Category Archives: Religion

Bringing God and Finding Death: A Christian Missionary on North Sentinel Island

Curiosity for the undiscovered last tribe, that tantalising moment when eyes are cast upon the previously unseen, remains the anthropological Holy Grail.  But to do so would lead to the natural consequences that come with contact and invasion: the foisting of an alien divinity upon others, most probably a monotheistic Sky God, whose grammatically challenged invocations are found in a holy text.  Then would come the introduction of terminal disease, the mod cons, and ultimate extinction.

For the inhabitants of North Sentinel Island, part of India’s Andaman and Nicobar islands, isolation is both conservation and vulnerability.  Encounters have been recorded, though these are unflattering for modern audiences reared on sanitised words.  Marco Polo wrote, around 1296, of “a very large and wealthy island called Angaman” populated by men with “heads like dogs, and teeth and eyes also like dogs.  I assure you that, as regards their heads, they all look like big mastiffs”.  An inventive man, was the cheeky Dalmatian.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Sign of Four adds to the exotica of terror, with his Dr. Watson describing a villainous Andaman Islander sporting “murderous darts” and a “face [that] was enough to give a man a sleepless night.”  He had “features so deeply marked with all bestiality and cruelty.”  Never to be outdone, Sherlock Holmes, plucking a volume from his shelf, finds it describing a people, after Polo’s fashion, as “naturally hideous having large misshapen heads, small, fierce eyes, and distorted features.”

Contact with the shy locals has proven fatal, though not always.  In 1867, the passengers and crew of the wrecked Indian merchantman, the Nineveh, managed to survive attacks launched by, in the description of the captain’s report, “perfectly naked” men “with short hair and red painted noses… making sounds like pa on ough”.

A more recent display was at hand in August 1981, when the crew of the Panamanian-registered freighter, the Primrose, ran aground on a reef near North Sentinel after enduring heavy weather.  Initial relief turned to terror. “Wild men, estimate more than 50, carrying various homemade weapons are making two or three wooden boats,” came the wired distress call from the captain, sent to the Regent Shipping Company’s offices in Hong Kong.  “Worrying they will board us at sunset.  All crew members’ lives not guaranteed.”  The crew, armed with piping, axes and a flare gun – kept up a week long vigil till the arrival of both a tugboat and helicopter, courtesy of the Indian Navy.

In 2006, two apparently intoxicated Indian fishermen, Sunder Raj and Pandit Tiwari, were less fortunate in their poaching ventures, meeting their gruesome end after straying into the island’s proximity.  Efforts by an Indian Coast Guard helicopter to recover the bodies was foiled by Sentinelese armed with bows and arrows.

The dangers were just as grave to the tribes ringed by the Andaman Sea.  Colonialism, fuelled by the penal experiments pioneered by such vessels as the East Indian Company steamer Pluto, put pay to the culture of the Great Andamanese people, their people perishing to measles and syphilis.

A British naval officer, Maurice Vidal Portman, gave the world a highly conventional demonstration about how a new civilisation treats another: You kidnap their members, and observe them in captivity.  Essentially incarcerating a select few, adults and offspring, Portman witnessed the adults ail and die.  The orphaned children were returned to their abode.  He did, at least, have the grim sense to observe in 1899 that, “We cannot be said to have done anything more than increase their general terror of, and hostility to, all comers.”

Efforts to engage the islanders, propelled by insatiable curiosity, have never stopped.  As late as 1975, the efforts by a documentary maker for National Geographic attempting to cover North Sentinel resulted in an arrow in the leg.  In 2000, historian Adam Goodheart got the bug and ventured to North Sentinel, observing, from a safe distance along the shoreline, figures “facing us, and one of them was holding something long and thin – a spear?  A bow?  Impossible to tell.”  The title of his contribution to The American Scholar was predictably inelegant and suggestive:  “The Last Island of the Savages.”

The Indian government has banned travel to the island on penalty, a situation that has had the unintended effect of turning the surviving individuals in question into residents of an open air, inaccessible zoo.  That zoo, a natural entrapment of hunter-gatherers, is written about as an existence of finite contingency, a curiosity that must surely meet its demographic, if not cultural reckoning.  Sita Venkateswar, writing in The Scientific American, asks how long this “window to our past” will remain open.

A degree of added exoticism that accompanies such moves has also been accentuated by a 2017 ban on the taking of photographs or the making of videos of the protected Jarawa and other tribal communities of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, including the Andamanese, Onges, Sentinelese Nicobarese and Shom Pens.  As the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) outlined in a statement last year, “removal of these objectionable video films from YouTube and initiate action on those who uploaded these video clips on social media platforms” was an imperative. Penalties of up to three years imprisonment apply.

John Allen Chau fell for the temptation, wishing to bring his own variant of the Sky God to this population numbering anywhere between 50 to 150 people.  Had he been a more cognisant student of the island’s history, he would been aware that those bringing gifts, however well intentioned, are bound to be met by more arrows than sympathy.  The crew of anthropologists, armed police and a photographer for National Geographic met just that in 1974 despite, wishing to, according to one of the scientists, “win the natives’ friendship by friendly gestures and plenty of gifts.”  History is replete with instances where the gift-giving foreigner ends up doing far more than simply being generous; disease, alcohol, land theft tend to follow, almost always with the god of Christianity thrown in.  Chau’s own gifts were more modest: a small soccer ball, fishing line, a pair of scissors.

On North Sentinel Island, the hopeful Chau envisaged, according to his notes, a “kingdom of Jesus” springing up in the community, a proselytising language all too reminiscent of those missionary forebears described by Edward Andrews in 2010 as “ideological shock troops for colonial invasion whose zealotry blinded them”.  All Nations, an international Christian missionary group, merely confirmed this sentiment: “John was a gracious and sensitive ambassador of Jesus Christ.”

An unimpressed Dependra Pathak, director general of police of the Andaman and Nicobar islands, steadfastly denied any tourist label for the intrepidly foolish Chau, feeling that he had gotten there under false pretences.  (God bothering types can be economical with motives when required.)  “We refuse to call him a tourist.  Yes, he came on a tourist visa but he came with a specific purpose to preach on a prohibited island.”

The 26 year old from Washington State became a twenty-first century victim of an old curiosity. He had done so before, some four times, always with the assistance of local fishermen who gave him unheeded warnings.  Accounts of these visits, both in terms of frequency and how he got to the island, vary: he is said to have also ventured to North Sentinel by canoe from November 15 on a few occasions, having made contact with the inhabitants.  On those occasions, he returned safely, though he was attacked.

Chau showed the quizzical nature of the confused faithful.  Why would these tribesmen be aggressive?  He, as any truly paternalistic invader, had “been so nice to them”.  His faith was sufficiently strong to excuse any death he might suffer. “Do not blame the natives if I am killed.” And killed he was, his dragged body seen on the beach on November 17 by the fishermen who warned him.  With a globe now choked by the mantra of mandatory interconnectedness, being an untouched island community is not only a heresy but a crime for the curious.  “They are not wanting anything from you,” explained the Indian anthropologist T.N. Pandit, who had made visits to North Sentinel between 1967 and 1991.   “They suspect that we have no good intentions.”  How logically prescient.

Tanzania’s Homophobic Crackdown casts a Shadow on Canadian Missionaries in Africa

Canadians should express their solidarity with Tanzanians facing politically inspired homophobia. But, we must also be suspicious of journalism that ignores Canadian complicity in the promotion of anti-gay ideology.

Last weekend the Globe and Mail and CBC both reported on a Christian politician in Dar es Salaam who announced a scheme to track down and arrest gays. Titled “Tanzania’s homophobic crackdown casts a shadow on Canadian aid”, the Globe story insinuated that Ottawa should sever assistance to the country in protest while the CBC noted, “official anti-gay prejudice in Tanzania is causing Canadian officials to reassess this country’s relationship with one of Canada’s biggest aid recipients.”

While raising the subject of “Canadian aid”, the Globe and CBC both ignored how this country’s “assistance” to the region has, in fact, fostered the social conservatism that the stories bemoan. For example, while the Stephen Harper Conservative government was in power international aid funding for religious NGOs increased substantially. In an MA thesis titled “Canadian Foreign Aid and the Christian Right: Stephen Harper, Abortion, and the Global Culture Wars in Sub-Saharan Africa, 2006-2015Erin Jex details Ottawa’s support for socially conservative forces on the continent. In a high-profile example Crossroads Christian Communications, an Ontario group that listed “homosexuality” with pedophilia and bestiality as a “sin” and “perversion”, was granted more than half a million dollars for a project in Tanzania’s neighbour Uganda.

But Canada’s contribution to social conservatism in Tanzania goes back over a century. During the 100th anniversary of Tanzania’s St. Philip Theological College in 2014 Ontario Anglican Reverend Gary Badcock claimed homosexuality was a “first world” problem and that homosexuals would steal their children. A Western University professor, Badcock delivered the keynote speech because St. Philip Theological College was founded by a graduate of Huron College (now part of Western) in London, Ontario. Thomas Buchanan Reginald Westgate was a Canadian missionary who joined the Church Missionary Society in German East Africa (Tanzania) in 1902. With the support of the Ontario branch of the Church Mission Society, Westgate remained in the German colony for over a decade. As I detail in Canada and Africa: 300 years of Aid and Exploitation, Westgate worked with a German colonial administration that killed hundreds of thousands between 1905 and 1907. The Watford, Ontario, born missionary translated parts of the Old Testament into Cigogo, the language spoken by the Gogo nation in central Tanzania. He promoted a Christian ideology antagonistic to homosexuality in what would become a British colony. (Three-dozen former British colonies have some version of the United Kingdom’s 1533 Buggery Act, which makes homosexuality illegal.)

Another Ontario native by the name of Marion Wittich (later Marion Keller) set off with her husband to proselytize in Tanzania in 1913. Her husband died in Tanzania and several years later she remarried a man by the name of Otto Keller, a German-born US émigré, who the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (PAOC) sponsored to set up a mission station in Kenya, which borders Tanzania. In 1914 Otto Keller claimed that “here [Africa] we see the power of the devil in an astonishing form, almost beyond belief. The noise of drunken men and women, fulfilling the lusts of the flesh come to our ears. All seemingly bound and determined to fulfill the cup of their iniquity.” By the time Marion Keller died in 1942, the socially conservative PAOC had over 200 branch churches in Kenya.

PAOC missionaries served in a number of colonies and set up a publishing house in 1928 that distributed Pentecostal literature in numerous African languages. PAOC remains active across the continent and promotes anti-gay views. A registered charity, it has also received substantial sums from Canada’s international development agency.

The first Canadian missionary arrived on the continent in 1860 and by the end of the colonial period as many as 2,500 Canadians were proselytizing across Africa. The largest interdenominational Protestant mission on the continent was founded in 1893 by Torontonians Walter Gowans and Rowland Victor Bingham. The Sudan Interior Mission, which initially focused on Nigeria but operated across Africa, was boldly fundamentalist. In a book about the organization titled Evangelical Christians in the Muslim Sahel, Barbara M. Cooper notes that to be a SIM missionary one had to accept that “the Bible is the ‘inerrant’ word of God (a rejection of historically grounded Biblical criticism); God consists of three persons (father, son, and Holy Spirit); all humans suffer from original sin and must be reborn; humans will go to heaven or hell in the afterlife as a consequence of their spiritual condition (their rebirth or failure to be ‘born again’); Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, he atoned for human sin with his bodily resurrection, and his second coming is imminent; Satan exists literally (not simply figuratively) and acts in the world; the Christian church is the whole body of those who have been reborn (implicitly excluding Christians who are not ‘born again’); and Christ’s great commission was to order his followers to share these ‘truths’ to every people (therefore to be a Christian is to evangelize).” A registered Canadian charity, SIM remains active across the continent.

