Facilitate the power of love - confront the love of power

Fri, 21 Jan 2005

The Texas Ayatollah

This inquiry is about the extent to which we (and nations) can be entranced by a belief in the inevitability of our righteousness, of our dominion, of our superiority. Once such trances are broken then the world looks a different place. That was certainly true for me following yesterday's US Presidential Inauguration.

Forty years ago I was highly entranced by America, by its creativity, its music, its culture, its vigor As an art student in London I couldn't wait to get to the US. Visiting and living in the New York of Thelonius Monk, and Gil Evans was to be the cream in the coffee. And I drank so much coffee that I started a heart arrhythmia!

Returning to the US in the mid sixties, I made a film for the BBC about MIT  an organization which, when I worked there, had seemed to epitomize the intelligence and vitality of America. Called How to be First, it was filmed in the years before the moonshots, the inertial guidance systems for which were being made at MIT. This was why, we supposed, our filming merited the distant but persistent attentions of the FBI.

I saw this film again recently and was astonished to see how, naive as I was politically; I had picked up the deepening American domination trance. A trance kept glued in place as I saw it then, and even more now, by the military industrial complex (ably assisted by US network TV). I dubbed the music of Dukas Sorcerer's Apprentice over pictures of the hi-tech denizens of Cambridge's Route 128, Raytheon et. al., and over pictures of the cadet parades at MIT (many students were on military scholarships) and raised the question of whether a line had not been crossed between education and militarism. The film, a mix of wonder, awe and shock is a good match for my experience of MIT.  Perhaps not surprisingly MIT tried and failed to stop it being shown in the US.

Almost two decades later, when the insanities of Mutually Assured Destruction were casting a notably more threatening trance, I had the opportunity, along with a long term Action Research group to make a film about it called The Nuclear State.  In search of material  that would ground the group's unraveling of the spellbinding nuclear threat, I travelled again to the US. After being certified by an official at the Pentagon as no, or low threat, I trawled the vast film archives of the US Air Force, later calling on a selection of the main military industrial contractors eg Boeing, Grumman, McDonnel Douglas. The trance-breaking, dissenting posture of the finished film was underlined by its being seen as trash by the channel who had commissioned it, and it took a public fight to get it transmitted.

But back to my theme, traveling the US for this film, visiting military industrial contractors, being in touch with the sheer scale of the military industrial complex, further deflated the spell which the US cast and which I had happily bought into. I came upon a whole town making ammunition that described itself as 'munition-minded'; I realized how deeply embedded military technology was, how many mortgages were paid by people going to work every day making nuclear-ready bombers, or packing cluster bombs that scattered plastic shrapnel which didn't show up on x rays. As I arrived at Boeing, the bus paused while a cruise missile was moved from one shed to another. Reality sank in. I became increasingly convinced that the US was a prisoner of the military industrial business, its science and technology and as it seemed, its vitality, were being corrupted by the huge scale (and the secrecy and unaccountability) of military agendas and spending.

And yesterday's inauguration of President Bush, to the accompaniment of tears of fury and disappointment on my part, demolished any further remnants of the trance I might have been under regarding the US of A. Heralded by a band playing The Saints Go Marching In, and preceded by Bush speech in which he declared that 'we have a calling from... (slight hesitation) beyond the stars', the sheer scale of the false front that the Inauguration presented seemed beyond comprehension. Bush's blatantly trance-inducing repetition of 'freedom', the mismatch between it and US actions on the ground, not just this year but in preceding decades, seemed an invitation to the whole world to shout 'liar'. 

As though the context of the word 'freedom' always meant freedom from...  and had never been used by US interests in the sense of freedom to... control, dominate and exploit. And yet around half of those Americans watching this farrago I suppose were asleep to the second of these usages, or are busy profiting from it.

I often think that a helpful guideline about subliminal marketing techniques of the kind that the Bush and other administrations deploy, is to assume that if there are a lot of assertions about 'strength' or 'security', to presume this compensates for, or denies weakness. The incessant repetition of the word freedom in Bush's inaugural speech raises the question of where, how and for whom, is freedom about to be restricted.

