My Post as Guest-Blogger at Buddhist Peace Fellowship

For those who don’t know, I spent time on staff at the Rochester Zen Center in Rochester, New York in the 80s.

I began Buddhist practice in 1983 in Denver, Colorado, then decided on Zen practice and was accepted as a Staff member at Rochester Zen Center in 1986.  I left to pursue an individual path in 1988, although I continue to practice Buddhism.

My turn to Buddhism, and particularly Zen, worked for me, and continues to, after an attempt to end my life in 1982.  It was no small matter that I decided to go on a spiritual quest and this led to almost ten months of going to different teachers and religious groups, from Christian groups to New Age to Hindu to Sufi and Native American.  I found value in all, but at that time, Zen spoke to me the strongest.  I attended Buddhist-Christian Conferences in Boulder, Colorado, amongst other events.  My essential question was not about comfort or fitting in.  I needed to find the meaning of life.  I saw no point in life experience as it was, at this point.

My interest in the beginnings of a Buddhist Peace Fellowship organization while in Colorado, dovetailed my interests in social justice, anti-oppression, and my personal spiritual practice.

In retrospect, my Zen monastic period was a way to save my life and life itself.  It was a genesis for all of my traumas that I had tried to ‘let go’ of and ‘move on.’  It came crashing.  No pretty belief system would get me out.  Zen spoke to me.

I also attended retreats with various Buddhist teachers including Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Thich Nhat Hanh, Tai Eido Shimano Roshi.  I attended talks and short retreats by a myriad of teachers including Seung Sahn and John Kornfield.  I read more philosophy including spiritual works by Meister Eckart, Thomas Merton, Arthur Schopenhauer, Nietzsche.  I began reading James Baldwin and Frederick Douglass, something I had never done seriously before.

For the issue of ‘stealing,’ I was asked by their editor Kenji Chienshu Liu, if I wanted to contribute to a series at the Buddhist Peace Fellowship blog.

The below post is a short reflection in the spirit of Master Dogen’s ‘Mountains and Waters Sutra.’

What is Stolen in Mappō Empire Buddhism? A Black-Pacific Meditation

Massacres, Democratic Societies, Colonization

This is a very short opinion piece on the massacre leading, so far, to 12 deaths — as of today, considered “one of the worst mass crimes in recent history” which occurred in Aurora, Colorado.

First, I want to remind readers that my perspectives are on social justice and social change and looking at history and relations of power, accumulations of dominance and resistances that create our lives.  I do not, detract from the deep sorrow and anger I feel, in various ways, about how this has occurred and the deaths and injuries and traumas that have come about.

This piece is very short and meant to be evocative, provocative.  I never speak of final conclusions and opinions that close off things and ideas.  I do not speak from a psychologized, or Christian or Muslim moral perspective, where “Good versus Evil” and “Crazy versus Sane” binaries rule.  I do NOT start there, nor do I begin there.  Those moralities and structures of dividing individuals, societies, dreams, and ideas, are not something I care to participate in.  Nor do I think they lead to social change or social justice.  Moral and Psychologized binaries always —ALWAYS– lead to more incarceration and more killing, more death sentences, more self-superior kinds of ways of dealing with the complexities of our lives.

Revenge and Roman gladiator coliseum mentalities still rule much of public emotion and reasons for setting up our “civilized” laws in a now globalizing colonizing mentality.  Disciplining and punishing (yes, I mean to evoke Michel Foucault’s famous book on the matter of internalizing violent structures through prison architecture).

In popular imagination, especially in the US, we have been culturally self-taught to believe that emotions are emotions and there are the sick and the unsick, the civilized and the uncivilized, the cruel and the nice, the crazy and the sane, the good and the bad.  We deal with it through the idea of either redemption and rehabilitation, and/or punishment or a combination.  Sequestering and putting to death.  Our creativity is gone.  What rules are the moralities we think are deep and real and true, and the moralities and spiritiualities and psychologies that we think we know and maintain and protect so dearly, even at the cost of arguments and fights at the dinner table and the ex-communication from groups, of friends and family-members that we love.

Let’s face it, modern civilization suffers from the “being right and good” syndrome.  Since we supposedly know these things, or can rely on “experts,” we make EASY EASY conclusions.  This means we don’t have to think.  We have lost the necessity for complex thinking.  Simple-mindedness is often valorized in US societies.  Being “Real” is often how this is languaged.

People want answers.

To have answers, means that any answer, any answer, will lead to further questions and further answers. I do not believe that things have “finished.”  Nor do I believe that the massacre that occurred “began” within James Holmes, the violent accused shooter at the movie theater in Aurora, or only within the shooters who killed at the 1999 Columbine High School spree in Colorado, or within the killer in Norway at the campsite approximately one year ago.  Yes these rampage killers are the carriers and shooters.

I have been just as saddened, in addition to the shooting and the deaths, at hearing the news reports and talk shows and reading the various articles across the board, in the US and in English language mostly everywhere, on how so many people around the world have begun to think alike on subjects such as death and life.

The same tired reactions and words and phrases and platitudes and moralities have circulated.  The same things I heard just after Columbine shootings and just after other mass rampage shootings, are being publicized and circulate.  We listen to the moralities of Left and Right politicians.  We listen to the church leaders and Hollywood personalities and song stars and talk show hosts.