In addition to its ability to offer tax credits for donations, SIM has received significant sums from Canada’s international development agency.

To support Tanzanians facing politically inspired homophobia Canadians should press Ottawa to re-evaluate its relationship — both charitable status and aid funding —to anti-gay groups. And, to set the record straight, perhaps the Globe and Mail could publish a follow-up piece headlined “Tanzania’s homophobic crackdown casts a shadow on Canadian missionaries in Africa.”

Facing the music: religion, nationalism, and sports have enchanted the working class; socialism hasn’t

Orientation

Religion, nationalism and sports as propaganda for the ruling class.

In the closing section of my course Brainwashing Propaganda and Rhetoric: Dark Psychology in the 20th Century, I ask my students to compare organized religion, nationalism and sports, not only to determine the kind of propaganda they are (black, gray or white), but also the devices and artifacts that are used. This includes the use of architecture, statues, rites of passage, liturgy, sacred music, pilgrimages, holy days, use of visual symbols, language manipulation and techniques for altering states of consciousness. The world religions have used these processes for at least 3,500 years to exploit, control and distract people from their misery on earth and direct us instead to variations of ‘you’ll get pie in sky when you die’.

The history of nationalism over the last 400-500 years has closely followed the techniques of organized religion. In fact, I think it is fair to say that nationalism is more powerful than moderate and liberal religion in motivating people. I doubt whether most people of liberal or moderate religion in the West would sacrifice their life for their religion. But at least among the working class who sign up for the military, nationalism can motivate people to fight and die to kill strangers in other countries who share the same social class.

Sports, as opposed to religion or nationalism, is a more joyous escape from the difficulties of life. If I were a betting person, I would bet most Americans might go to the barricades if the AFC and NFC championships were not televised. A championship playoff game such as the World Series could certainly outdraw any religious or patriotic ceremony in TV ratings. And what is the result? Who wins the game ultimately has little effect on the lives of the fans. Yet they continue to watch. This is some mighty potion going’ on. Do the socialists understand it? Do we use similar techniques to win the working classes to socialism? Not on your life!

Qualification

I am certainly not claiming that religion or nationalism has the same hold on people in the 21st century that they did in the 20th century. At least in the western countries, there has been a steady decline of interest in religion. Nationalism certainly does not have the grip on Europe that it did in the 19th and 20th centuries. Still, in spite of this decline, both carry enormous power.

I   Socialists’ Failures to Come to Grips With Enchantment

It’s not enough for socialists to simply claim that religion, nationalism and sports are examples of “false consciousness” for the working class.

I would think that socialists, being social, would be hip to what is going on with these propaganda techniques. Sure, you may find cultural critics beginning with the Frankfurt School who will bemoan the lack of taste among the masses and state how all religion, nationalism and sports produce false consciousness. But this is a very mechanical and unnecessarily bleak understanding of the potential of the techniques used in these areas to light a fire under the working class. We must not only point out the manipulative nature of enchantment, but we need to be dialectical and ask how we could use these techniques to promote socialism. After all, the construction of a sacred space (whether a church or a ballpark), a dramatized story, ritualized gestures, and the use of music and the arts to alter consciousness is not just naïve superstition. It is part of our bio-evolutionary heritage to be interested in these things. The alternative to the alienated enchantment of sports, religion and nationalism is not de-enchantment, as so many dry-as-dust socialists seem to think. We must build a “this-worldly” pagan enchantment that is a foundation for socialism.

Socialists’ failures against nationalism and religion

Three examples should give you the picture. The first is the famous one of socialists before World War I. The socialist parties in Europe and, to a lesser extent in the United States, were very confident that the workers of the world would unite to oppose the war. After all, the workers understood that they had no fatherland, right? Wrong. Not only did working class people kill each other after being whipped up to mass hysteria, but most of the socialist ministers, some of them great intellectuals like Kautsky, Plekhanov and Kropotkin got emotionally caught up in defending the fatherland. Socialism as a political movement of internationalism was no match for nationalism.

The second example is of Germany in 1933. During the depression in that country, the Socialist Democratic Party (SPD) was the strongest socialist party in the whole world. Economic conditions were bad. Great time for a revolution, right? What did the socialists do? According to the mass psychologist Wilhelm Reich, they simply fed the masses boring statistics about their condition. However, the Nazis understood that there is a charismatic side to people, a side that likes mythology, drama, pomp and circumstance, doomsday scenarios, scapegoats, black and white answers and promises of redemption. Goebbels and the Nazi brass understood mass psychology while the socialists were buried in the Enlightenment and the French Revolution.

My last example is about the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is one of the most horrendous institutions in the West in the last 800 years. Its officials committed every one of the “seven deadly sins” time after time as they tortured heretics and witches. They’ve made deals with royalists and military dictatorships and they have made peace with capitalists long ago. The Catholic Church has a record of child abuse that spans centuries. Yet many U.S., Italian, Spanish, French and all the other people in Catholic countries continue to attend mass and support the Church financially. At the same time, the socialist parties that actually do want to create heaven on earth with workers could not ever get masses of people to come to meetings once a week. People are too busy for that. But they are not too busy for church. How can this be?

The issue here is not that the working-class is stupid or that they are victims of false consciousness. Rather, I believe the issue to be:

The Church must be doing many things right to continue to collect their revenues and get people to attend in spite of being seen as the world’s first international terrorist organization.
Do the socialists understand this mass psychology? No, they do not.
Do the socialists think that the techniques of religion, nationalism and sports could be used to mobilize people for socialism? Ah, what?

Marx did not understand religion and nationalism

Marx said some very riveting things about religion. Among other things he saw the construction of “god” as an alienation of human creativity. But at the same time he believed that religion would wither away under communism as people’s material conditions got better. Clearly this has not been the case. Neither was Marx very dialectical about how religion could be used by socialists. With the exception of liberation theology, socialists have not understood how to transform all the ingredients that go into “cooking” a religious experience and mythologize a socialist story complete with music, ritual, mythology and patron saints. The closest instance of socialists doing something like this is May Day in southern European countries. It used to be that people made costumes for May Day and gathered together while wearing those costumes, sharing food and singing The International. All these things gave it some of the sweep and drama of religion.

The extent to which the Communist Party tried to outlaw religion is revealing in how little they understood it. All this did was to make it more attractive by burying it underground. Socialists also did not understand that nationalism would not disappear under socialism. During World War II Stalin needed to refer to the “Great Russian Fatherland” (hardly a call to socialist internationalism) in order to inspire and join people together through hardship.

Neither did socialists understand that race cannot be reduced to social class.

Again, Marxists’ general approach is that race will only preoccupy people when capitalists use race to keep people from uniting as a class. But once workers gain class consciousness, the issue of skin color will dissolve in people minds. This has not been born out in experience. In addition, because of Marxists’ cynical attitude towards evolutionary psychology they have yet to make current in their theory the fact that ethnocentrism goes all the way back to hunter-gatherers. While ethnocentrism and racism are not the same thing, ethnocentrism is present enough to see that the skin color of people does matter around the world and that this was present long before capitalism existed.

Marxists cannot explain how sports have charmed the working class

A number of years ago, Noam Chomsky commented on how amazed he was by the intelligence of working class people when they called into a sports talk program the Monday after Sunday’s NFL games. Their analysis of what plays didn’t work, what plays could have worked along with the strengths and weaknesses of the players was astounding. But then he pointed out how all this intelligence goes away when the same people are then asked to make a political analysis of the current events in their lives – working conditions, wages, war. The working class is mute when asked to explain how and why capitalism is failing. The question is not why working class people have cognitive compartmentalization, separating sporting events from their everyday life. The question is what does sports offer people that makes them so involved? Have socialists asked themselves what would have to happen to make working class people be carried away by socialism the way they are by sports?

As many of you know, a number of years ago the Seattle Seahawks played the New England Patriots in the Superbowl. The Seahawks were losing but had a great drive going at the end of the game. With about 90 seconds left and the ball on the New England one-yard line, the Seahawks quarterback decided to pass the ball rather than hand it off to Marshawn Lynch who had a great game. The pass was intercepted. I knew the next day in my brainwashing class, this was what they wanted to talk about. It wouldn’t have mattered if the stock market crashed. Why is this? Unless students were betting on the game, they had no material stake in the outcome. Still – most of the men in the class were very involved.

II  Bad Taste: A Communist is Swept Away By Baseball

Flashbulb memories of my performance as a baseball player

When I was about 7 years old I used to play a ‘let’s pretend’ game. I laid out 4 rags I’d gotten from the garage and placed them in a diamond form which represented the bases. The bases were about 45 feet apart. Then I looked at our house and took my batting stand and let my imagination take over. The scene is no doubt familiar to many of you. It is the last of the 9th inning, we are losing by three runs. The bases are loaded and there are two outs. Then I swing and hit the ball – tsssssch! “ As Mel Allen was saying in my head “there is a high fly ball deep to right center. The centerfielder is at the track. It is going, going, gone”. Then I would trot around the bases. As I got older I played a great deal of hardball and I hit home runs, but never quite experienced the situation I imagined when I was seven until my last year of playing.

In 1968 our team from Brooklyn got into a playoff game at Victory Field which was one of the fanciest fields around. My girlfriend Rose Nuccio let it be known to me that this was the last time she was coming to my games. Sunday was her only day to sleep in. “Besides” she said, “you are 0-8” (referring to my performance in the last two games.) She brought her sister Miriam along with her for this game. In the top of the first inning I am up with two guys on base and two outs. The left-handed pitcher, Rick Honeycutt, throws me a high inside curve ball.

“Tshrush”! I tomahawk the pitch and the ball really does head for the right centerfield fence just like in my fantasy 13 years ago. As I watch the ball head for the fence time and space seem to contract. It’s as if I were in my backyard 13 years ago. The ball lands on the tennis courts on the other side of the fence scattering everyone. I am so out of it that as I make my rounds of the bases I miss first base. The coach has to get me to touch the base. As I round second I see Rosie and Miriam jumping up and down screaming like two young Italian gals will. The look on Rosie’s face as our eyes met was like a melting ray of sunlight that united our eyes. I missed third base too. Finally as I headed for home most everyone on our team came out to home plate to meet me. It was as if we won the World Series. I disappear in a mass of teammates at the plate.

I have told this story in my psychology classes as an example of a peak experience. I also use it in my brainwashing class to show how powerful sports can be in moving people. Virtually every time I tell the story I cannot help but become teary. I’ve seen students cry even though they know nothing about sports. Unless socialists can find a way to create this kind of drama, not occasionally but as part of a regular seasonal sequence, we will continue to be marginalized.

The lure of professional baseball: the return of the hero Ken Griffey Jr. to Seattle

My last example is about a baseball player many of you know. Ken Griffey Jr. was a great home run hitter for the Seattle Mariners for about 10 years. For whatever reasons, I believe he asked to be traded to Cincinnati, where he played for about another seven years. Probably because he was a left-handed hitting center fielder like I was, and because of his grace I liked him and followed his career. Then I heard he was traded back to the American League, to the White Sox. The following year he was traded back to Seattle. How would the fans feel? Would they hold a grudge because he left? I knew they wouldn’t. I wanted to see the homecoming so I watched the game when he came back to Seattle. The fans made signs and were screaming for him. They must have given him a 5-10 minute standing ovation. Tears streamed down my face. I wasn’t even a Seattle fan! What was going on was not a baseball game. It was the return of a god to his home ground.