A recycled cliché
So why did I find yesterday's Presidential Inauguration so shocking? It was as though a well-known person, a beloved friend, someone who had been a source of delight and inspiration, showed up one day at a public event stark naked and appeared entirely unaware of their nudity. Yes I know it is a well-worn cliché but this emperor really doesn't have any clothes and he doesn't know, doesn't apparently want to know.

According to Chas Freeman, former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia and head of
the independent Middle East Policy Council, Mr Bush recently asked Mr Powell for his view on the progress of the war. "We're losing," Mr Powell was quoted as saying. Mr Freeman said Mr Bush then asked the secretary of state to leave.  Financial Times 13-01-05

President Bush is a person who has no time for reflexivity. He has 'faith', he believes, i.e. is entranced by christianity

What ultimately got to me, what I felt as the deepest and most profoundly hypocritical and thus shocking aspect of the Inauguration, was that we seemed to be witnessing the swearing in of a theocracy. Christian Americana oozed from every pore. The 'god beyond the stars' seemed to be in every second sentence and in most of the music, Bless This House...  sung by Susan Graham.

Bless this house O Lord we pray; Make it safe by night and day;
Bless these walls so firm and stout, Keeping want and trouble out:
Bless the roof and chimneys tall, Let thy peace lie over all;
Bless this door, that it may prove ever open to joy and love.

Bless these windows shining bright, Letting in God's heav'nly light;
Bless the hearth a'blazing there, with smoke ascending like a prayer;
Bless the folk who dwell within, keep them pure and free from sin;
Bless us all that we may be Fit O Lord to dwell with thee;
Bless us all that one day we May dwell O Lord with thee.

The Cheney women held the family bible while The Vice President was sworn in then Denyce Groves sang The American Anthem, a dreary patriotic song composed by outgoing Attorney General Ashcroft. President Bush swore his oath and made his Inaugural speech. This was followed by several military bands and choirs singing and playing God of our Fathers.

God of our fathers, Whose almighty hand
Leads forth in beauty all the starry band
Of shining worlds in splendor through the skies
Our grateful songs before Thy throne arise.

Thy love divine hath led us in the past,
In this free land by Thee our lot is cast,
Be Thou our Ruler, Guardian, Guide and Stay,
Thy Word our law, Thy paths our chosen way.

From war’s alarms, from deadly pestilence,
Be Thy strong arm our ever sure defense;
Thy true religion in our hearts increase,
Thy bounteous goodness nourish us in peace.

Refresh Thy people on their toilsome way,
Lead us from night to never ending day;
Fill all our lives with love and grace divine,
And glory, laud, and praise be ever Thine.

As I have observed here before, lots of god and not enough love. There was more to come in the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell's Benediction

Oh Lord God Almighty
The Supply and Supplier of faith and freedom
How excellent is Your Name in all the earth
You are great and greatly to be praised
Oh God, as we conclude this 55th inaugural ceremony
We conclude it with an attitude of thanksgiving
Thank you for protecting America's borders
After all, as the psalmist reminds us
Unless you O God guard the territory our efforts will be in vain
Thank you for our armed service personnel
And it is with our unswerving thanksgiving that we pause to remember the persons... who have made the ultimate sacrifice to help ensure America's safety.
Thank you O god for surrounding our personnel, their families, and our allies with your favour and your faithfulness
Deploy your Host from heaven so that your will for American will be performed on earth as it is already perfected in Heaven.
I confess that your face will shine upon the United States of America, granting us social peace and economic prosperity
Particularly for the weary and the poor
I also confess Oh God that each American's latter days will be better than their former days
Let it be unto us according to your word
Rally the Republicans, the Democrats, and the independents around your common good
So that America will truly become one nation under god
With liberty justice and equal opportunity for all including the least, the last, and the lost.
Bless every elected official right now
Oh God I declare your blessings shower upon our president George W. Bush
Bless him, his family, and his administration
I once again declare that no weapon formed against them shall prosper
And God, forgive us for becoming so ensnarled in petty partisan politics that we miss your glory and flunk our purpose.
Deliver us from the Evil One
From Evil itself.
And from the mere appearance of Evil.
Give us clean hearts so that we might have clean agendas, clean priorities and programmes and even clean financial statements
And now unto you Oh God the One who always has been and always will be the one King of Kings and the true power broker
We glorify and honour you
Respecting persons of all faiths, I humbly submit this prayer in the name of Jesus Christ

