An aspiring musician writes

July 20, 2010

In News

Why Cant They Hear?

It is a pressing question, especially at the moment. During Bush’s 2nd term in office the Left regrouped after Kerry’s loss and was steering away from power politics. Grassroots activism was on the rise and many educational successes were occurring. And yet now, if you ask the average American about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, global warming, socialism, etc. you get a bland, dull, regurgitation of mainstream talking points. This despite the fact that so many damning statistics have been established, and seemingly accepted, and so many debates have been won by the intellectual Left. But this is not triggering a wider consciousness and sparking the progressive imagination. Why?

If you talk to the average person about any substantive political issue the person really seems incapable of accepting the real truth of the matter. If you tell a person who is neutral on the issue of Iraq that over one million Iraqis have been killed and that the US is responsible for those deaths under international law because it committed (and is committing) “aggression”, they have no real response. Or some kind of weak response about the statistic being a matter of debate or that they don’t have an opinion because they can’t do anything about it. But those powerful statistics do not stick in their minds. I have wealthier friends and relatives and if I was to try to prove to them that over one million Iraqis have been killed from the war they would simply not accept it, no matter how much evidence I had and regardless of the mountain of proof there is for this claim. They simply will not accept these facts, because they can’t. I think this generalizes throughout American society too, at least that portion which is middle class or higher.

Another such fact that cannot be accepted by the American public is that the US killed over 3 million people in the Vietnam War. They will think you are misinformed, even if you present them with overwhelming evidence which supports your case. They will not accept it because they have no way to cope with it.

For if the United States, the country to which they love, or at least belong, is responsible for killing over a million in Iraq in a “war” then that is comparable to the Armenian Holocaust carried out by the Turks after World War 1. And if the United States killed over 3 million people in the Vietnam War which was a war of aggression, that is half the amount of Jews who were killed by the Nazis in the Jewish Holocaust. But we are Americans. There is no way that our crimes could be comparable to any Holocausts. There is no way that we are similar to the Nazis. I mean, look how free our society is and how little violence there is by the State in our daily lives. How could these statistics possibly be true? They can’t. At least they can’t be true for those who have something to lose. Those who have some stock in American power.

The Left has truth on its side but the truth at this moment seems too hard for Americans to face. They are incapable of it. And so the question for us now is how do we get Americans to face the truths of which they largely already know? The truths seem so obvious and plain that it hardly seems worthwhile to get angry over or to even debate.

Let’s take something that seems obvious but carries enormous weight and influence over this entire nation: the hypocrisy of the Christian Church (and I think we can say the hypocrisy of religion in general). This is a very serious issue for many people in this country and what I just wrote was a very offensive statement for them. But there are some harsh and obvious truths here which need to be addressed. Jesus Christ was a man of peace. Not just peace, but total peace. A non-violence that is far more extreme than Gandhi’s. Jesus said, “if someone slaps you on your right cheek, offer them also your left” and that if someone takes you to court to sue you for your shirt, give them also your coat. He also said, “You have heard it before ‘Love your friends, hate your enemies’. But now I say to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Jesus also states that “the blessed” are “those who are humble”, “those who are merciful”, “those who are pure in heart”, “those who work for peace”, and “those who are persecuted” by obeying morality. Jesus has a love for the poor and praises those who give. Yet, he claims that the rich are damned as “it is harder for a rich man to get into heaven than it is for a camel to walk through the eye of a needle”. Therefore, according to Jesus, it is impossible for the rich to be redeemed. And yet, there is Christianity today with all its wealth and violence. How can these blatant contradictions be tolerated by so many?

The teachings of Christ that I just mentioned appear over and over again throughout the Gospels. The only deviation from these teachings in the New Testament is in Revelations, but it should be remembered the Revelations is a “vision” that John had 60 years after Christ had been killed; it is not the retelling of an actual event. And so there are the teachings of Christ: peace, mercy, humility, compassion, forgiveness, non-possession, etc. Are any of these teachings reflected in the Christian Church? I don’t see how it can be claimed that it is. The Christian Church in this country is in favor of American imperialism: American imperialism with all its horrifyingly immense amounts of bloodshed and misery. The Church shamelessly proclaims American greatness with no explanation as to why we are great. The Christian Church supports and praises the rich. It arrogantly declares our superiority as a people, as if we all have the same interests and beliefs. The Church quite truthfully loves war and thinks that the illegal wars which we are pursuing are indications of our nobility, not a matter for shame or repentance. The logic of the Church is so backwards that when it’s combined with that divine like self-righteousness which religion offers, you create very fanatical and dangerous thinking. Racist thinking. Genocidal thinking. And genocidal thinking becomes the norm when these institutions wield great power.

