Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘violence’

german policeI found this thing in a tin of bits and bobs. I’m guessing it travelled from Germany  among the loose change in my uncle’s pockets, at the end of the war. He’d been in the army, fought in France, was evacuated from Dunkirk, then spent years training in the Cairngorms. In 1944, he was fighting in Belgium and ended the war in Germany, at Bergen-Belsen.

He never talked about the war unless pressed, and then he rarely elaborated. There was just that one time when, as  a naive young man, I’d tried to pin him down about Belsen, and got more than I’d bargained for. What he told me of this time there, I could never quite assimilate, let alone repeat. Indeed, I think I rejected it as too complex and too dark a thing for me to deal with. Thus, I discovered there is a psychological disconnect between those of a  peace-time mind-set and those who witness, and must digest, the worst humanity is capable of.

As for this little memento, I’ve always assumed it was some sort of regimental cap-badge. But I recently did some research on it and discovered it’s a souvenir given out in exchange for donations to the German Police. This was in 1942, and the German Police by then were very different to peacetime cops. As if to drive the message home, that same research took me to other images featuring the German Police in action, executing women and children.

As with all holocaust imagery, one wonders what systemic failure could allow such monsters into power? What could turn a police force into brutal, militarized units suppressing unarmed civilians? Was there something particular about the circumstances of those times that could give rise to such an orgy of mass-murder? And is it too naive to suppose we have learned the lessons, and could never find ourselves so benighted again?

That this little souvenir was associated with the very worst in humanity came a shock. I don’t know why I should have been  surprised by that – the clue is, after all, in the Swastika. Not everyone’s of the same opinion of course. There are those who find Nazi memorabilia fascinating, indeed even thrilling. This little thing, cheap as it was, and banged out by the tens of thousands, can now fetch up to £50 at auction. I find that both surprising and revolting.

There were lots of divisions to the German Police. Some were civilian, some military, some political, but all came under command of the Schutzstaffel, the SS, a name forever marked as the personification of evil. But it’s dangerous to dismiss evil as something “other”. It does not come from outside the human race,  but dwells within it.

The German Police were not recruited because they were known killers, with long records of ruthless violence. They came from the rank and file of ordinary life, such as it was in wartime Germany. It was circumstance that robbed them of innocence, and then something of the animal took over, normalizing the violence and the de-humanisation of others. This should serve as a warning to the rest of us: just because we imagine we’re incapable of such atrocities ourselves, it doesn’t make it true. All it means is we’ve never found ourselves in a situation where that side of our natures comes out. Nor does it mean we’re ever free from witnessing such atrocities again.

We have only to flick through the vile things people write on social media to see the seething broil of the dark collective. The only thing more dangerous than glorifying the worst of humanity is the belief we could never repeat the horrors of what the German Police did in wartime. If we need any more proof of that we have only to look at the images of the American Police in action in recent days to see how easily the balance of a State can tip from the protection of its citizens to their oppression by militarized force. Indeed, we need extrapolate contemporary events very little into the future, to find ourselves in very dark territory indeed.

For the time being then, I’m putting this odious little souvenir back in its tin. Out of sight, but not out of mind. Such darkness is a thing we must recognize and own if we are ever to keep a lid on it. Then at the very least we might have a chance of spotting it, before it overwhelms us again.

Read Full Post »

people protesting on a street

Photo by Josh Hild on Pexels.com

Truth has value. We can build things upon it that will not fall down. Conversely, lies passed off as truths are like quicksand, and whatever’s laid upon them will fall down, eventually. In human affairs that means a cost in terms of lives, and it means mothers grieving for their murdered sons.

It’s hard to avoid the fact the western world is struggling to see its way for a blizzard of lies right now. It falls to each of us to tell the truth, at least as we see it. But how do we know what’s true to begin with? We have a media and a political class that either lies openly and cynically, or is increasingly afraid to tell the truth. And we have an Internet so awash with lies it’s impossible to discern any truth in there at all.

