Facilitate the power of love - confront the love of power

Thu, 21 Oct 2004


One of the most shocking moments of my life was to visit Berlin in the 60's and stand looking over the Wall. I was impressed less by the wall itself than the wide swathes of bare earth, the electrified fencing, barbed wire and the armed border guards in their towers.

My feelings of shock, I now suppose, were due to the confrontation with raw power, state power, domination—in one of the forms I am coming to recognise through this enquiry—the extreme vulnerability of East Germany dressed up in invincible, impenetrable, Stalinist armour.

Why this memory? Why now?

Floating out of the churning hurt of this morning's news and trying find my place in it.  Again.

Came images of other walls, other fences, other locked gates. Other armouring.

Out of order. Mixed up.

A completed section of the [Israeli 'separation] barrier’s' first phase, near the town of Qaffin (pop. 8,200), July 2003. Although the barrier’s exact elements differ according to location and topography, its core is an electrified fence, 10 feet high, equipped with surveillance cameras and other sensors. It is flanked on either side by six-foot-tall barbed-wire pyramids. Other obstacles include a trench six to eight feet in depth, a military patrol road, and a dirt path to record footprints. The barrier’s total width ranges from 60 to 100 yards. © 2003 Miranda Sissons/Human Rights Watch

View of the barrier’s path from Jayyus (pop. 3,078), in Qalqilya governorate, April 2003. According to the U.N, residents of Jayyus have been separated from four water wells and two-thirds of its total land area by the barrier, harming agriculture, incomes, and livelihoods. Residents in at least 35 other communities have been separated from their land by the barrier’s first phase. © 2003 Miranda Sissons/Human Rights Watch

Hadrian's Wall

Here in Northumberland around 1800 years ago,  the Romans, finding themselves vulnerable to incursions by the barbarian Scots, also armoured themselves. They built the 73 miles of Hadrian's Wall. View of the wall, looking east towards Housteads Camp © Denis Postle WLR

A section of the Israeli "Separation Barrier" at Qalqiliya under construction.

Israeli "Separation Barrier" guard post and watchtower near Qalqiliya. 

1.3 million refugees live in Gaza one of the most densely populated areas of the world. 8000 Israeli "settlers" occupy a third of the land, control access to much of the water and enjoy a network of roads built and maintained exclusively for their own use. Palestian refugees face increasingly severe and often arbitary restrictions on even local travel.

An Israeli soldier locks one of the gates in the separation barrier near the town of Qalqilya, July 2003. The city of Qalqilya and surrounding villages and towns have been particularly hard hit by the barrier, affecting some 45,000 residents. © 2003 Agence France Presse, Text: Human Rights Watch

click on the picture for the BBC's picture allery of the aftermath of the Israeli attack on Rafah.

Building the "separation barrier" and establishing a no-go zone 300 meters on either side of it has entailed countless gross violations of Palestinian human rights.

As the Human Rights Watch report "Razing Rafah" that has preoccupied and distressed me today details, the Israeli administration's mix of punishment, revenge and reprisal as they created and extended a buffer zone around Rafah meant over the past four years that 10% of the population, 16,000 people, lost their homes, being reduced to picking over the rubble of their homes for traces of their possessions, and for many, living in tents.

Along with vast swathes of gratuitous damage to orchards, greenhouses, a zoo, and other infrastructure, the armada of American equipped Apache helicopters, tanks, F16 fighter bombers and armoured D9 Caterpillar bulldozers,  wrecked 298 house in May alone.

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, 393 residents of the Rafah governorate were killed between September 29, 2000, and August 31, 2004, including ninety-eight children under age eighteen ... In the same period, Palestinian armed groups killed ten Israeli soldiers in Rafah.  One was killed while patrolling the border, in February 2001; four others were killed during incursions inside the camp.  The other five soldiers were killed on May 12, 2004, when Islamic Jihad fighters destroyed an Israeli armored vehicle with a rocket-propelled grenade. The IDF invoked this latter incident to justify the further expansion of the buffer zone through wholesale demolition of homes.
 Human Rights Watch

A Distant Mirror?
Faced yet again with the grotesquely disproportionate violence visited on the Palestians by the Israeli administration... I wondered again... where had I previously felt upset in the way I have today?

And I remembered.

In the early 80's while researching a film about human nature, I visited KD Dachau outside Munich. Even though it is now mostly an empty space, it brimmed over with echoes of the pain, hurt, damage,  and death visited on the people unlucky enough to be incarcerated and tormented there.