It’s saddening.

People who shoot come from each one of us.  As we go shopping and care or not care for our own children and friends, as we say or not say things everyday, as we care and don’t care about certain people, we isolate.  In isolation, we accumulate cruelties that circulate.

Picking oneself up by the bootstraps–as an individual–is a norm nowadays.  Being normal, we do not question how it looks and how we perform these things.  In short, we are responsible for the violences that occur in societies.

We want the already-cruel, legalistic, bureacratic, psychologized, condescending, moral institutions to take care of “those people” so we can continue with our lives, as if our lives were rich and meaningful.  We try, but often we are fooling ourselves.  And further, we forget that we are fooling ourselves, convinced of our sureness, our goodness, our moralities.

The more thoughtful and intelligent people and thinkers and artists, have warned that our societies are in a deepening and darkening place.  It is not “normal” or “natural” or a product of “God.”  It is because each of us are not putting enough of our intelligence and creativity and strength into the complexities and changes required to take care of ourselves.  Almost everything these days, are in the hands of institutions.  When this happens, our own thinking is constricted, assimilated, and quite unresponsive to what is required.

People nowadays talk of being “smart” but who speaks of being “wise?”  Wisdom is something people don’t even understand anymore, from where I stand.  Compassion is seen only as something sentimental and kind and somewhat condescending.  Ooooh….you poor thing.   For those people like James Holmes and other people such as the Aum Shinrikyo Religious leader in Japan, who led the group to kill in the Japanese subways, we are not supposed to have compassion for “them.”

In this way, we ourselves are divided within ourselves.  We can learn a bit from some of the writings of Buddhism, where compassion is not compassion without the sword that cuts through bullshit and delusion.  It is strength.  And Wisdom is a cold and calculating “Rationality” that views itself “higher” in the presumed hierarchy of human experience than compassion and kindness and that it is an “opposite” quality – and therefore sometimes “in the way” of “true” wisdom.  Being “irrational” is the same as being insane, for many people, or a lower and “feminine”way that is unwanted.  This is left over from the Victorian era and mass colonization, the destruction of the feminine and the enshrining of SEXISM into our moral structures.  It keeps things rational and therefore these things are artificially separated into separate compartments.  In Buddhism, this must be seen through.  Wisdom is not wisdom without compassion.  Compassion is not compassion without wisdom.

The hierarchies that we perform in our lives are lived out in how we foreground something or background something, how we ignore some things while prioritizing others, how we know some things and how we perform with this unknowing. If contradictory things arise simultaneously, or are complex in any way, we may label it “confused” or “ambiguous” and therefore unwanted.  We “kill” an other.

First we must assume/presume, create that “other” that must be squashed and put away or looked-down upon.  Whether it be communities, people, beliefs or ideas, or ways of living and thinking, the civilized first-world nations and now almost every nation, has their own ways of doing this game of dominance and oppression.  To ourselves within us, to each other, and to that other.

Massacres and rampages are certain forms of the outcome of this, in a sociological angle.  No matter how we “understand” James Holmes, we still do not understand or accept what we have become and how, not James Holmes and the other monsters that WE CREATE through ignorance and uncaring, sentimentality and cold rationality, self-created moralities.

Massacres and rampages will continue because we as a society, ignore their causes.  The causes are not located in the individual that perpetrates, so that institutions can make money and gain credibility through scientific study, therapies and incarceration and death machines.  The society that created that person or persons who perpetrated, is us.  There are a myriad of causes and conditions we must deal with.

The violences we do, come also as ripples from the violence of our nation-state.  War and genocide built this nation, as much as resistance to dominance.  How we face up to uneasy complexities of nation and individual, various shades of history within us, is a big question. We must face how we have internalized the nation.  Americans feel that nationalism is what others do, but never acknowledge it within their own selves and lives and the structures of cultural realities.

And still, there are those who are deeply Christian, even if they are not religious at all, or even believe in religion.

I speak of how so many think that humanity is “inherently” evil, or bad.  Originally all humans are like this, according to that one snippet of Christianity.  Psychologically, a person usually internalized this from the structures (moralities and behaviors) of our cultures.  Colonization, first of this land in the US, and globally, has spread this kind of internalized oppression and made it normal.  Even the “good” things we do are meant to destroy good because in a deep deep place, there is that thought that we are “no-good” and we “always mess things up” and that the world is dark.  This is reinforced by modern socio-economic systems that delay and thwart our dreams, keep us slaves to the machine of money-making and money-spending.  We have to pay for WATER!!!  But hardly anyone is protesting on a mass scale.  Paying for water is not a “natural outgrowth of history or God.” Or we know this, but tell ourselves that it is futile to resist,  like it’s some act outside of human power and human privilege and the power of those that make the rules of violence. This his how we are responsible for giving the worst kinds of power and isolation and killing, their dominance in society.

There are many who are sensitive, very sensitive to what I’m saying.  Some act out. It cannot be suppressed for too long.

Yes there is danger.  But it doesn’t happen by itself.  Rampage killers are created by our society.  We must take care. If they are monsters, so are we.  We are intimately linked to what is happening.

