Facilitate the power of love - confront the love of power

Mon, 10 Oct 2005

Goodbye g.o.r.i.l.l.a...

I've taken the opportunity of a holiday space to rethink and refurbish this Action Research inquiry into facilitating the power of love and confronting the love of power.

To more clearly underline the aims and intentions of the inquiry, I've moved it to new location and put it into a new more accessible format. I've also changed the title from g.o.r.i.l.l.a. to livingfromlove. This may also help me manage the incoming tide of powerfreakery that here, as in the rest of life, tends to swamp the living from love.

To keep the earlier unfolding of the inquiry easily accessible, I've created a separate CONTENTS listing the material as it emerged... from earliest to latest.

In honour of the antecedents of this phase of the inquiry, I'll quote a few paragraphs from its opening statement

g.o.r.i.l.l.a. began ten year ago as a focus for resisting the abuse of power in the work I do, psychotherapy. That is still a necessary task but it has been overshadowed by the need to confront the abuse of power on the wider political stage. OK, perhaps this is nothing new but events of the last 10 years have sharpened my perspective.

What do I see? Two key trends:
1. A more nurturing approach to parenting—coupled with a greater tolerance and capacity for emotionality. These seem to have led to an increasing awareness of the extent to which sexual and child abuse, domestic violence and bullying are a damaging facet of 'normality' in child-care.
2. The collapse of the USSR project and its client states, brought into sharper focus the abuses of power by the US and its client states that had previously been masked by the Cold War.

The first of these is close to home, part of the work I do. The second has seemed out of reach, out of my range and competence but no longer. The open assertion that 'full spectrum dominance' should shape US foreign policy has made politics everybody's business. The notion that links all these trends is Dominance—the belief that  'might is right', that bullying is natural, that the use of force and coercion are  inevitable and essential ingredients of human life—and that its shadow, subordination and victimization, is also natural and inescapable.

g.o.r.i.l.l.a. is devoted to unravelling and confronting these beliefs. They have seemed to be a 'given', a part of human existence. Might they not be self-serving social constructions that promote and support exploitation and generate damage? Might they not be obsolete? An old paradigm of relating that promises to end all relating?

Some hints and pointers:
People who inherit, gravitate to, are elected to, or seize, dominant roles, tell stories about reality that justify their tyrannies.
People who have been disinherited, side-lined, abused or exploited also tell stories that often justify or rationalize their victimhood.

The extent to which the media mirrors through which we know ourselves socially are in the hands of dominant corporate tyrants tends to mean that victimhood is seen as due to failure and weakness.
Since tyrannies tend to have the power to enforce compliance, and side-line or censor contradictions, their stories  can seem to be 'true'.

A key element of how dominance plays out is dissociation. Tyrannies hide from themselves the damage that arises out of dominance, or if it cannot be hidden, it is held to be due to the weakness and failure on the part of subordinates.

We can learn to recognize the cultures of domination that we inhabit and resist,  interrupt, and contradict them in ourselves and others.

And where does love feature in all this? So far as love is defined as the active mutual pursuit of flourishing with Others— it requires the absence of coercion and force.  In other words Dominance  is the antithesis of Love. Learning to love, learning to live from love, thus requires that we also confront our inner tyrants, that we move to eliminate our use of force and coercion and work to build the skills and emotional competence that negotiation and cooperation require.

Mon, 01 Aug 2005

Reaping the whirlwind

- the  London bombings
The London 7/7 bombings and the 21/7 failure, lend impetus to this enquiry into the naturalness or otherwise of domination. I was touched by the number of people who called to check that I was OK and surprised at the less than visceral shock evoked in me by the images and reporting of these close at hand events. Was this perhaps because I had taken care to try to keep in touch with the parallel atrocities in Iraq and occupied Palestine? Maybe... I certainly felt that some kind of blowback from the Iraq and Afghanistan attacks was inevitable. Not a dissident view this, since police chiefs have been talking up the possibility of a UK attack for some months.

What surprised me more was that, in the media I see—excepting Robin Cook in the Guardian and Tony Benn, BBC Newsnight—there was barely a voice that asked the obvious question about  7/7, why would anyone want to end their life in this way, as a suicide 'smart bomb'? Was this a question that, out of undue respect for the victims and their families was unaskable? Was the UK going to repeat the denial of culpability that was prevalent in the US ?

Since a) I wasn't finding answers to this line of questioning and b) prompted by blatantly dominationist writing in a couple of the publications I have access to, I started to look for myself.

On Tuesday July 26th Mark Steyn begins a piece in the Daily Telegraph:

According to his cousins back in Pakistan, Yorkshire lad Shehzad Tanweer decided to become a "holy warrior" because of "US abuse of Muslim prisoners in Guantanamo Bay".

There is, of course, no "US abuse of Muslim prisoners in Guantanamo Bay". Newsweek's story about Korans being flushed down the toilet turned out to be a crock; minor examples of possible disrespect of the holy book are outweighed by multiple desecrations of their Korans by the detainees. One man was exposed to Christina Aguilera CDs played very loud in an attempt to break him, which I can't say I'd care for. Another had large chunks of Harry Potter read to him, but don't worry, it wasn't the new one.

None the less, to avenge the brutal torture of having Harry Potter read to you by a woman, Shehzad Tanweer self-detonated on the Underground and killed seven people. Ted Kennedy, Newsweek and the British press might like to ponder that before they puff up the next shameful torture technique (insufficient selection of entrées?) into front page news.

Steyn ignores, or hasn't seen the Jane Mayer's article, New Yorker July 11-18, which details the torture and ill treatment of Guantanamo prisoners (and the role of psychological and medical professionals in devising it). As she tells it, even FBI agents complained to their superiors about Guantanamo interrogations:

"On a couple of occasions I entered an interview room to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor,with no chair, food or water,' he wrote. Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves and had been left there for 18 to 24 hours or more." The agent related that he had also visited an " almost unconscious" prisoner in a room where the temperature was "probably well above 100 degrees, "There was a "pile of hair next to him." (He seemed to have pulled out his own hair.)

How do you suppose, coupled with the Abu Ghraib images, Steyn's blatant denial of the torture of prisoners in Guantanamo reads to an adherent of Islam in the UK or the rest of the world?

The Steyn article led me to another article, in the Spectator, The myth of moderate Islam where Patrick Sookhdeo pilloried a Pakistani writer Abid Ullah Jan for having apparently applauded the London bombings. 'The gist of the article', Sookhdeo claimed:

... is that Muslims should strive to gain political and military power over non-Muslims, that warfare is obligatory for all Muslims, and that the Islamic state, Islam and Sharia (Islamic law) should be established throughout the world. All is supported with quotations from the Koran.

Sookhdeo goes on to argue that:

...the Koran is like a pick-and-mix selection. If you want peace, you can find peaceable verses. If you want war, you can find bellicose verses. You can find verses which permit only defensive jihad, or you can find verses to justify offensive jihad.

Moving off Ullah Jan's text, Sookhdeo says that in the Qur'an:

You can even find texts which specifically command terrorism, the classic one being Q8:59-60, which urges Muslims to prepare themselves to fight non-Muslims, ‘Against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war, to strike terror into (the hearts of) the enemies’ (A. Yusuf Ali’s translation). Pakistani Brigadier S.K. Malik’s book The Quranic Concept of War is widely used by the military of various Muslim countries. Malik explains Koranic teaching on strategy: ‘In war our main objective is the opponent’s heart or soul, our main weapon of offence against this objective is the strength of our own souls, and to launch such an attack, we have to keep terror away from our own hearts.... Terror struck into the hearts of the enemies is not only a means, it is the end itself. Once a condition of terror into the opponent’s heart is obtained, hardly anything is left to be achieved. It is the point where the means and the end meet and merge. Terror is not a means of imposing decision on the enemy; it is the decision we wish to impose on him.’(my emphasis)

Sookhdeo argues that the notion that 'Islam is peace' doesn't stand up to close inspection of the Qur'an, an often quoted verse does say that ‘If you kill one soul it is as if you have killed all mankind.’ but he goes on, the full and unexpurgated version of Q5:32 states:

‘If anyone slew a person — unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land — it would be as if he slew the whole people.’ The very next verse lists a selection of savage punishments for those who fight the Muslims and create ‘mischief’ (or in some English translations ‘corruption’) in the land, punishments which include execution, crucifixion or amputation.

Hmm. All the Muslims I have met have been notably gentle, kind and caring, so what is it that has got up the noses of those who see their destiny as suicide bombers?

That something is up the nose and more, of Abbid Ullah Jan, is easily apparent from even a casual dip into some of the writing helpfully listed here.

Rage is what first comes to mind, the rage of a lightning conductor, someone who is trying to channel the huge emotional charge of oppressed subordination so that it reaches the ears of  dominant ruling classes. A tough role, Al Jazeera is another example, and one likely to damage those who hold it.
In the first piece I came to, The "Death Cult" or Superfascism Ullah Jan answers my question of why anyone would want to end their lives as a suicide bomber. It's nothing to do with Islam.

What made the young Muslims, raised in this society, do this?

...Bush, Blair and their fellow war lords have a pre-conceived answer for this question: Muslims are “in the grip of a dangerous cult” of the “poisonous misinterpretation of Islam.”

We are told: “No, Islam is a great religion. They act like misinterpretation.”

...Is it that blowing themselves [up] irrationally, and killing women and children and all innocent people for no reason at all is dear to Allah and He will reward Muslim with
70 virgin in heaven after their successfully blowing themselves from
limb to limb?

Ullah Jan dismisses any suggestion that there is a message within Islam, misinterpreted or not, that requires this martyrdom. He goes on:

An impartial analysis reveals that it is not some kind of inspiration due to misinterpretation of Islam, but depression and desperation as a result of the lies and double standards of those who have exploited freedom and democracy to the extent of turning it into something worse than a death cult. Cult leaders die with the rest of cult members. They don’t kill those who are not part of the cult. But the super-fascists of the our age live peacefully while putting the future of humanity at stake.

Unlike the cult phenomenon, the super-fascists prefer to live and rule
the world. For realizing their totalitarian designs, they don’t mind lying, cheating and killing their own people at home as well as through sending them abroad for invasions and occupation. Killing hundreds of thousands of aliens, who do not share their religious faith, culture totalitarian ideologies, is not even as much as a pinprick for their dead conscience.

Since Islam doesn’t approve killing of innocent civilians and no sane
person can ever leave all his own loved ones behind and go on a mission to kill innocent loved ones of others, it must be something far more serious than the myth that these individuals are suffering from “a poverty of dignity and wealth or rage.”

The perpetrators could be Muslims. But they are definitely not inspired
by religion or its misinterpretation. They are the product of a reaction to the super-fascism of their age.

And so I was returned to my theme of domination. Ullah Jan distinguishes in this article between jihad and jihadism:

Jihad is always for self-actualisation, eradication of mischief and eliminating oppression with a focus on spiritual aspect at all levels.

He sees jihadism as a label:

that the US uses as a bogyman to criminalise resistance to its illegitimate occupations and to justify the policy of total domination through its “war on terrorism.”

In support of this he points to evidence suggesting that the Russians were seduced into invading Afghanistan by the CIA's promotion of jihad and the information that the generation of jihadis that Bin Laden orchestrates were nourished by vast amounts of US produced educational material:

The Washington Post's Joe Stephens and David B. Ottaway report about this process of spreading, what the US now labels as “Jihadism”:

"In the twilight of the Cold War, the United States spent millions of dollars to supply Afghan schoolchildren with textbooks filled with violent images and militant Islamic teachings, part of covert attempts to spur resistance to the Soviet occupation. The "Primers", which were filled with talk of jihad and featured drawings of guns, bullets, soldiers and mines, have served since then as the Afghan school system's core curriculum. Even the Taliban used the American-produced books..." [2]

Unlike the ongoing efforts to eliminate the Islamic concept of Jihad from school curriculum around the Muslim world, Stephens and Ottaway identify how the US governmental and educational organizations were involved in actually developing Jihad-focused textbooks. They write:

"Published in the dominant Afghan languages of Dari and Pashtu, the textbooks were developed in the early 1980s under an AID [Agency for
International Development] grant to the University of Nebraska-Omaha and its Center for Afghanistan Studies. The agency spent $51 million on the university's education programs in Afghanistan from 1984 to 1994."

Under this Jihadism project, the images and talk of resistance to occupation were craftily intermingled with regular education: "Children were taught to count with illustrations showing tanks, missiles and land mines, agency officials said.

"One page from the texts of that period shows a resistance fighter with a bandolier and a Kalashnikov slung from his shoulder. The soldier's head is missing. Above the soldier is a verse from the Koran. Below is a Pashtu tribute to the mujaheddin [sic], who are described as obedient to Allah. Such men will sacrifice their wealth and life itself to impose Islamic law on the government, the text says." 

The United States’ Jihadism successfully transformed Afghan children into true freedom fighters. None of the present analyst, obsessed with using the word Jihadism and Jihadists, wrote a single word to condemn the US ways to promoting violence. Many of the presently labeled “Jihadists” live on from that period to join or morally support the
resistance against new occupations.

Now that the US comes to reap the whirlwind, many Americans consider attacks on US occupation forces a shocking and unsettling crime.