So, just in case, I have cross-referenced three sources for my news this morning – the Washington Post, The Guardian, and the New York Times. All speak of an America on the brink, of massed protest, of a vicious and militarized police, and of a president poised to send his own infantry onto the streets to kill people.

In Europe, we look on aghast, as this ghoulish man struts and preens, and how, with his trademark of lies and bombast, he has brought a powerful country to the edge of anarchy, and so soon. There were some who predicted it, few who believed it could actually happen.

A global pandemic is the worst most of us have seen, and from which we have yet to emerge. What could possibly be worse than that? Well, how about an America on the verge of civil war? An America with its right-wing guns turned on its leftists, and its police forces still killing black people with impunity, and on the slightest pretext? It is an American president pouring gasoline on the flames he lights daily with his incendiary thumbs, and of restraining institutions seemingly crippled, looking on as the edifice of a nations’ honour and integrity crumbles before our eyes. It is flames reflected in the sunglasses of the rock-jawed secret servicemen who surround and protect the office that once provided the leadership of the free world, an office now apparently vacant of principle and honour, and morals.

Black lives matter. It’s shameful we should even have to say it. And for those who would deny it, look around and see what this currency of lies has bought you.

Read Full Post »

Joan of Arc, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

I was about to spend my first night in an idyllic holiday cottage by the sea. I had arrived weary after two hundred miles of roaring roads, with broken air-con and in a steam-heat that had sucked the energy from my bones. But as I took a brief stroll around my new home for the week I knew I was in for a treat: a quaint old harbour, a clean sea, a good weather forecast and porpoises leaping in the bay. What more could one ask?

I went to bed early, looking forward to a refreshing night’s sleep, but I found it hard to drift off. This sometimes happens after a long journey and a strange bed, but when I did finally eventually slip away, I was assailed by horrific dreams of violence, torture and mutilation. This was not normal, my dreams being for the most part benign and enigmatic. I wondered then where such powerfully gruesome imagery might have come from. Dreams borrow from waking life, but I don’t watch that type of movie or play the computer games that might contain it, and my actual waking life is as tame as it gets.

It was a mystery, then.

According to one theory I was sleeping in a psychical space still contaminated by the previous guest, that I had literally laid my head upon the same pillow and immersed myself in a persisting cloud of fear and knife-slashing violence. The more rational modes of thinking will not allow such ideas of course, and mostly I resist them, but the more mystical forms will and since I was desperate for sleep, I was prepared to entertain them. For help in such situations, we do no better than turn to Tibetan Buddhism, and the yoga of dreams and sleep.

These teachings are concerned with cultivating a lucid awareness during the dream; effectively waking up in the dream, and becoming consciously aware of ourselves within it. This is not something I’m capable of, but the subject interests me as do all studies on dreams and dreaming. Lucidity has been verified by experiment in sleep laboratories, and it seems many of us are indeed capable of it spontaneously. What we do with it varies. In Western culture, according to the books I’ve read by self styled oneironauts, it boils down to wanting to fly, or having sex with strangers and other fantastical, escapist adventures, in other words to use the dream-space as a kind of narcissistic playground. In Tibetan Buddhism however, the goal is to achieve a state of meditation, in the dream. Also, if we are able to become fully aware of ourselves in the dream space, the Buddhists say we are more likely to become fully awake in the awakened state as well. This is something that takes a great deal of discipline and training, but other aspects of the technique are more accessible to the lay person, such as how we prepare the ground for lucid awareness in the first place.

Obviously if we are to meditate in the dream, we need a clean psychical space, untroubled by demons and their drama. So, as we seek sleep, the yogis teach the cultivation of personal, protective archetypes. For a man these are most easily imagined as female warriors of extraordinary beauty and prowess. We conjure them up by a process of active imagination as we seek sleep, then deploy them around our sleep-space to watch over us. We station them in doorways, around the bed or patrolling the garden, wherever we feel a vulnerability. They are infinitely patient and devoted to our protection and by their mere presence they chase away the troublesome demons as sunlight dissolves shadows, or as the presence of a cat will deter mice.

