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.

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Wolves and Witches to Dogs and Bitches

 

Human beings are a lot like dogs, and human societies are a lot like canine societies. The pattern of domestication in dogs by humans, follows very closely the pattern of increasing centralisation and control in human societies.

I write from the point of view of an individual living in a modern, liberal western democracy, in which we are constantly being told that this is the model for the world to follow, where all the members have representation and great freedoms are enjoyed. There is some truth in this, but the representation does not come from voting in elections every five years, but by long hard struggles of workers, protesters and minorities. Every major step towards liberation is strongly resisted by the state and usually only accepted once safeguards have been put in place to remove the threat to power that such steps may represent. As for freedom, there are so many restrictive laws in this country that it can seem everything is illegal. We are more observed than any other, cameras are everywhere. The fear of crime and stranger-danger, immigration and the outsider, the foreigner, the international terrorist, have been whipped up to the point of hysteria by the media, in the service of the state, so that the subjects will accept this level of observation, and even biometric passports and ID cards. Children are constantly observed and given no freedom at all to play apart from adults. They are taught to fear adults, and adults meanwhile are taught to condemn and fear children and especially ‘out of control teenagers’. In some ways we are less free now than we have ever been. The right to protest has been strongly curtailed. Demonstrations are now illegal within 5 miles of Parliament or without the permission of the police. The police are quite happy to give permission to any demonstration guaranteed to have no effect and to maintain the status quo, where people can vent a little anger and be given the illusory feeling of empowerment and having a say, by marching for a few hours with their like-minded protesters, as long as they go home again at the end of the day, and do not actually challenge any of the sources of their discontent. I could go on and on and on……..

We have no freedom in our daily lives either, since we have to work most of our time to pay our extortionate rent or mortgages, child care fees, fuel bills etc…… Most people have a couple of weeks holiday a year, which they are supposed to be grateful for; it was after all, one of the privileges fought hard for by the workers and trade union movement. We cannot build our shelter and live in the woods, or live as nomads, without constant harassment by the police and authorities. Everything is owned and controlled. Yet most of us still believe we are free. We happily accept the control over our lives in exchange for the only right we do possess, and that is the right to buy consumer goods, services, holidays, alcohol and leisure pursuits. Our relationships are controlled, as is how much we can express ourselves in public. We become more and more complicit in these controls as they become internalised into embarrassment and morals. Very few people have the confidence to attempt to break out from these accepted ways of living and not be concerned with what others may think of them. Many that do, only do so in the company of others who do the same, and immediately come under pressure to conform to another group with their own set of morals and code of behaviour.

 

So, let us look at dogs. We are probably at the stage of pampered pets. Some of us think we have a lovely life, with our luxurious houses, money and people to supply our every need and whim, and our ‘walk on the lead’ rewards every so often, like a night out partying or a two week holiday. As long as we wag our tails at the bosses and fetch the sticks they throw for us, they will continue to feed us and take us for walks. The trouble is, these dogs do not realise that everything in their lives is controlled; we decide when they get fed, when they get walks, where they go, when they are allowed off the lead, who they can sniff and how long for. Usually they are never allowed to mate and one day we might even take them to the vet for castration! But, we look after them, we treat their illnesses and injuries, protect them from harm and keep them warm, cosy and well fed. A pet dog who is kept outside in his kennel may think he has the best life possible until he compares it to another who is kept inside by the fire. He thinks he has the ultimate life until he meets another dog who curls up on his owners lap on the sofa or the owner’s bed and so it goes on. One dog may never be allowed off the lead, but is still very happy with his life, not realising that other dogs are allowed to run free all the time. There are relative levels of freedom and relative levels of comfort, varying lengths of leads and varying sizes of cages.

So, were wild dogs happier and freer? Obviously they had to suffer the tyranny of their own pack and of the harsh realities of living wild, food shortages, harsh climate etc. Life as a pampered pet is more comfortable and safer and so it is with us, which is probably why we are so happy to put up with the consequent lack of freedom. However, these animals were living according to their instincts, using their senses to the best of their abilities, at the peak of health, and fully living their lives, satisfying the dynamic drives of the life force itself. This is what we have lost. Most of us now live with a constant existential angst. Life has no meaning for us, and we are only half awake most of the time, going through the motions at work not putting our heart into it, because it is of no consequence to us. We only do it to pay for our shelter, food and nights on the booze at the weekend.

But before pampered pets, dogs were domesticated for work. We use dogs to round up cattle and sheep, to pull sledges, and to guard settlements and homesteads from wild animals and outsiders. These dogs seem to love their work. Work gives their lives meaning and this is because it fits in with their natural instincts. These roles are almost identical to their natural roles in the pack, hunting and guarding. Some people likewise get meaning from their work, some because their work involves instinctive behaviour, and some because their instincts are sublimated. For example, the instinct for the kill may be turned into an instinct for ‘making a killing’ with a good business deal and the prey may be a large sum of money or a new luxury car. Working dogs are usually not as pampered as pets. They tend to sleep outside and their owners are usually less sentimental about them. They are allowed to grow up, unlike pampered pets and ‘pampered pet humans’, both of which are kept in a state of emotionally arrested development and infantile dependency.