"Work makes freedom" reads the sign on the gate which welcomed people to Dachau. Industrial strength cynicism. In the museum, what brought tears was a picture of a woman with a young child also on the wrong side of a fence, unmenschen, people deemed to have lives devoid of value.

The following day I travelled to KD Mauthausen, one of two dozen concentration and slave labour camps near Lintz in Austria. What had began as a film location search became a pilgrimage, as inadvertently, I arrived in Linz in the middle of the night. As I sat with others in the station waiting for morning, armed policemen prevented any of us  from sleeping. No sympathy for weary vulnerability there.

I found KD Mauthausen profoundly moving. Unlike Dachau, so much of it was still there that less was left to the imagination.  In a touching re-occupation, as though by the souls of the dead, large parts of the camp are encrusted with ceramic images of the mainly Italian but also Dutch and Russian people who were killed there. For a sharp lesson in the what cultures of domination can mean I recommend a visit. Don't miss the nearby Schloss, a medieval castle, where the Austrians collected and gassed all the disabled and 'mentally retarded' children of the Lintz neighbourhood.

It may seem too big a jump and I am open to being contradicated, but as I try to look at the big picture, what Israel seems to be doing, albeit I believe unconsciously, with the separation barrier and its astonishingly excessive use of force, coupled with abuse of power at check points, etc., in a bizarre inversion of Jewish history... is to turn Gaza into a concentration camp.

Despite its theological claims, even a brief look at its history shows Israel to be an ill-founded colonial creation, still the occupier of land stolen from the Palestinian people, who continue to object to this theft and who seek justice and restitution.  Feeling vulnerable but in deep denial of the origins of their vulnerability, many, but not all, Israelis, institutionalize their vulnerability, moving it from being acute to chronic. And in pursuit of a some dream of military invulnerability, armour themselves so effectively that they can crush generation after generation of Palestinians while failing to feel for their hurt or their sorrow or their distress. This Israeli denial morphs, rebounding as hate-driven Palestinian martyrdom.

The Israeli administration's response? Apartheit.

How can it be that we tolerate this of Israel? That for so long, and I include myself, so many people bystand it?

The Spell of Security

For some years, even though I have been burgled and mugged, I have been very sceptical of the preoccupation in the UK with what I think of as 'security as a form of unconscious impoverishment'. We apparently have many more security cameras than any other country.

Here below, not far from where I live in London is another armoured settlement.  Is it a prison? A nuclear weapons research establishment? Or a secure hospital for the mentally challenged? Or a hugely expensive riverside housing? Guess... Seemingly at war with its surroundings, it is a 'gated' housing development, one of perhaps hundreds, even thousands, in the UK.

Could it be that our tolerance and bystanding (no economic boycott, no trade sanctions) of the Israeli's denial of vulnerability and culpability and their bizarrely excessive armouring that so damages the Palestinians... arises because the cultures of domination (and exclusion) we inhabit have a lot of it in-house?

So far as we entranced by the belief that we need impregnable, invulnerable, armouring as a way of being in the world (the gate in this West London housing development even has a guard post) might we not be replicating in ourselves the denial and armouring (and psychological ignorance) that feeds and sustains the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and the supposed clash of cultures between Islam and the West?

Might this be why bystanding, passive acceptance of the intolerable, is so common?

Feeling something of the pain of a far distant people is no guarantee of the accuracy of how we respond to it.

In honour of the complexity of the struggles between vulnerability and armoured denial, and modernity and pre-modern fundamentalism, I include this link (double-click the image) to a story about another Wall.

Police try to prevent a woman from disturbing Women of the Wall, right,
 while they pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Oct. 15.

For almost 15 years, Women of the Wall — a prayer group that includes women from all streams of Judaism — has been struggling to break the Orthodox hegemony at Judaism’s holiest site, fighting for both legal and social acceptance, hoping to be able to read from the Torah, wear tallitot and pray out loud next to the venerable retaining wall of the Holy Temple. 

Their presence challenges an Orthodox tradition that only men are allowed to take part in these practices... click on the picture to read more.


Mon, 18 Oct 2004

Telling it like it isn't.

Cultures of dominance are in the business of keeping their grip on power out of sight, out of mind. This is why recognising them and generally trying to understand and interrupt dominance is so frustrating.