Fanciful as all this sounds, I do find the technique effective and have deployed my personal “Amazons” on many an occasion when unsettled and struggling for sleep. Sure enough, on this occasion too, my later dreams found a more even keel; the gore dissolved to something more wholesome as I sailed through into a placid space and woke refreshed, ready to begin my holiday.

I was not troubled again.

Sweet dreams.

Ref The Tibetan Yogas of Dreams and Sleep

Read Full Post »

The Triumph of Death - Pieter Bruegel the Elder - 1562Hardly a day passes without news of another terror related killing, somewhere in the world. As for the largely unreported killings, result of the civil war in Syria, the scale will not be known until the war is over, and then the horrors revealed will be so large as to be barely comprehendible. It must be bad because even our most holy of men are now asking the perennial question: where is God? It’s a common response to disaster, and nothing new in it: this terrible thing is happening, why does God not intervene? Why can God not heal this appalling wound and prevent more killing? Does God even exist?

My own head has been taking refuge in shallowness of late, playing computer games where the sun shines all the time, and no one dies – at least in the kinds of games I play. Until now I’ve resisted lending another voice raised against the violence, mainly because I am incapable of forming a proper judgement when I have only news reports to go on, and these hardly qualify as reliable data. But this sudden call to God is interesting to anyone on the spiritual path, and calls me in turn to reflect.

Terrible things happen all the time. Every second of every day someone dies a terrible death. We forget human suffering is an ongoing story – today’s disaster forgotten, overshadowed already by news of tomorrow’s. And at times of disaster theologians wring their hands; they frown, their sermons deepen, but they are less than coherent in explaining the absence of God.

I saw rather an apposite poster recently. It flashed briefly across the blogsphere, caught my eye, then disappeared back into the collective, and it said something to the effect of: “Your God is too small for my Universe”. I have sympathy with this view – that in order to comprehend God we must look beyond the child-dream of a benign, interventionist deity. We must look to the universe within, through the telescope of an evolved consciousness, and search the inner space from whence our human “being” arises.

And we need to reflect and ask what it is that turns a young man or a young woman into a homicidal maniac – and not one or two, but hundreds upon hundreds, and bannered, all be it perversely, in the name of God? Indeed there seems no end to their number, that every time we sleep, they will come.

They are our nightmares, and like nightmares, we might think of them as self created, as the symptoms of a neurosis arising from a collective insecurity, a blindness to the failings in ourselves, and in the world. If we think of the images on our TV screens cast as symbols rather than as facts, if we read them as dreams, a different story emerges from the one that is told.

What we suppress, what we deny in ourselves comes back at us eventually – personally, as individuals, or collectively as a species. It happened in Europe in the 1930’s. It’s happening now in the Middle East. We reap what we sow. To think otherwise is to think too narrowly. It is to take the images from the TV screen and translate them literally, then to react emotionally and in accordance with a story that is too simplistic to mean anything. It is to view the world as if through a straw.

The human race stands upon a bedrock of inherited psychical energy from which rises all our stories and, thereby, all our behaviours, all our insecurities, our hopes and our dreams. When we look at another human being there is the illusion we are looking at someone entirely separate to ourselves, when in reality every person we see is simply another version of ourselves. Therefore the misunderstandings, the misdeeds of others are a shared responsibility, and to disown that responsibility without thought, without at least a degree of self analysis, of reflection beyond the immediate horror, is to make the mistake of setting ourselves above others, as if we were better, more human than anyone else.

This is unskillful thinking. It is the kind of thinking by which, down the ages, one tribe may survive at the expense of another, at least in the basic evolutionary sense, by the combative might of our egos and our arms, yet we also lose our way in the greater scheme of things by eradicating God from the collective heart. And even if we do proclaim God in our name it is invariably as too small, too literal a concept, therefore more of a danger. We do not do this intentionally, or in as violent and corrupt a manner as when we kill others, but we do well to recognise the call for such a small God to heal our splintered souls at times of tragedy is useless. The God we must ask for help in all of this is the God we find when we look inside ourselves. This is a God who sees what we see, always, and how that God reacts, how that God intervenes in human affairs depends entirely on us. It’s an idea rejected in puritanical circles as a kind of humanistic madness, as the megalomaniacal deification of our own person. But this misses the point. It is one thing to be humble enough to find God within us, quite another to adopt the mantle of omnipotence.