Things can change.  But there needs to be further energy to make those changes.  But I’m afraid that there are so many people who are purposefully or by proxy–sadists, that social change will be slow in coming.  By this, I mean that there are so many people who divide the world into victim and perpetrator, and that there is joy in seeing someone put to sleep or put away into prison so they feel safe….not understanding that these are lives. The subconscious internalized colonization operates: I love it that they are in prison!  I love it that they have been put to death! Or… I don’t like it but they deserved to be tortured.  Some people won’t learn without violence.  What goes around comes around.  All the platitudes of our democracy.

All the sadism passing as superior morality.  All the violence.

Prisons and mental institutions and hospitals and psychiatrists’ offices.  These four things seem to be the ONLY THINGS many people think of, that will take care of society.

I say, each one of us do.  It is a painful request and a painful process to undertake.  Listen to ourselves, we are not easy and we don’t agree.  This is precise place where we must start.  Others cannot be convinced.  So what do we do?

Social Justice is not………..

Some people are confused……confused about “social justice” and what it is.

I am not seeking to define it.  I am seeking to carve some intelligence into the word, term, concept, action.

So much of the US notion of social justice is from within the reality of living in the Empire.

It is a crumbling empire, no less.  But it is empire.

When Americans think of people who are “activists,” they think of a whole array of people who seem to be shouting out for things that they feel are morally right, necessary, necessary for their particular concerns and people and political persuasion.

Disconnectedness—it is one of the main effects of extreme individualism.  Individualism, is different from empowered individuality.  Individualism is somewhat of an ideology, something made superior.

With US concerns for individual freedom, communities suffer.  Since most white people and wealthy people in the US, as well as a good portion of the middle class and the homeless, do not think of themselves as being part of any community, it even gets more precarious when working with struggling for a different world. The legal structure and the institutions in the US, provide legal freedoms to some degree, for individuals.  For groups, communities, there is very very very little, if any, recourse.  Case after case is thrown out in favor of 5000 individuals having to file individual claims to right a wrong done to a whole community.  In most cases, these individual cases are drawn out over years.  For the economic and social underclass, funds run out and energy is sapped and the three jobs they may have to go to becomes priority.  The cases become weaker.  Or the powers hire the attorneys that are high-powered and block any power that the underclassed individual may have.

Disconnected individuals (a fair amount of “normal” and not-so-normal people in the US especially–and increasingly in all first-world countries) tend to sabotage works and solidarities and political commitments that could be good for everyone, or at least a larger population of different kinds of people of differing socio-economic, ethnic, cultural, genders and sexual orientations, etc., feeding into division and conflict, violence and rupture.  They become “identities” which are separate from other “identities.”  So goes the ongoing disconnectedness. But I do think there are those forces that create these isolations need rupturing.

And when we speak of activism, those people wanting their “rights” to privileges, and the right to maintain them, are put on equal footing with those fighting for difference, for survival.  Fighting to MAINTAIN PRIVILEGES is NOT social justice.  Privilege and how it operates, makes invisible and priority, over those who have and are considered less, must be looked at and actions taken in regards to what is seen and realized, for a “social justice” to actually happen.  In other words, as many US Americans seek to access privileges of something that is defined as the “freedom to get, the freedom to be….” social justice is diminished because privileges cannot afford an “other.”

Here, we see the link between what many Americans call “Freedom” and the middle class ideals.  As I’ve mentioned before, people often confuse the access to middle-class, European elite (white), masculine and militarized material, emotional and spiritual values, as “freedom.”   Then this gets confused with “Liberation.”  Going on vacations, to “get away from reality” and “rest”—which are bourgeois leisure ideals made socially dominant as a desire in life by elites during the colonial days between the 17th to 19th centuries, becomes somewhat like the popular confusion about “liberation” these days.  Social liberation means, in this scenario, some kinds of escape.  And then guess what? Things deemed “in the way” of this escape, is deemed as some word exaggerated and confused with non-liberation.  We learn to block anything that stands in the way (or seen as standing in the way) of our disconnected and individualized freedom to escape, as needing to be disappeared, violated, jailed, tortured, maimed, stopped, killed.  Psychologically, culturally, intellectually, with the variety of arms and weapons of mind, heart and body that we have learned in the system of continual disconnection and valorized individuality (above solidarity, community, living with difference).

So in these ways of thinking and thrusts of behavior that I have mentioned above, social justice is suffering.  It is definitely not dead or gone.  It is in pain.  It is in pain because fewer and fewer people have the inclination, desire, time, and/or energy, to struggle with self and community enough.  Fewer and fewer people have the creative thinking enough to get out of the box that the Empire holds us in.  As the social-political forces that we have all internalized, confuse us and run our bodies as “spectacles” —as Guy Debord (December 1931-November 1994, French postmodern philosopher) has pointed to for us, we have a harder time interpreting the difference.

It is made worse by the crash of cultures, values, times and places that are incoherent.  Incoherence is NOT THE PROBLEM!!  It is our inability to not do violence to incoherence that is the problem!!!!  We incorporate, assimilate, violate, manipulate, imprison, sequester, make sick, make knowable–and therefore no longer that thing itself but our own other interpretation of that thing–person–place–time) that we create.  Now the world seems smaller and more alike.  Less diversity.