James Baldwin writes, “It seems to me, then, that the most serious thing that has happened in the world today and in the Christian conscience is that Christians, having rationalized their crimes for so long, though they live with them every day and see the evidence of them everyday, they put themselves out of touch with themselves.” Despite the time that has elapsed since he wrote it, it seems just as true today and just as dangerous. When your moral codes and your world outlook are wrapped up in fantasy and delusion (which is what the Christian Church must preach because it cannot preach the true words of Christ) you become totally out of touch with yourself and your own instincts towards what is right and wrong. But why do so many truly intelligent people accept this hypocrisy? Is it that they do not know the hypocrisy exists or that they refuse to believe it because religion has always been something that was more a tradition than an actual vibrant morality for them? Or do so many wealthy Americans choose the Church because they feel they have no better options to turn to? Or is it, worst of all possible, that they choose the Church because it justifies to them their participation in what they know to be immoral? Is the Church a way for guilt ridden Americans to buy themselves a ticket to heaven? Is it a way to absolve their conscience? Is obedience to the Church simply the easiest option?

Baldwin writes, “Most people are not wicked, most people are terribly lazy, most people are terribly afraid of acting on what they know.” I think this is a good answer. People, for the most part, want the easiest way possible and they create a weak defense for themselves which offers them justification for what they do and how they live. Since they are never challenged on these issues by anyone, they never have to face the truth. Their belief system deteriorates by their sloth and slowly everything becomes justifiable. I think we’ve seen American society slide slowly down that path in the last decade.

So many Americans do lie to themselves and these lies signify their personal destruction as creative and moral beings. That failure as a people in this nation, this most powerful world nation, represents the possible demise of this planet. Self-deception allows us to retreat into our self-indulgent and consumptive lives. Lives that do have some genuine joy, but lives which are rooted on such bloody ground that love is never around for very long. Here lies also the reason for our emotional depression, our “bi-polar disorders” as Big Pharma likes to claim. This depression grows out of the internal contradiction we face between social assumptions about morality and our own innate moral compass.

Now since so many Americans cannot face the truth about what this nation is doing and has done for so long, what do they purport America’s history to be? One of grandiose nobility involving the spread of freedom and democracy? Is this the American myth which we cling to? And for those Americans who are able to face the truth and who are willing to right this country’s wrongs, what answers do they come up with? Unfortunately it seems that American dissidence is almost as delusional as those who accept the historical myth. Many dissidents proclaim the need for a “workers’ state” and that a Communist Revolution will bring about global justice. Other dissidents want to “bring down civilization” and destroy everything the Industrial Revolution has produced. While these positions are made with sincerity, these solutions are overly-simplistic and I feel they allow those who advocate them to continue living in a fantasy where the future is bright and where they will share in the glory of creating a better world. But the amount of people who support these solutions are too few and too fractured. The hopes and dreams of these revolutionaries will be crushed and if they are able to pick up the pieces after that happens and overcome their sense of self-purpose then maybe real change will start to occur. Social change is not about dreaming up an idealistic world and hoping for it to come, but taking reality as it is and pushing it (oh so hard!) towards something better, inch by inch and day by day.

James Baldwin writes, “We all know, no matter what we say, no matter how we may justify it or hide from this fact, every human being knows, something in him knows…” So what is that reason that Americans can’t face truth? First, what does this truth imply? For if global warming is real, nuclear war imminent, and illegal “aggression” occurs as flippantly as it does, then the future of our planet and of our own individual lives is precarious. The 21st Century does not at this moment seem to suggest that the human species will survive. It does not seem, looking solely at the evidence, that we will avoid fatal catastrophe. That is a giant hurdle which every mind has trouble getting over; has trouble coping with. And it becomes clearer why people choose “the Second Coming” rather than stare at the cold and dismal fact: we have little chance of surviving. There is little hope for us, as a species and as individual people, with souls that, as far as we know, have only existed once in all eternity. As individuals, we all have aspirations for our own lives. Dreams that we want to see come true. Dreams that we want to cling to even if they won’t be realized. But to accept truth is to shatter our dreams.

The immensity of this truth makes it understandable that it does not reach a mass audience, and yet it must reach the masses if it is to be overcome. One of the reasons Americans do not face their nation’s crimes is because we are responsible for them and there is only so little that we can do about them. And this conflicts with a deeply rooted belief in the American psyche which is that force moves the world, the brave take action and succeed, with determination and will-power anything can be accomplished. Might is right. But might isn’t right, and looking at history might is almost exclusively wrong, at least in moral terms.

But how do we as individuals act on what we know with these incredibly heavy issues? How do we inspire others to become politically active? What does the Left do now? Let me quote James one last time: “It is important to bear in mind that we are responsible for our soul’s salvation, not the Bishop, not the priest, not my mother, ultimately it is each man’s responsibility alone in his own chamber before his own gods to deal with his health and his sickness, to deal with his life and his death. When people cannot do this with themselves, they very quickly cannot do it with others. When one begins to live by habit and quotation, one has begun to stop living.” The argument here is that by focusing our energy on ourselves, we make ourselves better, and in so doing we learn the key to unlocking our neighbor’s ignorance and apathy. It is not rage and hostility that will create a new world; it is patience and humility, as well as the courage to endure.