We are both of us – you and I, the eyes and the ears of a universe made conscious and feeling, and appalled at the lengths it will go to in order to inflict suffering on itself, while remaining in ignorance of the true nature of its own reality. We are each of us a part of a universe struggling to awaken from its own nightmare. We can only help it do so by awakening to our own universality, to our own infinite and intricate interconnection with all beings and all things. Until we understand this the only change in the world will be an increase in the killing, as the means become ever more sophisticated and barbarous.

For now I waver between the pessimism of this view and the occasional optimism that, eventually, sufficient numbers of individual minds will light up and thereby enable the universe to awaken sufficiently to banish the nightmares. Only when that happens will the overwhelmingly pessimistic story of human endeavour thus far become a thing altogether more hopeful and marvellous.

The future, as presented nightly on my TV screen is one running permanently into Armageddon. And though it is a half truth, with as much of the story missing as is told, the rest to be guessed at by the lost fragments and the ghost whisperings of our online world, the theme is clear, if not the detail: there is no future as things stand; our collective human heart is broken, and we are thrashing around, beating our breasts in despair at one damned thing after the other, at corrupt ideas, at perverse thinking, and at ideologies both twisted and shrunken into mere pathologies. We can view this as the end of the world – one that is permanently just a few years away and never quite arriving, or we can view it as a call to raise our level of consciousness, our thinking.

At the very least it might spare us from an ignominious extinction at the hands of our own violence, avarice, and stupidity. Who knows we might yet move on and achieve the greatness, and the largeness of spirit we are otherwise so clearly capable of.

Read Full Post »

Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait 1819-1905The Ego is our self constructed sense of self. It is a thought-form, so called because it is constituted entirely of our thoughts, thoughts about ourselves, about others, and about the world around us. It is in part, self defensive, assuring us, amid a sea of conflicting opinion and ambiguous social currents, that our way of thinking, our way of living is the correct one. It’s also inherently fragile, having left out all those things we deny we could ever think or allow as part of our identity – things like falling in love with someone of the same sex; feelings of friendship or even just basic respect towards someone of another race or creed; accepting that women are human beings; admitting sometimes we get things wrong; admitting other people’s ideas are as valid as our own.

Throughout all of life’s complexities and ambiguities, we can trust the ego to safeguard our position, and it will raise a storm of emotion when its superiority is threatened, when it fears exposure for the fraud it ultimately is. Then it will insist we take action, defensive or offensive. The ego can lead us astray, it can have us make fools of ourselves, it can cause us to incubate neuroses; it can make us hurt or even kill others.

One of the most powerful symbols for the ego is the gun. Take a look at the entertainment aisle next time you’re in town. Pick the top ten DVD’s and see how many carry a gun on their front cover. There he is, the hero, the “ego,” bearing a weapon in order to assault his enemies. It is the archetypal statement of superiority, that my ego has acquired the power to exterminate yours, that my argument shall ultimately triumph over yours, for no better reason than I am stronger or cleverer or more dangerous.

The young are easily seduced by the gun. They are persuaded by perverted cultural programming that it possesses not only a noble imperative, but also a romance. The young are also least prepared, emotionally, psychologically to have much of an idea about the ego, the ego being itself too strong and too big to be seen, masquerading as it does as the very root of our being. We think it’s who we are, that there can be no “us” without it. When threatened it will turn to weapons, and if no weapons are to be had, then fists will do, and failing even that then some malicious comments posted online will sate its appetite for a while.