I begin to feel hooked by two narratives here. One story says that the 'terrorism' in London, Madrid, Bali, Sharm al Sheik and Israel is due to an insane distortion of Islam which seeks by these means to bring a sharia law caliphate to the presently non-Muslim world.

The other story tells us that the extremity of self-immolation of suicide bombers can only be accounted for as the coming to focus of a reservoir of rage due to 80+ years of imperial and colonial oppression of Muslim peoples by western governments through military force and the privileged promotion of corporate interests.

Following C.S Scott's highly recommendable notion of dominant and subordinate political narratives that are often unable to hear each other, let alone empathize with the other story, this sounds promisingly like such a pairing.

The dominant narrative can't/won't hear the subordinate narrative, partly because it is perceived as coming from a 'barbaric', or 'primitive' culture but mostly because to accept it all would fatally undermine the politics of the dominant story. (if hostage takers empathize with their captives, they are much less likely to be able to kill them)

The subordinate narrative, with neither the assets nor the power to negotiate with the narrators of the dominant story, tells its tale through welding whatever spiritual imperatives that are to hand to the indigenous ingenuity of the suicide bomb.

Through doing this, the oppressed of the worldwide muslim communities, finding a smart weapon that upstages the smart weaponry of the dominant, reproduce in the streets of Baghdad and London and Bali and Madrid, the domination of the oppressor. Non violent direct action doesn't (yet) seem an option.

Paradoxically, this matching of resources compromises the subordinate storytellers' cause, since it enables a curious perversion of blaming and media collusion in the re-telling of the dominant story.  Prime Minister Blair labels the violence and damage of the London bomber's actions as 'evil', or 'criminal', shutting down consideration of the oppressed muslim world's bombings as a subordinate voice, with something to tell us that we need to listen to. In doing so he endorses the US in its denial of culpability  and joins the 'war on terrorism', the transparent subtext of which is the licencing of US  'full spectrum dominance' worldwide.

And so I get back to my beginning question, how come so few people seem to ask why the London and other bombers would do something so extreme?

I'm inclined to conclude that we don't ask this question because we inhabit cultures of domination where the stories we are told, and that we are licenced to tell ourselves, are sharply restricted to those that don't unduly disturb the narrators of the dominant story i.e. ourselves.

The answer we would find, as I seem to have found, is that for hundreds of thousands of people in the middle east this, and this, and this, and this, is the subordinate story they presently inhabit. Such stories of pain, hurt, grief and suffering are hard to bear, and if we can avoid them, we do.

After all, who except suicide bombers, would want to be a lightning conductor carrying the emotional charge of a 100 years of oppression, betrayal and exploitation of the Middle East?

Abbid Ullah Jan is a regular contributor to media-monitors network-canada.

Sun, 31 Jul 2005

Pause for breath

Pursuing an enquiry like this is necessarily a haphazard matter. The demands of employment and households knock me off my enquirer perch.  By the time I have climbed back up events have moved on, agendas have disappeared and priorities have changed (note the bird in a cage metaphor, an example of how despite our best efforts, domination can live on in us !)

Also, the exploration and development of satygraha—positive programme—tend to be overwhelmed by new items of evidence, new insights into the how and why of domination.

And I begin to see an awkward tension between the unfolding of the enquiry process and reporting on it. Too much detail of the process (such as this piece) obscures its usefulness and yet the validity of the enquiry requires being explicit about its process. I'm looking into how to keep the process more distinct from the 'findings' or reports. 

Another example of the tail wagging the dog is that by far the most visited area of g.o.r.i.l.l.a. is the Picture Gallery.  This pleases me a lot since one of the reasons I write and publish here on the web is that it contradicts one of the hidden  aspects of domination—the hegemony of text (and some would say, English text) OK, I could have published on these topics in refereed journals, but academic publishing, though incomparably more accessible and cross-indexed than it used to be, remains a vehicle for text and diagrams.

And as I found with my experience of The Mind Gymnasium, writing and developing an extensively illustrated book requires a quantum leap of resources compared with monochrome text. In consequence a hierarchy of importance is supported that unconsciously sells us the notion that anything and everything of consequence can necessarily be  expressed in text and that images are of much less consequence.

This flies in the face of daily reality where tv and cheap colour printing, and more recently, the Internet, digital still and cameras, dvds, colour printers, camera phones, photocopying etc, have made the image ubiquitous. Owning the means of production for publishing writing and images has become as commonplace as owning a phone. (The  challenge to conventional politics that this poses has yet to work its way through our electoral processes.)

Dominance weather
Like mobile phones the image is multilingual. And much of the surge of political conflict of recent years seems to me to have been image fed.

For example if you are one of countless Muslims who live near this advertisement in central Brussels, how do you handle its challenge to your cultural preferences?


It speaks but what does it say?

That corporate capitalism, on the way to exhausting its exploitation of the material world, is now busy colonising intimacy, sexuality...

...and human feeling, turning them into things, products?

'Oh well we all know this' you say. But is this colonization just a trivial aspect of modern life, unworthy of the kind of attention I give it here? Or does it, as I believe, amount to a kind 'dominance weather' that clouds the skies of daily life, hiding our psychotic devotion to the comfort zones of consumerism, religion and wealth creation, and disconnecting us from feeling the damage that dominance causes?

So that when, as James C. Scott has pointed out, tension between this, and other, opposing ideologies become very heightened, and the lightning strikes of 'terrorism' kill those near and dear to us, we see it as god-denying, ie 'evil', and 'enemy'-driven, not the result of the core beliefs about human nature that we hold to be true.

The response to such lightning strikes by one London tabloid seem to me a good examples of this 'dominance weather'.

In the face of the 9/11 attack on new York, the Daily Express brandishes its crusader logo and its christian credentials.

A month later, the worldview embodied in the Daily Express crusader logo has been matched by the claim 'The world at war'... (with Islam?)

In the week after the July 2005 bomb attacks on the London underground,
again under it crusader logo, the Daily Express claimed (below) to know what the core values of its readers demanded.

As I guess most of the world knows, the 'terrorist' the headlines refer to was a Brasilian electrician unconnected with the recent bombings in the UK, who was killed by eight bullets from armed police while held face down on the floor of a London underground tube train.

Newspapers intentionally reflect and reiterate those attitudes that are proven to sell newspapers. This headline screams for the merciless vengeance of raw dominance. Meanwhile the crusader (top) and the notion of 'evil' (bottom) both identify the page as brandishing a christian worldview.  Do they reflect, or create, or colonize, the worldview of the Express's 2 million readers?

If you haven't visited this enquiry's accumulation of other vernacular evidence of how deeply domination seems to be embedded in our daily lives, take a deep (preferably broadband) breath and visit the Picture Gallery now.

Sat, 30 Jul 2005

Giving children the education they deserve.

As the scale and depth to which domination and the love of power is entrenched in our daily lives become visible A question that arises real fast is how do we  move from the love of power to the power of love?

So far as we become aware of this distortion of human potential in ourelves, we do what we can to rectify it. And then comes another question, how do we help ensure that our children or grandchildren don't be come affected (I was going to say infected) by the cultures of dominance that we inhabit?

Conventional education, at least in the UK  too often seems to amount to 'schooling', regimes of deference of one or another kind in which, in classes or 30 or more, the child is required to drink from the fountain of a one fits all state-defined curriculum.  Many perhaps most, seeing the 'jobs', 'career', 'qualifications', writing on the wall shutdown creativity, imagination and self-direction, and get on the hoop-jumping that is demanded. Not surprisingly, a substantial vein of children decline this opportunity, embrace some form of  'Oppositional Defiant Disorder' and find better things to do with their minds and energies, with corresponding benmefits and drawbacks

So if this is the prospect for your child what do you do? One option a tough option is to found a school that educates that how curioys that it needs to be said, is child-centred rather than adults centered as state and private education  too often is.

In response to these kinds of concerns, a colleague, Richard House, inspired the founding of a Waldord Steiner School in Norwich, Norfolk, UK. I asked him to tell me how he did it

Well, that’s a big question, with many facets.

I have had 7 or so years experience of the Steiner schools movement now, since undertaking my first, Steiner Class Teacher training in the late 1990s. As well as being involved in the founding of a new Steiner school here in Norwich over the same time period, I am a trustee of a major and long-established Steiner teacher training course and a regularly published writer on educational issues.

The decision to found a school in Norwich was very much a collective decision taken by a diverse group of  people (of which I was a part) who both had major reservations about the nature of mainstream education and schooling systems, and also greatly admired the holistic educational experience that Steiner (Waldorf) education offers. I could say a great deal about both of these motivations, as I personally identify strongly with both of these influences.

There is currently very little if any choice for parents and families who are dissatisfied with ‘mainstream education’ (in which category I include both state schools and independent schools which broadly follow the national curriculum, and which mimic the testing and assessment regime of the state sector). Of course, families can opt for home education – and indeed record numbers are doing so; but for those parents who are either not inclined to home-educate, or for whom it would be quite impractical, Steiner schools, Montessori schools (which only commonly go up to about 8 years of age) and schools in the ‘human scale education’ (HSE) movement are just about all that is on offer in the UK.

Geographically, 7 years ago there were just two other Steiner schools in the whole of East Anglia – a small one in rural Norfolk and a larger one in Cambridge. I know a number of families who have actually changed careers and life-styles in order to relocate their family so that they live near a Steiner school – there must be literally hundreds if not thousands of families who have done this over the years. Norwich is a very independently minded part of the country, with lots of radical thinking people – the kind of medium-sized city that is a potentially ideal location for a Steiner school.

The original founding group consisted of three parents of young children who wanted a Steiner Kindergarten and school for their children, and an elderly anthroposophist who has been a student of Rudolf Steiner’s manifold cultural contributions for many years. (‘Anthroposophy’ refers to the spiritual stream founded by Rudolf Steiner after the First World War, a movement which draws upon Steiner’s many ‘spiritual scientific’ insights into humanity, life and the cosmos.)

As I understand it, this is fairly typical of the way in which Steiner schools first begin: although there is a lot of support available for new initiatives from the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship, new schools necessarily emerge from the independent initiative of local groups who see a vision for a new school in their area and/or for their children, and set about bringing it about. But needless to say – founding a new school which is independent of the state system, and which has to be entirely self-financing through the efforts of people who are commonly not materialistic people with lots of spare wealth at their disposal, is far far more easily said than done! But I guess your next question will perhaps take us more into the actual process of founding our school – though of course (and as Steiner himself always emphasised), schools are always and necessarily unique.

But first, a bit about Rudolf Steiner himself and the educational system he spawned, as a kind of mystique often surrounds the man, which it is best to demystify at the outset. Not least, it’s a mystery to many just how one of humanity’s most original and wide-ranging thinkers and seers is so comparatively little recognised in the range of fields on which he has had, and continues to have, such a profound influence. The author of over 30 books and the deliverer of over 6,000 lectures in his lifetime, his full collected works (in German) come to a staggering 350 volumes; and his lasting legacy includes uniquely innovative ‘impulses’ in fields as wide-ranging as curative education and social therapy (the world-renowned Camphill Communities); biodynamic agriculture (a precursor of organic agriculture); holistic (anthroposophical) medicine; architecture and design; the arts (Eurythmy, painting, speech and drama); organisational consultancy; ethical banking and finance – and, of course, education.

Steiner held passionately to a consistently holistic, non-mechanistic approach to human experience; and it is only now, when so-called ‘new paradigm’ cosmologies are beginning to undermine the Zeitgeist of a materialistic modernity, that Steiner’s remarkable insights are beginning to attract the widespread attention they richly deserve.

Some eighty years after the first ‘Waldorf’ school was founded with Steiner’s blessing in Stuttgart (in 1919), Steiner Waldorf is now the world’s largest and most rapidly growing independent schooling movement, with well over 800 schools and 1,500 Kindergartens worldwide. So flexible and adaptable has the Waldorf educational approach proved to be in different cultural conditions that it is represented in countries and continents the world over. Steiner’s educational philosophy is developmentally informed, with the teacher’s task being to provide the appropriate learning environment consistent with the needs of the unfolding child. This in turn requires, on the teacher’s part, a profound understanding of the subtleties of the developing child; and much of Steiner’s educational and other writings are taken up with a detailed articulation of such an understanding.

There is a lack of competitive testing and examinations in Waldorf education, with co-operation and ‘community’ being far more valued than the individualistic competitiveness that inevitably creates winners and losers. The recently articulated  notions of ‘emotional intelligence’ (Dan Goleman) and ‘spiritual intelligence’ (Dinah Zohar) were quite explicitly prefigured by Steiner in his educational philosophy, critical as he was of the one-sided intellectualism which he saw as giving a severely limited understanding of the world.

Steiner also saw education as very much a living creative art rather than as a programmatic science, with human relationship being an absolutely central aspect of any educational experience. In Steiner education, what we might call the being-qualities of the teacher are seen as being far more important than the amount of purely factual information that the teacher knows; and it follows that the teacher’s own personal development is seen as being a quite crucial aspect of being a successful Waldorf teacher. For Steiner, education at its best is also seen as being an intrinsically healing force for the child – and sometimes for the teacher too.