Movie stars, musicians and sports figures are our gods and goddesses. These celebrities have happily replaced priests and military generals as our heroes. Like gods and goddesses, they enter into sports mythology complete with the stories of great World Series, great stories of betrayal (by playing for another team) drug scandals and homecomings. The people of Seattle understood that when they came to this game they were participating in the final days of a great sports god, and this mattered more than who won this particular game. If socialists cannot figure out that this is what is going on with sports fans and, even more importantly, how to use this energy for our purposes, we will continue to be marginalized.

III Socialist enchantment needs to happen before the revolution

Socialism has certainly had its events that could be claimed as peak experiences or even religious experiences. Anyone who had participated in a revolution knows these moments are euphoric and unforgettable. Anyone who participated in the Occupy Movement will not soon forget it. And those centrists fools who think that Occupy “is over” will be in for a rude awakening as their spastic, decaying capitalist system will continue to undergo more nervous breakdowns. These breakdowns will only produce more “Occupies”.

But what about budding socialists who have never had revolutionary experiences? What do we have to offer them in the way of inspiring collective experiences before a revolutionary process begins? Throughout the year baseball has its opening day in April; the All Star game is in July; the World Series in October. Religion has its holy days peppered throughout the year. Nationalism has its holidays – President’s day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving. What is missing under socialism is a similar pageantry of rituals, joining in song and dance along with regular places to meet and celebrate. All of these things build a theatrical stage scaffolding for extraordinary revolutionary events. I am not talking about practical, political meetings. Theatrical stage sets might inform the practical but they are the celebration of the socialist tradition regardless of specific political or economic events that might be happening.

Socialists understand enchantment during and after revolutions, but before the revolution too many socialists are disenchanted crab apples. In part, this is because of a sad lack of yearly seasonal rituals that keep the fires burning between one revolutionary generation and the next.

Lastly, religion, nationalism and sports all have ways of linking the important events of the year to the lifetime of the individual. Catholics have confirmation at roughly the age of nine; Hispanic Catholics have quinceañera around a girl’s 15th birthday. In sports an individual might visit Cooperstown (Baseball’s Hall of Fame) for their birthday. Nationalism has its pilgrimages to the Washington monuments in the summer. What does socialism have to offer? Is it possible to have something like my baseball flashbulb memory tapped into some systematic experience that could be given to socialist children or adolescents? Would it be possible to have an experience of socialism before the revolution, which is similar to whatever it takes to make the fans wave their signs, scream for 10 minutes and become emotionally spent when their hero comes home and is paraded through the streets? Boy, does socialism need some of that potion. We need some Love Potion Number 9.

In Part Two we’ll explore in more detail what this might look like.

• First published at Planning Beyond Capitalism

Filming in the Most Depressing City on Earth: Jakarta

It stinks, it is the most polluted city on earth, but that is not the most terrible thing about it.

You can drive for ten or even twenty kilometers through it, and see only ugliness, fences and broken pavements. But there are many miserable cities on this planet, and I have worked in almost all of them, in 160 countries.

So why is ‘Jakarta killing me’?  Why am I overwhelmed by depression whenever I decide to film here, or to write about the state in which its citizens are forced to live? Why, really, do I feel so desperate, so hopeless?

I am tough. I hardly succumb to depression even in such places like the war-torn Afghanistan, Iraq, or in the middle of the toughest slums of Africa.

So, what is it, really, about Jakarta?

Here, I often speak about ‘immorality’, but again, what do I mean by this term? I am not a moralist, far from it. I have no religion, and I very rarely pass ‘moral judgments’, unless something truly outrageous unveils in front of my eyes.

So why, as so many others, do I land in this city in good spirits, and leave one or two weeks sick, broken, literally shitting my pants, full of wrath, despair?

Why? The Western mass media and local servile sheets are constantly bombarding the world, describing Jakarta as a ‘sprawling metropolis’, or to use the terminology of the Australian National University, as a ‘normal city’.

But it is not. In fact, it is the most ‘immoral’ place on earth that I know. It is one enormous monument to fascism, intellectual collapse, Western neo-colonialism and turbo-capitalism.

This time, right here, I will explain, briefly and determinately, why!

*****

You can actually avoid feeling this way, if you decide to land in Jakarta, work for a week or two surrounded by local ‘elites’ (usually shameless thugs), sail through life here with half-closed eyes. Or if you get paid well ‘not to see’. You can also be a Western journo who lives in one of high-rise condominiums, gets himself local bimbo for a girlfriend, and collects his ‘news’ from official briefings and press conferences.

Such foreign ‘visitors’ are warmly welcomed in Jakarta, and they get incorporated into the life of local tsars, of feudal ‘cream’, of bandits who double as business people or politicians.

It is not so difficult! You land at that lavish Terminal 3 of Soekarno-Hatta International Airport (half of things do not work here, already, or ‘yet’, but the terminal does look lavish), you can take a luxury limo to one of so many 5-star hotels, have meetings at a steel-and-glass office tower, dine in a posh mall where nobody shops (a money laundering concept), but where those with unlimited budgets, often dine. After all this you can leave thinking that Jakarta is just cool – bit ‘shallow’, too loud and too vulgar – but a ‘kind of cool’ city.

And you can, if you choose to never learn that about 90% of its citizens are actually living in slums.

That is, if ‘international standards’ for what is a ‘slum’ and what is ‘poverty’ or extreme poverty, were to apply here.

You see, ‘officially’, according to the treasonous Indonesian regime, only 9.9% of Indonesians are ‘poor’.

In Indonesia, you are not really ‘poor’, not necessarily, if you or your children are shitting into canal, and that canal is literally toxic from chemical, medical or other waste, and if, just a few meters ‘down the stream’, someone is washing clothes, or even brushing teeth, getting bit of your excrement. You are not ‘poor’ if you have no access to clean water, or to a decent electricity supply (almost nobody does in Jakarta, as the voltage fluctuates and destroys almost all electric appliances in no time). You are not poor if your children cannot afford to eat milk products and become physically or mentally ill from a lack of vitamins, minerals, or out rightly suffering from malnutrition. You are not poor if you are ‘functionally illiterate’, cannot compare and know close to nothing about the world.

In Indonesia, you are poor if your income is below Rp.400.000 per month (the definition applied since March, 2018). That is, as I write this essay, the equivalent of US$26 per month. Even the most cynical ‘absolute poverty’ line stands at US$1.25.

According to the UN declaration that resulted from the World Summit on Social Development in Copenhagen in 1995, absolute poverty is “a condition characterized by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education, and information. It depends not only on income, but also on access to services.”

If this definition were to be applied to Jakarta, at least, but probably more, than 90% of the population would have to be considered as ‘absolutely poor’. And most likely between 95 and 98 percent of people all over the entire archipelago.

But this whole country is wrapped in a duvet of lies and fabrications. Several years ago, when I was writing my big book about Indonesia Archipelago of Fear, Pluto, UK), I spoke to several leading statisticians from the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS), which is based in Montreal, Canada. I was told, on the record, that Indonesia does not have 245 million people as was commonly reported, but more than 300 million. However, all international and local statisticians are strongly discouraged from disclosing the real numbers. Why? Because those 60 or probably millions of more people simply ‘do not exist’.

If they ‘do not exist’, the state, the government, the regime, do not have to take care of them, to feed them, to even bother registering them. These are the poorest of the poor, the most vulnerable individuals.

Almost everywhere in the world, poor countries are addressing their social problems publicly, because they want to raise awareness of the plight of their people. Some nations are then combating their problems themselves (like China or Venezuela), or they are asking the international community for help.

In Indonesia, the rulers are covering-up the true horrors of the Indonesian reality. Why?

Because they don’t give a damn about the poor. They couldn’t care less about the great majority that actually lives in destitution. They don’t need ‘help’, because the people do not matter. What matters is the profits of the few who are from the ‘elites’, as well as servitude and prostitution to the Western rulers. After all, it was the West that triggered the 1965 coup in which between 1-3 million intellectuals, ‘atheists’, Communists and unionists lost their lives. And so, the Indonesian treasonous business ‘heads’, the military generals, religious leaders as well as the servile scholars and media ‘stars’ are merrily prostituting themselves, eternally grateful to Washington, London and Riyadh, for saving them from the just and egalitarian society, which the great father of the nation Soekarno and the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) were aiming at.

‘Positive statistics’, which are actually easily detectable lies, bring ‘more investment’ for their enterprises. Or so they believe. The Indonesian economy is almost exclusively based on the plunder of natural resources by foreign multi-nationals, as well as local companies. Profits end up in the pockets of very few. The business of the savage plundering of Kalimantan (Borneo), Sumatra and Papua has been monumental. The country has been almost fully stripped of its forests; it has leveled to the ground entire mountains and polluted mighty rivers. But the loot flows abroad, or it stays in the pockets of Jakarta’s chosen few.  Apart from ‘commodities’, Indonesia produces almost nothing of value. Its scientific research is basically nil, and its intellectual output minimal. Even judged by Western standards: the 4th most populous country on the planet, does not have one single Noble Prize laureate, and not one internationally recognizable thinker or a writer.

And so, there are those 5-star hotel towers, office buildings, and ridiculously overpriced malls and supermarkets (most of them designed and built by foreign companies), basically catering for those who steal, and never had to work for their money.

Living in slums that are not called slums

But in between, there are the so-called kampungs – ‘villages’ – where the great majority of Jakarta’s citizens live. A Kampung sounds romantic, but in reality, it is not – anywhere else on earth it would be called a slum. The slums of Jakarta and, in fact, of the entire Indonesia, are rat-infested, open sewage colossuses, with dark narrow alleys, toxic canals, and extremely limited access to drinking water (water in the capital was privatized by French and British companies, and as a result, the quality dropped and prices became unrealistically steep for the majority of people).

Except for just a few tiny dirty specks of green areas, and the most of the time closed small square in the center of the city called Monas, Jakarta has no public parks. Forget about public playgrounds for children, or public exercise machines! In fact, Jakarta has nothing ‘public’ left. Nothing ‘belongs to people’ – as everything was sold, corrupted, grabbed and privatized. A family of 4 has to pay around 7 USD to even enter Ancol, the only available beach area, despite the fact that Jakarta is theoretically a maritime city. But even in Ancol, despite the entrance fee, the tiny beach is littered with garbage, and a narrow promenade is broken and outrageously filthy. Otherwise – there is nothing!

A tiny public space a la Jakarta

In one enormous slum (sorry, kampung), I recently filmed hundreds of children playing in the middle of a cemetery, simply because they have no other places to go.

On the other hand, Jakarta has more mosques per square kilometer than any other city on earth that I know (and I have visited almost all Muslim countries). Mosques and small mushollahs, are literally growing on every street, often taking over land that should be intended for public use. But unlike in Malaysia or Turkey, these religious institutions do not provide playgrounds for children, or a ‘public space’.

The contrast between the tiny minority of extremely rich, and the destitute majority (I don’t believe that Jakarta has any substantial ‘middle class’, anymore), is so tremendous, that these two groups appear to be living on two absolutely different planets, while inhabiting the same city. The structure of Jakarta is such that the two realities often never even meet. And it is considered normal, by both the exploiters and the deprived masses.

Poor are used to being poor, obedient and ‘entrusting their fate into God’s hands’, in the Indonesian language called pasrah. And the rich are secretly laughing at the poor, all the way to the bank. I know them, the rich of Indonesia, too. I worked, for decades, with Indonesians from across the spectrum – from the poorest of the poor, to the richest of the rich.

*****

So why do I feel as I do? Why do I want to throw up?

Haven’t I worked in Mathare and the other tremendous slums of Nairobi, Kenya, or in Uganda, or India?