After pampered pets, some dogs, usually through no choice of their own, become feral. In less controlled cities, they tend to form packs, much reviled and treated with great cruelty by humans, and in more controlled areas, they hide away on their own until they are ‘arrested’. Some humans do make the choice to become feral and break out from the control around them. However, groups of feral humans, just like feral dogs have the hardest time of all. They may attempt to live closer to their instincts, but they are seen as outsiders and ruthlessly treated and hunted down by the mainstream society. Life is tough and many fall by the wayside.

So what is the best way for society to develop? I believe we need the freedom to be able to live in harmony with our instincts, rather than in constant conflict with them, but also with the security and relative stability of a modern society. There must be freedom to express ourselves, there must be mutual trust, no more observation, no more numbers, no more borders, freedom to roam and camp and set up shelters. This all requires a new openness to others, without division, labelling and suspicion. People must be valued as the unique individuals they are, rather than for the role they play as servants of the economy, and treated as mutual members of society, rather than potential criminals and suspects under surveillance. Ultimately, much more will have to be shared, otherwise we will continue to close up in isolation behind our locked gates and cameras to protect our ever-accumulating possessions. Most-importantly, work, life, leisure and family need to exist in our lives together, rather than in separate blocks as they do currently. Perhaps we will no longer be dogs at all, but we will always be animals; animals with the imagination to change the way we live, free at last from the tyranny of top dog and the hierarchical state; decisions made by consensus, everyone fulfilling their creativity and feeling a part of society, aware of the importance of the part they play. All will be valued, all will be respected, responsibility will be truly collective, rather than giving way to the blame game and scapegoating as it does at present, and those who remain outside will no longer be victimised and written off by the mainstream and media. They will no longer need to turn to crime, drugs and violence as is expected of them now and which, in turn, for many, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

For me the domestication and state-enslavement of the human is symbolised by the brutal intolerance and persecution of the wolf (the wild and free male) and the persecution of the witch (the wild and free female). The last official record of a wolf killed in Scotland (and Britain) was at Killiekrankie in 1680 and by an eerie parallel, the last witch executed in England was two years later in Exeter in 1682, although the last to be hanged in Scotland was in 1727. This was the final nail in the coffin of our repression up to this point, but we will eventually arrive at a new freedom, because the human spirit will not tolerate being caged eternally.

Pilgrimage

This is the time of the Hajj, when up to three million Muslims from all around the world converge on Mecca, in order to fulfil one of the pillars of Islam. It is one of the greatest spectacles on Earth and certainly one of the largest gatherings of humans in one place at the same time. So what is the nature of pilgrimage itself? It appears to be one of very few things which actually set us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. The closest parallel I am aware of is the way elephants take their young to visit the bones of their ancestors and ponder them in silence. However this example is more akin to visiting a grandparent’s grave with the family than a mass ritual of an entire tribe.

When animals gather in large numbers, it is either for mating, spawning or feeding. This makes perfect sense because the two essential tasks for continued survival are feeding and mating or spawning; and yet pilgrimage in humans is universal across all cultures and over a large period of time. It seems that as soon as we became self-aware and curious about our place in the universe, we began to feel that our survival was also dependent on other forces beyond ourselves and beyond feeding and procreation. And so we developed the need to sustain and nurture these forces also – we needed to eat, procreate and receive spiritual succour – to give thanks, worship and appease the personified deities.

The first part of this seems to me to be perfectly true, so far, so rational; but with the personification of these forces, reason was no longer applicable and numerous, sometimes bizarre sets of beliefs and rituals developed. We knew we were dependent on water and sunlight, and without them there would be no food. We worshipped the sun as a god and drank holy water from life-sustaining wells. We could not explain where we came from and believed something must have created us – we called it God. Rituals arose where we would mass together in service of something unknown and unknowable, beyond the service of ourselves and our own individual survival. This would somehow ensure our continued survival in this life and beyond. When humans mass together in religious pilgrimages like the Hajj, they are actually recognising that there is something much bigger than us of which we have no control, but upon which we are wholly dependent for our very existence and survival, and of which we are only a tiny part. The rituals arose in ancient times when we could believe, as many still do, that by performing the rituals, we were actually gaining some control over these forces by pleasing and appeasing the gods or God, but in modern times, with or without these beliefs, their power really lies in coming together as a tribe, culture or even species, experiencing our unity and becoming more conscious of the forces which created and sustain us, uniting us not just with each other, but with all life and even the universe itself. Many rituals, religious and otherwise, are more personal and not performed en masse at all, but this recognition of unity and the forces that lie beyond us, as well as the sense of shared belief is greatly amplified in the presence of such large numbers.