Organisationally, the Waldorf school has a ‘flat’, non-hierarchical structure, with no headmaster/mistress, and with a College of Teachers which works consensually to decide matters of school policy, administration etc. In Steiner’s time this was a quite unheard-of social innovation; and it is only in recent years that the emergence of similar, non-hierarchical forms is beginning to make itself felt within ‘new paradigm’ organisational arrangements. Freedom is, therefore, a central aspect of the education – not least, freedom from the quasi-authoritarian ideology that, almost unnoticed, dominates so much conventional schooling. Finally, Steiner was a fierce defender of the right to a childhood unburdened by imposed and misguided adult-centric agendas.

The extraordinary neglect of his vast corpus probably has at least something to do with Steiner’s thorough-goingly holistic, non-mechanistic approach to human experience, which, early in the last century, was quite literally decades ahead of its time; and it is only now, when so-called ‘new paradigm’, postmodern epistemologies and cosmologies are thankfully beginning to undermine the Zeitgeist of modernity, that Steiner’s remarkable insights, which both incorporate yet also transcend modernity, are beginning to attract the rich attention they deserve. To give just one example, over a century ago Steiner was the leading international scholar of Goethe’s much-neglected scientific works – and yet it is only in recent years (cf. Henri Bortoft’s The Wholeness of Nature, Floris 1996) that Goethe’s scientific worldview is beginning to gain widespread recognition within the emerging paradigm of ‘New Science’.

Steiner was a relentless scourge of the one-sided materialism that prevailed in his day, and he brought a spiritually informed perspective to his educational worldview, which viewed the human being as far more than a material body. His educational philosophy is developmentally informed, with the teacher’s task being to provide the appropriate learning environment consistent with the needs of the unfolding child. This in turn requires, on the teacher’s part, a profound understanding of the subtleties of the developing child; and much of Steiner’s educational and other writings are taken up with a detailed articulation of such an understanding.

Between birth and seven, for example, the child learns predominantly through imitation, repetition, rhythmical activity and free, unhindered play; and its main task is the (unconscious) development of the will in a milieu of reverence. In this schema, formal, intellectual learning is strictly avoided until the change of teeth (between six and seven), and Steiner stressed how the introduction of formal, abstract learning (e.g. reading and writing) before this age was positively harmful to the child – a finding which is at last beginning to be confirmed by recent child-developmental research. (This is indeed a common experience – that modern scientific research announces allegedly newly discovered knowledge about human development, yet which on closer examination, Steiner had himself systematically articulated in the early decades of the last century.)

There is a lack of competitive testing and examinations in Waldorf education; and the intrinsically holistic approach in Waldorf education means that teaching is always done from the whole to the part, and not the other way around – thereby providing an antidote to the mechanistic reductionism of the modernist worldview. Moreover, the recently articulated, holistic notions of ‘emotional intelligence’ (Goleman) and ‘spiritual intelligence’ (Zohar) were quite explicitly prefigured by Steiner in his educational philosophy, critical as he was of the one-sided intellectualism which he saw as being only capable of giving a severely limited understanding of the world.

The ‘death of childhood’ is a theme that is increasingly echoing throughout modern culture, and Steiner was a fierce defender of the right to a childhood unburdened by imposed and misguided adult-centric agendas. Overall, Steiner’s educational philosophy and Waldorf praxis together provide an impressively coherent and comprehensive ‘new paradigm’ antidote to the worst excesses of a materialistic worldview that has brought our world to the foothills of ecological disaster and unsustainability; and in this sense it is supremely relevant as we struggle through the death throes of modernity and towards a new post-materialistic worldview.

Here are just a few quotations from Steiner on education which give a flavour of his philosophy:

·         If… mechanical thinking is carried into education,… there is no longer any natural gift for approaching the child himself. We experiment with the child because we can no longer approach his heart and soul.

·         If… the teacher continues to overload [the child’s] mind, he will induce certain symptoms of anxiety. And if… he still continues to cram the child with knowledge in the usual way, disturbances in the child’s growing forces will manifest themselves. For this reason the teacher should have no hard and fast didactic system.

·         For real life, love is the greatest power of knowledge. And without this love it is utterly impossible to attain to a knowledge of man which could form the basis of a true art of education.

·         You cannot teach a child to be good merely by explanation… What you actually are… is the most essential thing of all for the child.

·         Illnesses that appear in later life are often only the result of educational errors made in the very earliest years of childhood. This is why… education… must study the human being as a whole from birth until death.

·         In a state school, everything is strictly defined… everything is planned with exactitude. With us everything depends on the free individuality of each single teacher… Classes are entrusted entirely to the individuality of the class teacher;… what we seek to achieve must be achieved in the most varied ways. It is never a question of external regulations.

·         The important thing is that we do not rob teachers of their strengths of personality by forcing them to work within the confines of government regulations.

·         It is inappropriate to work towards standardising human souls through future educational methods or school organisation.

·         Our education… only lives when it is carried out. It cannot truly be described, it must be experienced.

·         Receive the children with reverence; educate them with love; relinquish them in freedom.

It will be pretty clear from the above discussion just what kind of motivations underpin our disillusionment with modern mainstream schooling systems and our desire to create something better for our children. Where to start?!…

The devastation that has recently been wrought in Britain’s Early Childhood sector is symptomatic of the pernicious cultural forces that currently hold such uncritical sway in modern culture. Thus, modernist culture’s ‘managerial’ ethos of over-active, prematurely intellectual intrusion into the very being of young children is part of a formal-schooling ideology which, since the mid-1990s, has been colonizing England’s early years policy-making and practice - with the relentless bureaucratization of early learning environments stemming from, for example, mechanistic developmental assessments, centrally dictated ‘Early Learning Goals’, and the imposition of a ‘curriculum’ on to children as young as 3. These trends are, moreover, widely observable in the educational systems of Western world. In England, for example, we read in the Times Educational Supplement of 17th January 2003 that reception teachers are now having to work their way through no less than 3,510 boxes to tick, as they are forced to assess every child against a staggering 117 criteria. This story broke again last summer, when in the Daily Telegraph of the 21st June 2004, we read of teachers having ‘to write reports the size of novels’ alongside test scores for five-year-olds. David Hart, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, was quoted as saying that ‘I cannot think of another Government intervention which has caused so much anger among teachers of the early year’.

With OFSTED (the UK’s Office for Standards in Education) taking over responsibility for early-childhood settings, we are witnessing a ‘surveillance culture’ ideology cascading down the education system, right to the earliest of ages. Not without reason did the prominent sociologist, Professor Nikolas Rose, write some years ago that ‘Childhood is the most intensively governed sector of personal existence’. A whole range of factors continues to reinforce the one-sidedly cognitive ‘hot-housing’ atmosphere pervading modern mainstream education.

There is little if any empirical research being carried out on the medium- and long-term effects on children’s overall social and emotional development of the soullessly mechanistic educational ‘regimes’ and one-sidedly materialistic values and practices to which young children are being unremittingly subjected. This is nothing short of a national scandal, at which future, more enlightened generations will surely look back aghast at our wilful neglect of what really matters in living a healthy life. Yet in the face of the mounting malaise and anomie experienced by young people in modern culture, the mechanistic, ‘modernizing’ juggernaut simply ploughs on, apparently quite impervious to the insight that its own policies and practices are substantially contributing to this cultural chaos, and are storing up an anti-social disaster whose dimensions and ubiquity can scarcely be dreamt of.

One common effect of these disturbing trends is what can be called the dismembering of childhood (cf. Neil Postman’s seminal 1990s text The Death of Childhood). Certainly, there is a growing ‘counter-cultural’ public mood which is clamouring for a humane and demonstrably effective alternative to the deeply unsatisfactory fare currently on offer in ‘mainstream society’ – and Steiner education is just one of the many humane cultural initiatives which are increasingly challenging the one-sided materialism of the modern age. Certainly, there are new Steiner education initiatives springing up all over the UK at the moment, so what we are doing here in Norwich, while of course unique, is just a part of a far wider cultural impulse.





Wed, 27 Jul 2005

Flat earth theology and crucifixation

Papal Catholicism - reflections on the funeral of John Paul II

Occasionally this inquiry is overtaken by events—the US attack on Iraq—the destruction of Falluja—the Bush 2005 Inauguration—that push aside worthy but less urgent topics.  I looked at the death, funeral and eulogizing of Pope John Paul II and the election of a successor, and saw what seemed to be a uniquely transparent example of how the love of power elbows aside the power of love.

Writing about it the  weeks since then, there has been a resonance for me between the papal funeral ceremonial, and the 2005 US Presidential Inauguration that I have already written about here. This is not to compare the persons but to point to the dynamic, the process of collusion and adulation within, or behind, such events. What binds such Followers to such Leaders? 

In the papacy, how could such an original expression of the power of love as the Jesus messages, be so willingly diverted into its antithesis, the love of power?  Even when, as in the recent papal events in Rome, love is on the agenda, is claimed to be the agenda?

The death and funeral of pope John Paul II and the election of a successor provides a promising window into what keeps domination going, into how the damage, cruelty and destruction it entails is kept out of sight.

On 6th of April, the day before Pope John Paul II's funeral, news outlets reported that 2 million Poles were on their way to Rome for the funeral, that all non-official vehicles had been banned from the city, and that it was closed to visitors; Rome was becoming a sea of people.

Many catholics saw him as saintly and waving 'Santo Subito' flags wanted to have him beatified right away. Mainstream media, especially TV, tended to eulogize Pope John Paul II and treat his demise as the loss of a great world leader,

President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush showed up in Rome, and TV had shown images of them, ex-President Bush senior, and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice sitting next to ex-President Clinton (it was hard to tell which of those two seemed the most discomfited by this experience). Three US presidents in a row in pews in St Peter's Church in Rome ‘paying their respects’.

They were joined the following day by Prince Charles, in line to become one day a competing ‘defender of the faith’, who had put back his wedding for a day, seated close to Robert Mugabe, and the reigning monarchs of 10 countries, 57 heads of State, 3 hereditary princes, 17 heads of government, the heads of 3 international organizations and representatives from 10 others, 3 spouses of heads of State, 8 vice heads of State, 6 vice prime ministers, 4 presidents of parliaments, 12 foreign ministers, 13 ministers, and ambassadors from 24 countries who had also come to the funeral.

Why did the funeral of Pope John Paul II matter so much to these visitors that they were prepared to derange their schedules to attend? Was it because, at the papal funeral, like echoed like, they were honouring an operator in their own preferred style?

As ex-president Clinton is reported to have remarked, the late pope was ‘someone who knew how to work a crowd’.

Through my work as a psychotherapist I have from time to time become aware of some of the contradictions behind the face of papal Catholicism that was so explicitly on stage during Pope John II's funeral. Pope John was adamantly against abortion and yet the Pro-Life movement, fed by his papal authority, for all its benign focus on the value of fetal life, is the tip of the iceberg of the christian subordination of women. As though those opting for an abortion were not likely to be deeply distressed about the action they were taking. Love would see that and meet it with compassion. I've found that Papal Catholicism dogmatically spells out what it wants to see, or rather, excludes what it doesn't want to see—anything remotely reminiscent of womanly physicality, of women's bodies, of women as persons in their own right.

Feeling I needed to know more about the origins of papal catholicism, I found a good source in Elaine Pagels Adam and Eve and the Serpent. I discovered for example that St Augustine’s hugely influential take on sexuality 15 centuries ago was part of the accommodation between the previously persecuted christianity and the Rome that, following the conversion of Emperor Constantine, had become enthusiastic about christianity. Papal Catholicism continues the Augustine approach to what it means to be human and Pope John Paul II re-enforced and embodied catholic denial of the body and sexuality, re-iterating the association of carnality and sinfulness, so that for example, some catholic women die of undiagnosed breast cancer because they are unable (feel it would be sinful) to examine their breasts by touch.

The misogyny of papal Catholicism, with its scarcely concealed disgust for women's bodies—was a posture I had come across earlier in this enquiry, one very publicly and very specifically re-iterated during John Paul II's papacy. In the convoluted reasoning of this essay about why woman can never be priests, Cardinal Ratzinger, John Paul II's theological enforcer, (the celebrant of his funeral mass, and more recently, his successor as pope) denies the intrinsic value of women, half the population of the world. In an earlier Ratzinger essay explaining why homosexuality is wrong, papal Catholicism denies the intrinsic value of perhaps one seventh of the population of the world who experience themselves as gay or lesbian.  

In these and other texts, I had already seen the weight of authority which the 'magisterium' of Pope John Paul II’s papacy brought to its domination of the lives of millions of people within the sphere of influence of papal Catholicism. No to sex outside marriage. No to divorce. No to contraception. No to abortion, even after rape. No to condoms as a protection against HIV/AIDS, thus ensuring countless unnecessary deaths and orphaned children. No to women priests. No to married priests, unless they are converts from  other churches. Yes to ensuring young people remain ignorant about sexuality (some years ago, a doctor in a very Catholic village on the west coast of Eire told me that when local couples came to see him because they weren’t able to conceive, he usually found that was because they were practicing anal sex). Yes to naming a basketful of church worthies as saints. Yes to actively centralising the institutions of the church, so that when, a sexual-abuse scandal began to break in the US Church, the senior clerics hid the perpetrators and papered over the accusations. And the Vatican rewarded one of the key figures in the cover-up with a sinecure in Rome.

