Peace on Earth

As long as we are at war within ourselves,

How can there be peace on Earth?

As long as we are driven by desires and fears,

How can there be peace on Earth?

As long as we are seduced by the trappings of fame and gain,

How can there be peace on Earth?

As long as we postpone living to pursue some imagined goal,

How can there be peace on Earth?

 

As long as we serve the future as a debt to the past,

As long as we divide ourselves into myriad tribes,

Through jealousy and pride,

We set ourselves above or below and deny the enemy inside.

 

As long as we describe our world only in terms

Of battles won and lost,

And teach our children how to blame and punish,

Without explaining the cost.

 

We will always be at war within ourselves.

There will not be peace on Earth.

Looking For Saviours

Where have all the anarchists gone?

It seems everyone is looking for a saviour these days. Donald Trump will save us from the establishment elites, Allah and Jesus from the infidels and moral bankruptcy of the modern world, Jeremy Corbyn from capitalism and the Tories and a strong leader will save the Labour Party from Jeremy Corbyn; the list goes on. Anger, disillusionment, fear and blame grow; hatred and bigotry quickly follow. The world gets more divided, everyone has an axe to grind, an argument to win and a faith to defend.

Putting our faith in saviours is always tempting, and powerful, positive movements can be set in motion as a result, but generally speaking, inspiration is more effective than direction. The obsession with ‘strong’ leaders seems to me to be a hangover from our patriarchal society, the need for a ‘father figure’ to protect and save us (though it could be a female one). Rebellion is often fuelled by the same desire, in this case as a reaction against the authority figure and the search for an idealised patriarch/matriarch to lead us all to freedom and some imagined utopia. Even the few who see through this and call themselves anarchists may easily succumb to it when an idealised leader appears.

There seems to be two aspects to anarchism, often acting together in some kind of incoherent, unruly chaos. I prefer to think of it as an unconscious force running through all societies rather than a political and philosophical movement adhered to by a small number of strongly identified individuals. It echoes the unconscious forces within the individual, Freud’s ‘id’ with its instinctive drives for survival, rebelling against the superego demands of society and the more subtle forces of love, compassion and altruism, desperately trying to find a way back to oneness. Firstly, there is an infantile, ego-obsessed reaction to authority, which demands ‘freedom’ for the individual, like the self-obsessed toddler driven by desire having a tantrum. S/he may start throwing things around and smashing things up in a desperate bid to change the system. Secondly, there is the recognition that society changes and evolves slowly, through the raising of consciousness and awareness. It has love and compassion at its core and far from exhibiting the slave morality of Nietzsche, it is strong, full of self-confidence and self-belief, because it recognises that the ‘self’ works together with many selves and not alone as a vulnerable, isolated toddler. Unfortunately, many anarchists lose this self-belief when society appears to take a step backwards as it inevitably will. Human beings have a tendency to fear change and to look backwards to the past, often imagining the world to have been a better place before. This happens because all change, whether technological, psychological, social or political, has complex layers of effects, some of which will seem to be negative. Society tends to oscillate between progressive and reactionary, reflecting aspects of our nature, such as self-preservation and compassion, or competition and cooperation. When times are tough, there is a tendency for self-preservation to gain the upper hand, but sometimes, we may surprise ourselves by becoming more compassionate, helping out those worse off than us.

One huge factor in the world taking dangerous and frightening turns for the worse, is that the great majority of people on the planet still believe in violence and military solutions, (an expectation of ‘strong’ leaders), which inevitably have far-reaching and sometimes unexpected long-term consequences. The ricochets can be felt decades later and the response is often more violence with ever-more powerful weaponry, fuelling even worse consequences. People look for saviours.

We must not lose our faith in social evolution and progress, the march of compassion, the raising of consciousness and increasing awareness of consequences for our world and our neighbours on this small and fragile planet. We do not need saviours. They will inevitably fail us. But we do need inspiration. We need people who unite us, rejecting all violent means of change whilst acknowledging the violence within us all. We must retain faith in humanity, even in the face of such violence, and when we are unsure as to whether the cup is half-empty or half-full, sometimes the best thing to do is just to smash the cup; things are always as they are and things are always changing.

Malala

She looked her would-be killer in the eye,

And saw the ignorance

That fuelled the fear

That powered the bullet

That pierced the skull

That passed right through

That took her to the other side,

Closer to the prophet than he could ever be

No matter how many times a day he prayed.

 

She saw a split second of confusion

When something deep inside himself

Questioned his actions,

But the wheel now firmly set in motion,

Powered by its own momentum,

Could only move in one direction,

Because, for now, he was sure,

He had God on his side.

Not so, later, when the question returned to haunt him.

Could it be the same God that had enabled her to survive?

 

She came back from the other side,

With wisdom way beyond her years,

Compassion and love in her pure heart,

And the words of all the prophets on her lips.