Put them away, make them criminals, make it hard on them, annihilate them, torture them, jail them, make them sick, control those people and those communities, feel sentimental about it after they are dead, it makes us good and holy.  On and on.  Refugees from ourselves—as we see refugees and the stateless, as if all of us were states.  It’s a joke. But we have definitely internalized the state.  There’s no escape.  How about starting with a realistic assessment and then assessing how we may do things differently?

The reactionary definition of “community,” in the eyes of many individualists, is that communities are like herds of cattle and animals, without minds, aimless and not able to think for themselves.  This dualistic notion of community has been developed through years and centuries of learning that the communities our ancestors killed or destroyed in order to create the wealthy “global” in favor of an individualism that was able to “capitalize” on making money for itself (not others).  And furthermore, when we try to make communities and join them (because we sense our loneliness, disconnectedness and isolation), we (US Americans) tend to get very very uncomfortable with the differences, the conflicts, the games, the political jostling, and general psychological violence that is practiced in groups, no matter how lofty.  If we don’t feel those things, it is usually because we have learned to ignore–or perhaps learned to become oblivious because no one is bothering “ME–THE INDIVIDUAL” and this asserts a “satisfaction” in the name of escaping the difficulty of being together with others of differences, and also the higher position of being alone and therefore “trouble-free.”  This is an illusion.

Mourning but knowing that there are so so many in this world who understand enough and care enough about this in the world, to begin steps and to empower toward social justice.  It is arduous and difficult and tedious, but must be done.  Individual heroes will be squashed.  Communities of difference, across different backgrounds of histories, etc. must learn to come together without the escape mechanisms we have all learned well.  Empowering toward social justice is tedious, arduous, precarious, uncertain, not attainable in a finality, but is a pathway that is immensely more loving than the loneliness of dieing in an old folks’ home somewhere in a desolate urban landscape. Some are working now and we must work together, learn how to.  The rest will most likely just wait for those few to do the work while they enjoy the fruits of empire, and maintain global injustice.

Race-Nation-Gender-Class-Nation: Forget it. Never Forget it

Pat Parker (1944-1989), poet, teacher and activist, wrote this poem: For the White Person Who Wants to Know How to Be My Friend  and had this wonderful line:

The first thing you do is to forget that i’m Black.
Second, you must never forget that i’m Black.

For any social difference that exists in any society, we can place it there, in the space of “Black.”   In any case, color-blindness, gender-blindness, mixed-space blindness, sexual orientation blindness, socio-economic class blindness, neighborhood blindness, body-size blindness, nationality blindness etc. etc. —  we have to pay attention to how quickly we may subsume, make invisible, refuse (ignore), make trivial, something that makes a difference.  Sameness is too valorized in the globalizing society.  It’s not about any particular choices we have in holding on and letting go—-because even this is an action and a series of action (holding or letting go, that is), that come from political positionings that rely on privilege, luck, ability, amount of trauma, fear, violence, and a host of other things that come from oppression and social constructions of society.

Let us not forget how completely and utterly different we are from each other.  This way, we truly understand diversity.  If we “understand,” then perhaps we do not understand difference at all.  We just consume, co-opt, and bring into our own history and culture and language and values, that OTHER.  This is a violence to that Other.

But in saying they are different, do we automatically become AFRAID?   Or do we automatically become ANGRY?  Do we automatically IGNORE?  Do we assume we can translate, communicate?   Yes we can communicate, but understanding its partiality is important.

Honor you.  Honor me.

In our difference.  Utterly different.  Utterly ourselves.  Yet somehow, we are related as humans, as that who has experienced pain.

Perhaps other things.  But do not assume equality.

Be human.

There . . . . . .  Can we allow difficulty, struggle, powerful connection and dissonance?

History, amnesia, difference & so-called “social justice”

The past is not dead. In fact, it’s not even past.       — William Faulkner US novelist (1897 – 1962)

Earlier this spring, an article in the Psychology Today journal, caused somewhat of an uproar and furor.  It was written by a Japanese psychologist,  Satoshi Kanazawa.   He proclaimed that Black women were not as beautiful as white women and this can be proven. Article here:  http://www.buzzfeed.com/mjs538/why-black-women-are-less-physically-attractive-tha

Huh?

What science, what heritage, what past?

Well, even though he could be called “The Rush Limbaugh of Japan,” he is speaking from a place of prominence.  Those who already feel similar things, would be inclined to side with him and confirm.  Those who don’t, will not.  In either case, we cannot confuse truth, opinion, and proof and words such as ‘science’ and ‘psychology’ or ‘justice,’ with the work that we must all begin to do–within and without.

I even heard some folks tell me that because this man was Japanese, it was proof that what he was saying was “universal” and not white supremacist!!!!

I responded back to this person:  Hello!  Have you heard of westernization? globalization?  The history of how the Japanese nation became globally “known” and respected through its adoption of the prevalent philosophies and sciences of the 18th through early 20th centuries–i.e. race science???   And if you research the strongest nations of the world today (in 2010-2011) and their histories, would they not include the most virulent forms of racism and genocide and the social sciences that established them as superior to others?  There is not one powerful nation that did not practice this.  Is a Japanese scientist’s racism and white supremacies in the West, unrelated?  And what of the other scientists in Japan and elsewhere, who do not agree?  In any case, there is the sense of superiority.

Morality will not help humanity create social justice.