As a psychotherapist, I see the intrinsic intelligence of the body as a vital human capacity, listening to it, and trusting it, can tell us what matters, what choices are fruitful, and what are problematic or damaging. By denying this 'wisdom of the body', I began to see, papal Catholicism was able to colonize and take possession of its adherents' emotionality, consolidating its dominance by providing non-negotiable facilities such as confession for dealing with the problems thus generated. From this perspective, the sex-abuse scandals in the Catholic church look to be a poisoned fruit of the church's centuries-long history of institutional dominance and sexual repression.

Pope John Paul II also re-broadcast on all wave lengths the christian location of spirituality as outside the embodied material world, insisting that such religious notions as 'God', 'Christ', or a 'Heavenly after-life' existed independently of humankind (a similar notion, that mathematics exists independently of human mentality, has recently been challenged.) Both re-iterate the belief that there are aspects of our mental life that are outside nature, outside embodiment. 'Out there' or as the then Cardinal Ratzinger's body language demonstrated at John Paul II's funeral, 'up there'.

In my experience, this dissociation of the spiritual from the material and embodied, creates a very tense split in people who subscribe to it, so much so that for many adherents, the moral targets of papal Catholicism function as production schedule for the manufacture of guilt. A plethora of feelings are generated that require recourse for their resolution to the already mentioned church resources such as confession, penitence and prayer.

The more I saw of the papal funeral events, the more I realized the extent to which the papacy is an especially pure and transparent example of domination—Dominus, Domine—for papal Catholicism domination, I realized, is intrinsic, spelled out in this and countless other Vatican texts.

But was this framing of the papacy as an exemplar of domination and harm too strong? I began to think not. Looking at the big picture—broadening the frame—meant including:

The church's promotion of the Crusades, still a popular icon and a potent political factor in our times;  the Inquisition, renamed but still at work and headed by Cardinal Ratzinger; the church’s historical denial of science - Copernicus, Galileo, Darwin; the church’s part in the demonizing and killing of at least eighty thousand women as ‘witches’; the church's evangelical collusion in the colonization and destruction of native cultures in Africa,  America and the far east; the papacy's collusion with the German Nazi regime, including  assisting the escape of Nazi war criminals after 1945 ; the continuing propagation of homophobic and misogynistic policies around contraception, abortion and AIDS. This amounts to a massive history of the abuse of power and yet a billion plus people on this earth have signed up to the  catholic christian vision of human nature built on this history. Many more stand in its shadow, as off-message clerics have found down the centuries.

 Matthew Fox, founded Creation Spirituality and was expelled from the Dominican order:

They gave me a list of complaints. Number one, I'm a feminist theologian. I didn't know it was a heresy to be a feminist theologian. Number two, I called God "mother." But I have proven that all the medieval mystics called God "mother." Number three was that I prefer "original blessing" over "original sin." I think they're afraid that concept could put them out of business. Number four, they said I associate too closely with indigenous people. Number five, I don't condemn homosexuals.

Ferdinand Regelsberger  was excommunicated for ordaining female priests; Tissa Balasuriya, an Oblate priest from Sri Lanka was  excommunicated in 1997 after accusations of heresy, (he questioned the cult of Mary as a docile, submissive icon and said that the church should be less arrogant towards other religions) but was reinstated in 1998 after a worldwide protest.

Many of the liberation theology priests working with the poor in South America found themselves invalidated and redeployed, or in the case of Leonardo Boff, 'silenced'.

Catholic women who have found a priestly vocation in themselves know that they are permanently barred from that role by Pope John Paul II and the people around him. (Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, who officiated at Pope John Paul's funeral, wrote this text confirming that ordination of women priests was contrary to the 'deposit of faith'.

Non-Catholics who have fallen in love with a Catholic are very likely to find themselves negotiating, archaic and convoluted binding agreements about child-care with the church authorities before the church will endorse their love.

Juan Vaca, former US president of the Legionaries of Christ, along with 30 other seminarians under 16, claimed to have been sexually abused by Fr. Marcial Maciel founder of the order. As a Catholic Reporter editorial outlines, these men, including two university professors, a lawyer,  and the order's one-time treasurer, await any sign that the Vatican is taking seriously their accusations against Fr Maciel, described as 'a dominant and domineering personality overseeing a culture in which he demanded absolute and unquestioning loyalty to himself'. Fr Marciel  organised and accompanied Pope John Paul on his visits to Mexico.

As you’d expect of an inquiry, before I started I didn’t know that this study of papal Catholicism would gradually become a catalogue of such papal horribilities. Somewhat naively I thought that these views were a maverick, outsider, off-message take on papal Catholicism, even, as some people might think, a rehearsal of my poorly informed prejudice. At around this point in the writing I came across a series of articles that offered much the same perspective and that made redundant much of what else I might have gone on to say here. 

I realized that in my surprise at the feistiness and depth of some of this critical writing that greeted the funeral of Pope John Paul II, I was in danger of forgetting that there was a centuries' old tradition of vigorous dissent from the papal Catholic take on the Jesus story. 

What do I have to add to it?

Several related notions: that papal catholicism does indeed amount to one of the purest and most transparent forms of dominance; that it models and teaches how to install and sustain dominance; and that it is currently facing, or rather denying, a challenge on the same scale as those from Copernicus, Galileo, and Darwin.

Flat-earth theology
Behind the eulogizing of Pope John Paul II, his Catholicism hides from, and keeps hidden, the rich variety of theory and knowhow about persons and personhood that has emerged in the last hundred years or so, from those lines of human inquiry that we call psychology, psychotherapy and cognitive science.

From the vantage points of such psychological enquiry, papal Catholicism is an institution that endorses and promotes a long list of notions and behaviour that are dysfunctional and damaging to persons and human relations—it abuses power—it promotes splitting/dissociation, projection, repression, displacement, and denial definitionsmore—and as we'll see, it abuses the human capacity for trance.

For all its limitations and contradictions, psychological enquiry has been one of the most beneficial items of human flourishing in the last 100 years. Why does Catholicism and Pope John Paul II's version of the papacy reject psychological knowledge about humanity? It is not due to ignorance, this well researched Vatican text about post-modern (New Age) spirituality, recognizes that many strands of psychological development provide an alternative approach to the sacred in persons and daily life but uses this insight to dismiss them. In the face of the openness and diversity of psychological theory and practice, I guess the dogmatic, flat earth theology of Catholicism feels under siege. To see where this defensive obduracy comes from and why it is so resistant to change, I found I had to back off into what I had learned about the history of childhood. 


Historically, childhood appears to have been severely traumatic for almost all children and this is still true in many parts of the world—think of present-day Iraqi or Palestinian children, or African children orphaned by HIV-AIDS. In History of Childhood Psychohistorian Lloyd deMause and nine other authors assembled very comprehensive historical evidence which shows that until perhaps the last 100 years, abandonment, and infanticide was common, (as abortion, it is still is) violence in education was normal, and children were variously seen as intrinsically evil, needing to be beaten into shape or punished until obedience was unquestioned, more, more i.e. that from our present day perspective, all children could be held to be severely traumatized, including by sexual abuse.

From my psychological perspective, what this amounts to is that until relatively recently, all human beings  had severely painful body memories of distress dating from childhood that were driving, inhibiting or distorting their adult behaviour. Added to this, because of the near universal trauma of birth, everyone whatever their upbringing is likely to have body memories that are comparably formative.

The human bodymind has elaborate and very effective biological ways of surviving such trauma, such as the gating of pain, however, there is a high probability that the body memories of distress from such early traumatic learning will be re-stimulated by present time events. This means that developing ‘comfort zones’, circumstances and behaviors that protect us from this re-activation of traumatic body memories, are likely to be a major feature of adult daily life. Keeping this huge personal and collective history of pain out of consciousness, while at the same time trying to account for the compulsive human  behaviours it drives, is the psychological soil in which Catholicism and other religions have their roots.

Christianity as psychological defence
The notion that Catholicism and other religions were defenses against embodied traumatization has been familiar to me for several decades, through the work of Frank Lake and David Wasdell, what I hadn’t begun to see until recently was how they were propagated and what kept them in place.

How was splitting/dissociation, projection, repression, displacement, and denial being promoted? Looking at papal Catholicism through the lens of psychological enquiry, I realized that there much about it was reminiscent of a hypnosis training I had done some years ago; it seemed to entail a varied menu of enthrallment, spellbinding and the casting of spells, in other words, trance induction—hypnosis. The stock in trade of stage hypnotists and politicians of all shapes and sizes, it appears to be the core ingredient of papal Catholicism too.

This felt to be a promising line of enquiry—that while claiming to be an institutional vehicle for love and caring, Catholicism deployed trance induction to keep its adherents enthralled.  Charles Tart in Waking Up has called this spellbinding consensus trance.  

Among the techniques prohibited to ethical hypnotists but wielded effectively in the induction of consensus trance are: the enormous amount of time devoted to the induction (years to a lifetime), the use of physical force, emotional force, love and validation, guilt, and the instinctive trust children have for their parents. As they learn myriad versions of 'the right way to do things' -- and the things not to do -- from their parents, children build and continue to maintain a mental model of the world, a filter on their reality lens that they learn to perceive everything through (except partially in dreams). The result leaves most people in an automatized daze.  Tart, C. Waking Up, Boston: Shambhala, 1987

This is not to argue, as current psychology would support, that we can free ourselves entirely from such trance states, but only to recognize that one of the fruits of psychopractice is to become aware of how much of life is lived on automatic, shaped by the trance inductions, the ‘spellbinding’, or ‘regimes of truth’ we absorbed as children. If we accept this then a vital life task is to install an evolving, enquiry-based process of awarely developing or adopting our own ‘rules of thumb’ around survival, recovery and how to lead a flourishing and fruitful life. Pope John Paul II, like all his predecessors explicitly closed the door on such enquiry. The Truth has been revealed. Worship. Obey.

If Catholicism (along with other sects) is an institution that provides a psychosocial defence against embodied traumatization, how does it do this? How does the psycho-defence work?

The key discovery so far for me in this enquiry, has been that the entrancing element that matters, i.e. take it away and the whole edifice falls down, is ‘faith’. The Catholic consensus trance is induced and maintained through the phenomenon of ‘faith’.

Pope John Paul II was very explicit in his endorsement of the Catholic articles of faith which are available in a vast Vatican Catechism website that has 2865 items. Here is the table of contents.  Some random samples:

150 Faith is first of all a personal adherence of man to God. At the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed.
153 ...Faith is a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by him.
157 Faith is certain. It is more certain than all human knowledge because it is founded on the very word of God who cannot lie.

From a psychological perspective, ‘faith’ appears to be a religio-spiritual equivalent of morphine, an anesthetic, a painkiller. Faith that papal catholicism's version of the Jesus story is revealed truth, legitimized by the supernatural event of the resurrection. So far as we hold faith in 'sin', 'repentance', 'forgiveness of sin', 'salvation' etc the church provides an pain-free end point, 'heaven.' Out of sight beneath this highly conditional promise is the subtext which tells us that pain, especially psychic pain due to political oppression, i.e. domination, is a fact of life and you better get used to it (and no matter how bad you feel it is nothing compared with being crucified). The church's global obsession with pain and suffering (see crucifixation below) absorbs (sublimates) and helps anaesthetize embodied pain but excludes enquiry into, or resolution of its origins.

Because it asserts the unique possession of god-given truth, god being all knowing, all powerful, papal Catholicism tells us there is nothing whatever that we can do to change either ourselves or the world we live in, or indeed that there is anything else worth knowing about humanity. There is only consolidation, recycling, conservation, obedience, adoration, worship, and repetition of the articles and practice of 'faith'. 

161 Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation.
143 By faith, man completely submits his intellect and his will to God. With his whole being man gives his assent to God the revealer. Sacred Scripture calls this human response to God, the author of revelation, "the obedience of faith".   

Telling and re-telling biblical stories, preaching, ceremony, bible study, hearing mass, prayer, worship, adoration and devotion to the artifacts of ‘faith’ such as saints, underlines, reinforces and consolidates the trance that enables acceptance of papal Catholic truths as god-given, and thus 'natural' and 'inevitable'.

Faith generation
I hadn't been long settled in seeing how the dual roles of spellbinding and faith sustain the dominance of papal Catholicism when I came across a startling pointer to the origin of christian faith.

Elaine Pagels details how in the first century after Jesus' death there were a wide variety of groups with very diverse versions of christianity. One strand of these groups, the gnostics, broadly saw christianity as matter of personal inquiry and self knowledge, gnosis, finding christ in themselves. Some of the fragments of what is known about gnostic christianity resemble core ideas of current psychology. Here is Jesus speaking to Thomas:

...examine yourself so that you understand who you are...
....For whoever has not known himself has known nothing, but whoever has known himself has simultaneously achieved knowledge about the depth of all things.
Gospel of Thomas quoted in Elaine Pagel The Gnostic Gospels p48

Abandon the search for God and creation, and similar things of that kind. Instead take yourself as the starting place. Ask who is within you who makes everything his own saying "my mind," "my heart," "my God." Learn the sources of love, joy hate and desire... If you carefully examine all these things, you will find [God] in yourself.
Hippolytus Refutation of All Heresies quoted in Elaine Pagel The Origin of Satan p167

For gnostic christianity the Jesus story was a metaphor for spiritual development, and the gospels a programme for how to do it. For them spiritual authority was  personal, intimate, derived from experience. This, as you'd imagine led to a democratizing of spiritual authority with a wide range of creatively ingenious ways of taking forward the Jesus story on the basis of lived experience.