Yes, of course. I made films about the misery in Africa. But it is different there. In the entire city of Nairobi, which is the so-called service center of East Africa (much of the money from Uganda, Rwanda and even DRC Congo is being washed there), there is only one truly huge luxury mall, of which Jakarta has dozens. Comparing the palaces (ugly, vulgar, but palaces) that the Indonesians are building from the blood and sweat of the poor and from the theft of the natural resources, with those in Africa, the African ‘elites’ at least have some shame left. They don’t make contrasts so visible. They intuitively know that what they are doing is wrong, and often try to hide their wealth.

And in Africa, slums are called slums, and every slum dweller knows that his or her life is shit.

In India, things are bad, almost as bad as in Indonesia, but at least there is some true resistance, and the Communist Parties are regularly in control of various Indian states. Left-wing guerillas are fighting a civil war all over the sub-continent, and the country has some true great thinkers and intellectuals, most of them from the left.

The Indonesian poor have no idea that they are poor, they ‘thank God’ for what they have, or, more precisely ‘do not have’. And the super-rich looters are proud of their achievements. They are hiding nothing. On the contrary – they flash their wealth, knowing that they are above the law, or any moral principles. They drive their Mercedes limos right next to the slums, without fear. They are actually respected, not only feared. The more they steal, the more they are admired.

And if they are crossed, they kill.

They kill human rights activists, peasants who refuse to give up their land, or anyone who stands in their way.

Justice is totally corrupted. Actually, everything is. Only those who pay are protected.

To even just irritate the true owners of the city can lead to death. In Archipelago of Fear I wrote about the case of an owner of the former Hilton Hotel, who shot a waiter point-blank in his own establishment. Why? Because he had humbly dared to inform the owner’s girlfriend that her credit card had been declined. For the murder he only got a few years, and he bribed himself out just a few months after being put behind bars.

Not long ago, they put into prison the former moderately left-wing governor of Jakarta, known as Ahok, for trying to improve the infrastructure, sanitation and public transportation. The official charge: “insulting Islam”. A bad joke, really, as almost all Indonesian linguists agreed that there was no insult whatsoever. But again, it worked: to do something for the people, one risks being branded as a socialist, or a Communist (which here is illegal). To pay too much attention to the wellbeing of the common citizens may brand you as an atheist, which is also illegal. So, if you build a few new train lines, a few sidewalks, erect a couple of parks; you are risking ending up deep behind bars. Religions – be they Wahhabism or Pentecostal Christianity – have, for decades, been fully encouraged by the West, which is gaining greatly from destitution, ignorance and the obedience of the Indonesian masses.

Yes, I have seen a lot of horrors in this world, and faced indescribable cynicism. But Indonesia is truly ‘unique’, and so is its capital city.

It is like a huge, decaying carcass of a fish, inside which 12 million people breathe the most polluted air on earth, surrounded by indescribably ugliness, gloominess and pop-ridden meaninglessness.

And there is no fight, no true rebellion against this totally fascist arrangement of the city and the society.

The poor ‘know their place’. They have obediently accepted their fate. They steal from each other, insult and oppress each other. They do not dare to take on the real usurpers and bandit rulers. Or more precisely: they do not find them to be the real reason of their plight. In Jakarta, there is so much tension and hatred, but it is not directed against those who brought the city and the nation to their knees.

All this, while the rich do not even bother to look down at the masses. They actually do not even notice that the masses even exist. They make sure of not counting the tens of millions of monstrously poor human beings.

And the West lies, its media lies, and so do its economists.

Read the US and European newspapers and you will be told that Jakarta is a ‘sprawling metropolis’, that Indonesia is the ‘third biggest democracy’ (my god, according to them, India is No. 1), and that the Indonesian religions are moderate and tolerant.

*****

Jakarta is a shameless fusion of fascism and feudalism. As the great Australian painter George Burchett (the son of the legendary left-wing journalist Wilfred Burchett) once told me: “Cities are usually built for the people. But the Indonesian cities, particularly Jakarta, are built against the people.”

Ciputra Mall

I have written many times about Jakarta’s ‘cultural offering’. With 12 million inhabitants, it has not one permanent concert hall, its cinemas exclusively showing Hollywood junk, with some variations of Southeast Asian horrors and other garbage. The only art cinema at TIM has only around 30 seats and a very sporadic schedule. The few modern art museums are all privately owned, and avoid all social topics, or any criticism of capitalism and Western imperialism. But there are, of course, the paintings of Warhol and a few decadent Chinese artists mocking Communism, hanging on their walls. This way, the local elites can get even further indoctrinated, while taking their selfies.

Deeper thoughts are discouraged. Pop culture – its lowest grade – is literally everywhere. Intellectually, the city has been ruined since 1965.

Noise is everywhere, too. Loud, aggressive noise. Monstrous decibels that would be banned anywhere else in the world, beat people who are visiting malls. Mosques all over the city are, unlike their counterparts even in the Middle East or Malaysia, broadcasting entire sermons over the Orwellian-style loudspeakers, at least five hours a day, but sometimes much longer. Churches of extreme right-wing orientations preach ‘Prosperity Gospel’, periodically telling the worshipers that “God loves the rich and that is why they are rich, while hating the poor and that is the reason why they are poor.” To escape religions is impossible. To escape noise is impossible. It often appears that the people of Jakarta are terrified of silence. Silence would make them think, and thinking could lead to some extremely frightening conclusions.

*****

And therefore, I film.

I film broken pavements – tiny narrow sidewalks made from unmatched tiles, polluting scooters and unhygienic eateries blocking the way of the few daring pedestrians. Why is all that happening? Because nothing public is respected or put together well. Everything that is not for a fee, is simply dreadful. And it is designed to remain that way.

I am filming slums. I am filming filth, such filth which these days hardly exists even on the Sub-Continent. I cannot believe my own eyes, and so I film. I always believe my lenses.

Bus way stop — doors not working, people often fall to their death

I know the arteries of the city, big and small. I know the corners, back alleys, clogged waterways. I know the humiliated, imprisoned waterways, surrounded by miserable dwellings.

I know the old city – Kota Tua, built by the Dutch and so badly restored, that UNESCO recently refused to put it on its prestigious World Heritage Sites list.

It is easy to accuse me of being anti-capitalist, or “anti-Indonesian regime” of thieves and of barefaced collaborators. But it is impossible to accuse me of not knowing the country and its capital city. I have literally been everywhere, covering every conflict here, for more than twenty years, witnessing the atrocities committed against the people, nature and the culture.

Wherever I go in this world, I speak about Indonesia and Jakarta. It is my warning to the world.

The Indonesian nightmarish scenario has already been implemented in many parts of the world, by Western imperialism, but, has often failed as it was too monstrous for other people to swallow. The West tried to replicate Jakarta in those countries that I deeply love and call home: they tried it in Pinochet’s Chile (“Watch out, comrades, Jakarta is coming”, Allende’s people were told), but Chile rose and both the regime and the fascist system were smashed. They tried it in Yeltsin’s Russia, and again, the people rejected this horrible extremist horror show.

Jakarta is not just a city – it is a concept. Perhaps it should one day become a verb – “to Jakarta”. That would mean, to sacrifice people to greed, corruption, business, religion and foreign interests.

But it is not omnipotent. It can be confronted and defeated. We fought against Jakarta in both Santiago de Chile and Moscow. And we won.

And we will win elsewhere, too. Maybe even in Jakarta itself, one day…

All this explains why I often come to both Borneo and Jakarta – to work on films, to define and document the horror, to warn the world what has already been done to the Indonesian nation.

I try to cut through lies. I try to explain that Dilma Rousseff, the former President of Brazil who was impeached (during a constitutional coup) because of the ‘massaging of statistics’ before the elections (something that is commonly done in many countries including those in the West) would have to be, theoretically, executed by a firing squad, or quartered by a mob, if she were to do proportionally what the government of Indonesia is doing without any scruples or second thought. In Jakarta, they do not ‘massage’ – they pervert, lie, and call black, white, and day, night. And they get away with everything. No one dares to challenge them. And they get rewarded by the West – as long as they rob the country and its people of everything, and deliver huge part of the loot to the gates of Washington, Canberra, Paris and London.

I get exhausted. And ‘broke’ once in a while (because almost nobody wants to read about Indonesia, or watch films about it). And once in a while I get thoroughly depressed, temporarily losing faith in humanity. And I shit from the terrible food. And I get sick from the pollution. And I get exhausted from constant racist insults of the passers-by in this, one of the most racist countries on earth, which in just a bit over half a century has committed 3 monstrous genocides: in 1965, against the people of East Timor, and now against the Papuans. It is constant ‘bule’ (albino, or worse), but I am lucky, as my Chinese comrades suffer much worse insults, and, of course, my African comrades do as well, not to speak of my Papuan brothers!

Fascist Jakarta is a tough adversary. But I am tough, too. And so I go, drive and crawl through the dirt, noise and insults. Because it is needed. Because here is buried the key to the countless other conflicts that the West has implanted all over the world.

The Economist once described Indonesia as the least documented large country on earth. Right. And there are many reasons for it. I often describe 1965 as a “Cultural Hiroshima”, because almost all the intellectuals were either, killed, imprisoned or muzzled – overnight, and on the direct suggestions and orders from the West.

This is the most intellectually and mentally damaged country on earth, which often feels like one huge mental asylum. It is the biggest untold story of the 20th Century. Too many people got killed here. Too many people had killed. Everybody fears everything. But nobody dares to speak or to define things.

Jakarta is a city where people ‘don’t know’, or they simply refuse to know that they are being robbed of everything, that they have been fooled, and that they had been thoroughly brainwashed.

Here, cheap pop culture, Western junk food and forced dependency on filthy scooters and private cars are called ‘modernity’ and ‘progress’. Watching European football is a ‘sign of progress’. Mobile phones and text messages double as culture, and so do video games. Nobody reads books.

You ask the poor about poverty, and what do you hear? Women ‘put their fate in the hands of God’. Men begin ‘analyzing’, speaking like the IMF, using business jargon: “exchange rates, global economic situation, support for small businesses…”

In reality, the majority of local families, according to my own survey, lives on US$2-3 dollars a day (family of 4-5). Food in supermarkets costs 2-8 times more than in places like Germany. Therefore, the supermarkets are empty. The Majority of people shop at pasars – markets, where food is often full of cancerogenic chemicals, and filth is everywhere.

But most of people do not feel poor. They feel insulted when they are told that they live in misery. All without exception answer that they have nothing against capitalism. Most of them know nothing about the world; they have never been taught to compare.

Anti-Communist Museum

Everybody ‘hates Communists”, as demanded by the West and by the local rulers. There are entire anti-Communist museums here, and people going out to go there, even paying from their own pocket to get further indoctrinated. If you tell them that all they see is one huge lie, they get mad, angry, sometimes even violent. Their entire lives are based on myths. Their lives depend on them, psychologically. If myths were to be taken away, their entire lives would collapse, as they would lose meaning. That is why there is too much noise, and no substance. People are scared. But they don’t know what frightens them.

Everybody thinks the same. There is hardly any variety. It is scary. Indonesia feels like North Korea, as it is presented by the West and its propaganda. But North Korea is actually totally different – there I found definitely much more intellectual diversity than in Jakarta!

Nobody wants to change things – at least not the system, the essence. People want “more money and better life”. Is their life bad now? “No!” Do they hold their elites responsible? “For what?” They don’t understand – they don’t know what I am talking about, or pretend they don’t know, when I ask such questions.

And the rich? Their kids are in the US, Japan or Europe, studying how to screw their own population even more, after returning back. For them, the greatest pride is to work for some foreign company, or to be awarded with the Western diplomas, and to be given some reward from Europe or the United States.

And the city is choking on its own gasses, garbage and excrement. While the rich have their condos and villas in Australia, California, Singapore and Hong Kong. They can get out of Indonesia whenever they want, as they have already stolen millions, billions of dollars. When they come back to Indonesia, it is to rob even more.