We have to somehow find the moral courage to revolt from dominant opinion, dominant values, dominant rhetoric, and dominant culture. It’s largely an internal conflict that has to take place and I do not know what that trigger is that can spark a mass awakening of consciousness. But we can’t scream at people to change their opinions; and we can’t guilt them either. We have to find a way to get them to see it for themselves. We have to somehow get them to see reality through the eyes of the oppressed. As well as through the eyes of the oppressors. But this can only be done with a degree of willingness from the people we are trying to convince. This happens when trust is developed. I think it is very ineffective to hate or dismiss people who are ignorant of power. I also think it’s unhelpful to say that all Americans are stupid. Americans are the most heavily indoctrinated people on the planet. We should not underestimate the extreme influence of propaganda, not just in politics but also in culture; maybe especially in culture since that affects everyone. And this means that the common American has many layers to get through, and it will take time for them to see the truth. Whether enough Americans will discover the truth in time is yet to be determined. But we must be humble and patient and realize that all we can do is our best and the rest is up to the powers of fate.

It should be noted that the intellectual Left was very effective in making Americans more aware of specific issues in the past ten years. Through lectures, documentaries, interviews, etc., many gains were made in the collective consciousness and awareness was raised about US actions in world affairs. But while these gains were made, I think the totality of all these issues never reached the larger public. Some of these larger issues I’m referring to are: America is a one party state that has carried out some of the worst war crimes in modern history; the human race is currently headed towards extinction at a quick pace and must make a radical shift if it wishes to save itself; the threat of nuclear war is increasing and nuclear technology is being spread throughout the world; even a regional nuclear war between 2 lesser powers will probably be apocalyptic. So I think there is still quite a bit of work to do on the educational front and that work should be geared towards creating an awakening on these larger problems.

I think one thing that could be learned from the last few years is that strictly educational teachings can produce a shift in the listener’s understanding but it doesn’t necessarily make that person active. I have a lot of friends (and I think I am an example of this myself) who are very far to the Left and keep themselves well read about current issues, but they don’t commit themselves to continual engagement in activism. Also, the large audiences who attend these educational lectures seem to me very invested in these political issues, yet as a whole they do not seem spurred to action. I think that education needs to be paired with moral teachings in order to create that passion to stir people up. This creates a direct challenge to the listener’s conscience and puts them in a place where they have to make a choice with themselves. There are no real institutions in society now which attempt to raise our morals or awaken our conscience, and so I think the Left should start doing it. After all, if you are able to prove to someone that, for example, the aggression towards Iraq amounts to genocide, it will not matter if that person has no conscience. I think peoples’ moral standards should be challenged too, as I stated earlier because most religious institutions are hypocritical and contradict the real teachings of those who the religion was based around. I think you find in history that very effective movements, like the Civil Rights Struggle, were based around activism from religious institutions. That is because in order to face overwhelming odds and be willing to suffer in the name of justice, you have to have strong morals which you cling to. And if you want to be truly committed you’ll have to cling to those morals harder then you cling to life. Americans must begin to feel they have an obligation to fulfill their own moral standards. That obligation arises from desiring to live fully, freely, and with a clean soul. Raising our consciences is in fact raising our appreciation and love for life.
In order to deliver moral teachings to someone, you must have some kind of love for that person. What you’re doing is trying to help them and they should benefit from it if they are willing to accept it. This means you are not attacking them, only attacking their mechanisms for deception. I think the Left needs more humility and patience. We should also try to continually purify ourselves: by becoming aware of our own hostility and by tracing the roots of that hostility and eradicating it. Joy, despite hippy rhetoric, is not easily found in our lives and I find it is very rare these days to see anyone with genuine joy. Joy requires the courage to let go; to let go of social assumptions. It requires the ability to find freedom; individual, personal freedom. Freedom from the guilt you feel from personal inadequacy or lack of success, whatever you determine that to be. Freedom comes when you develop the capacity for independent thinking and you reject social assumptions which are pounded into us by the mass media.

In our lives we are most rational when we are most calm. Calmness is born out of humility and that requires knowing your limits: to what you can do and what you can influence. We should not become deluded into believing that we are great or heroic or even noble. All Americans, and all Westerners for that matter, are responsible for the vast injustices over this planet and we are responsible for helping to murder this planet. Everyone who is interested in social change must come to know that we have no moral superiority. We have only the responsibility to eradicate our own crimes and to try and ensure future life. When we learn how to rejoice in our own lives for the miracle which we have been granted (that miracle being life), when we learn to tap into our own energy and produce our own joy we will discover that which can unlock the gates to our better and more humble selves. It is also that which can produce the energy needed to create a mass movement based on peace and justice.