If you've read earlier sections of this inquiry you'll know that I have begun to settle on trance as a key component of dominance (and subjugation). To be entranced is to be hypnotised, living, for the moment, as though what a hypnotist has suggested is it true, is real. Entering a trance state means having our discrimination narrowed or disabled. (trance is a profound and under-valued human capacity but more on that another day)

One of the ways of recognising trance states is to notice the absence of reflexivity. Reflexivity is the process of asking for feedback, checking out the big picture, reviewing results, looking at what we might be avoiding. The more I've pulled up what I know about trance from other parts of my work, the more clearly I've seen how the hynotic dominance of ruling elites is maintained through disallowing or punishing reflexivity, labelling it as dissent, or disloyalty. So I have a rule of thumb—reflexivity, absent or disallowed—expect to be entranced.

Kerry v Bush
The candidates in the 2004 presidential debates had a lot to say about 'keeping America safe' but were notably lacking in broader reflexivity, for example, any hint of acknowledgement of the connection between US 'full spectrum dominance', and American feelings of vulnerability, of asking WHY America needed to be made safe. And none of their interviewers asked such obvious out of the box questions as how the administration-sanctioned excesses of Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo sit with the Christianity both candidates are committed to.

The absence of reflexivity means that the US administration, and thus the American people, fail to empathize with the indigenous peoples of the middle east. Long oppressed by the arbitrary exploitation of French, British and American imperial interests, Palestinians, Iraqis, Iranians and others, struggle to come to terms with modernity (let alone post modernism).

Without adequate reflexivity, many Americans, along with Tony Blair, to fail to see that the US administration is just as entranced by faith-based righteousness as the 'terrorist' suicide bombers. They fail to notice that perhaps these 'martyrs' amount to the 'weapons of mass destruction' before which US techno-militarism quakes. They also fail to see that only reflexivity would be effective in meeting them, through asking 'How did we provoke this?' 'How do we mirror this?' 'How did we get here?'

A 'faith-based presidency'
I have now and again wondered whether my take on the US administration's embrace of domination and it apparent roots in the spell-binding narratives of the Christian Right wasn't perhaps stereotypical, leaning to far, too fast, towards the obvious. Not so. Read on.

Earlier in the year, the New York Times admitted, though not in so many words, to having been entranced by the US administration's approach to 9/11 and its attack on Iraq. On October 17th it 'enthuastically' endorsed Senator Kerry for president. Though evidently very mainstream, their Op-Ed pages, at least to this European reader, have lately seemed busy interrupting the administration's trance states.

A strong example is this piece 'Without a Doubt' by Ron Susskind. I've extracted some quotes, but do read the whole article.

Susskind quotes a domestic policy adviser to Ronald Reagan and a treasury official for the first President Bush as telling him that:

"...if Bush wins, there will be a civil war in the Republican Party starting on Nov. 3." The nature of that conflict, as Bartlett sees it? Essentially, the same as the one raging across much of the world: a battle between modernists and fundamentalists, pragmatists and true believers, reason and religion.

...a light has gone off for people who've spent time up close to Bush: that this instinct he's always talking about is this sort of weird, Messianic idea of what he thinks God has told him to do.'

'This is why George W. Bush is so clear-eyed about Al Qaeda and the Islamic fundamentalist enemy. He believes you have to kill them all. They can't be persuaded, that they're extremists, driven by a dark vision. He understands them, because he's just like them....'

'He truly believes he's on a mission from God. Absolute faith like that overwhelms a need for analysis. The whole thing about faith is to believe things for which there is no empirical evidence.'

Susskind goes on to claim that more and more people out in the far reaches of the administration have been picking up what was clear to people close to Bush, that the essence of his style was gut and instinct.

The president would say that he relied on his "gut" or his "instinct" to guide the ship of state, and then he "prayed over it." ...a tune that has been hummed quietly by evangelicals (so as not to trouble the secular) for years as they gazed upon President George W. Bush. This evangelical group -- the core of the energetic "base" that may well usher Bush to victory -- believes that their leader is a messenger from God.

...the "gut" and "instincts," the certainty and religiosity -connects to a single word, "faith," and faith asserts its hold ever more on debates in this country and abroad.

Bush's intolerance of doubters has, if anything, increased, and few dare to question him now. A writ of infallibility -- a premise beneath the powerful Bushian certainty that has, in many ways, moved mountains -- is not just for public consumption: it has guided the inner life of the White House.