 

But that seed of doubt planted within him,

Would begin to grow and not let go.

In its climb towards the light,

It would demand answers.

He would see that light is knowledge

And that humans cannot grow in darkness.

He could only regret and repent,

And hope for some forgiveness.

 

But she – she dwelled already in the light.

She who had met the final darkness

Was hungrier than ever for its glow,

For knowledge, love and worldly peace.

The power was all hers,

All her fears already faced,

All wounds healed in love’s embrace,

All bridges crossed, no trace of hate.

She would surely find many pearls,

She would inspire and change the world.

Cherishing Difference and Diversity.

It is currently very fashionable in our society to celebrate difference and diversity, and most of us genuinely believe we do. However, when it comes down to the hard-hitting realities of our everyday lives, most of us would rather fill our world with people just like us. This thought is distasteful and almost unacceptable today, since its logical conclusion is hate-filled racism and bigoted intolerance, but it struck me when I was thinking about relationships with our nearest and dearest, especially family and spouses or lovers.

Most of us have some kind of fantasy of a perfect partner and often waste years of our lives searching for him or her, often killing off perfectly good relationships in the process. Usually that perfect partner is someone very similar to us, but much sexier! When we think we may have found someone quite close to it, we get together and both tend to go along with each other and agree with each other on most things, really trying to fool ourselves that we are so very well-suited. But after a while, we start to see more and more differences. They just do not act in the way we think they should, and usually that means in the way we would, or like to think we would. At first these differences may be charming, then irritating and as they mount up and accumulate, sometimes maddening and that is when the rows begin. We try to make them think and behave like us and naturally they react badly to this and the differences are exaggerated still further. After all, they think we should behave as they do! Sometimes if the case is really justified, or if one partner is particularly keen to please, one or other partner may make a lot of effort to be accommodating and things may improve, but sooner or later, old ways and differences will come to the fore again. And so they should, because while compromise is often stated as the panacea for relationships, it is usually done grudgingly and is nowhere near as successful as genuine acceptance of difference.

I have struggled like this in many relationships, but now I have learnt to truly embrace difference and accept and love my partner purely for who she is, perfect in every way, as we all are deep down. We could hardly be more different and it has been a struggle, but worth the perseverance, and that is the key to truly celebrating difference and diversity in all its forms. It does not come overnight, or merely by saying the right words. It takes a lot of hard work and a genuine change in attitude with which we recognise that nobody is just like us. Everybody reacts in their own way to the world around them, and if we sometimes find those ways challenging, then we need to challenge them. If we can do this without passing judgement, then so much the better, but it will get us nowhere pretending they do not exist. On the other hand, separatism and messy divorces will only make things worse, with the one exception of a violent, abusive partner or oppressor. The key is maximum, continued exposure, deep listening and compassionate speech. Eventually we will all understand each other, then respect each other and eventually, really cherish our differences. These days, I think it would be quite boring to be together with a partner who thinks and behaves just like me and sees the world as I do. Such a partner would be little more than a mirror to reinforce my own vanity and confirm all my narrow-minded opinions and ideas and vice versa, boosting our collective ego in the battle of us against the world, in exactly the same way as the members of insular, xenophobic and monochrome societies reinforce their collective behaviour; perhaps a cohesive force within the relationship or community, but for the world at large, a definite destructive force. What would I learn from that? How would I grow? Who would challenge my beliefs and patterns of behaviour in my daily life, and who would expose me to such a rich tapestry of delights? No longer a fantasy for me, I can honestly say, with all my heart, difference and diversity really are things worth cherishing.

In praise of sentimentality

Sentimentality is a simple, obvious, unashamed, direct and unembarrassed expression of basic emotions. It is often viewed by ‘sophisticated’, middle class, educated, rational, stiff upper lip, British people especially, as fake or demonstrative, but perhaps it is just honest, real, uncensored by the rational, conscious mind, in fact more real and less ostentatious than much of our intellectual cleverness. It is innocent and pure like the feelings of a child. We are supposed to grow out of it, and not express those feelings, especially in public, and we find the songs or writings ‘slushy’, ‘sickly’ or embarrassing – the product of an immature, unsophisticated, uneducated mind and aimed at the masses with the same temperament – i.e. uneducated, ‘simple souls’, emotional rather than rational, intelligent people.

And yet, these are often the emotions that ignite the greatest force for good in human beings – compassion, empathy, generosity and charity. Perhaps this is why they are tolerated, often expressed and probably deliberately encouraged in more emotionally driven, Christian (especially American style Christian) communities. The rational, intellectual mind, which frowns on all forms of sentimentality is in danger of becoming cold, unfeeling, self-centred and cynical, perfectly suited to running multi-national companies or political parties perhaps!

