, bring them to awareness. saying "fuck them, up against the wall!" is pointless and disingenuine. nobody here can honestly say they were born into perfect awareness. i was 13 when events in central america opened my eyes and my mind, and i've struggled ever since to seek the truth, voice dissent, and resist the lies. imagine how hard it must be for someone who's older, set in their ways, resistant to change... some may never change. but many will, and it's crucial that we educate and enlighten as many as we can, especially young people. (when this administration says "no child left behind," they're talking about military recruitment...)

and we have to always challenge ourselves, too; we cannot become complacent, stubborn, or inflexible. we must be resilient, but adaptable; unquestioning adherence to ideology makes the movement brittle and likely to shatter under pressure. the discussion of strategies and tactics on these very message boards illustrate the hardening of attitudes and it's a disturbing sign. there is no one right answer. there are many tools, and we have to use the right ones for the job; when your only tool is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail...

in my youth, i participated in quite a few direct actions as part of a youth affinity group committed to non-violent civil disobedience. i support direct action, with an arrest record and "battle scars" to prove it, so spare me the more-radical-than-thou stuff that's posted here with tiring regularity. when the time comes, i will do it again, too - it's just a lot harder as a single parent with responsibilities to my own teenager now, and that's a reality for a lot of us. so i also support and respect those who advocate other forms of peaceful resistance.

we, as a progressive movement, as a growing force for justice and change, have to engage on every level: through voting, boycotts, economic leverage, political leverage, the courts, the media, through marches and vigils, through prayer, through letter writing and email and fax campaigns, through music and fundraisers and dance, through art, through poetry, AND through effective, targeted direct actions. those actions need to be focused, widespread, and supported - by people who are willing to face arrest, and by those who will provide the legal, financial, and even emotional resources to support them. we live in a very, very scary time: getting yourself "disappeared" as a result of some spontaneous, hastily planned action is, in my opinion, a foolish risk. the point of direct action is to demonstrate that you are consciously willing to put your body on the line and your freedom for a higher purpose. choose locations that make sense: defense plants, banks, federal buildings, jails, corporations, stock markets, gop headquarters, etc. bring the scrutiny of the public to bear on places that would much rather stay out of the limelight, and focus actions on those places with the clear purpose of shutting down their "business as usual." if you are engaged in principled civil disobedience, even those who disagree with your point will respect your conviction. otherwise you'll end up being written off as a vandal or a nuissance, and rather than engage and attract support, you'll have the opposite effect.

that said, i think it would be wonderful if 30,000 people fanned out and "stopped the city". imagine if we got the support of all the unions - transit workers, teachers, dock workers, EVEN cops - and staged a simultaneous action where we literally stopped everything? for 5 minutes? for an hour? for a day? direct action as more than a symbolic activity can be a powerful tool. when 700,000 europeans stage a walkout or a work stoppage, it gets noticed. with patience, with education, with dialogue - all the stuff that is so hard to do in a culture where instant gratification isn't fast enough - it is possible to envision a future where even here in our little town a mobilization on a huge scale could take place. and the boys at the top would be very, very nervous...

but finally, i think the thing that is most lacking is "the vision thing." we absolutely must articulate an alternative future for our city, our nation, even the world. The System, as we know it today, is highly flawed, rife with injustice, maintained through brutality, and is lurching toward its own stupid destruction. the question for many isn't "how do we fix it," but rather "how do we help bring it down?" the question for me is "whatever happens, what kind of a world do we want for ourselves and our children?" it is too easy to be against things. it's harder to be for something, and it's damn near impossible to motivate people to action for real social change if you can't say what that change ought to be.

at this point, it's not as important to have all the answers, but it's critically important to ask the questions. if you had a "blank slate," what would YOU do to create a better world? ask yourself how you would provide for the basic necessities for your neighborhood: clean water, clean air, sanitation, food, housing... how would you handle a million people, in a region such as the portland metro area? how about the whole country? and beyond? would you bust open the dams, shoot down the satellites and cell towers, chop down the telephone poles, rip out the fiber optics, and let nature run wild and free? would you embrace technologies such as this internet - oh the irony, this tool for unprecendented global outreach and communication, funded by the defense department - and all the infrastructure that requires? take a moment to think about your own vision of a "new world order" and see how you can translate that into actions you can take in your own life, as an individual, as a member of a community, as a citizen of the world. i think it's crucial that we not sacrifice the big picture, that we not lose sight of our dreams as we focus on the issues that confront us on a daily basis.

i expect that quite a few people will sieze upon one sentence or one paragraph and want to leap in with criticism or unleash the all-too-familiar diatribes about how i must be this or that without actually reading and digesting this post. i choose to offer this anonymously as a spark for your own internal discussion, but go ahead and flame away if you must. i have devoted myself to the pursuit of wisdom and enlightenment and am trying to find my voice in these dark times, and you're welcome to point out that i'm just as full of shit as anyone. i was inspired by yesterday's action to offer up these thoughts, that perhaps they may find welcome audience with others.

in solidarity,

A. Nony Mouse
a nudder mouse 16.Mar.2003 20:41

a nudder mouse

thank you for writing. i hope you will continue to share
your thought provoking essays; i look forward to reading them.

Well Said 16.Mar.2003 21:21

Constitution Admirer

Thank you for being so truly genuine. Thank you for articulating so well many thoughts that many of us have and are unable to express as well as you have just done. Beyond that, for now, I'm just 'taking it all in' as you suggest.