This is because morality is most often particularly created from emotions that depend on culture, time, place, hierarchy.  But what is the most significant aspect of any “morality” is how it entitled people who speak to “morality” – to superiority and dominance.  So if this is the case, how can there be a “world peace” or “social justice” when a sense of democracy is based on “being right” and “being superior?”

On the other side of the spectrum are pan-humanists who believe in universal “goodness” and that those who feel that it is those “others” who  practice the “inferior evils” of cultural difference (after all–we are ‘all the same underneath’) and fictional racisms that divide us.  Oh if those “others” would only understand what we understand, the world would be better— kind of thinking.  This breeds an individualism and smug moral superiority that leaves those “others” to their games, thus allowing those “others” to foment and further increase their power in society.   There is also the subtle and not-so-subtle –and all-too-popular and present notion– of politics being outside of self, outside, outside.  It’s not me.  It’s not us.  It’s them.

If people would only be free of politics, then the world would be better.  Do I need to talk about how this in itself, is political? Or more accurately, isn’t it apolitical?  It absolves people from getting involved.  It is self-defeating.  It is an ultimate coldness.  It is often valorized because in individualist-based societies, life is about how an individual reaches his or her own death, his or her relationship with a God or a truth or an afterlife or a morality on-high.  It is certainly not about others or of society, or of their own responsibility and accountability to how the world is.   No family, no heritage, no privilege.  How convenient!

When three or four people  responded to my blog on Hiroshima Day, as well as seven or eight who wrote to me in response to Pearl Harbor Day, it wasn’t pretty.  The words they sent to me were of the Atomic Bomb not being enough.  The Japanese “deserved it.”  And of course, there were three or four people who wrote so in response to my blog on the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in 2011.  And it was all over the news.  American athletes and some show business people also chimed in, speaking of Karma and retribution.   So there cannot be any world peace.  There cannot be social justice that leads to world peace, when these knowledges continue to circulate.

History is right now.  As we speak and write everyday, it is history.  For people to ignore the past, and scream for a better life, for people to say they pursue happiness but ignore the fact that in order to “pursue” means that one is in misery, craving for more—-and for all this to not have anything to do with how our societies globally, are being shaped by many forces –including our own participation and creations in relation to these status quo forms, is to ignore reality.  And isn’t that the way it works?  Reality is too much.  Let us escape.  However, even the escapes that we chose, are mostly created by the forces that create our reality. In other words, escaping reality is more of reality.  It is not escape.  And why is ESCAPE the notion of freedom?  Are FREEDOM and ‘escape’ the same?

And then we add middle class and high caste aspirations to the mix and we get  a lot of undetected and unacknowledged privilege.  Are MIDDLE CLASS TRAPPINGS the sign that tells us we are free?  Globalization is not an evil.  We have always been global, always related to each other across difference.  But in the age of market capitalism and continuing global mechanisms, we are entrenched in being governed and controlled without our knowing.   And to those people who resist by dropping out and forming the counter-movement, they often throw out allies and forms of life that could be liberating, but have been labeled “evil” or signs of the people and structures they fight against, without understanding interconnectedness.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t about being for or against or that it’s hopeless.  On the contrary!!!!!

History needs to be faced.  The politics of everyday life, including our own emotions with ourselves and each other– (as politically and historically situated), can bring us to a realization that we must do things differently, but not in order to destroy the honoring of time and generations.  In addition, we must understand and develop different relationships to the idea of DIFFERENCE.  Today, difference has become something we must “understand” and therefore obliterating the “other” and making them something of our own language and accessibility, robbing them of difference—-or we must assimilate or annihilate.   The current wars on terror, the wars on drugs, the war on criminals, the war on ….. the war on….  are all elite manifestations of increasingly disempowering our creativity and relationships, forming them into reasons to be enraged, disempowered, aggressive, and unhappy.  We channel these things — increasingly — into ways of feeling enthralled, propelling us into a poverty of thought and feeling and navigating our lives into certain oblivion.

Wake up y’all.  Wake up y’all.  We need solidarities, new forms of thinking, creativity, honoring of difference and legacy, more diversity in approaching diversity,  less certainty in certainties, yet understanding what must not be negotiable and what can and must be negotiable.  Fear must give way.

In individualistic isolation, where we are driven to the isolating and individualistic cities and towns, away from earth and connections, and into the oblivion of socio-economic “happiness” — we must, I feel, find ways to resist that which is being handed to us; to resist that which we are so sure of; to resist that which tells us ‘this is me” and “this is them” that would otherwise open up ways to work together with differences that we may not like, but do not threaten us.

But now it can only be a dream because people want to be psychologically comfortable and safe.  It is the middle-class aspiration that grips us in becoming more and more unable to cope with struggle and change.  We become entrenched, believing that freedom is being squeezed out.  Indeed it is.  But not by “them.”

Peace is not an absence of conflict.  But we need not escalate conflict to aggression and genocide.  We practice colonial ways of relations and aspirations that kill diversity and freedom.  The way to investigate this is to study our histories, outside of the textbooks, outside of what makes us comfortable, understanding the authors and who they are and to not see them as either enemies or friends until we understand who we are and what we want.