By contrast, because it is counter intuitive, contrary to  commonsense, insisting that the resurrection of Jesus is literally true requires the creation of an institution of faith. As Elaine Pagels points out, because the disciples who claimed to have seen and touched the risen Christ had exclusive ownership of this version of the Jesus story, from then on acceptance into this sect of christianity required a quantum jump of faith into believing their supernatural version of the Jesus story was literally true. The handful of disciples who claimed the resurrection experience embodied unchallengeable authority. Whatever the disputes about the meaning of parables and other teachings here was proof of life after death. Secure in the faith that there was an afterlife of peace and plenty, early christians were able to endure appalling cruelty and death with an equanimity that astonished their pagan neighbours.

As Pagels tells the continuing story of the politicising of christianity, by 170 CE the 'literally supernatural' version of the Jesus story was already sedimenting into a christian orthodoxy that drew its authority from the apostolic copyright of the resurrection story. By the end of the second century a centralising, unifying, catholic, ie universal church, tracing a line of authority back to the Apostle Peter, was seeking to eliminate and suppress all other versions of the Jesus story than the supernatural one. Through this insistence on a supernatural take on the Jesus story, the seed of domination christianity was sown and began to germinate.  As, in the following centuries, christian church leaders moved from being persecuted by the police to commanding the police, heresy, being off message, as we'd call it today, became a life-threatening criminal offence. Except for orthodox treatises on their errors, the gnostics disappeared from history for almost two millenia.

After being adopted by the Roman Empire following Constantine's conversion in 313 CE, in  papal Catholicism began to resemble the institutional organisation we know today. Its structure of monarch, bishops, deacons, and laity, mimicked the way the Roman army was organised.  By the 5th Century this alignment of authoritative spiritual power with hugely successful political power seems to have become irresistibly attractive to western Europe.

But however ecstatic the initial encounter, faith in the supernatural fades. Feeding faith, recovering faith and challenging the faithless, became essential activities of the emerging papal christianity. Hypnosis, a branch of modern psychology points to a reliable way of doing this. While about a  third of the population have little capacity for trance, around a third of the population can go into a moderate trance, and another third into a very deep trance. As I see it papal christianity has accumulated a rich mix of trance inductions, ceremony, hymns, psalms, prayer, music, liturgy and theatre and repetitions of the Eucharist, that install and reinstall in the faithful the belief that the supernatural truth of papal christianity is the only truth.

Prenez et mangez: Ceci est mon corps
(Transl. Take and eat: This is my body)

Cardinal Ratzinger as he then was, celebrates mass at the funeral of Pope John II

In a hypnotic trance the subject is abstracted from ordinary awareness and absorbed in the inner world with the feelings, images, and impressions that populate it. What those feelings, images and, impressions are depends on the expectations that are implicitly suggested—or explicitly imposed–by the hypnotist and by the hypnotic context. 

The trance feelings, images, and impressions become a powerful reality, and the more the subject is abstracted from ordinary awareness the more powerful that reality will be.
Tart, C. Waking Up, Boston: Shambhala, 1987

The abstraction from ordinary awareness for trance inductions that install and maintain faith requires icons— objects to take projection—in papal catholicism, disciples, saints, angels, demons, etc and imaginal landscapes—churches, where the stories of faith can be re-enacted through ceremony, prayer, music,  story-telling, parables, psalms, hymns and sermons. Catholicism provides a rich tapestry of both icons and landscapes. 


I have come to see papal Catholicism's iconic images of disciples, saints, martyrs, the virgin mother and her son, plus the characters of the bible stories, as ’psychic dolls’, or 'alters' as Lloyd deMause calls them. They are created and  re-created as generation after generation of worshipers, regulated by the fathers who administer the church, direct multiple projections of devotion, adoration, obedience and faith towards them. Here  are a handful of examples collected in the last couple of years.
O Jesus que nous adorons maintenant caché dans l'hostie donnez à nos yeux de contempler un jour votre visage dans la splendeur de votre gloire
(transl. O Jesus whom we adore at present hidden in the Host. Grant to our eyes one day to see your face in the spendour of your glory.

In this mass card (left) Jesus struggles to free himself from the Satan's temptations. St Bambino di Aracceli Roma

Foremost of the icons of catholic christianity is the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth—along with the resurrection, the central image around which papal catholicism rotates.

Sancta Rita, rogad por nosotros
Transl. Saint Rita pray for us
Quiconque y mettra sa foi et sa confiancene sera pas trompé
Transl. Those who put their trust in me will never be betrayed.

This crucifixion image that commemorates
the dead of the Great War, is on a church wall
200 metres from where I’m writing. Every
time I leave and return home I am confronted
with this man's suffering and agony.

This crucifix is from a web catalogue that
has a hundred or more to choose from.

Why is the crucifixion of Jesus such a potent image for christians?

One of the lenses of psychology—pre- and prenatal psychology and birthwork—argues that the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth has become a profoundly potent icon because it echoes, resonates with, and makes sense of the acute pain due to trauma, held in the bodies of people down the centuries, especially and particularly, the pain of being born. David Wasdell provides a detailed account of this here

The universal congruence of early imprinting gives rise to a common religious language of symbol, myth and ritual which crosses boundaries of time, space and culture. The reified constructs of religious belief serve as defences against the repressed anxieties of our common primal history. Reinforcement of those defences serves only to enhance the unconsciousness of humanity and to encourage the repetitive displacement and acting out of primitive trauma in the conduct of our social systems.
David Wasdell

The resolution of this universal human experience as we leave the dark universe of the mother's body and enter the light universe of daily life—out of darkness into light—is a recurring theme across christianity:

He, who is the Light of the world...
“ a light that shines in the darkness, a light that darkness could not overpower”. (Jn. 1:5).Most Rev John Magee, Bishop of Cloyne

Out of darkness into light St. Anthony Messenger feature article

...the final step in our journey out of the darkness of sin and death into the 'bright promise of immortality'. Catholic Ireland

I was, at length, "led out of darkness into light," the marvellous light of God;
Rev. Asa Mahan President Oberlin College 1835

In this de-construction of the Jesus story, the ‘crown of thorns’ carries an additional iconic resonance, with the acute foetal pain involved in the transit of the cervical vaginal exit from the womb.

The bestseller on this Crown of Thorns web site is a full size crown of thorns guaranteed to have been made from a descendant of the original Jerusalem thorn bush

After the resurrection, for the faithful, supernatural proof that there is life after death, Jesus ascends into Heaven. Heaven, the residence of God and the Holy Spirit holds the promise of a suffering-free existence.

In this anti abortion poster Heaven above waits
to receive aborted foetuses rescued by angels

From my pre and perinatal psychological perspective, the notion of Heaven, pictured here in a huge Venetian mural, is an icon that resonates with, and gives a name to the body memories of the foetal ‘paradise’ of the first two trimesters of fetal life, where for most people, all bodily needs are being effortlessly met through the mother’s biology.

Complementary to Heaven, there is the notion of Hell, an imaginal landscape of eternal pain and punishment. This resonates with, and gives a name to, the galaxy of painful bodily experiences of pain due to foetal distress and abusive child rearing and the accumulations of what historically, for many people, seems often to have been a hellish experience of daily life. 

Duc de Berry Book of Hours

This mosaic of Hell is in the Baptistry in Florence

Alongside all this sits, what I have recently begun to recognize as the undeclared pantheism of christian sainthood.

Top of the list Mary, the 'good mother' that, as psychohistory shows, historically few, if anyone, had. Until relatively recent times absent fathers were normality, mothers did the enforcing and socialising of children. Mary provided an idealized mother who can be appealed to for the sympathy, support, commiseration and caring that was missing from  either a person's childhood, or their daily life, or both. This seems to have been especially relevant for the multitudes of women struggling to survive hurts, injustices and grief in a male dominant world.

'May Our Lady model of purity, bestower of graces,
obtain for you all heavenly gifts.

Mary, the only high visibility icon of papal christianity that has feminine resonance, is loaded with contradictions, beginning with the virgin pregnancy—could claiming divine intercourse have been a neat way of avoiding being stoned to death for adultery? And to delight misogynistic eyes, here is a woman undefiled by sex. How were the poor faithful supposed to go forth and multiply?

This ceramic of the Virgin Mary belongs to a home for abandoned children in Florence, open for four centuries until 1870. It seeks to entrance inmates into accepting two of the prominent features of papal christianity: hubris and servility.

The Christ child holds a scroll reading 'I am the light of the world,'
Mary's finger points to a message that tells women that 'the Lord has been mindful of the humble state of his servant'.

And then there are the iconic 'fathers', the Father in Heaven and the Holy Father... and the father in the parish church.

Imaginal landscapes
The trance inductions of papal Catholicism, are centred on churches, theatres where its rich imaginal landscape of liturgy and ceremony are organized and orchestrated.

The Duomo Florence

The population of this landscape includes: (note the capitalization signaling iconic value) a Holy Trinity, a Holy Ghost, a Holy Book, a Son, and a Father, the Virgin Mary, The Lord, Saviour, The Devil, Satan, Angels, Saints, Miracles, a Virgin birth, Purgatory, Hell, Life after Death, A Garden of Eden, and Heaven.

But when on the tourist trail we visit the imaginal spaces of ancient i.e. pre-protestant churches and cathedrals, there is little to inform us that historically, for the general population, hearing mass in the churches of christendom was to be witnessing a remote ceremony, with chanting, bells and incense, conducted by priests distant and out of sight behind the altar screens. A process that underlined the kind of ambiguity that an effective screen for projection requires if it is to keep alive adherents' psychic dolls.

Going to church—'hearing mass', taking communion, and contemplating the panoply of saints, having a Son of God who shares our pain, having a Book that details what is right and true about life, and even that there is an end to pain in the heavenly after-life to come—glued in place by the trance inductions of faith—all these provide a spell-binding set of potent iconic characters set in a rich imaginal landscape. Together they form a very effective receptacle for the projection of inner turmoil and pain.

Dominance damages
Historically papal Catholicism may have been an adequate way of meeting the survival needs of, by modern standards, comprehensively traumatized populations (for details see Lloyd deMause: The Evolution of Childrearing). In the light of current knowledge about persons and how they develop, Catholicism’s archaic, pre-psychological insistence on the exclusive ownership of the Truth about persons now seems to me equally comprehensively damaging:

- in direct contradiction of the Jesus message of ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’, papal Catholicism models and broadcasts dominance, legitimizing  it as natural and inevitable, perpetuating the damage that arises due to such abuses of power wherever they occur;

- papal catholicism is palliative not transformative;

- the group consensus trance it embodies is the antithesis of inquiry and disallows innovation;

- despite all this, too many world leaders still give adulatory attention to papal Catholicism and some are, at least notionally, signed up to it.

- the institutional culture papal Catholicism models and promotes versions of human power relations that, alongside demeaning and side-lining women, half of the population of the world, helps continue, by other means, the European colonization of the South. The Vatican curia has 114 white western Cardinals (38 of them from Italy) 24 from Africa and the middle and far east and 28 from 'Latin' America. And might it be racist too? A  devout catholic I know, recently returned from Poland,  reported  that the grass roots view there on the recent election of Cardinal Ratzinger as successor to John Paul II,  was that 'it was a choice between a sick man and a black man, and of course the sick man won'.

- the papal monarchy, like other monarchies before and after it, is damaging because it denies self determination, the power of persons themselves to find, or create, a spirituality that meets their needs, rather than the needs pre-ordained by a remote, dogmatic  institution. Especially, through the splitting of spirit from body, it also tends to close off the essential daily task of finding of the sacred in the secular, a task that I feel is now vital for human and ecological survival.

- papal Catholicism's notion of ‘original sin’, an artifact of the political accommodation between christianity and imperial Rome and its companion, ‘evil’, contribute to a profoundly pessimistic model of human nature.

- Buying into the trance inductions of crucifixation and ‘original sin’ and ‘evil’, supports 'bystanding' the damage that cultures of domination such as papal Catholicism entail. We don't have to take responsibility for interrupting the ugly truth that childhood violence and sexual abuse often lay down intolerable bodymind pain that some people feel compelled to re-enact in violence on others through murder, assassination and warfare. We can collude with others in failing to take account of the extent to which cultures of domination such as papal Catholicism are taking us in the direction of ecological disaster.