I have to admit, it is all ‘a little bit tiring’. Fine, honestly: it is exhausting. Documenting all this is deadly. So now you know.

And I also have to admit, it is often lonely working here. No one in his or her sane mind would come here to work. The expenses, both financial but also related to mental sanity and physical health, are tremendous. Rewards are near zero. The West does not allow the truth about Indonesia to reach the world, and therefore, no powerful criticism of the country can ever by aired by the mainstream media.

But it is my duty to speak. Therefore, I speak. And write. And film. And as my maternal Russian and Chinese grandparents did – I fight against fascism, regardless of the cost!

• All photos by Andre Vltchek

• First published in New Eastern Outlook (NEO)

Saving the Holy Land

Many readers will know of Kairos from their Palestine Document of 2009. This was a bold statement by a group of Christian Palestinians which told the truth about the tragic situation in their country under Israeli occupation…. “a cry of hope in the absence of all hope”.

Kairos is Greek meaning ‘a critical moment in time’. The document was called ‘A Moment of Truth; A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering’. And it was published after the murderous onslaught by Israel against Gaza over Christmas and New Year 2008/9.

The Kairos people said they had “reached a dead end in the tragedy of the Palestinian people. The decision-makers content themselves with managing the crisis rather than committing themselves to the serious task of finding a way to resolve it.”

It was a long and comprehensive document so I’ll just quote this extract to provide a flavour:

Religious liberty is severely restricted; the freedom of access to the holy places is denied under the pretext of security. Jerusalem and its holy places are out of bounds for many Christians and Muslims from the West Bank and the Gaza strip. Even Jerusalemites face restrictions during the religious feasts. Some of our Arab clergy are regularly barred from entering Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is the heart of our reality. It is, at the same time, a symbol of peace and sign of conflict. While the separation wall divides Palestinian neighbourhoods, Jerusalem continues to be emptied of its Palestinian citizens, Christians and Muslims. Their identity cards are confiscated, which means the loss of their right to reside in Jerusalem. Their homes are demolished or expropriated. Jerusalem, city of reconciliation, has become a city of discrimination and exclusion, a source of struggle rather than peace.

Also part of this reality is the Israeli disregard of international law and international resolutions, as well as the paralysis of the Arab world and the international community in the face of this contempt. Human rights are violated and despite the various reports of local and international human rights’ organizations, the injustice continues.

We also declare that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is a sin against God and humanity because it deprives the Palestinians of their basic human rights, bestowed by God…. We declare that any theology, seemingly based on the Bible or on faith or on history, that legitimizes the occupation, is far from Christian teachings, because it calls for violence and holy war.

In 2012 came ‘The Iona Call’ in answer to the Kairos Palestine document. It said:

We are called to respond boldly to the deepening suffering of our sisters and brothers in Palestine under occupation by Israel.We believe it is necessary to challenge the deafening silence of most churches in the face of the continuing injustice of dispossession and denial of basic human and political rights. We agree with the Kairos Palestine document that the occupation by Israel is an evil and a sin.

We ask our churches and theological institutions to challenge how the Bible has been used to justify oppression and injustice.We support Palestinians in their non-violent resistance to Israeli injustice and oppression. We endorse their call for boycott, disinvestment and sanctions (BDS) and other forms of non-violent direct action. We call on Christians to put pressure on governments and the European Union to demonstrate a commitment to justice for Palestinians and security for all people. [The added emphasis is mine.]

In 2017 Kairos Britain merged with Friends of Sabeel UK and became Sabeel-Kairos. The former had been seeking a just and lasting peace in the region based on the realisation of full human and political rights for all. The latter supported the Sabeel Theology Centre in Jerusalem, encouraged the Christian community in the Holy Land in their life and witness, and raised awareness in the UK of Christians in the Holy Land and promoted links with them. Let us hope the marriage bears fruit.

“An inhumane situation that must be changed”

Then, earlier this year Kairos issued a Statement on Gaza and Jerusalem reminding the world that on 14 May 2018 (the 70th anniversary of the proclamation of an Israeli State) Israel slaughtered 60 people and wounded or maimed 2771 among crowds in Gaza walking unarmed towards their villages, which they had been forced to leave.

They were killed in cold blood and posed no threat to anybody. At the same time, the American embassy was relocated to Jerusalem in violation of international law. The transgressor is the great power that should call on others to respect international law.

We live in an inhumane situation that must be changed. The siege on Gaza, on two million people living on land of merely 380 km², must be lifted. The West Bank must be liberated and the people in it regain their freedom and complete equality must be ensured for all inhabitants…. This is the 70th year of this painful truth: the Holy Land has become the land in which human beings kill each other….

We call upon the international community to remember its own resolutions and to abide by them. We call upon churches to be the conscience of humanity and hear the cry of the oppressed in the Holy Land. We call upon them to condemn the Christian Zionists whom we saw in these days contradicting the Gospel of love and peace, by supporting oppression and injustice, under the pretext of prophecies, and standing with the powerful of this world in their injustices.

We urge the international community to shoulder its responsibilities. We call upon it to exert every pressure, even sanctions if necessary, to force Israel to follow the path of peace and justice…. abandon its apartheid practices and comply with international law.”

Ugly reality

They have just announced their intention to launch a Kumi (Rise Up) project later this month. Sabeel is inviting local and international individuals and organizations to join and work as a united force.

The Kumi project, they say, is founded on these three values:

  • Inclusivity: everyone is welcome to join the movement.
  • Justice: based on international law, ending the occupation (including Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem), the right of return, and equal rights for all citizens of Israel.
  • Nonviolent resistance: a commitment to using nonviolence as the only form of resistance.

Its aim is to raise awareness about Palestine and exert pressure on the powerful decision makers of the world to do what is right and end the occupation. With their deep knowledge they have drafted as good a discription of the dire situation as I have seen:

The ugly reality of the present situation has created a feeling of hopelessness for many Palestinians. In our attempt to stand firm in the face of oppression, many believe that we have no chance of success and rightfully feel that we have reached rock-bottom. From global to local levels, we are disheartened by the current reality.

First, at the highest level, the United Nations continues to prove that they are not capable or willing to implement their own resolutions when it comes to Palestine, nor are they able to pass new resolutions to protect the Palestinian people living under military occupation without being blocked by a veto from the United States.

Second, the major players in the international community, including the European Union, UK, China, and Russia, have not shown real political will to help Palestinians achieve their rights.

Third, the United States of America, considered the superpower of the world today, continues to disregard international law and ignores the call to stand for Palestinian rights. Both Democrat and Republican governments have failed to advocate for justice and lasting peace in the land.

Fourth, Israel has become a captive of its own fears and fundamentalist views.

Fifth, we Palestinians feel overwhelmed with what is happening in the Arab World. From the failure of the Arab Spring to bring true and lasting reform, the escalating sectarian wars, the disrespect of human rights, to the growth of religious extremism, we do not expect help from our Arab brothers and sisters.

Sixth, we witness the lack of true coordination between human rights organizations in Palestine, Israel, and around the world developing a clear road map so that a solution based on justice and international law is achieved.

Finally, the internal divisions and disputes among Palestinians have restricted our ability to resist as one united people. These divisions have not only broken our resistance but have also broken our spirits, making us feel completely helpless in the face of oppression.

There’s nothing like telling it the way it is! But despite the many reasons for hopelessness, say Sabeel, they feel that giving up as a people on the margins simply isn’t an option.

Thankfully, Sabeel-Kairos maintains credibility by managing to separate themselves from the usual religious windbags who shy away from politics. The Christian Church ducks these uncomfortable issues by relying on ‘interfaith dialogue’ and maintaining the “deafening silence” referred to in the Iona Call. Take those great buddies the former Archbishop of Canterbury and former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Oodles of interfaith dialogue there. At top level too. But it made no difference. In a vicious attack Sacks recently called a mild remark by Jeremy Corbyn about Zionists 5 years ago “the most offensive statement made by a senior British politician since Enoch Powell’s 1968 ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech” and absurdly described Corbyn as “an anti-Semite” who has “given support to racists, terrorists and dealers of hate”. Sacks revealed himself in his true colours especially when it emerged that he had been promoting and leading the notoriously provocative March of the Flags each year on Jerusalem Day, which is an out-and-out religious hate fest terrorising Palestinians in their own homeland.

This appeared in Haaretz last year:

The march, largely attended by bussed-in yeshiva students, is associated with hate speech and violence. Haaretzs Bradley Burston describes it as an annual, gender-segregated extreme-right, pro-occupation religious carnival of hatred, marking the anniversary of Israel’s capture of Jerusalem by humiliating the city’s Palestinian Muslims. Marchers vandalized shops in Jerusalem’s Muslim Quarter, chanted “Death to Arabs” and “The (Jewish) Temple Will Be Built, the (Al Aqsa) Mosque will be Burned Down,” shattered windows and door locks, and poured glue into the locks of shops forced to close for fear of further damage.” 

Nice one, Sacks. He was elevated to the House of Lords in 2005 “for services to the Community and to Inter-faith Relations”. Oh, the irony of it.

Israel, said Sacks, is the place where his people were born almost 4,000 years ago. I read somewhere that Lord Sacks is of Polish/Lithuanian extraction. Can he demonstrate ancestral ties to the ancient Holy Land?

What Sabeeel-Kairos says helps campaigners and civil society keep focus on some of the essential issues in the big struggle ahead. I pick out the following:

  • Challenge the deafening silence of most churches and why the Bible has been used to justify oppression and injustice;
  • The ‘enemy within’ is often the Christian Zionist;
  • Call for boycott, disinvestment and sanctions (BDS) and other forms of non-violent direct action;
  • Need for better co-operation among human rights organisations and civil society groups in drawing up a road map towards a solution based on justice and international law;
  • America, the great power, must be persuaded to respect international law and call on others to do the same;
  • The siege on Gaza must be lifted;
  • The West Bank must be liberated and its people allowed to regain their freedom. Equality must be ensured for all inhabitants;
  • The international community must shoulder its responsibilities and the UN must show itself capable or willing to implement its own resolutions or dissolve; and,
  • Internal divisions have destroyed Palestinian resistance and undermined international support. The causes must be removed – urgently.

It’s sickening to read that Israelis continue to murder Palestinians daily, with impunity. I, for one, want to see campaigners target the those in Washington and London who could stop the systematic killing and impose justice but to their everlasting shame won’t.

Sharing is Key to a New Economic and Democratic Order

In order to meet the colossal challenges of the time, fundamental change to the socio-economic order is needed. The environmental catastrophe is the major issue, together with armed conflict, potentially nuclear. Both threaten the survival of humanity and the planet, and both are widely ignored by the men and women of power, whose short-term approach, obsession with ‘the economy’, and a nationalistic introspective view of the world is leading us to the precipice of disaster.

If humanity is to survive these interconnected crises and overcome other crucial challenges, including poverty, social injustice and the displacement of people, a totally new vision of the way society functions is required. At the root of much, if not all, of the chaos is the socio-economic model combined with inadequate, artificial forms of democratic governance. State and private institutions are interdependent monopolies of power that require radical democratization; deep-rooted systemic deficiencies must be addressed and altogether different values to those that are currently encouraged, inculcated.

Totalitarian Structures

Neo-Liberalism has infiltrated all areas of society and permeated life in virtually every corner of the world; it is a dysfunctional system that instead of serving human need is designed to provide wealth ‘beyond the dreams of Avarice for a privileged few,’ as Noam Chomsky puts it. Its very existence denies the manifestation of real democracy.