Experimenting, questioning, are important.  I say this because the past is here.  mixed with our present constructions, our present identity.  Our future is also here.  What we do right now, impacts what will happen or not, in the future.  Acknowledging our own difference, and that of those we love and care for, and not wanting everyone to be someone we like or not like, to invest more of our energy in non-individualism but not to follow blindly but to continue to interrogate who we are and where we are and histories and cultures………this would be hard in our busy busy busy busy lives.  But what, exactly, are we really busy with?  What replaces justice and peace and difference?  I’m sure you will begin to see that what has replaced what I feel are important, with things that “society” has put into that space, distracting us.

Gain back your power.

Question: What is the difference between ‘criticism’ and ‘critique?’

A continual issue that I run into when speaking with people, especially in nations such as the United States, where anti-intellectual postures, defenses, and attitudes are heavily dominant, is that people identify with their thinking as their own and that it is of the ‘soul’ and of utmost importance. As thoughts become identity, then it must be defended. An idea or thought or view may be defended as a matter of ‘faith’ and ‘strength’ and ‘knowledge-as-power’ in this kind of gathering and creation of identity. This is an aspect of identity-making in the US, where individual lives are thought to be born of our individual souls, created by God, or perhaps by past-lives in the new age way of thinking. Nevertheless, in either case, our ideas and views are not to be undermined or criticized.

Criticism is a cutting-down, or diminishing of a self. That self, is an idea, thought, creation, circumstance, ways of life, a word, a gesture, the way we dress, etc. It is an atom, an individual object. This ‘me’ is/ becomes, in the social realm in the United States and other places, an object of scrutiny compared to a ‘normal.’ To be an anarchist, in mainstream US thinking, is to go against, that normal. The going-against identity, then, becomes created. So either you are one of them, or you’re one of them-others. You’re one of us, or you’re one of us (the other ‘us’. Everything and everyone, every gesture, every nuance, becomes another object. And since being AFFIRMED in life, to be recognized, to be acknowledged, is almost a sacred meaning of life to US Americans, we spend our lives navigating the treacherous terrain of perhaps being criticized for what we do and who we are and it is bad. The world, then, often becomes that of avoiding criticism. This, then, could be linked with my earlier posting on ‘positive thinking.’ Positive thinking is a reactionary form of relating to ourselves and each other and the world, where the constant reality of being ‘negative’ and being’ critical and being criticized or criticizing others, is avoided.

In intellectual life, in the academy, there is a difference between criticism and critique. At least, in the way I have learned them in the circles where social change, social justice, difference, oppression, and transformation is of concern, there is a difference. However, in my everyday interactions with many people who are in the academy in the Western nations, at least, and the wanna-be western nations of the developing world, there is less and less thinking about words and their meanings, and their implications. This is a testament to how homogenized and dumbed-down we are becoming in the globalizing neo-colonial mind-set. We are easier tools to being controlled by memes and discourses and signs and meanings that are already-known and controlled by larger powers and forces that do not have our best interests at heart.

Criticism is meant to arrive at a higher or better ‘truth.’ This means that if one is criticized, whatever that idea was, is put in its place as incomplete, sloppy, immature, ignorant, partial or not-yet. Perhaps even downright stupid. It shuts doors and pathways. The assumption is that there is a single ‘truth’ and it can be accessed through certain thoughts and disciplines and lifestyles. It is a knowledge-as-dominance game. Unfortunately, knowledge, in this sense, is of dominance and is a particular set of frameworks that are rationally organized to present itself as the most rational, the most good, the best, and it delivers the condescending attitudes forcefully and subtly. If we are criticized, it is an indictment of our SELF. It means that we, ourselves, are not good enough. We are insufficient. It is based on identity. It closes the possibility that the knowledge that is supposedly higher or better, relies itself on certain kinds of thinking and structures of thinking, of certain and particular frames of assumptions and presumptions and presuppositions toward particular ends. These ‘ends’ are quite particular and benefit a certain group of people.  Words and concepts are used to benefit certain groups and structures. Truth serves this end. Truth and truth-making will always lead to this war, this battle, this diminishing of ‘other’ and propagate its own path. Single universal TRUTH will mean anything–idea, person, thought, frame, position, look, gesture, body, size, color, worldview, place, site, etc. — that is DIFFERENT FROM ITSELF, is false, untrue, lower, not developed, not-yet, immature, childish, dumb. On top of this, when criticized, we feel small.

In addition to this phenomenon is the interaction and internalizing, the normalizing before happening. When someone says something that is not what we said, we feel small and we feel we must say something to make ourselves equal, or at least presentable. We feel we have been diminished. We often hear what other people say in this way. DIFFERENCE is EVIL and UNWANTED. If we explore how EQUALITY works in the US discourse on social harmony, we begin to see an ugly picture that always wants to ASSIMILATE other, while those who do not assimilate, can be controlled and marginalized in certain ways. We do it to each other and with each other. Whether we go our whole lives not ever saying the word ‘normal’ or not, is not the point. There is a ‘normalizing.’ A normal revolutionary, a normal person, a normal woman, a normal alternative person, a normal young person, a normal poor person, a normal American, a normal Asian, a normal….. think to yourself……..there is always this unconscious identity-making of ourselves, our ideas, our look and thoughts, as well as of others.