To summarize, the Catholicism of John Paul II is damaging because it provides a consensus group trance way of containing or defending ourselves against the hurts, humiliations, confusion, sadness, fear and anger that we suffered when we were young, and maybe not so young, and which we carry with us as body memories and thus body posture, character, values, beliefs, and personality formation. The earlier and more traumatic the hurt, the deeper it takes root in the formation of personhood and the more likely it is that current events that echo the original situation will 're-stimulate'—trigger regression in us to experiencing that hurt again. Since none us wants this, we do what we can to keep away from such situations, through aversion, a built in compulsive flinch/flight from, or a compulsive, needy clinging on to anything or anyone that promises to keep us out of the early traumatic feeling. Papal Catholicism does this very well, ensuring that we don't develop the emotional competence that would enable us to attend to and resolve the occluded history rather than hide from it.

Flight from modernity

Papal Catholicism, an arm of 5th century imperial Rome that intrudes into the 21st century, is understandably in flight from modernity, it is intentionally a pre-modern, pre-scientific, pre-psychological institution. This would be fine by me if it was only one voice at the global meeting of minds but this is a loud bullying voice, ruthless in its love of power.

Its compulsive holding to its archaic political origins denies, and is intended to deny, the opening up of human rights, the extensions of democracy and human knowledge of the last century. It denies this because to embrace it would undermine its dominance. And yet what at root is the modernity it denies? Yes, there are still injustices and contradictions, but the developed world features innumerable interlocking technical and ‘knowledge cultures’ —traditions of research and inquiry—built on several centuries of human research, in physics, mathematics, astronomy, biology, medicine, sociology and psychology. Even though corporate colonization of knowledge, or strangulation of it at birth, is common, the fruits of these cultures of inquiry amount to an astonishing flowering of humankind that is becoming very  widely diffused and enjoyed.

One of the fruits of such enquiry is the sharpened perception that single big ideas—single accounts of how and why—are likely to denote tyranny—the imprisonment of intelligence, not infrequently in steel and concrete gaols. Papal catholicism is ultimately in denial of the realization that at this point in history the  intellectual territory of single big ideas is irreversibly mutating into the uncertain landscape of post-modernity, where human survival depends on meaning and value being more and more negotiated rather than dispensed. A world view that paradoxically appears to closely resemble that of 1st century gnostic christianity.

And yet threaded through these, albeit improved, accounts of the worlds we inhabit, domination still seems to prevail, and the accumulations of damage due to dominance-driven living continue to sediment into the impending catastrophe of humanly generated global warming.

Which brings us back to papal Catholicism. In modelling top down hierarchical bullying, both institutionally and in its compelling trance inductions, papal Catholicism insists on a fatally attractive apolitical equation—that change, particularly if it involves social justice, is not only impossible but wrong. This is not to blame papal Catholicism for our impending ecological threat but to see its ethos of dominance as feeding the imperial, bullying, colonizing approach to nature which, literally in the name of god, is a precursor of the ecological damage we are confronting today. While promising a solution to human suffering through obedience to the tenets of faith, it actually epitomizes the over-arching problem humankind faces—that dominance damages.

Conclusion - Brand managing human nature
In claiming possession of a uniquely ‘true’, or ‘correct’ vision of spiritual truth while denying its psychosocial origins, the papacy of John Paul II propagates a way of framing human nature that institutionalizes, behind declarations of the power of love, the reality of the love of power. However papal Catholicism is not only a living embodiment of the love of power, it also teaches us how to manage political power. The Vatican, proprietor of christianity, perhaps the biggest and first among all brands, was an early, if not the first, developer of brand management,

How does this apply to papal Catholicism? Brand management functions through attaching an entrancing feeling or quality to a product or service. In the case of papal catholicism consumer attention has already been flooded by centuries of positive feedback loops (the more we hear of a notion or an idea, the more it seems to be true) through preaching, teaching and evangelizing christianity. Protecting the brand through iconic resonance with saints and the 'deposit of faith' as the Vatican calls it, plus re-iterations of exclusivity and the elimination of rivals and dissent—ensures that papal catholicism holds its place in the spiritual marketplace.

Because so many people take dominance in human relations to be natural, in such a brand management approach to truth-telling, the trance inductions that get financed and institutionalized, such as the papacy that we examine here, seem overwhelmingly likely to be those that shut down open enquiry and that preserve, extend and entrench the power status quo, typically that of top down authoritarian relating.

The phenomena of mass communication of the last 100 years, epitomized by the media coverage of John Paul II’s funeral, challenge papal Catholicism by bringing other world views into catholic living rooms but it also hugely amplifies its capacity to promote its brand of christianity—to generate, sustain, and deepen its spellbinding trance inductions. Through them, huge populations in post-colonial South America, Africa and the Far East have come to subscribe to a damagingly narrow range of intrinsically western notions about what is human and natural about humankind and the planet we inhabit.

So far as it is domination that is regarded as natural and inevitable, this amplifies an especially dangerous situation. Not least because it provides a parallel 'moral' model supporting that of the George W. Bush administration, the US military corporate imperium and its globalizing allies, who are also presently trying to impose the godified righteousness of a 'new world order' on the entire planet, while ignoring the over-arching threat of global warming.

In an earlier draft of this piece (most of this text was written in the days after Pope John Paul's funeral) I wrote:

’So far as Catholicism remains resolutely pre-psychological, (and at least in Europe, in decline) we could expect it be even more fundamentalist in its denial of the power of love and more devoted to the institutional protection of it gives to the love of power. Look for signs of this in the choice of a new pope.’

Since then came the news that Cardinal Ratzinger head of the present day papal inquisition, headlined as  'God's Rottweiler' - Daily Telegraph and the 'Vatican's enforcer' - National Catholic Reporter, close friend of Pope John Paul II and thus someone who no doubt had a big hand in the selection of the almost all the cardinals who voted for him, has been elected as John Paul's successor.

Leaving aside the religious faith dimensions, or the mafia qualities of the Vatican curia, behind all the spells and incantations, these men wearing the silk threads of infallibility on moral issues, are in the modern corporate business of defining what is, or is not, human nature, what behaviors and relationships are human and natural. For any such power, to be concentrated locally as it is in Rome with the global reach of international papal Catholicism, especially if it equates eternal with inevitable, is an ever-present danger. Domination damages.

In case you are inclined to see this present line of enquiry as inadequately rooted in other research, I'll end with George Lakoff’s almost poetic unravelling of the christian faith consensus trance as a metaphor.

The metaphor of Moral Order fits naturally with the metaphor of Moral Authority, as well as with the literal parental authority central to the Strict Father family. This metaphor is based on a folk theory of the natural order:

The natural order is the order of dominance that occurs in the world. Examples of the natural order are as follows:
God is naturally more powerful than people.
People are naturally more powerful than animals and plants and natural objects.
Adults are naturally more powerful than children. Men are naturally more powerful than women.

The metaphor of Moral Order sees this natural hierarchy of power as moral. The metaphor can be stated simply as:

• The Moral Order Is the Natural Order.

This metaphor transforms the folk hierarchy of "natural" power relations into a hierarchy of moral authority:

God has moral authority over people.
People have moral authority over nature (animals, plants, and natural objects).
Adults have moral authority over children.
Men have moral authority over women.

The Moral Order metaphor plays a crucial role in an important interpretation of the Judeo-Christian religious tradition. It is an entailment of this metaphor that God cares about human beings in the same way as parents care about their children or shepherds care about their flocks or farmers care about their crops. Logically, after all, there is no reason that a supreme being should care about lesser beings. But if the order of dominance is a moral order, then God does care about mere mortals; setting the rules and enforcing them is how he shows he cares, and in return for his care, we owe him obedience.
The consequences of the metaphor of Moral Order are enormous, even outside religion. It legitimates a certain class of existing power relations as being natural and therefore moral, and thus makes social movements like feminism appear unnatural and therefore counter to the moral order. It legitimates certain views of nature, e.g., nature as a resource for human use and, correspondingly, man as steward over nature. Accordingly, it delegitimizes other views of nature, e.g., those in which nature has inherent value .
 George Lakoff Moral Politics 1996


Media comment on the papacy of Pope John II

Polly Toynbee 8th April 2005 ... a modern, potent force for cruelty and hypocrisy.

Here is a long, well-researched Mother Jones article detailing  the CIA's involvement with the Vatican from WWII on.

Jonathan Steele Friday April 8, 2005  We are rewriting the history of communism's collapse. It was Gorbachev, not the Pope, who brought the system down

Terry Eagleton  The Pope has blood on his hands The Pope did great damage to the church, and to countless Catholics.

Matthew Fox Reflections on Pope John Paul 2

Peter and Margaret Hebblethwaite, and Peter Stanford John Paul II Obituary:
The Guardian

Ellen Goodman Washington Post Writers Group  Pope John Paul II

Cardinal Ratzinger Fan Club  Yes, there is one! Here is a sample extract:
'... As Grand Inquisitor for Mother Rome, Ratzinger keeps KEPT himself busy in service to the Truth: correcting theological error, silencing dissenting theologians, and stomping down heresy wherever it may rear its ugly head -- and, consequently, had received somewhat of a notorious reputation among the liberal media and 'enlightened' intellegensia of pseudo-Catholic universities....'

Cardinal Ratzinger - Could the Next Pope Be a Nazi?
Some blog reflections on the papacy that are more intelligent than the title suggests.

Joan Chittister, OSB, Antigone or Ismene: the new choice 

Paul Collins, Australian theologian and broadcaster argued at the intriguingly titled We are Church group press conference during papal election week that:

“the legacy of John Paul II... was “reactionary, with no sense of contemporary theology, biblical studies and church history.”  There was “no demonstrated understanding of the historical conditioning that gives context to all philosophy, ethics, and theology.”

Cardinal Ratzinger, he told reporters, “while profoundly aware of recent developments in western theology, shared the same historical amnesia.”

...the Wojtyla papacy has been an extreme realization of papal extremism...

...the curia itself must be abolished. As a relatively late invention of the 17 century, spawned in a period of absolute monarchies, the centralized departmental structure “is not constructed in a way that can respond to modern questions.”

Nor, Collins implied, can they, coming out of a mind set formed in a royal court, reform themselves... the health of the church… is in danger of suffering from too much papalism, excessive centralization beyond any historical norm… and a male-centeredness that makes invisible half the population of the world.

Professor Adriano Valerio, a professor of Church History at the University of Naples and President of the European Society of Women in Theological Research, pointed out at a the same press conference  that  there are 600 women Catholic theologians in Europe who are studiously ignored by the Vatican and can only have a voice in secular academia:  

“Women have spoken and written texts that are invisible today,” she said. “They are lost to the historical memory of the church. The first thing a new pope would have to do is to give people freedom of speech. Women theologians have none in the church. If she speaks in public, it’s because she speaks at a secular university. If she taught in a Catholic university and said these things, she would be punished. This includes males who themselves support women's ideas, as well.”

And then a few weeks later, there was the reception in some media of John Paul II's successor.

Pope Benedict XVI and the “Dictatorship of Relativism

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.

Sat, 11 Dec 2004

Power Weather

Being called for jury service recently has sharpened up this inquiry into domination. Jury service is at the discretion of the state, and since May 2004 in the UK, no one is exempt.

State power is like the weather, always there. We usually meet it through traffic lights, taxation, or speed limits. Jury service brought me face to face with state power in a way analogous to arrest and imprisonment. Report at a time and a place of the state's choosing, go home each day but otherwise remain sequestered  from contact with anyone other than other jurors, to which is added, again backed by the force of law, an insistence on complete confidentiality about the whole business of the jury's decision-making.

The force of law. This is what I lived with this last couple of weeks. I was reminded that one of the ways of defining a functional state is that it, or someone, has a monopoly on the use of force.  In the UK, however much it may fray round the edges, the state does have such a monopoly, while in Iraq at the time of writing, the 'coalition of the willing' is failing to establish a monopoly of the use of fource, and in these days at the end of 2004, the incumbent monopoly of the Ukraine's state use of force is under severe challenge.

And how come, I ask myself, that nowhere in my education or experience was there the slightest hint of any preparation for what a crown court, or indeed any other court amounts to in practice? Once again it seemed, the invisibility of power. Power weather.

So what did I see during my jury service? The first over-arching impression is of theatre. The frequent arrivals and departures of the jury from the court eventually became more than just analogous to a theatre curtain rising and falling. Each time when we returned, the set and the actors would be there apparently exactly as we'd left them, even though on many occasions they had clearly come into their places entirely for our benefit. A very odd discontinuity, like a videotape on pause being restarted.

In this Court Theatre the jury is audience. Silent. Attentive. The focus of the whole performance. And in a grand, even imperial isolation, with communication, except out of the room between jury discussion, strictly limited to notes given to an usher who passed them to the judge.

As in any play, there was the sharp division of labour between the performers. It featured highly ritualising jousting between counsel and witnesses, with the judge as referee and intermittent authority on what was admissible. And, as could be inferred from palpable tension between the judge and the defence counsel, more jousting was going on behind the scenes, when during the frequent delays, what were described as 'administrative matters' were being discussed. At the back of the judge, framing his authority, hung the royal seal, an huge enameled aluminum casting, with one inscription 'honi soit qui mal y pense' discreetly buried under the heraldic paraphernalia, and the other, perhaps held to be more important to the matters of the day,  'dieu et mon droit', clearly visible. Hmm, I thought, both in French.