Why do I include so much of this stuff? Partly because it epitomizes trance induction but mostly because of the disconnect it entails, even celebrates. Sitting behind Kirbyjon Caldwell as he delivered his Benediction were rows of people who have either endorsed, or are prepared to bystand, the legitimizing of torture, imprisonment without trial or access to lawyers, and the indiscriminate bombing and shelling of women, children and non-combatants.

The whole ceremony recycled the pre-psychological trance of christianity, telling us that god was the ultimate authority, it not us that's doing this, its not us that are in power here, it is not our full spectrum dominance, our shock and awe, we are only doing god's work. This is telling the ultimate lie, the ultimate in irresponsibility, it is not me that does this, no matter how many people die, no matter how much damage and distress we cause, it is god's work. As though the Jesus story of humility and gentleness and caring didn't exist.

It is perhaps only personal but the single image that I most tripped over was this young soldier, (and that it was a soldier), who was put up to lead the singing of the wall-to-wall warfare-talk of the American national anthem.

Technical Sargeant Bradley Bennet sings US National Anthem

Oh, say can you see, by the dawn's early light,

What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, now conceals, now discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines on the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner! O long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wiped out their foul footstep's pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heaven-rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

The military rigidity of his posture, the high peaked hat and badge—the serried ranks of the faithful singing along—the mix of blind faith and militarism—while during these very moments US military might was 'killing people and breaking things' in the name of freedom in Iraq and elsewhere in the world—hadn't I seen this somewhere before? In Nazi Germany?

Very unpalatable, but I realize that increasingly what I feel about the US is what I suspect many people in Germany in the 30's must have felt as the Nazi craziness grew and spread and its ambitions of world domination were being implemented—alarmed, endangered and helpless. Yes, lets go on with this, unpalatable or not, Guantanamo, Bagram, Abu Ghraib, 'concentration camps' under development? And the pending installation as US Attorney General of the man who wrote the legal advice to the President that has legitimized torture by the US military; adding the Geneva conventions on warfare to the list of international agreements in which the US unilaterally declines to participate. A sad day. I hope I'm wrong.

Mon, 17 Jan 2005

Values and framing

George Lakoff says that in contradicting and interrupting political attitudes and tendencies it is vital to get your values straight. And to use them in framing how we speak about what matters to us. So I thought I'd dig around and see if I could sharpen up what I reckon to be my 'values'. I mean an intelligent person would know what their values are, would have them on the tips of their tongues, wouldn't they? So here goes.

As a therapist it seems to me insufficient to have only an adequate body of knowledge and practice. I feel that it is essential to also have a meta model of what life is about, or to put it more accurately, what is ultimately of value, what is sacred? For me what is ultimately sacred is life itself. Being alive is so astonishly improbable, so remarkable, that as a human value, certainly my human value, it gets a triple underline. What immediately follows from this is that honouring life in all its forms means putting a very high value on the sacred, or as some people would call it spirituality. See 'When to kill an old dog' for some earlier discussion of spirituality.

As I shuffled the pack of thoughts and images that coalesce into the list of what matters to me, what counts, what moves and touches me, next came reflexivity. Reflexivity means 'knowing that we know', it means knowing how we do ourselves, including being aware of the likely extent to which we are unconscious of ourselves. In practice it means sustaining a continuing inquiry into the hows and whys of human existence, the processes of daily life. As I see it, reflexivity is the irreducible core value of psychologizing. And so psychologizing is an intimate partner of the sacred/spirituality, with reflexivity as a bridge between them.