Flowing from this paradigm of injustice is extreme inequality leading to a wide range of social ills, high levels of unemployment – particularly among the young in many parts of the world – low investment in public services and, as the political/economic scientist C. J. Polychroniou, says, “rapidly declining standards of living, dangerously high levels of both public and corporate debt, a financial system that remains out of whack, and ecological collapse.” It is a decrepit global system propped up by the guardians of the status-quo, who are intellectually bankrupt, have no answers to the issues of the day but, desperate to cling on to power, use all their tools of control to resist change.

Within the existing forms political influence is concentrated in the hands of a tiny group of people and institutions — they run the corporate organizations and stock the governing executive, these are the wealthy and powerful — the ruling elite; corporations and their masters dominate this entitled ensemble; huge tyrannical institutions, unaccountable bodies with enormous power. As Noam Chomsky states, corporations are “one of the most tyrannical systems human beings have ever devised”. Control is concentrated at the top from where policy is made and orders are issued, managers pass on instructions and workers are expected to obey, conform, and be thankful to the beneficent company for buying their labor, albeit for a pittance compared to the pay checks of the boardroom. This is little more than wage slavery.

The raison d’être of the corporate world is to maximize market share and generate profits, irrespective of the impact on people or the environment. To do this they need the population to behave in ways consistent with their ideological approach to life, namely consumerism. Their persuasive message of pleasure and competition is spread to a weary populous via the communications industry, which they happen to own: the media, entertainment sector and advertising companies. These bodies color the social atmosphere, are responsible for setting the public agenda, facilitating collective discussion, and, together with education and (organized) religion are the principle outlets for mass conditioning, or what Walter Lippmann in Public Opinion (published 1922) called the ‘manufacture of consent’.

Corporate institutions actively work to curtail democracy and deny the establishment of a just economic system; they have tremendous influence over government policy and consistently obstruct environmental legislation. They operate in secret, have been granted extraordinary rights and access, and, as Chomsky says, have “complicated strategic alliances among alleged competitors” forming what some economists have called “Alliance capitalism big networks of tyrannical institutions basically running the world,” institutions which “have no right to exist any more than any other tyrannical systems,” and should be dismantled.

Over the last 30 years or so a worldwide protest movement has developed, huge numbers of people have united demanding socio-economic and democratic change, to be listened to by remote arrogant politicians and for a meaningful global response to the environmental crisis. In scale and scope the movement is unprecedented. People of all ages have come together expressing collective frustrations, demanding a new approach to living. The Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement were prominent expressions of the same underlying current for change, and, it could be argued, so were Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, albeit in a distorted, reactionary form.

Despite setbacks, an irresistible current of change is sweeping the world that will not be extinguished. The old forms must give way to the emerging ways of the time, the economic, political, social and in due time, religious forms that have crystallized and are incapable of responding to the needs of the many.

The 2008 financial crisis revealed some of the inherent flaws in the economic model, since when politics has become more polarized and reactionary, wages have been frozen, austerity has been enforced, punishing the poorest in society, and the financial system has been allowed to continue much the same. The lack of genuine change means that a second crash is a real possibility, indeed perhaps that’s what it will take to bring about the lasting systemic change that so many yearn for. As stated in the introductory literature for New Thinking for the British Economy, “the evident failings of our present economic system, and the growing political mobilization for change, suggest that we may be on the cusp of another major shift in economic thinking and policy.” A shift away from oligarchic systems of governance, and an unjust, unsustainable, environmentally abusive economic model, to a sustainable, participatory and just way of living.

The Age of Sharing

The same essential element in harmonious living and justice is absent from both the economic world and the political sphere: the principle of sharing. Placing sharing at the heart of a new economic paradigm would do more than any other single factor to bring about real change. It would completely alter the collective social atmosphere and allow for a range of other positive democratic ideals, such as social justice, tolerance and compassion, to manifest. Sharing of resources (including food, water and land), wealth/income, knowledge, skills, ideas, etc., sharing in the management of the institutions (state and private) that dominate society, and the bodies that one happens to work in or study at, and crucially sharing in the decisions and ideas that shape our lives; i.e., real participation.

In corporate democracies the right to vote and run civil society may exist, there may even be an independent judiciary, the observation of human rights (more or less) and unfettered (albeit monitored) access to information, but without social justice and meaningful participation it is not really democracy. It is an inadequate ideological construct, the nature and structure of which is set by those sitting within gilded offices of power, who limit its scope and control its expression; it is democracy owned by the corporate world entwined with the methodology of the market. As such its exponents are complicit in perpetuating injustice, maintaining concentrations of power, facilitating division and encouraging wage slavery. Participation is at best limited, competition, greed and personal gain over collective well-being are promoted and lived. Material success is held up as the aim of life, selfish tendencies are encouraged, feeding intolerance and division – all of which work to deny true democracy and stifle the good in humanity.

Real Democracy is meaningful participation in all socio-political/economic and business institutions. When this takes place positive aspects of human nature will begin to flourish and the structures that perpetuate the existing injustices will crumble under the weight of the good. Group participation, social responsibility and unity are essential elements in bringing about such a change and are key principles of the time, at the heart of which, and from which all else flows must be sharing, and for a range of reasons: sharing breaks down divisions and engenders trust, kindness grows and humanities inherent goodness can flower. Sharing is an expression and acknowledgement of our common humanity, cooperation takes place when we share, and as people cooperate they build relationships, form groups, exchange ideas.

Without sharing the corrosive patterns of the present will continue, as Chomsky puts it, “if we were to move towards [real] democracy we would say that there should be no maldistribution of power in determining what’s produced what’s distributed what’s invested and so on, rather that’s a problem for the entire community. In fact my own personal view is unless we move in that direction human society probably isn’t going to survive.”

This is a view shared by many; however, if one looks beyond the ugly theatrics of nationalism and fear an alternative vision of the future can be seen. A coalition of change is forming throughout the world and a shift in consciousness in underway. Perhaps unsurprisingly it is young people who are leading the way, they are less conditioned by the old order, have a powerful sense of social justice and freedom and care deeply about the natural environment.

We are at the beginning of the Age of Sharing, but it will not be gifted to us. Like movements of change throughout history it will be brought about by consistent coordinated action, by demanding change, by recognizing that we are all responsible for this world, and if we want a new and just society we have to build it.

Catholic Support for War: Another Child Abuse Scandal

On August 14, 2018 a report from a grand jury investigation in Pennsylvania identified 300 Catholic priests across the state who had sexually abused more than 1,000 children. “Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades,” the grand jury wrote in one of the broadest inquiries into church sex abuse in U.S. history. Five days earlier, on August 9, in northern Yemen, a Saudi-led coalition airstrike hit a school bus with a missile made by Lockheed Martin and supplied to the Saudis by the U.S. government, and 44 children were killed. Just as the horror of abuse of children by priests goes beyond the scope of the report from Pennsylvania, the children traumatized and killed by the U.S. military and its proxies globally number far more than those 44. Only one of these events sparked a crisis and soul-searching both in and out of the Catholic Church, but they both should have.

Some Catholic activists for peace and justice have long lived in a state of crisis with our church and have recognized the scandal of “men of God” who bless and cover for the abuse and murder of innocents through war, economic injustice and institutional racism.

“Over and over again in history the Church has become so corrupt it just cries out to heaven for vengeance,” Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement said in a 1970 interview. “The crisis is something terrific,” she said then, before the problem of sexual abuse of the young was well known. This crisis, she said, was “a result of the corruption in the institutional Church, through money and through their acceptance of the lousy, rotten system.”

A radical even before she became a Catholic in 1927 (“I have said, sometimes flippantly, that the mass of bourgeois smug Christians who denied Christ in His poor made me turn to the Communists, and it was the Communists and working with them that made me turn to God…”) Dorothy never had the “honeymoon” of blind love enjoyed by many new converts and was always conscious of the Church’s flaws and failings. “I was just as much against capitalism and imperialism as ever, and here I was going over to the opposition, because of course the Church was lined up with property, with the wealthy, with the state, with capitalism, with all the forces of reaction,” she wrote in her autobiography, The Long Loneliness. “This I had been taught to think and this I still think to a great extent.”

Even as a new convert, Dorothy deplored “the scandal of businesslike priests, of collective wealth, the lack of a sense of responsibility for the poor, the worker, the Negro, the Mexican, the Filipino, and even the oppression of these, and the consenting to the oppression of them by our industrialist-capitalist order – these made me feel often that priests were more like Cain than Abel.  ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ they seemed to say in respect to the social order…  There was plenty of charity but too little justice. ‘The worst enemies would be those of our own household,’ Christ had warned us.”

While the use of the word “scandal” to describe the Catholic Church is new and painful for many contemporary Catholics, it was constituent to Dorothy Day’s vocabulary: “I loved the Church for Christ made visible, not for itself, because it was so often a scandal to me,” she said. More than once she applied Jesus’ caution that our enemies are “of our own household” to priests and bishops. She confessed that it was these “enemies,” not the Viet Cong, not even the industrial war profiteers and generals, that she found the hardest to love and to forgive as Jesus bade her.

In a 1967 column entitled “In Peace Is My Bitterness Most Bitter” Dorothy wrote about Cardinal Spellman and his support for the war in Vietnam: “But what words are those he spoke — going against even the Pope, calling for victory, total victory? Words are as strong and powerful as bombs, as napalm.” “I can sit in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament and wrestle for that peace in the bitterness of my soul, a bitterness which many Catholics throughout the world feel, and I can find many things in Scripture to console me, to change my heart from hatred to love of enemy.”

In 2002, after growing awareness of clerical abuse of children and twenty two years after Dorothy Day’s death, the priest/activist Father John Dear decried the scandal of the Church’s support of the war in Afghanistan: “Last November, nearly all the U.S. Catholic bishops voted to bless and support the bombing and mass murder of the people of Afghanistan. We know that some 4000 civilians were killed during the first two months of that U.S. war. Hundreds of children were killed by the United States, and the Catholic bishops condoned their murder.” John Dear stated what should be obvious: “Talk about child abuse! The Church cannot condemn child abuse by pedophiles and yet bless the government’s murder of children in its wars, if it wants to be consistent and faithful to Christ.”

Many Catholics are now struggling with the question, “how can I remain in this abusive Church?” In her meditation on Cardinal Spellman, Dorothy Day asked “as to the Church, where else shall we go, except to the Bride of Christ, one flesh with Christ? Though she is a harlot at times, she is our Mother.” Dorothy often quoted theologian Romano Guardini, who said “the Church is the Cross on which Christ is always crucified. One cannot separate Christ from his bloody, painful Church. One must live in a state of permanent dissatisfaction with the Church.”

Long time peacemaker and resister, Father Daniel Berrigan once said “I don’t know a more irreligious attitude, one more utterly bankrupt of any human content, than one which permits children to be destroyed.” In a situation like the present, satisfaction with the Church and its institutions is unnatural, sinful, even, and to view the suffering of children without scandal is inhuman. For too long, the Church has abetted the abuse, exploitation and murder of children. I pray that the rising outrage in the Church over the exploitation of children, and the resolve to protect them, will encompass also the children who are victims of war.

Breaking the Illusion of Power: There Is No Spoon

Do not be misled by what you see around you, or be influenced by what you see. You live in a world which is a playground of illusion, full of false paths, false values and false ideals. But you are not part of that world.

— Sai Baba

The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance – it is the illusion of knowledge.

— Daniel Boorstin

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

— Buckminster Fuller

Do not try to bend the spoon, that is impossible. Instead try to understand the truth…There is no spoon. Then you’ll see it’s not the spoon that bends, only yourself.

— Spoon Boy, The Matrix

At the height of empire a boundless stream of lies are told through euphemistic abstractions.  These abstractions are but illusion, they obscure perceptions by never directly dealing with the actual physical reality. Instead an interface is placed over the existing reality for purposes of control.