Susskind calls this accumulation of style and religiosity a 'faith-based presidency'.

The faith-based presidency is a with-us-or-against-us model that has been enormously effective at, among other things, keeping the workings and temperament of the Bush White House a kind of state secret. key feature of the faith-based presidency: open dialogue, based on facts, is not seen as something of inherent value. It may, in fact, create doubt, which undercuts faith. It could result in a loss of confidence in the decision-maker and, just as important, by the decision-maker.

In the summer of 2002, Susskind reports that after he had written an article that the White House didn't like, a senior adviser to Bush said:

'... that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality."

..."That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality --judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

Ron Suskind was the senior national-affairs reporter for The Wall Street Journal from 1993 to 2000. He is the author most recently of "The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House and the Education of PaulO'Neill."

Fri, 15 Oct 2004

Gone missing

How is domination maintained and extended? And how it can be interrupted? I became convinced a while back in this inquiry that a core activity of dominant elites, and cultures of domination generally, is to induce trance states. Recent, if increasingly tedious examples of trance induction include the government and media focus on 'weapons of mass destruction', 'war on terror', 'evil empires', evil-doers', and still commonplace, calling the invasion and occupation of Iraq a 'war'.

The trance states induced by such notions work by over-emphasising one simple idea while de-emphasising the complexity of the accompanying context, i.e. they bang on about one or two things and omit, avoid, or side-step ambivalence and contradiction.

Trance propogation

The highly ritualised duelling of the last of the two presidential debates which featured Senator John Kerry trying to break trance-master President Bush's grip on current US politics, provided an especially sharp (and globally important) example of trancework.

At first sight, Kerry seemed to me likely to provide a more competent and safer pair of hands for the responsibilities of US governance, yet on reflection he resembled yet another wizard ritually duelling with trance inductions. How so? Each candidate loudly claimed that they inhabited the Christian faith trance, each, but especially Kerry, testified to one of the key culture of domination articles of faith in the US, that gun ownership is a natural and essential feature of being American.

There were moments when the trance seemed in danger of being broken, Kerry's reference to Cheney's gay daughter for example, used afterwards by right wing media as a handy distraction from the rest of what was being said.

The Presidential debates do seem to have helpfully equalised the contest between incumbent and challenger. And yet trance seizes us by the heart through omission, through neglect. It was only days later that I realised the striking omission in all three debates. Neither the candidates nor the moderators made any any mention of the events at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo. Was this because trials were under way? Perhaps. But this hasn't stopped extensive hearings in the US Congress. Both topics, along with Israel, seemed to have become taboo, ie trance breakers.

My guess is that both Bush and his 'opponent' Kerry as he kept calling him, did see both Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib as trance breakers. Bush wouldn't raise them because of the damage Abu Ghraib had done to his faith-based Christian righteousness and Kerry wouldn't either, because to win the election he was inviting the US population to buy into his own version of that very trance and would be even less able to return to the Geneva Conventions than Bush. Much less understandably, none of the moderators raised either issue.

What else was missing from the Presidential debates? The candidates had a lot to say about keeping America safe and thus by implication the seriousness of the danger facing it but where was the context of that safety? Where for example, was the UK's or Spain's experience of enduring and surviving violent dissent by the IRA and ETA? Does this really have no value or relevance whatever for the US today?

A Terrorfied America

I look at the scale of vulnerability and fearfulness in the US and I see trance induction. The active propogation of fear by the Bush administration. Not even cynically, but arising from some activation of religiosity, a deeply felt 'fear of the Lord', a fear of retribution; ultimately a split off, denied 'Evil Other' that is felt to threaten American righteousness, 'The American Way of Life' and 'American Family Values'.

What next? Witch trials? Haven't we been here before? Joe Macarthy? Reds under the bed Communism? A nation simultaneously incomparably powerful and piteously vulnerable. Spellbound by a combination of religiosity and incompetent governance. How else can it be that the US, a nation 3000 miles wide, with almost 300 million people, the richest and technologically and creatively vibrant society the world has ever seen—is SO terrified?