However, this distaste for sentimentality runs deeper and wider in our society than the intellectual, sceptical elite. It is also an important element of youth culture, for example in popular and especially alternative music. Perhaps this is simply because the youth are reacting against their former childhood mentality as they carve out their new identities, however this is not so with anger. While sentimentality is often seen as immature or child-like, music with anger at its core is cool. This could also be described as honest, pure, uncensored by the conscious mind, innocent and even child-like, although it is usually a more directed anger, masked by anti-establishment rationality or teenage, sexual frustration – all perfectly acceptable and cool. At its best, it is a call to action to change things for the better using strength in numbers, subversive sabotage, mass protests, movements, occupations etc., but at its worst, it leads to self-obsessed, nihilistic depression and violence.

Anger is as real or fake and positive or negative as sweet sentimentality and it always works most powerfully when guided and tempered by love and compassion. So I say, allow a little sentimentality into your life. You might find your heart opens a little and your anger is a more constructive and powerful force as a result. You may feel more rounded, more generous, more contented and even more mature, because maturity is not denying all things child-like, but rather experiencing our true nature as a child, yet filtered through the knowledge, wisdom and life experience of a still curious and questioning adult.

I recommend the most sentimental song I can think of – Tammy Wynette singing ‘No Charge’. See if you can listen to that song with an open mind and heart, putting yourself right there in the story and not be moved by it!

 

Junk Collecters

Modern society makes junkies of us all. Economic growth is dependent on making us perpetually dissatisfied and craving for more junk/stuff/things. It keeps us spending, keeps us working and keeps us distracted, numb to the reality of life and ourselves. We are all addicts and some of us will steal to feed this addiction, some of us will even kill. Ironically, it is sometimes the ones who see through this and take a different route through life, that end up becoming addicted to other things such as alcohol or other drugs. They are the most dissatisfied, making numbness deliberate and seeking obliteration. Sometimes the causes are more specific, but generally, one way or another, the underlying cause is the very fuel of capitalist society, dissatisfaction itself. Apart from small numbers of off-grid idealists and monks, drug addicts and beggars are probably the only people who do not fuel capitalism, they are lost to the market and society hates them. After all, they have chosen to buy drugs and pay the dealers, rather than consumer goods and pay the taxes, failing to live up to society’s expectations and the reinforcing effects of conformity. Yet it seems to me, it is that very society, which has made them addicts in the first place.

So how does capitalism maintain this level of dissatisfaction? Well, we all know about the powers of advertising, branding and marketing, the dream of winning the lottery, the cult of celebrity and obsession with the lives of the very rich and famous, but the other powerful weapon is choice. Governments of capitalist countries are obsessed with choice, and promote it with the idea that it is good for individual freedom and expression. This may be true, but it has also been shown to be directly opposed to happiness. Freedom is correlated with happiness, because it encourages a state of mind which is flexible and good at adapting to circumstances when life does not go as planned, but freedom of choice is not. In an experiment by Dan Gilbert et al at Harvard university,       https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_gilbert_asks_why_are_we_happy    when people were given a choice between two photographs they had made, if they thought they had to stick with that choice, they ended up liking the picture they had chosen more, but when they were told they could change their mind, they did not. They were left wondering if they had made the right choice, whichever one they ended up choosing. This reflects so many real situations in life. We often feel this way after weighing up all the 5000 different mobile phones or computers to choose from, or it could be our job, our lover, where we went for our holidays, anything. If we think we could have chosen differently and maybe still can, we are less likely to be content with our decisions and less likely to stick with them. This leads to a perpetual cycle of dissatisfaction and consumption – a marketer’s dream feeding the addiction, like gambling. In a supermarket, where the shelves are crammed full of twenty or thirty varieties of the same product, albeit thinly disguised, we like to think we are making an informed choice on what we buy, but mostly, we are following sub-consciously manipulated desires and the whole experience takes longer than it should, creates low-level anxiety and is far too complicated, when all we really want is a loaf of bread, some rice or pasta and a few vegetables!

My advice, for what it’s worth, is, find a few things you like and stick to them, cut down on choice, go to smaller local shops, don’t watch any advertisements, or at least mute the sound when they come on the television ( you’d be surprised how much that simple act reduces their power), really take time to appreciate the things you have in your life already, learn to enjoy commitment, instead of comparing everything with others, (especially important for partners and spouses), forget about what other people have and just think about what you actually need, along with the needs of others and those of the planet. Don’t be a junkie all your life, in fact try giving some of that junk away (it feels good), like the alcoholic pouring his drink down the sink. Break the cycle of addiction. The only choice we really need to make is happiness itself, which we are remarkably capable of doing, once we stop overrating one imagined future over another and exaggerating the effects of the things we fear. It is not circumstance that makes us happy, but our own acceptance of whatever circumstance we find ourselves in, if it cannot be changed.