How often does one hear from corporate news sources about trying to build more homes or grow more food so there are no more homeless or hungry? Almost never, because there is already enough of both food and housing for all in the US, but what there is not enough of is the abstraction of money and that is what corporate news speaks of the most. The one thing we can create an infinite amount of is somehow the one thing we don’t have enough of so the people can have access to housing and food that already exist.

These abstractions are designed with the intent to flummox the people and hold them in place with abstract coercions that intend to create dependence and learned helplessness. We are told the automobiles that kill the environment and weapons designed to kill people are abstractions for freedom. We’re told a government that leads the world in mass incarceration is also an abstraction of preventing tyranny and providing security, democracy, and justice. Organized religion in the US is worth around $1.2 trillion a year, more money than Google and Apple combined, and is an abstraction of spirituality, community, and giving while never making a dent in any social problem.

Science has become an abstraction of wisdom, progress, and reason while evidently receiving their spiritual center from the aforementioned shoddy organized religion, as they continue to ignore harm they cause in favor of ostensible discovery, but what they are really discovering is how a corporation can concoct something that makes more money. Social media and likes become an abstraction for relationships, validation, and human connection. And most insidious of all money is an abstraction of self worth, material possessions, privilege, power, success, and labor.  Our virtual reality is complete sans the clunky head gear.

The illusion is created via layers of interfaces stacked on top of each other, similar to the creation of art which is made by adding layers of meaning through a chosen medium until the aggregate of the layers become a gestalt, or something more than its individual pieces. Such is the way the illusion is created for the people, which is intended to hold them in place.  They see only the gestalt and cannot understand the underlying truth around the world of false narratives elites have weaved over thousands of years of ownership and domination culture in western society.

The abstractions are man-made interfaces created by those in power to drive people towards predetermined outcomes. Abstractions are the propaganda by which we live our lives. They are not real, but the imposition of these abstractions forces us down the same illusory paths as they gaslight our waking reality.

Notice again, how nothing in American society is done directly, like when one needs medical care instead of going directly to a doctor they typically first get insurance so one can afford a doctor and are given doctors on a pre-approved list, along with only being approved for select treatments by said insurance. A certain crowd of people talk all day about the horrors of government getting in between them and their doctor, yet in America, predatory capitalism is a perfectly acceptable guest in their doctor’s office, as they assume that no one in the history of time has ever tried to sell people things they didn’t need or price gouge them for things they absolutely do need.

Or in the food situation, we don’t typically grow food directly. We instead go to miserable jobs to get the money to buy the food. Or when we don’t have a place to live, we don’t typically build a house ourselves, not that most people have time to build a house since, you know, we’re stuck at those miserable capitalist jobs so we can afford to eat. And we can’t afford to buy a home either because the miserable capitalist job doesn’t pay enough, and so it goes down the line of needs. A list of expenses that the capitalist jobs are supposed to be able to cover but they don’t. Just about everyone in the lower classes finds themselves in debt and working more hours to end up owing someone else money to live.

The system is as maddeningly irrational as it is cruel. A Sisyphean system that is seemingly inescapable where significantly more debt exists than money to pay off the debt. Now I say irrational only in relation to 99.99% of people on the planet, as it’s a perfectly rational position for lost souls at the top of the hierarchy who are ensconced in the throes of capitalist egomania.

Everyday in modernity people say things like “Well, you need money to live.” – Such utterances are said with an absolute certainty like the money could be consumed for nourishment with a nice chianti and some fava beans. To believe in money to such a degree is a delusionary psychopathy; a diseased state of being, which accepts artificial precepts as a primary necessity for survival. The reality is the money is only a tool for control by power. It’s the neo-whip.

Anyone that has a child knows they can control quite a bit of behavior by limiting their child’s access to funds and controlling what they can spend their funds on, or by altering what the child desires by what they are exposed to. Parents routinely reward certain behaviors to get the outcomes they seek, and you often see parents using their kids like indentured servants forcing them to do work for an allowance or just to be able to socialize with other kids.

Similarly the people are treated like children by a wealthy elite parent class. Most people have little interest in capitalist machinations, evidenced by the fact a whopping 80% of Americans are unhappy with their role as servant, that would be a hundred percent if they understood what kind of world is possible compared to what we are settling for. Very few have an interest in continuing to use oil, but if you can make people desperate enough to pay rent then they’ll go out on an oil rig and drill baby drill, just as they have little interest in war but through desperation they’ll kill baby kill.

The illusion is this system, the man behind the curtain; elites are playing a game and then pretending like their capitalist system is a natural order, like it was ever something democratically chosen. But Arthur Young long ago laid down the basic premise for the necessity of the illusions in capitalism when he said, “Every one but an idiot knows that the lower classes must be kept poor, or they will never be industrious.”  Or in other words, the illusion of scarcity must be thrust upon them or they’ll never show up at the bullshit jobs.

The wars give the illusion like America cares for the safety of the people to the degree the government will aggressively pursue signing up desperate naive teenagers with much life to live and put them in harm’s way to keep us “safe.” It’s not clear what kind of safety is offered to people by a society that throws its youth into traumatic situations so a bunch of old rich codgers can make more money. This form of safety seems like a good recipe to provoke hatred against us and is the antithesis of fostering a peaceful cooperative world.

The edifices of our society are colored and detailed with nebulous misapprehensions, most nebulous of all is universal fiat currency, and everywhere it traverses empire is created without the need for firing a shot. It forces action via coercion and puts people into roles they wouldn’t do otherwise.

The ruling class likes to shame those they lord over for not working hard while ironically they do little else other than signing documents. They like to claim it’s then a profitable skill they should be rewarded for greatly to manage the complex rigged system they created for their benefit with their lawyers, contracts, corporations, loans, government institutions, courts, weapons, threats, and coercions. A capitalist’s claim to money usually rests on how they learned how to exploit you better and with less compassion. It truly takes someone that cares very little for anything but themselves to hoard power in such a tyrannical manner and then consistently try and rationalize their system as a benefit to all.

If there was real symbiosis in our society no one would have to be forced to do anything because the benefit of the actions would have equal benefit for all. But the creation of most things in capitalism is for the financial benefit of a small oligarchy and hence the people often have little interest in contributing to helping elites since most of the benefit goes to those who are already rich and powerful.

The money is such a perfect tool because it’s so easy to manipulate and it’s more surreptitious in disguising its intents than ordering someone around with a gun. If the masses became wealthy enough where they have better options, and thus refuse to work down in a mine shaft, then this is when the money is tightened by the ruling class. And all you have to do to restrict money flow is give out less loans at banks, or raise rents by increasing interest rates and suddenly you put a pinch on the common man. Add in property taxes so their home, typically their primary investment, can be taken from them at any time if they can’t cough up those taxes, and thus they’ll scramble to take those jobs.

If a ruler is going to adequately hold brutal reign over people, as all leaders do in some form, they must coerce, divide, and manipulate people to get them to do the things they want. And when those things are directly opposed to the held values of a person you then have to frame the action under an acceptable premise. Blinders must be placed on the human animal so that it continues to drag the emperor’s plow and carriage.

There is a sticky social glue that holds the fabric of reality together and it is based on nothing more than a perception and what we collectively believe. The contemporary state of our self-abusing beliefs says we have to wait for a president’s term to end before we can think about making desperately needed changes to this society and change the way we are living. Our held beliefs that capitalism offers some kind of fundamental liberty is an impediment to the freedom of the entire global population, because capitalism has always been a tool of control formulated by elites to rig the game in their favor. The people will not be free under any system where there is a centralized power, and continuing to pretend capitalism is anything but exploitation is to never realize the nature of the trap. But this is not to assume a centralized state run communism structure is any better. It is the opposite side of the authoritarian coin, a double bind coercion. They give you bad cop/worse cop options, China or America, blech and blech.

This way of being was never decided on by a vote of the people, there was never an alternative option. We were simply forced into this state, often violently so. We seem to have no recollection that indigenous Native American people lived prosperously for hundreds of years without much of a mercantile system, no stock markets, no lawyers, no mass incarceration system, no weapons of mass destruction, no corporations – And yet somehow, somehow, the majority of them managed to find meaning, community, and purpose in life.

In truth we cannot be free of illusions manifested in the material until we free our minds of what lies exist in the realm of thought and the false values we live our lives by; the shame, punishment, domination, and ownership installed in dogmatic systems of control have to go. There’s a lyric from Florence and the Machine that goes “It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back, so shake him off.” We cannot be free, we cannot dance in the sun, we cannot do anything until enough of us see past these illusions to create a new reality.

And to create this new reality, we must get right in our minds. Take care of our bodies, take care of each other, take care of our state of consciousness. Get strong in the mind. Do no harm to others, be humble and learn from all. Tried and true paths of reaching greater enlightenment often include meditation, walks in nature, learning how to breathe, doing an internet search for Terence McKenna, and a little help from psychedelics if you have the means. Know that your courage will be tested at every moment, and awareness will frustratingly leave you when you feel like you need it the most.

Breathe through that shit.

Face what you are afraid to face in your mind and your mind will be set ablaze, your spirit will flow, your body will beat with new rhythms, and just like that you’ll get it. And all that depression, all that violent negative shit you masochistically torture yourself with upstairs will fall away like magic. Alakazam!

If you should choose then to let go of desire, to let the world come to you, to accept, to forgive, to turn the other cheek, to have gratitude in the moment, well, then you might find yourself feeling like a god amongst common people. But then you come to learn you are equal to all, even to the smallest and most fragile, and you are just in a different place than them, different positions on a path. One may learn to the benefit of all, to always error towards humility, to work to help those who face the same struggles you have in ways that actually help them and are not colored with the shadow of selfish intent. These are truths beyond illusion.

The gaslighting must be unraveled before the shame and punishment systems truly come crumbling to the ground. To break the illusion we must at every moment hold in the forefront of our minds that this is but a chosen system elites have put us in and it does not have to be this way. Things can change quickly if we can find a new spell to cast, one we choose together instead of one chosen for us by a select few who hold illegitimate power.

Always remember, the centralized economic systems, the politicians, the corporations, the banks, and the organized religions are all tools of control in a social hierarchy. These tools of control are put there intentionally to curve your decision making to do what they want you to do, which is make them more powerful. These elites have quite the arrogance to suggest they know better than you, than philosophers, shamans, ecologists, biologists, climatologists, artists, artisans, the lovers, the dreamers, and me; to put it in amphibian terms.

They believe they know better out of convenience to them because if they know better that means ever so coincidentally they grow more powerful, with more money, more stuff, and better looking people to use sexually. Their success is not symbiotic, though, as their success means the exploitation of everything else in existence so they can just take more for themselves.

Never forget, even when we are forced to operate within this system and they put that saddle on you, do not be broken. To quote Margaret Attwood’s words from The Handmaid’s Tale, “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

Know the illusion is a game being played with an malevolent intent, and work to bring the underlying truth into the forefront of the conscious mind and the illusion will break. Refuse to be led around by coercions of money or any other control system that attempts to cage humanity or your consciousness while simultaneously wrecking the natural world. The entire earth is now speaking to us in very direct terms, showing us that the way we are living is wrong. Every feedback mechanism screams this way of living is not healthy for body, mind, spirit, flora or fauna. We can change it, but it takes belief in better.

Free your minds. Free the Earth. May it be so.

Using the Burka: Boris Johnson’s Bid for Popularity

Comedy, Boris Johnson, and the Tories – these three share a certain comforting, if chaotic, affinity, lobbed together in some nightmarish union that risks consuming itself.  But times are serious – profoundly so, we are told: Brexit exercises the nerves as if Britannia were a patient about to expire, and there is the cultural irritation posed by those naughty elements who refuse to do the good thing and integrate themselves into the land of her Britannic majesty.