Yes the trauma of 9/11 casts a deep shadow in the US, where the violence of invasion is unknown. But isn't the political exploitation of this understandable fear now the key reason why people have bought into an open-ended war on terror? Because curiously Americans seem not to be terrorised by 'normal' violent death. In the US in 2001: 43,987 deaths on the roads, 29,573 deaths by firearms, 30,622 suicides, (National Centre for Injury Prevention and Control). not to mention a prison population of 2 million. This is a key characteristic of trance in the sense that I mean it—losing sight of the context.

A year after 9/11 Ariel Dorfman wrote an 'An open letter to America' that includes the following:

My hope for America: empathy, compassion, the capacity to imagine that you are not unique. Yes, America, if this dreadful destruction were only to teach you that your citizens and your dead are not the only ones who matter on this planet, if that experience were to lead you to wage a resolute war on the multiple terrors that haunt our already murderous new century.

An awakening, America.

Not to be. What did not happen.

Your country, hijacked. Your panic, used to take you on a journey of violence from which it is hard to return, the men at the controls not worried about crashing America into the world.

I share Ariel Dorfman's sadness, and his admiration, for the many things Anerican now being poisoned by the thrust of empire. I don't believe I am alone in feeling in the last couple of years more endangered by this terrified America than by the threat of Islamic fundamentalism. In their entrancing faith in the righteous violence of domination, the one seems the mirror of the other but the enormity of US wealth and power surely makes the spellbound state of its present administration incomparably more dangerous.

Wed, 06 Oct 2004

When to kill an old dog 3

Jeannie in her last days continues to test my capacity for love and to expose the extent to which, however we decry it, domination seems threaded through our lives. I am wearing leather shoes as I write, B. eats meat.

I hadn't seen Jeannie for a little while and after a couple of days became convinced that a cusp had been crossed. In the curious reversal that dying can entail, B. now seemed to be caring for a tiny infant. The resemblance, even the sounds, were strikingly similar. And for an animal, or a person whose heart, lungs and digestion are OK, dying can take a long time. Question is, do we hasten it? And if so on what basis? I honour and admire B's devotion, this is undoubtedly living from love. In my love for her, my wishing for her what she most deeply desires, I stay alongside. Its a life task. Holding without grasping.

And yet love doesn't for me imply complete surrender of discrimination. Because a boundary does seem to have been crossed with Jeannie. Questions form, that like gravity attract answers. Is B's 24/7 devotion over-determined? Has some artefact of her history attached itself like a motor to her story? Driving it in ways that serve her interests but not Jeannies? Notwithstanding the local contradictions, is our over-arching belief that life is sacred acting as some fundamentalist anchor preventing us from taking action to end Jeannie's discomfort?

What is the cusp that I have crossed? It's a move from seeing B.s loving care for Jeannie as inescapable and essential to sharing the view of the vet that sees Jeannies condition as off the the scale insupportable, i.e. he refuses to support it. Through some tectonic shift of intuition I have moved to share this view. I hold it, I hope without grasping, without having to make it so. And, it is not my decision to take Jeannie's life.

Again questions arise that attract answers. Hasn't Jeannie had her life? Isn't it time to relinguish the demands that she makes, the power that we give her? Are we avoiding taking up the new phases of life that await us? Not for nothing have we sometimes talked about her as the god in the household. Is my shift towards deciding that the time has come to end her life driven by irritation and frustration? Impatience with what often seems to be a somewhat stalled state of life between us? And it's risky, 24/7 care, it leaves little or no slack for the contingencies of tenants who 'borrow' electricity and fail to pay their rent and neighbours writing petitions to the King, and civic authorities who inexplicably disimprove the square outside our windows.

(I need to open a bracket here, if Jeannie seemed obviously in distress i.e. that her deteriorating condition had became acute, then a call to the vet and ending her life would not be an issue)

To return to my thread, my supposed capacity for empathy generates the notion that Jeannie—a dog who is blind, deaf, somewhat incontinent and not walking or even sitting upright without help, but who, very like a tiny child, calls out to have her needs for food and rest and comfort met—has such an impoverished quality of life that it should be ended.
As of this morning all these answers seem rationalizations, especially the latter one. Is it not one of the gross examples of dominance at work in the world to decide that a person or animal's life is 'devoid of value' and that thus should, or must be ended? In another context it is one of the beliefs driving eugenics.

So in the way that matters of death and dying sharpen and ventilate our soulwork, these reflections seems to show that it is not Jeannie who has crossed a cusp towards a life devoid of value but me who who seems still infected by slivers of domination. In looking for a cusp, expecting a cusp, I found one.