Critique is not born of identity-making. Critique is not in service of a single TRUTH. It may serve a certain commitment to a certain path (such as social justice), but the assumption of CRITIQUE is that there are many commitments, some contradictory to the self. It understands itself to be toward liberation and its possibilities. Critique opens questioning and makes single-truths unstable so to be more inclusive of difference. Criticism closes possibilities and makes difference ‘evil.’ It serves a singular all-encompassing node and calls the one who knows it ‘truth-teller.’ It is a form, in the most extreme forms, that serves totalitarianisms. Critique, however, does not.

The sad thing I have encountered in the United States often, is that when one presents a different idea, it is taken to be CRITICISM. The other feels threatened, violated, defensive, and perhaps responds with silence, self-disgust, anger, depression, self-esteem stuffs. I have found this to be less true in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Italy, etc., where difference of thought does not mean there is something the matter or that it closes down something else. This, is, in case you haven’t thought of this and are feeling like I am criticizing US Americans, is not about how bad US Americans are and how good Europeans are. What I mean to say is that in the history of the US, identity-making has rested on capitalism, progress, industrialization, colonialism, dominant forms of Christianity, and how this was valorized by referring to the US Constitution’s advertisement as democratic. Because of the US’ s role in the world as an empire and of the most extreme forms of capitalist dominance in the world, it has created a society that is more anti-intellectual, and more valorizing has leaned toward individual dream-satisfaction, goal-orientation toward the self and its fulfillment. In Europe, this extreme has not been the case and intellectual thought is more accepted and valorized. In the US, most young people don’t know what an intellectual is, or even more prevalent is the feeling of smallness and aggression when encountering smart people. The only sphere in which most mainstream US Americans allow ‘smart’ is in the technology and science fields, where inventions and non-human factors can be thought. When we speak of ourselves and our actions, we want–as US Americans– no intrusion. George Bush Jr said after September 11, 2001: “The American way of life is not up for discussion.’ This is a perfect example of our unconscious and conscious assumption of self, and its encounters with difference and thought and analysis.

In our future encounters, please let us explore the intention of the speaker. Is it to put you down, and make themselves higher? Or is the point to open up an array of points that shift attention away from single truths, and toward an open-field where different thoughts could be thought. If there is a thought that enters our ideas, and opens up the challenge of thinking complexly, should we not welcome it? This does not mean that our ideas are right or wrong. It may, sometimes, mean that our ideas may not take certain things into account and that we may need a wider array of stories to place our ideas into, to open up the possibilities. This does not mean that our ideas are bad or wrong.

Critique, is liberatory in intention, and has complexity of time and history and culture at its back. Criticism has single truth and moral right and wrong at its back. They are different.

Of course I am not only speaking of conversations encounters, but how US Americans have learned to relate to each other. Listening has become a very de-valued skill in the US. We must do-do-do, and do more. In reflecting on what we may need for social change, I think this is one factor we need to change—that of listening and thinking in a wider field, and that our words and actions should not depend on single-identity factors that want to maintain itself. We have been, at least partially, socially constructed. Opening to critique is a fun and wonderful way of relating, creating new possibilities.

If we encounter or we inhabit the spaces of criticism, and hear everything as either a win or a lose, then we continue to go in the same circular and un-enchanting forms of relating to each other, leading to more self-hatred and misanthropy, misuse, jealousy, distrust, alone-ness and isolation. We cannot be happy with everyone. But certainly, through listening and speaking with critical thinking toward critique, we can have new areas of thought and feeling to play with, and in the process, create new possibilities for humanity.

“Playground Martyrs” by Jensen; Sylvian; Feiner: Adultism & Continuities

Photo of Thomas Feiner

I include two (2) wonderful, brooding, pointed music videos here in relation to my theme.

The first thing I want to put forward about my thoughts on oppression and continuities and activisms in order to change the course of oppressions, transforming life into more liberation-oriented possibilities, is that I do not think there are origins. Certainly, things seem to originate somewhere, but there has to have been a set of techniques, thoughts, circumstances, situations, histories, cultures, persons, skills, labor, and countless other things there–just there–at that moment when someone, some author or speaker says: “this originated at….” or “this was invented by….” etc.

Oppressions come from people and systems.  Oppressions rely on sets of structures that come together and can be used oppressively.  Often, a word, act, policy, gesture, law, technique, philosophy, ideology, system, etc.   is not seen as oppressive or considered as such.  This may be for several reasons.  First, one can imagine that if one thinks of something and people like it and are excited by it, and it offers a seemingly different, new and effective way to do something or get somewhere, but we are far from those affected by it, then we can ignore or not even acknowledge or consider such a place that we cannot see, hear, touch, sound or smell.  Indeed, much of our present realities and issues as far as ecological and social crises, can be considered through this lens.

One legacy of oppression can be said to be a strong origination-point for the multitude of oppressions  is ADULT-ism.  This is the first oppression that all of us learn.  It is there, without question, and is across cultures, places, things, histories, races, ethnicities, etc.   It is where we learn who gives orders, whose world this belongs to, who is large, who is small, who is considered, what is right, what is wrong.  In some cases, these laws do not coincide or match across neighborhoods or even within a nuclear family, or a community or nation.  In one minute we are told to do something by a parent or a principal or a schoolmaster or a trainer or a teacher or grandmother or manager, in the next minute, this may change, or be different for someone else.  We begin to shape our own identities around these thousands upon hundreds of thousands of messages throughout a single day.  We learn to become ‘ourselves’ through the prism of what we learn, how we are punished or not punished, how we are to think of what has happened and how we must proceed.  This, with the whippings, the yellings, the ignoring, the absence, the stern looks, the hugs, the kisses, the spankings, the warnings by masters, the being teased and the being bullied.  It starts as we are infants and children, in the web of the game of being so-called ‘adults.’