Thus far, Britain has resisted the moves of other states in Europe to impose public bans on such religious coverings as the burka and some of its more expansive cognates.  But there is a prevailing appetite for such measures in a climate suffused with notions of civilisation, irate outsiders and insecure insiders.  France was a pioneer in that regard, initiating a ban in 2004.  In Denmark, rough measures have been implemented punishing those who don such headdress in public spaces.

A perfect chance for Johnson, who remains a smouldering menace to Prime Minister Theresa May, to strike form, even if only to rile critics and keep the blogosphere busy.  “In Britain today there is only a tiny, tiny minority of women who wear these odd bits of headgear,” he noted in his regular Daily Telegraph column last week.  Confidently, he claimed that, “One day, I am sure, they will go.”

His has little time for assuming that women have any choice in the matter.  “If you say that it is weird and bullying to expect women to cover their faces, then I totally agree – and I would add that I can find no scriptural authority for the practice in the Koran.”

Nothing is spared. The whole show is given, and any social or academic nicety is given over to a populist punchiness.  “I would go further and say that it is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes.” But Johnson returns to a traditional stance taken to such articles of wear: they should not be banned. The only resort, then, is to mock.

It becomes clear what this exercise was about.  The burka, and Islamic dress, might well have found themselves objects of pure, unalloyed opportunism for yet another push for recognition from fellow Tories that Johnson remains a relevant contender for high office.  He might have resigned from the front bench in an act of calculated sabotage, but he glows.

The Conservative Party has found itself in a bind.  Something needed to be done, as the current wisdom goes, but what?  An investigation is currently being taken, a fairly pointless exercise that serves to supply valuable oxygen to Johnson’s flame of embellished martyrdom.  Communities and Local Government Secretary James Brokenshire told BBC Breakfast that an investigation into complaints made about Johnson’s comments was taking place and “that’s the right approach”.

If the investigation – being conducted by an individual officer – finds justification for the complaints, an independent panel will be convened (independence being in the eye of the beholders), which might decide to refer Johnson to the party’s board.  From there, the power of expulsion can come into play.

At this stage, these are meaningless hypothetical points, and expelling Johnson will add a few streaks of popularity to him.  If that ever unreliable metric called polling can be drawn upon, Johnson has allies on the score of whether he should receive some form of disciplinary action.  The Sunday Express, noting the findings of its ComRes poll, found 53 percent of respondents did not feel any such action should be taken.

The Muslim Council of Britain has also added to the exercise of giving Johnson form and profile, sending a letter to Prime Minister May that “no-one should be allowed to victimise minorities with impunity.”  The Council was “hopeful” that the Tories “will not allow any whitewashing of this specific inquiry currently in process”.

A few murmurings of support have aired.  That ever reliable period-piece Tory prop and member for North East Somerset Jacob Rees-Mogg is certain that the whole exercise against Johnson – a “show trial” no less – is tactical, a measure to protect May and see off a rival.  There is envy in the leadership at his “many successes, popularity with voters and charisma”.  He speculates: “Could it be that there is a nervousness that a once and probably future leadership contender is becoming too popular and needs to be stopped?”

Another element is the comedy line, suggesting the view that Johnson remains the permanent, immutable joke of British reaction.  To censure Johnson would be to censure a certain type of eccentric, if indecent, Britain.  Rowan Atkinson, the genius behind Mr Bean and a range of comic adaptations, took the freedom-to-joke line in a letter to The Times.  “As a lifelong beneficiary of the freedom to make jokes about religion, I do think that Boris Johnson’s joke about wearers of the burka resembling letterboxes is a pretty good one.”  Pity that it has been a standard one for some time – was Atkinson perhaps referring to Johnson himself, the joke in harness?

It is all well and good to accept the necessary function of comedy to puncture, deflate and generally mock the role of faith, credulous attitudes and the devout. “All jokes about religion cause offence,” says Atkinson accurately, “so it’s pointless apologising for them.”

But Johnson has never been the font of sincerity in that regard, and his effusion was hardly intended as one of pure humour. He wishes to remain politically relevant, and persists sniping through his columns and from the back bench in the hope that he won’t be forgotten.  As Britain leaves its awkward EU marriage, Johnson may well find himself presiding over the ruins of his own handiwork.

1500 Rakan Statues of Mount Nokogiri

People sometimes ask me what religion Japanese people practice.  I usually end up saying that Japanese people aren’t very religious at all.  But paradoxically, if you go to Japan, you encounter huge shrines at tourists’ spots and there are numerous smaller ones across the country in many forms.  You visit a Japanese household, you might also find a shrine, a box shaped prayer spot, called butsudan.

There certainly are indications that Japanese society is bound together, to a certain extent, with beliefs, values and norms deriving from variations of Buddhism and Shintoism.

To me, who grew up in Japan, it is natural to perceive such a traditional framework as a cohesive layer that can be loosely described as sort of “religious”.  It guides traditional ceremonies and rituals of life, death and spiritual, and it contributes to world views of the Japanese people in varying degrees.

However, it should also be noted that this framework really does not address fundamental existential questions for the Japanese people today. In other words, people would go along with the customary rituals as long as they facilitate their social interactions and obligations; however, as soon as they impede their material necessity, they can be set aside. Japanese society is extremely secular and the grip of the socioeconomic hierarchy over its people is very firm.  After all, Japan has played a crucial role as an economic power in the western hegemony for generations after it was incorporated into the order of the American empire.

Our trip to Mount Nokogiri, however, has shown me how the abstract notion of traditional Japan has many layers that are deeply conflicting and it has had tumultuous aspects as we examine it in historical contexts.

Mount Nokogiri is located in Boso Peninsula, Chiba.  As you can see on a map it is relatively close to Tokyo.  My wife and I visited the area once before we had our kids.  I loved seeing rakan statues (stone carved arhat statues) along the path during our hike.  To me they appeared as expressions of lives emanating from the area which had been regarded as sacred for many centuries.

This time, we decided to stay for a couple of nights at a nearby seaside city, Tateyama. The inn we picked had a nice view of the water and hot spring baths.  Since my mother couldn’t take the mountain hike, I wanted her stay to be nice as well.  It was a few rustic train stops away to Mount Nokogiri.

I really liked riding the rural trains in the area.  Going a few hours south from Yachiyo city into the Peninsula made the scenery much greener and it was fascinating to observe a glimpse of country life as we passed fields cultivated with various crops, a house sitting among trees without a discernible way to get there, huge hawks flying over us and the water visibly getting cleaner as we got closer to our destination.

The hike was magnificently wonderful.  It was a bit strenuous for me, with numerous steps. But I’ve never felt a physical exercise to be so refreshing, so invigorating and so satisfying (in fact, it inspired me to start exercising again when I came back to the States).

My son found a Tamamushi (jewel beetle).

 

Nokogiri means saw blade.  The jagged appearance of the mountain stems from its history being a prominent stone quarry.

 

30 meter tall stone carved Buddhist goddess.

 

A Stone observatory called “Hell Peek” sticks out into the air. Terrifying!

 

Mount Nokogiri is also a home for the largest stone carved Buddha in Japan (31 meter tall).

I took many pictures of the small statues as we walked.  If you look at the statues carefully, you will notice that the necks of them have traces of reattachment.  Those statues were all violently destroyed once during the haibutsukishaku movement.  As the rule of the Tokugawa shogun family ended in 1868, the new government, aspiring to be one of the imperial powers of the time, embarked on drastic reforms.  One of them was a separation of Buddhism and Shintoism.  Shintoism was elevated as a national religion while Buddhism was regarded as a part of the old power. There was a strong momentum to see the power of Buddhist entities as an abusive and corrupt part of the past.  The accounts from the time certainly indicate that the deeds of the Buddhist class did reflect such descriptions.  The result was an emergence of a large scale destructive movement across the country against anything Buddhist.  As to Shintoism, it eventually ended up as the backbone of imperial Japan, propping up the Japanese emperor as a living god, prompting a direct collision with the US imperial plan over the hegemonic rule of Asia.  The inhumane momentum of destruction and atrocity took many lives in Asian countries.  In the name of the living god the Japanese colonizers sent young lives as suicide bombers.  The colonizers of the US dropped nuclear bombs on two cities full of people in order to declare its hegemonic superiority against enemies and allies alike.

Today the Buddihist legacy in the Mount Nokogiri area is regarded as a significant cultural asset.  The beautiful trails are well maintained, so are the shrines and statues for many visitors.  It was breathtaking to encounter spectacular views throughout our walk.  The weight of the historical layers also compounded the profound orchestration of the natural elements. The moss covered expressions of the aged statues — sad, tormented, resigned, angered, struggling, peaceful and fulfilled — were voices from the past beautifully sublimated within the harmony of nature and people.

As we were waiting for our bus back home, a man at a tiny local restaurant insisted that we take a look at an underground imperial Japanese fortress in Tateyama.  Although we couldn’t extend our trip for it, according to him, a mile-long tunnel dug during WW2  is something you must not miss if you were in the area.  He also mentioned that the entire Mount Nokogiri was a huge military fortress during the war.  To the imperial Japan, the area, situated at the entrance to Tokyo Bay, was the last defense on the ground protecting Tokyo against the invading US forces.

Famed sculptor Isamu Noguchi said that time can heal stones in describing his stone carving process.  Time can certainly give us a thrust of objectivity while natural elements can provide a layer of harmony, presenting a new way to understand what unfolds before us.  Mount Nokogiri certainly stood as a sacred ground before me.  The overwhelming sense of awe generously erased the scars of human atrocity.

However, it has also made me aware of myself as a captive of our time.  Tateyama’s imperial Japanese base is now a base for the Japanese self-defense force.  The corporate media is eerily silent about the fortification of islands around Okinawa, which lies at the tip of the archipelago and houses an American military base. Japanese regulations have been changed to allow a Japanese “self-defense force,” ostensibly to operate as a part of the western force against China. Those shifts coincide with the US pacific policy to counter China as an emerging economic power. And more urgently, I couldn’t help being reminded of inhumane atrocities of our time–bombing campaign against people, suicide bombing, underground fortress, destruction of environment and cultural heritage and so on and so forth are all elements emerging from the western colonial wars being waged against the Middle East and elsewhere today.

Have we learned anything from the past?  Our ability to see our history and events embedded in it, weaving the flow of time and space, as a unified front, as a collective part of our identity, allow us to tolerate pains of atrocity, allow us to reconcile, allow us to rebuild and allow us to be.  But we do know that the significant portions of the sufferings and deaths are endured by those who are powerless.  How could we allow ourselves to let the momentum of time swallow so many of our fellow humans?  Why are we tolerating colonial destabilization of “other people’s”?  How could we close our eyes as we encounter people sleeping on streets or losing their lives because they can’t afford to be healthy?  Why can’t we focus our hope for renewal for the people who have and will suffer the most?  How could we recognize the fact that our willingness to tolerate the hierarchy of money and violence, as the shape of our species, inflicts pain against “others” and against ourselves at the same time, forcing ourselves to expect nuclear missile attacks instead of reaching out for sharing and peace?

Every time I hear people say that for things to get better, things have to get much worse, I think of what happened in Fukushima.  Three nuclear meltdowns have not woken up the people.  The nuclear industrial complex of Japan is firmly embedded within the war economy of the empire.

This is not the time for conflict. This is the time we need each other to see what has become of us.  Let there be braveness, determination and steadfastness in renouncing the cannibalistic momentum of self-destruction.  The sacred power of nature will always embrace us no matter how we will do.