If, however haphazardly and intermittently I am engaged in reflexivity about myself and the world around me, then I can hardly fail to notice the extent to which power is a part of the hows and whys of daily life that I mentioned above. 'Power over', 'power with', 'power from within', to use Starhawk's definition. And so far as we are aware of how we use, abuse, or lose the power we have due to us, we will be aware of its antithesis, love—actively seeking the flourishing of others, and being open to their efforts to support our flourishing.

What does this mean on the day, in the street? Reflexivity, the sacredness of life, and love are presently my core values, the values at the head of the list. These are the values that I try to live from, that you get here if you visit, as you presently are doing, or if you work with me as a practitioner.

To madly mix metaphors, values are spectacles through which we see the world, a compass by which we orient ourselves, a sign post that reminds us of the direction we are choosing to move in, and when they are connected to feeling and emotion they tell us what matters. As an example of what I mean by reflexivity, sometime soon I intend stepping back to make a review of the whole of this inquiry, at which point I guess I'll return to these notions.

Sun, 16 Jan 2005


One of my lines of inquiry recently has been to revisit the Psychohistory take on world events, which has shaped my approach to politics in the twenty years or so since I read Lloyd deMause's History of Childhood and Foundations of Psychohistory.

The key psychohistory notion is that the varieties and agendas of politics and wars are the transgenerational outcomes of different and especially improving styles of child-rearing. As deMause has shown, I believe very convincingly, read his History of Childood, there has been a continuing evolution in the quality of childcare that has accelerated in the last hundred years, so that, less traumatized by 'normal' childhood, there is a corresponding shift in the politics that people see as appropriate to their experience. And as is only too apparent the actual politics we have dates from a previous generation and doesn't interest significant numbers of the population. Psychohistory has greatly nourished my optimism, I have taken from it sense that even though history seems to be cyclical, it may have a benign direction, that is rooted in gradual but perceptible improvements in the quality and empathy of parenting.

I do find myself tripping over the psychoanalytical 'regimes of truth' in deMause's writing but his congruence with other people who have enquired deeply into the relations between upbringing and politics, such as George Lakoff is considerable. Lakoff's contrasts 'strict father' parenting with 'nurturant parenting' while deMause sees the mothering style as having the biggest childhood influence. Read it for yourself, several chapters from Lloyd deMause's recent book The Emotional History of Nations are available online here.

Does childcare evolve in a benign direction? Two pieces of evidence emerged recently that, however haphazardly and incrementally slowly, this is so. Following Scottish law earlier this year, and as so often, Scandinavian laws a decade or more ago, today marks the introduction of a law in the UK that bans the smacking of children. Smacking children is illegal IF it leaves marks. Well yes, lots have people have commented that this is a flawed masterpiece of legislation but to me its very existence seems a miracle. For more on this here is a BBC report and a site that will keep you up to date on opinions and progress with the day-to-day application of the law.

Alongside this towards the end of 2004 there an anti-bullying week in the UK, and anti-bullying 'strategies' are mandatory for all UK schools, which on the ground means teaching mediation skills. The government even has an anti-bullying web-site. Is all this the result of an increase in bullying? Or, as with child abuse generally, an increased awareness of how 'normal' bullying has been? The latter I guess matches my experience.

Sat, 15 Jan 2005

Trance again

The notion of trance has been a constant theme for me since I undertook a hypnosis training in the early 80's and then declined to use it, (I felt it gave way too much power to the practitioner).

