Hard day

Posted July 20th, 2012 in Blog, Featured Comments Off on Hard day

Fostering Ecological Hope
Reflections on Culture and Meaning

by Margaret Swedish

There were so many things I wanted to write about today, some hard, some beautiful, all challenging. But I awoke, as we all did, to news of the Aurora, Colorado, massacre and have not been able to think about anything else.

Another massacre. Do we realize how unique a phenomenon this is in our world? I mean, we have wars and civil wars, human rights violations and politically motivated mass murder all over the world, but rare it is that an unstable person manages the weaponry and skill involved to pull of massacres of this scale – and yet here in this country they are becoming common.

Let’s not take the easy route by getting all exercised about gun control, as I’ve seen on some Facebook posts today. CNN just announced that all of this young man’s weapons were purchased legally. That is shocking. That is wrong. That is sick. This nation has armed itself, and it will take generations to reverse this old Wild West, adolescent attachment to our guns.

But this is about something much more profound than gun control laws. Let’s not blame too easily an enemy so convenient as the NRA, though they have a great deal of blood on their hands for all they have done to arm our people. No, this would be way too easy – and leave us all off the hook. The NRA is not cause but reflection of something deeply disturbing within this gun-loving, remarkably violent society.

This guy, James Holmes, is part of us. He plays a role in the pathology of the culture. Demonizing him would be so simple and leave us an excuse to avoid the deep soul-searching that these massacres beg from us.

Who the hell created these people and these acts? No one is born a “natural” killer, as if it was part of their DNA. Life hurts and destroys a human being who arrives at a moment like this, walking into a crowded theater armed and masked and opening fire.

We think we can create a society of vast inequities and exclusions, a society shredding its safety net right now, a society that worships violence (as in this Batman film), a society that bullies, hates, insists on rugged individualism, that disdains the troubled, the odd, the not-like-us, that guts a couple generations worth of decent wages and benefits sending workers into poverty or near-poverty, where banks are protected even after they have destroyed the lives of millions of people with their greed and financial crimes, a society in which we wash our hands of one another rather than take responsibility for and with one another – and think, what? – that there won’t be pathological outbursts along the edges of such a culture, and then insist that these reflections are not an expression of who we are and who we have become?

Obama said a decent thing today:  “Ultimately what matters [is] how we choose to treat one another and how we love one another.” Yes,  Mr. President, thank you for saying that. But can we show our love for one another when we send predator drones off to open fire and kill people in faraway places? Can we do that while we target people for indefinite detention and allow the government to spy on citizens? Can we do that when your government protects the banks that have destroyed so many lives?

Do we look like we love one another when we are destroying the planet that so generously gave birth to us and allowed us to flourish over these tens of thousands of years? Do we love one another when by drilling and burning fossil fuels and being so reckless with the planet we have brought humanity to the point of ecological collapse that will cause untold suffering?

Yes, for gods’ sake, get the guns off the streets! And still people like Holmes who are driven to kill will kill – until what creates this pathology is addressed and healed.

I love this quote from Thich Nhat Hahn that I put on Facebook this morning:

“Our suffering is holy if we embrace it and look deeply into it. If we don’t, it isn’t holy at all. We just drown in the ocean of our suffering.”

Sounds a whole lot like this from James Baldwin:

“Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

This society is uniquely unwilling to face itself and what generations of glorification of the individual, of wealth, and of power have done to us as a society. We have racism screaming at us every day of our lives since an African-American family moved into the White House, and we can’t call it racism, that’s not allowed, or it is ridiculed, because we don’t really want to look at this legacy of white superiority and slavery that still runs amuck among so many of our people.

Look at the angry reaction when the concentration of wealth is named for what it is! Look at how we speak of teachers and other public sector workers, or union members, in a society where bankers and greedy millionaire politicians every day do what they can to steal yet more wealth from all of us! They want your Social Security savings to invest, seeing in that Trust Fund a monumental pot of wealth on which they would like to get their hands. They are impoverishing workers, unemployed, marginal communities and families, replacing good-paying jobs and some security in life with fear, anxiety, frustration, and rage.

And on the marginal edges of such a society, some people already struggling with family dysfunction or mental health issues from a history of abuse or neglect suddenly emerge with guns blazing.

Where did they come from? Now there is a question that needs to be faced.

Check this out, a link from one of my FB friends today: American Tourists Flock to Israeli Settlement Shooting School. This, my friends, is the moral universe in which James Holmes exists.

So, we want ecological hope. But to get there, we have to go far deeper than changing our consumer habits or hoping we can stop pipelines or buy a hybrid car or even save the wetlands. We have to alter a cultural orientation to the earth and to one another that has created the situation in which we find ourselves.

Seventy-one people killed or wounded in a movie theater this morning, the largest such attack in US history. Hundreds more are traumatized forever, and families and friends face a lifetime of coping with the loss, the nightmares, the grief, the fear and rage that will linger long. Yes, sure, we should yell and scream about getting these guns off the streets. But even that will take a shift in the culture. Look at the photo from the article on the shooting school. Until we change the culture that created this, we will have more of these shock waves to look forward to.

Joanna Macy writes in her new book Active Hope   [co-written with Chris Johnstone):

“What we see here is how personal well-being, community well-being, and planetary well-being are linked to the way we view our self. The extreme individualism of our culture is harmful at all three levels. To promote the recovery of our world and the healing of our communities, while also leading lives that are rich and satisfying, we need to embody a larger story of who and what we are.”

When we begin to see that we are all connected, that no act is isolated, when we begin to perceive this larger story and ourselves within it, when we become courageous enough to look deeply into this suffering, we may begin to find our way through it toward its end.

But that will not happen without that deep looking, deep honesty, deep truth-telling, and deep, deep healing from the damage this worship of the individual self and profoundly mistaken belief in our separateness has brought into our world.


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