And the actors looked like actors in role, the judge be-wigged and ribboned, ushered in with a loud knock by the door that brought the court to it's feet. The counsel, also be-wigged and gowned, ushers gowned in black, much swearing by Almighty God on sacred books to tell the truth, or, as only three people out of perhaps two dozen chose, affirmation of a secular personal authority. There was constant bowing by court staff to the judge, (or was it the royal insignia) as they entered and left the court, Even more curiously, if, as a jury was being 'processed' by an usher back through these seemingly endless corridors of power to its departure hall, a judge inadvertently stepped into the space, the jury had to freeze, while he or she went on their way. Was this British court in some state of arrested development?  Frozen in critical ways  in some period of royal privilege around the end of the eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries?

After a day or two, I came to value the sense in which this 'theatre' was an accumulation and distillation of centuries of custom and practice, a situation where, much though it grieves me to admit it, tradition has value. This was reinforced by the judge's heartfelt endorsement at one point of the value of trial by jury, which he hoped, quite out of context of the business of the trial, would survive for a hundred years—hinting as I felt, that it might be under threat. And it appeared to work well, the defendant was found guilty on counts that, as it then turned out, matched his 'previous', numerous convictions and many years of imprisonment for similar offences.

So far so good, and it was good. And yet...

I suppose it was a virtue that I came to this trial with no experience of the UK legal system except perhaps newspaper reporting of trials. The trial was considering allegations of rape, assault and false imprisonment, early on, feeling this naivete, I looked up the 2003 Sexual Offences Act on the Internet—and found this account of the 2003 Act and the considerable legal controversy around sexual offences. This Policy paper reports that in the UK only one of 20 reported rapes leads to a conviction and that only 10-20 percent of rapes are reported to the police. The proceedings of the case I was involved in seemed to show only too clearly why this is, and why few women, already likely to be traumatized and knowing what a rape case entails, would want to endure it. 

Nonetheless, the Sexual Offences Act 2003 improves how rape cases are dealt with. As of May 2004, a complainant's previous sexual experience is no longer admissible, and in the trial I write about here, the victim support police officers had evidently been very diligent, police facilities included a purpose built suite for medical examination, and the police surgeon and some other expert witnesses in this trial were women. And  yet, despite all the apparent and tangible attempts to be scrupulous about evidence and proof, not least the judges exemplary transparency about the law and how it should be interpreted, I felt that, while the trial was fairly conducted, from the complainant's point of view, there was something fundamentally unjust in the way this trial, and I'm supposing others like it, was structured.

The defendant, as a person innocent until proved guilty is entitled to do, made no statement when arrested and charged, and made no statement in court, remaining a blank presence throughout. A face behind the glass screen of the dock. The complainant, having made a long and detailed statement was taken through the key elements of it by the prosecution counsel. The cross examination of her evidence by the defence counsel, (both were women), explored the outer limits of sarcasm, intimidation and character assassination. Maybe this is normality but I was astonished at a style of challenge (challenge being an inescapable ingredient here)  that what in any other situation would seem to be clearly abusive, over-determined and counter-productive.  The defence counsel's questioning, ostensibly a confrontation of witnesses behaviour, was loaded with attitude, implying, while hiding behind courtspeak, that whatever the answer, the witness was a 'loser', a 'liar', 'a drunk'. The defence counsel continued this style with other female witnesses but notably moderated it when when the several men were giving evidence.  From a psychological perspective, such an appeal is a trance induction, that invites the jury to suspend their intellectual discrimination in favour of the emotive 'suggestion' being proposed.

Here was where I began to get the sense of there being some bias, a lean in how rape is dealt with. For all it's high quality as an event and the justice of the outcome,  I felt it was seriously deficient. But how and where?

Early one morning I woke up unnacountably furious. Reflecting on why I felt so angry led me to see that, while albeit subtly nuanced and polished smooth with the countless repetitions and challenges and reforms of the UK's legal history, the court process I was inhabiting was yet another culture of domination. Male domination. The attack and defense adversarial trial system amount to warfare,  with it's own Geneva Conventions and with rules of engagement of how combatants must be treated.  Even if conducted by women who had joined it, this was male fighting culture  resembling surprising closely a boxing match with rounds, and a referee who would more often than not be male, only 15% of judges in the UK are women, more. And if I am correct that courts are a culture of male domination, a form of ritualized warfare, why would women be enthusiastic about becoming judges?

Part of my anger was at realizing the extent to which even the fairness and justice of the courts is yet another dominant elite story told with the intention of justifying and sustaining the existing distribution of power. Be a poor person struggling to survive in an impoverished neighbourhood, who had suffered substantial personal loss, a child abducted, having to put down an elderly dog, with a lodger who appeared to have killed or injured pets, and it is immediately obvious that your story is a subordinate story, not an elite story. Which means that it attracts derision and disbelief from people who belong, or subscribe to elite stories of dominance. It means that you are a liar, not just perhaps being from time to time, understandably, defensively, evasive.  For more on the elite and subordinate stories of cultures of domination I again recommend James C. Scott's Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts.

The elite storytellers in court were clearly identifiable, the expert witnesses  listed their 'qualifications' and some even listed their publications, the counsel and judge wore wigs, anyone else was a listener, a member of the public, or the jury, or a functionary, ushers or court clerk. The other people with subordinate stories, were also clearly identifiable; the policewomen who packed and wrapped evidence and got critical aspects of it wrong; the police support officer who persisted in staying in contact with the complainant. There were routinely, as it seemed to me, abused by the hostile aggressive tone of the defence counsel.

The adversarial system seems to be a win/lose warfare, a contest that denies negotiation of the truth, People swear by Almighty Gods of one kind or another to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, setting out right at the beginning the notion of absolute truth. But as any psychotherapist or high energy physicist knows, the truth is highly fluid and seeking to establish it is more akin, as Lakoff, and Heisenberg have demonstrated, to navigation through an ocean of metaphor. Because contrary to archaic folk theories about truth built on such notions as 'facts' and 'objectivity', truth is not susceptible to disconnection from human embodiment. Bodies don't lie, though people may.

And here maybe is where the UK court system and others too I guess are in another time warp, at least than me. Because to  think of facts as immutable, fixed, settled, to assert absolute, literal truths, is to be inhabiting a pre-modern, pre-psychological, pre-Lakoffian take on what counts as evidence. Juries on the one hand are charged with weighing embodied imponderables, taking into account 'the whole of the circumstances' as the judge more than once reminded the jury, but the court process was wholly concerned with what counts as a 'fact', with 'evidence', with the fruits of intellect, with what what logically proves or disproves something.

In this Crown Court discourse that I lived with for ten days, the clear repeated bias of the stories told was in favour of deploying  argument, inference and logical analysis to tell an overwhelmingly male elite story—the truth is what is intellectually and/or scientifically demonstrable. Embodied truth—emotionality due to life events, ie the extent and effects of shock, distress and damage due to the alleged injuries; 'presence', the ability to remain coherent and available as a person through hours of very intimate storytelling and cross examination—all this was persistently discounted. The victim support police officer was repeatedly alleged by the defence of having become 'emotionally attached' to the complainant, of unprofessional behaviour—as though support could be delivered without empathy.

And yet while the emotionality of the subordinate story-tellers was discounted, or in the case of the complainant openly derided, throughout the seven days of this trial, the defence counsel used emotionally charged language and tone of voice almost every time she opened her mouth. A representative example of her defence counsel style that sticks in my mind, was describing at one point the complainants underwear, an uncontroversial exhibit, as 'her tatty knickers'. Unending strings of closed questions loaded with negative inference strikingly resembled artillery salvos. They didn't seek to establish truth, their intention appeared to be inflict damage. Under the court's 'rules of engagement', i.e. that returning fire was not allowed, they had the effect of suppressing discussion, 'outlawing' any negotiation of the truth that was being tested. And so  sustaining the dominant elite/subordination power relations.

My waking feeling of anger subsided into disappointment and sadness as I realized that here again was a culture of domination that discriminates in favour of the privileged, the powerful, the articulate, and the qualified, and against the sad, the poor, the distressed, and people of modest financial and social resources. And that it has sunk into relative social invisibility.

I guess people have been saying this for decades, if not centuries, and while the excesses of the past have been remedied, it is still not right.  In fairness I acknowledge that, when in this case, the judge, along with the rest of us found the complainant, terrified and shaking in the witness box entirely inaudible, he organized for her evidence to heard via video link.  The shift in the balance of power was very dramatic, without this rebalancing of the power relations, I felt the court was in real danger of re-traumatizing the complainant in the interests of justice. A structural change, building on other recent changes to the law, many of them, as the policy studies article I cited earlier outlines, the result of decades of feminist campaigning.

In conclusion: for all it's subtlety and checks and balances, in this trial I feel I was a involved in a form of warfare. We were participants in a court tradition that seems not that far from the jousting of knights, the commonplace ritual violence of the 14th century European aristocratic courts. We were living in a territory, a culture of domination, where as with other warfare, the emotional, the embodied weight of injury, shock and traumatization are discounted, left off-stage, because in the win/lose adversarial paradigm the court was locked into, they can't readily be reduced to facts. And also if you suffer from such 'weakness', for the elite story-tellers, whatever your standing, this colours you in as having a subordinate, 'loser' story.

Wed, 24 Nov 2004


I woke up early, my mind filled with Jason Burke's recent article about the Islamic fundamentalists' use of video as a very modern weapon in their war with modernity in general, and the US in particular.

Nothing particularly problematic in that, except in musing on his conclusions—that some of the more extreme violence on video coming out of Iraq was down to status games, competing for who could be the most extreme—I found myself thinking of what else they could do to be more extreme. In other words I'd joined them.

I take this as a signal that, however honorable it is to confront the love of power—so astonisingly, transparently in-your-face present in the US and its 'coalition of the coerced and the bribed' as Presidential candidate John Kerry called it, to be in touch with it, to feel it, to empathize with its victims (and for reasons of confidentiality there is much else that I can't speak about here)—it was time to interrupt (not end) this line of inquiry.

Why? I have learned over the last 15 years of trying to confronting the lovers of power in the UK psychotherapy community that there can come a point in which active resistance morphs into resembling, even reproducing, the object of resistance. In which making a good piece of resistance, a very honorable thing in my book, we can unconsciously join the oppressor, and in style if not in content, begin to reproduce the oppression. 

For example, some of the animal rights activists in the UK have moved across this boundary to a point where elements of their activism reproduce the violence that they are opposing. Employing domination in the task of rolling back of domination is a lose- lose strategy that undermines the rationality of arguments for ending the abuse of animals.

My waking images are a reminder too that the love of power drives out the power of love. Something being demonstrated daily in Iraq where, with that lack of innovative ingenuity that seems to be endemic in the military-minded down the ages, the US forces enacting the removal of a tyrant are only too visibly deploying the methods of the previous regime, extremes of state violence, torture and stalinist style news management.

And so in this inquiry, sofar as the love of power topic has driven out the power of love topic it is time to bring them more into balance.

Sat, 20 Nov 2004

Staying on the case

There have been times lately when keeping up this enquiry in the love of power and the power of love have been emotionally onerous. Last week was one of them.

I am trying to learn how to take note of events and evidence and not necessarily to open up each topic. i.e. present them here with images and links as a way of holding them in memory, as moments, points in history.

Next week in the UK (November 22-28) is to be anti-bullying week.  A government supported initiative to applaud, though the impression could be gained from this offical site that bullying only happens in school. Nevertheless, it's a great start.

Israeli reprisals.  B'Tselem reveals unprecedented scale of house demolitions in the Occupied Territories

'How long does it take to demolish a house?

It takes a year to build it. Sometimes a hundred years. And there are some houses that have always been there.

How long does it take to demolish a house? Less time than is spent thinking about whether it should have been demolished. How much time is spent thinking about whether to demolish? Less time than the ring of the phone ordering the demolition.

One shove and its gone. A hole gapes in the familiar landscape and the family that had substance and a name and an address and human beings of all ages and relationships –has in the blink of an eye become an example…

At night, no one sees where the destroyed family has gone. No one knows what they are doing now. And where they are sitting now – in some corner, uprooted with their possessions, under heavens empty and heavy, is anything being noted down about them in some corner there now?'

This extract is from a new report just released by B’Tselem entitled, "Through No Fault of Their Own" revealing that the number of houses demolished as a punitive measure in the Occupied Territories is twice as large as Israeli officials claim. Ostensibly, the demolitions are aimed at Palestinians who carried out, or were suspected of carrying out, attacks against Israelis. In practice, the primary victims are family members who are not suspected of any wrongdoing.

B'Tselem is the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories
download full report in .rtf format
view video

Iraqi hostage(s) This was the week in which Margaret Hassan appears to have been murdered in Iraq. The emotional low point of the week for me was this item on the front page of US Today (14th October 2004)


and then days of silence in the media when, having heard there were two known western women hostages in Iraq, Margaret Hassan, and Teresa Borcz Khalifa, a Polish woman (who was freed November 19th), I failed to find any mention of this murder. Margaret Hassan was not blonde, so who is this woman? A week later I have still found no reference to her death. And what does the level of damage she appears to have suffered tell us about the quicksands of despair and hate that oppression can generate?