This, at least, is the esoteric, inner value of a major religious ritual, but it cannot be denied that there is also an exoteric, outward value, arising from just this sense of shared belief. It makes it very difficult for followers to question any of the beliefs within the system and much easier for the people in power to maintain that power over the devotees. The more unconscious the ritual becomes, the easier the control, which is another reason why such rituals are so resistant to change over vast periods of time, even when some of the core elements no longer make any sense. Sometimes however, change is forced upon them. An interesting example is the way the animal sacrifice element of the Hajj has changed over time. In former times, each pilgrim at the Hajj would sacrifice an animal, but today with three million people, this is no longer practical, and so each pilgrim purchases a sacrifice voucher, which entitles a butcher to sacrifice an animal for them at a particular time, when they are not present. The meat is distributed to the poor all over the world through charities, thus further adding to the feeling of unity and serving God through serving others rather than themselves.

There are also many other, more everyday, human effects of pilgrimage, such as our needs for identity, belonging to a group and acceptance. Being an outsider, or even thinking like an outsider, is just one step away from being an outcast. Deep in our subconscious, this is still one of our greatest fears, as for most of our time on Earth as humans, when we lived in small hunter-gatherer tribes, (and therefore still present in our evolutionary memory), it would have usually meant certain death. It is interesting that this is one element of the story of Ibrahim (Abraham) commemorated at the Hajj. Ibrahim was commanded by God to abandon his second wife, Hagar and their baby son Ishmael in the desert. In desperation, Hagar begged and prayed to God for help as she lay the baby on the sand. The baby cried and hit the ground with his heel, whereupon God intervened and the holy Zamzam well sprang forth. Another element of the pilgrimage is running between the two hills Safa and Mawar as Hagar did, and drinking from the Zamzam well. In fact the Hajj contains all the important elements of religion and pilgrimage: our dependence on water and sunlight, human suffering, followed by surrender to God and God’s subsequent assistance (miracles), identity and belonging (performing the same rites in a group) after being outcast (returning to the flock), having the surrender tested by God, punishing and banishing the demons/devil, following in the footsteps of a prophet where he or she either died or did something very important, (in this case giving his last sermon), and visiting sacred buildings and temples built for prayer and surrender, where the promise to serve is refreshed and strengthened.

However, many of these elements are common to other types of pilgrimage, including pagan and secular ones. There seems to be something strong in the great majority of the human race, which drives people to take part in something very close to a pilgrimage with varying degrees of ritual. Sometimes they are engaged in as a group or in the footsteps of many before them, (fulfilling the need to belong), and sometimes they are very personal, unique to the individual, but there is mostly a connection with others through time and space. Ancient sites are particularly popular, especially ritual or burial sites, connecting with the ancestors, without whom we would not be here. We can show appreciation to them for the hardships they suffered and the battles they fought so that we could be born and not have to fight those same battles. Important natural sites are often visited, especially wells (holy or otherwise) and springs, or mountains, many of which are also sacred. Mountains are associated with purity due to their inaccessibility, and their unspoilt, untouched nature, and the way they stand above us all like the gods themselves. Some are associated with gods such as Kailash in the Himalayas, some with prophets or missionaries such as Croagh Patrick in Ireland, some just with the land and nation, such as Mount Fuji in Japan. Most Japanese people wish to climb Fujisan (Mr Fuji) once in their life and huge numbers climb it every year together in July and August – around 300 000 in a year. An element of effort or even suffering or hardship is common to many pilgrimages, which is why they usually involve walking. Mountains are perfect for this, since the only access is by walking and it requires effort. This results in a sense of achievement and purification, not unlike that sought-after by religious asceticism.

Probably the most secular pilgrimages involve walking in the steps of famous people, visiting their graves or places closely associated with them, such as Elvis’s Graceland, Karl Marx’s or Jim Morrison’s graves, the Cavern club in Liverpool or Abbey Road zebra crossing for Beatles fans. But even here, we see a parallel to religious practice. These people are not so different to prophets to their devotees. They may not always offer moral guidance, but do provide inspiration, joy and hope, and receive in return, love and devotion, if not perhaps, surrender.

Another powerful call to pilgrimage is human suffering, an obvious example being the former Nazi concentration camps for Jews, but also for non-Jews. The experience cannot be quite the same for non-Jews, but many people find catharsis in sharing in this intense suffering by visiting the site where it took place.

Perhaps pilgrimage fascinates me because I am one of the few humans who does not feel a need for ritual, but I have taken part in a kind of pilgrimage, and it proved to be one of the most profound experiences of my life. The most important part for me was the walk itself, which was carried out in silence over one week, as fully in the moment and with as much mindful awareness of the experience as I could manage. Was it really a pilgrimage? Well, it was a deliberate spiritual practice and several sacred, ancient sites were visited on the way, with the final destination being Avebury Ring and West Kennett Longbarrow, where we did engage in an all night ritual as a group; but for me it was more about living fully in the moment and developing my spiritual life in that way rather than being focussed on the goal at the end. However, we did all take part in spiritual practice such as meditation and some ritual; so although a pilgrimage is usually defined by the goal at its destination, I could say, yes in a way it probably was, and – although elephants are probably masters of mindfulness, it was still uniquely human.