And there’s really not much the gun-less can do. Fear of death will have me nodding readily to your tune. I may not be happy about it, I may resent it, and you may rest assured my own ego will ensure the first chance I get, I’ll turn the gun on you. And the hotter the revenge against your insults to me the better, for there is nothing quite so satisfying as the signs of a violent and horrifically painful capitulation on the face of one’s enemies. What? Got no gun? A Samaurai sword, or a knife will do. Plenty of those on the covers of DVD’s as well.

The strength of an argument, of reason, will always be outmatched by proficiency with arms, which makes me wonder how we ever progressed beyond a state of barbarism, to find the time to build cities and invent rich cultural lives as well.

Read Full Post »

cool catI did an odd thing this morning – I deleted a post I’d put up the night before. First time I’ve ever done that. It was a poem called “Safe in the Shire” and was basically about the violence and suffering we see on the TV news every night, and how it creeps into our bones, paints the world as a very bad place and tells us to be afraid – to be very afraid. It was a clumsy swipe at the perpetrators of that violence but also at the media for their emotionally manipulative reporting of it. I basically called them both stupid, and I called myself stupid for feeling safe and remote from the suffering, that all I had to do was turn off the TV and everything would be okay, when it clearly wasn’t. I pulled it this morning because I feel my voice is weakest when I adopt a certain tone – a negative tone. As a weapon against the forces of evil and the media, it’s about as effective as a wet dishcloth against a Kalashnikov, or like a mouse spitting in the cat’s eye.

Speaking of cats, I’m away from home at the moment, cat-sitting at my sisters house. The silence is astonishing, and the cat’s needs are refreshingly basic – just food, water, and a voice to keep it company. I can say anything I like to it. It doesn’t matter. It’s the tone that counts. They are sensitive creatures, cats, and can feel the vibes of a room through their whiskers. I speak kindly to the cat, and I mean it. I ask its advice. I ask if it’s still raining outside. I ask its opinion on the upcoming local elections. The cat is patient, but cannot hide the fact it thinks I am a little strange.

I like both cats and dogs – dogs can be tremendous fun, but of the two I am more of a cat person. I give it space. It comes and goes, shares the firelight with me for a while, then slips out through the flap. I asked it about the poem just now. It’s obviously gone away to think about it.

I’m pretty sure I know the answer. We have to be ourselves. There is indeed great suffering in the world and, beamed daily into our homes, it can affect our lives in two ways. It can make us fearful of the world, and it can harden us, render us insensitive, because it’s a distant suffering and there’s nothing we can do about it, so we shut it out. Neither is a good thing. It chips away at our humanity. It festers. It erodes our compassion for our fellow man. But I cannot counter a negative with another negative. That’s a dark game against a grand-master who’s always going to be several moves ahead. And I’m trying to see the positive, trying, like the cat, to tune its whiskers into that which makes me purr. For the cat I’ve discovered it’s a simple matter – tap the spoon against the food dish. Big purr, and I’m the cat’s new best friend. There’s positive for you in the cat world! But for humans it’s more complicated, and it isn’t helped when every image we have thrust upon us is a bad one.

So I pulled the damned poem, scrunched it up and tossed it into the electronic bin as petulant nonsense. Instead, I counter the bad news of the world tonight with the simple pleasure of being back in the house where I was born, the house where I grew up. It’s not much of a weapon, I suppose, against the forces of evil, but it’s the most sincere thing in my armoury right now, and therefore the only thing I have that’s worth anything. I have such fond memories of this place, and of my parents – both gone now – and for whose lives, unknown to the world, I give thanks. Yes, there is great suffering, the causes being always, as Krishnamurti taught us, the defective thinking of man. And as a man, I cannot counter it with yet more defective thinking, because that’s only going to make things worse. We have to be positive, even if all we have left to us are the smallest things. I was raised in love, in this house and I remember it. I feel it most strongly, and I offer it back to the world, instead of that stupid poem.

The cat’s in again, looking at me. It’s either come to tell me I’m on the right lines, or I should put another log on the burner.

“Don’t sit the fire out, Michael.” That could be my mother speaking.

Cool creatures, cats.

Read Full Post »