The games of adults are continued because we must survive and we must feel some sort of power (or not).  We hide, we negotiate, we prioritize, we make invisible, we show concern, we ignore, we become mean, we become confused, we want certain things, we don’t want certain things.  The legacy of the bombings, colonizations, slavery, the invasion of western economic global systems into non-western local system; the globalizing of food and health economies, the stipulations for control and mandates for depending on the wealthier countries; the thousands of people starved from economic embargos, the refugee camps, the firebombings and chemical bombings of poor villages by multi-million-dollar jet planes and millionaire salaries of corporate heads, the control of people that larger bodies deem expendable; etc. etc.  are all done while our clans and villages and ways of life have been twisted into nuclear family lives, tearing us away from community life and into smaller units that are then made dependent on escalating money and costs and bureacracy.

And we learn to wear oppressions like crowns, or our arrogance as entitled and self-evident.  In the name of the oppression of children, teaching all of us what we are worth, then feeds the business of ‘finding meaning’ and ‘following our deepest yearnings’ and ‘finding our purpose’ and ‘stopping to get our of our own way’ and other such psycho-social ways that keep us occupied.  This pre-occupation is called ‘our daily life’ or ‘life as it is’ or ‘just the way it is.’  Well………..it has been MADE to become this way.  And as this happens, more and more people globally, begin to follow the same steps.  We are like sheep.  But not totally.  There has been resistance.  There continues to be resistance.  In the making of ourselves is how the powerful and uncaring and greedy, want us to make ourselves into.  We think it is our own idea.

In many cultures, ‘finding our life purpose’ is a  ridiculous idea.  Why not enjoy our families, our friends, enjoy nature, enjoy life and deal with our relations and take care?  What is there to find?  Well……..in a system of nations where everything is taken away, where banks own homes and hardly ever actual people, and our schedules and lives are told to us by the jobs we get–which are owned by people who make much more money than us………..and we want those same kinds of things our bosses have and we aspire to have those things and then we think we will be happy…..or we are satisfied NOT doing those things and we ignore those that do……….we are participating so well in this system of oppression.  Remember what our childhoods were like?  For some, it may have been closer to idyllic.  There were no troubles.  But we had been trained well.  People who are good at obeying and/or acting, having to pretend or having to ignore, having to be dishonest yet pretend to be honest, to know how to navigate the unfair and violent system, are rewarded.

The playgrounds of our childhoods are where we begin to learn how to socially play-out the oppressions we learn to take and give out.  It is not just that our own sets of parents, most likely in a nuclear family set-up or one of an extended nuclear family set-up, or a wider community teach us everything.  We learn from our classmates and what their parents and relations and schools and cultural differences and religions etc, have been lived through them.  The disciplines and punishments, rewards and resistances are then combined with ours and with other adults in a web of shame and glory, silence and privilege, smallness and largeness, tears and laughter.

We don’t think of them as such, as they are now important in order to survive.  Then there are the parents who are too permissive, perhaps.  They will deny.  But those children grow into adults, invariably, who think they deserve everything they get and do not handle being blocked from those things desired, very well.  Through silence, through passive-aggression, through finding another way, through transferring aggressions to something or someone else, etc., are all the ways in which we may, perhaps, not see this as a continuation of the things we learned from adults.  As we become big people, the oppressions are bigger and perhaps ignored or seen as normal, or not seen at all as oppression.

The Playground Martyrs, is a wonderful song by David Sylvian, Steve Jensen, and Thomas Feiner.  This is a short song of beauty, saying something to us.  The legacies of our violences and our militaries and our ‘natural’ and ‘normal’ realities are learned and made solid.  The song gives us a glimpse into trying to account for this.  Perhaps we can glimpse, not a dream of a future unknown, but the acts we take in the present to change our present and future through seeing the past in the present and changing effects.  This song also points to patriarchal structures.  ‘The sins of our fathers’ is appropriate because this has and still is, a ‘man’s world’ in many ways.  So what shall we do?  Where shall we go?  There are answers.

I have also included Thomas Feiner’s fine piece ‘Yonderhead’ which is another angle on the same theme of the legacy of our oppressions and liberations.

Lyrics included beneath both videos.  Both of these songs come from albums which are fantastic.

To listen to more of these artists and to buy MP3 downloads and CDs, visit:

http://www.samadhisound.com/

http://davidsylvian.com/

Playground Martyrs 

You run to the gate
But you’ll be marked late
It’s for your own good
It’s for your own good

You’re likely to make
The grandest mistakes
You suffer alone
In the skin and the bones

Let’s sharpen those
New sets of arrows
For the next generation
Of playground martyrs

And joining the game
Of intolerable shame
‘Cause everyone shares
In the sins of their fathers

School bell rings
Single file in
Trade you my
Unhappily ever afters

So bring out those things
To hammer the wings
Of the next generation
Of playground martyrs
Read more at http://www.songlyrics.com/david-sylvian/playground-martyrs-lyrics/#hG1Ie1ZrSDK752yU.99