Saturday, September 25, 2010

Pious dedication to rhetoric

"If we are to honor the slain of Auschwitz and every other site of barbarous inhumanity, we must create the consciousness that makes such slaughter impossible"

--Sharif Abdullah (p. xiii).

When a man beats a woman and apologizes tearfully and expects, and gets, her love, her devotion, her heart, her soul, her body and her free labor, is he encouraged to repeat his violent ways or is he being shown gracious, loving forgiveness? Some women argue that there ought to be zero tolerance of such behavior, and they are correct. Some argue that without forgiveness we have no chance for relationship with anyone, since we all make mistakes, and they are correct.

So the challenge, it seems, is finding that line of no more crossing. One side of that line produces relational work, investigation, mediation, new agreements and a fresh but conditional restart. The other side, once crossed, is where forgiveness may still happen but relationships end. She moves out and he doesn't get to see the children again. Enough violence perpetrated leads to this outcome for most rational people.

Now, I'd assert, is the time for us to wonder in our society if the Obama administration has crossed over that line. Drone attacks in Afghanistan increased, thus increasing Afghan civilian deaths in the name of decreasing American soldier deaths--and creating yet more profits for war contractors, two phenomena that are eerily simultaneous in so many cases. Troops are surging into Afghanistan, evoking what foreign troops always have. The British lion limped out, paws full of thorns. The Soviet bear yowled and fled with a snout full of bee stingers. The American eagle is beginning to look like a plucked chicken after failing in Iraq and now failing in Afghanistan.

We are beginning to feel like the family who was rescued from the redneck wife beater by the tough cop, who has now moved in and started beating everyone too. George W. Bush gave us eight years of misery, even though we let him back in our bed in 2004 (some of us who felt particularly repulsed by him were outvoted). Now Obama is beating the tar out of everyone and yet sounds so calm about it as he glances over his shoulder at the Nobel Peace Prize on his desk, being used as a paperweight to hold down the stacks of war contracts for the profiteers of violence. Is he bipolar? Is he in touch with reality?

Are we? We have the rhetoric of peace and the reality of violence, and we seem incapable of looking beyond the left or right choices. What will America do in November? Throw out the Ds and bring in the Rs. The Pledge to America is really a Pledge to Violent People. One minor part is to gun owners--we love you, stock up on more of them--and to war hawks--the only spending that will really go up and up is military. More violence for America and more violence from America. What a great pledge. Frying pan, fire, frying pan, fire, frying pan, fire. Brilliant. BushObamaBushObamaBush.

This is why some of us Just Say No to violence, period. One side sells it and does it and the other side sells a slightly different brand and does it, and they are just two sides of the same coin. BushCheneyRumsfeld was heads, ObamaEmmanuelGates is tails, but it spends the same.

Like some kind of persecuted religious minority, we who hold to nonviolence are unheard, disregarded and laughed at when we actually say something meaningful in public. We tend to feel beaten, hopeless at times, and just look toward living lives that, at the least, cause little harm. At the least, we feel, we aren't adding to the level of violence in the world. At the most, we begin to do what Sharif Abdullah calls for, the creation of conditions that make these barbarous acts unacceptable. This means going beyond rhetoric and creating that new reality, beginning with ourselves, doesn't it?


Abdullah, S. (1999). Creating a world that works for all. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.


marco said...

Good essay, although the last question is rhetorical yes? The Obama mojo trumps the pacifist left - why?

Tom H. Hastings said...

Ha. Marco, you remind me of the sketch someone did, "Can I ask you a rhetorical question? Oh, I guess I just did."
Obama's mojo is powerful; he is a charismatic even more apt and able than Reagan at his best (I personally was repulsed by Reagan from seeing him as a B movie actor in my childhood, so I'm no judge). It's almost like we produced him and now it's a Frankenleader moment when it comes to appointments and policy.