Trance is a pedestal that raises up and legitimizes state violence, enabling it to be perceived as heroic and triumphal. A 'war' trance is generated in the first instance by rationalizations of the urgency or inevitability of the need for violence, of which the WMD fiction can hardly be bettered as an example. The trance is then sustained by the contingencies of fighting and 'security', i.e. that the zone of action is so dangerous (or so secret) that reporting from it, as is presently the case in Iraq, is minimal.  The destruction of 70% of Falluja in the name of 'democracy' and 'freedom', despite considerable evidence—very few dead insurgents—that the 'resistance' had moved elsewhere—has been a clear example another is the imbalance in the range of pictures we see coming out of Iraq, for example, more,  pictures of the dead in Falluja. By narrowing the focus of our attention, or conversely extending the compass of our inattention, trance enables administrations and organizations to push the primary agendas of a conflict, and especially the damage that it entails, out of consciousness. So that once again in my living memory, Iraqi (and Palestinian) civilian lives are seen to be 'devoid of value'. 

When, as with the Abu Ghraib pictures, the torture in Guantanamo and by the UK in the south of Iraq currently in the news, and the leakage through blogs such as this page from Dahr Jamail's Iraq Dispatches about mysterious goings on in 'free' Fallujah, and cameramen such as Kevin Sites, the invisibility of the hidden oppression and damage is interrupted, the trance of moral superiority is broken and the psychic weakness behind the US false front of  shock and awe is revealed. Might Abu Ghraib and/or Falluja, as I fancy, amount to an inflection point? A point of no return, following which the initial intentions of the attack are seen to fail? Perhaps, though as always, withdrawal will take some time yet.

A couple of reminders were they to be needed. The UK/US media often describe what has been happening in Aghanistan, Bagram and Abu Ghraib and especially Guantanamo, as 'abuse' when 'torture' is the accurate description. Also just as important, I continue to think that the accurate way of framing the Iraq adventure is as an 'attack'. Calling it a 'war', tolerating other people calling it a 'war', is to tolerate and propagate the Bush/Blair trance induction that ending the Saddam Hussein regime at this time and in this way was a rational, logical necessity, i.e. that the US and the UK were actually in any danger whatever from the Iraqi regime. As witness the declaration this week, that the search for WMD, itself a key element of the trance induction in Iraq, had been quietly dropped.

Fri, 14 Jan 2005


Recent weeks have been another period where this inquiry has felt overwhelmed by data around domination.

I was away for the end of year holiday and out of reach of TV and newspapers except in headline form. So I knew about the tsunami in Asia but as I subsequently realized, didn't see it, and so didn't experience it. This is not a compliment to the BBC's web news pages, which is all I had access to, much though I tend to generally admire them. Returning to urban civilization from the rural life of new babies, rest and recuperation, and carrying wood for the stove, I was as much shocked by the enormous flush of financial empathy for the Far East as I was by the tsunami disaster itself.

I was shocked too by the way that this wonderfully generous response to the terrible deaths of 150,000 people sat alongside the tolerance and indifference to the continuing results of the UK/US attack on Iraq. How curious that while we are powerless to prevent earthquakes, they provoke such an immediate felt response for the victims. By contrast, unless you work at it, details of the damage that has been inflicted on Iraq in the name of neo-colonial 'democracy', are mostly out of the public eye. Too dangerous/expensive to report. Too horrible to look at. And the equivalent numbers of casualties from this escapade... 10,000 soldiers injured, 1000+ soldiers dead. And Iraqi casualties? Well no, we're not counting, the US military have said. Estimates have suggested 100,000. Why don't they register like the dead from the tsunami? Because they are humanly created? Intentional? The collateral damage of our appetite for oil for energy that they have shedloads of, and we depend on? Shame for our complicity? Shame for our inability to influence, interrupt, or prevent the attack on Iraq. When I found this Terry Jones article and later this entry in Dahr Jamail's Iraq blog I was relieved to feel that I not alone in this perception of the tsunami.

Interesting too that apparently, alone of anywhere else in vicinity of the earthquake epicentre, the American military base on Diego Garcia had warning of the coming tsunami, which is perhaps why, even though it is only a few metres above the sea level, no damage seems to have been reported.