155mm US Artillery firing on Falluja
155mm is a little over 6 inches. The US forces were firing into Falluja apparently from several miles out of town with this weapon. What possible justification can there be for such indiscriminate violence? 

My concern at the repeated TV news footage of US artillerymen firing several 155mm rounds a minute was echoed, it turns out, by BBC reporter Paul Reynolds, who also asked why:

I have questioned many times senior officers here about the use of heavy weapons because they have been using 155mm artillery in Falluja, they have been dropping 2,000 pound bombs. The bullets that they fire are high velocity. The buildings are of poor construction here - the bullets travel through the walls. And when they see what they believe to be militants - and these marines are incredibly calm under fire, they are almost unflinching - they do wait until they see a guy with a gun but when they see that, they open up with everything they have got and the question is, how much collateral damage is there going to be?

Falluja casulties
Yes I know these pictures from al Jazeera are hard to look at, both feature children, but there are others that are worse. And this last week images of the civilian casualties of the assault on Falluja have been notable by their absence from the newsmedia I see.  Here is an al Jazeera report on civilian casulties early in the November post-election assault on Falluja.

N.B. Despite American and Iraqi provisional government smears and physical attacks, Al Jazeera is an ex-BBC outfit that holds a very even-handed Arab view of events in the Middle East.

US soldiers kill wounded men in Falluja
The NBC video of US soldiers shooting a wounded rsistance fighter in Falluja seems to have disappeared but these four frames from it...


....convey the casual brutality of men so stressed out by training and indocrination that they can see defenseless wounded opponents as 'unmenschen', having 'lives devoid of value'... so that, as here inside a mosque, they can kill them. 
Here from the blog of Kevin Sites, the freelance cameraman who filmed the shooting, is his open letter to the marines involved.

Iraqi suicide bombers—who are they?
One of the features of the armed struggle going on in Iraq that seemed to be entirely invisible to the media I read is the sheer numbers of people who are prepared to kill themselves in opposing the US attack and occupation. I haven't counted but it seems like more than one a day, week in week out.

Is it possible that these men are remnants of the Saddam Hussein regime? Why kill yourself to bring him back? If not, how come these men have to wear the label 'insurgents', bought into by all the media I read. Considering the numbers and frequency of suicide bombing, what a strange label, one that seeks to tell us  that they are 'outsiders'—not indigenous people so infuriated by the violence of the US attack and occupation that they are willing to kill themselves to reverse it?

Perhaps, as other men have down the centuries, including the American and British troops occupying their country, they are dying for God and Country. What else could this many men willing to kill themselves mean?

As I have written elsewhere here, suicide bombing, whether at bus stops, in airliners, or cars, is a weapon that at a stroke obsoletes the most fancy techno precision weapons of the alienated, if courageous patriots, of the UK and US military.

Yes, domination does sometimes seems to be an immovable a feature of the landscape and then, as with hunting, years of courageously indignant people-pressure win through, and a corner of domination is rolled back. 

Amid bizarre scenes of procedural confusion, the UK Parliament voted this week to stop the hunting of foxes for fun in the UK.

To appreciate fully why this is significant in the UK, you need to understand that hunting is a remnant of feudal i.e. fullout baronial domination, sustained by the rich and powerful in the UK for a thousand years. The British royal family are blood sports enthusiasts, and for social climbers and the landed gentry, hunting has remained a jewel in the crown of the seigneural/aristocratic tradition.

Hunting, with its ceremonial dress and the blooding of new recruits, has always seemed to me an archetypal example of dominance in action. The fight to keep hunting in the UK hides a covert agenda—"hands off our hereditary power and wealth".

The fightback, by the House of Lords, initially unsuccessful, will no doubt be followed by other pressures from the feudal wing of the Countryside Alliance. Labour's Baroness Mallalieu, who is also Countryside Alliance president and who led opposition to the Bill to ban hunting with hounds in the House of Lords, said the Hunting Bill was "rank bad", adding: "Its foundations are naked prejudice and wilful ignorance, it is without rationality and without principle". Comments that it struck me, apply only too well to hunting itself.

Palestinian Child Deaths
Figures published 30th October by Al Jazeera appear to show that the Israeli Defense Forces [IDF] are killing an outrageous number of Palestian children.

In October 2004, the number of children and minors under 17 killed by the IDF has climbed to 33.  An Israeli officer, who in October shot a 12-year-old Palestinian child in Rafah in southern Gaza 20 times to ascertain that she was dead, was arrested briefly but only on suspicion that he lied about the incident.

Many, or most, Palestinian children killed have been on their way to school or have been have been imprudently stoning the Caterpillar Inc. bulldozers that demolish their homes.

Fri, 05 Nov 2004

God invades White House

'... surveys have shown, that many more Americans believe in the Virgin Birth than in Darwin's theory of evolution.' The Day the Enlightenment Went Out By GARRY WILLS

The 2004 US Presidential election has seemed to have obvious relevance for this inquiry into love, and its antithesis, domination. I've already made three tries to find a voice that is up to the task of writing about it. They all ran into the sand. Too reasonable. Too even-handed for the amount of feeling that I and lots of other people had running, both before and after the US election.

1. Satanic Theology
For months past I've been digging into what various people have had to say about fundamentalism, an article by Karen Armstrong, her book, The Battle for God, and Almond, Appleby and Sivana's summary volume, Strong Religion of a huge, 10-year, US funded, research study into fundamentalism world-wide, that includes details of the origins of such groups across America.

Here are some headlines.

In the world-conqueror pattern we see the most virulent type of fundamentalist movement in terms of the disruption of a previous order. ....The world, a realm of Satan and darkness, must be overcome if not brought back into the fold. Its institutions, structures, and values must be brought under the control of the true believers. Strong Religion p151

Rolling back Secular Humanism

[In the US] The shift to an operative postmillennialism—the belief that Jesus would come only after Bible-believing Christians had prepared the way by inaugurating the era of righteousness on earth—was triggered by the moral and social crises of the 1960s. ... Bible-believers could no longer wait passively for Jesus but must protect the next generation of Christians by concerted political efforts to "repeal" or "roll back" secular humanism...
...Falwell and his associates in the Religious Roundtable and other Christian Right lobbying groups pushed Protestant fundamentalism toward a new, world-conquering pattern of political activism in reaction to the threatening pluralism of belief and lifestyle that appeared to be overtaking "Judeo-Christian" America. Strong Religion p156

Theocratic politics
The first wave of this new political activism, designed to "take back" the courts, schools, and Congress from the secular humanists (and, presumably, to vanquish them or at least diminish their role in public life), was active during the Reagan presidency and followed a strategy of applying pressure at a national level. A second wave, inaugurated by the Reverend Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition in the late 1980s and 1990s, profited from the lessons of the Moral Majority era and focused its impressive and far more successful political activism on local politics—state assemblies, school boards, state political parties. Strong Religion p156

A bid for power
The growing conviction of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Randall Terry, and Tim LaHaye in the late seventies as to the possible emergence of a Moral Majority, likely to acquire hegemony in American politics and culture, made them introduce a "postmillennial window"' into their premillennialism. They assumed that the arrival of the millennium depended upon their activism. Tribulation would precede Rapture, not follow it. In consequence, one should act immediately in order to better American society, otherwise devastation would be so comprehensive as to hit the saved as well, and anyhow, it might be so cataclysmic as to render reconstruction extremely difficult. Only a daring bid for power, until then thought to be an un-Christian course of action, could save the day. Strong Religion p70

After sifting what felt like a small galaxy of stuff on fundamentalism
represented here by these quotes and my earlier article, I realized why I, and a lot of other people, not least the liberal-leaning inhabitants of the US, were so wound up about the 2004 US Presidential election result. It seemed to point to a threshold being crossed:

As Sister Joan Chittister OSB writing of the 2004 Presidential election puts it.

I would call it a warning, a signal of things to come, the klaxon of what is clearly a crossover moment in time, perhaps, but not a real profile of the historic American character and hopes....

...we did not, in this particular political exercise, see the fundamental ideals of the American public -- respect for differences, separation of church and state, the common good, and justice for all -- in full sway. We did see ideology at its most punishing, smothering and narrow worst.

...what we saw is what extremism looks like, what cultural evolution looks like, what fear looks like, what religion run amuck looks like. We saw radical right fundamentalist religion pitted against the most shameless definitions of secular liberalism as weak, immoral and irresponsible. It was the battle of two one-eyed monsters writ large. No nuances. No common ground. No common sense. No real evidence.            Joan Chittister, OSB

God invades White House
2. Enough of facts - my mind is made up

The 2004 US Presidential election result appeared to show that since 9/11 a majority of the American people have bought into a patriotic loyalty oath promoted by the US administration. One that entails believing in a '"war" on terrorism'; Iraqi possession of 'weapons of mass destruction'; Iraq as a complicit in the 9/11 attacks; and calling the attack on Iraq a "war". Aren't these fictions? Aren't they blatant pieces of trance induction intended to consolidate the power of the Bush administration through further terrifying the American population and marginalizing and denying dissent? The Power of Nightmares, the BBC2 series by Adam Curtis, (video Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) offered almost three hours of video evidence that this was a plausible explanation. If so, how come so many people signed up to this apparent failure of common-sense? 

And then I remembered that the fundamentalism studies had shown that many millions of committed church-goers in the US, perhaps 30% of the population, live within the 'enclaves' of a variety of forms of christian fundamentalism. Through owning and controlling churches, schools, home schooling, colleges, publishing, broadcasting, and
in some areas, even shopping, the enclaves seek to be self sufficient. What I hadn't appreciated was that such enclaves are a way of ensuring that people of faith are actively out of touch with other ways of being in the world. The enclave is a vessel of faith, of righteousness, and the god-less outside world is perceived as 'bad', even 'evil', to be avoided. Political choices within this cultural deafness filter down through charismatic, male, authoritarian, local or national religious leaders, and are re-enforced by a vast christian media network.

Ostensibly such enclaves, a key element of fundamentalism everywhere, are defending themselves from the moral decay of pornography, sexual  freedom, political correctness, gay rights, feminism and the free-wheeling liberal critiques of secular institutions such as  governments, universities, science and publishing. A closer look suggests that christian resistance to being over-run by liberal values has less to do with a perception of moral disintegration, and much more to do with holding on tight to a short list of the specific moral values that they have selected from the Christian story book; especially patriarchal male dominance, the subordination of women and the un-naturalness of homosexuality, and alongside these, the idea that the nature is a resource to be exploited.

The 2004 US Presidential election appears to have been won as this BBC report confirms, on the basis of large numbers of christian conservative voters seeing George W. Bush as embodying these selected 'moral values'.

God invades White House
3. Unpicking the power of righteousness

In the task of understanding the 2004 US presidential election result, research into the
moral values of christian fundamentalism has been vital. What feeds and sustains such values? Yet another strand of American research, this time by cognitive scientist and linguist George Lakoff, shows how notions such as 'moral values'  are human constructions, rooted in the human capacity for metaphor:

Moral order is based on a folk theory of the natural order: The natural order is the order of dominance that occurs in the world...
God is naturally more powerful than people
People are naturally more powerful than animals, plants and natural objects
Adults are naturally more powerful than children
Men are naturally more powerful than women. Lakoff Moral Politics p81

The consequences of the metaphor of moral order are enormous, even outside religion. It legitimates a certain class of existing power relations as being natural and therefore moral, and thus makes social movements like feminism appear unnatural and therefor counter to the moral order.It legitimates certain views of nature, e. g., nature as a resource for human use, man as steward over nature. Accordingly it delegitimizes other views of nature, e.g., those in which nature has inherent value. Lakoff Moral Politics p82

In addition [the metaphor of moral order] focuses attention on questions of natural superiority... there are people (typically wealthy people) who believe that the rich are morally superior to the poor. Indeed that belief is explicit in forms of Calvinism, where worldly goods are a reflection of righteousness. Lakoff Moral Politics p83

Might the heightened awareness and level of feeling that many people have about the 2004 US Presidential election amount to some intuition that we are living through a critical point in history. One where the "morally superior" rich of America, led by a charismatic (and Calvinist) leader, license themselves to further institutionalize a belief in the equivalence of righteousness and wealth? Have we reached a threshold where we realize, to our horror, that the Bush administration is leaving behind secular, liberal plurality; leaving behind justice, negotiation, and  the rule of law; and is intent on installing a 'Kingdom of the God-fearing'?

I'm reminded of a New Yorker cartoon where, as Adam and Eve disport themselves in the Garden of Eden, the hand of God, waving a warning finger, reaches out from the heavens, and a voice declaims, "Rule No:1 don't piss me off".
This seems to epitomize the Bush administration style. Well hidden behind often Orwellian language (The "Clear Skies Act 2003" licenses industry to pollute - The"Healthy Forests Initiative" licences the damaging clear-cutting of forests) are the god-given absolutes of biblical inerrancy. These highly selective fear-laden fragments of the Christian story cascade down through layer on layer of authoritarian, patriarchal, (and usually male) leaders, to terrify other, subordinate creatures, and thus much of the rest of the world, into compliance with American interests. 

God invades White House
Holding the Big Picture

Was the distress many of us felt about the Bush re-election due to it seeming to threaten the negation of so many of the socially vital gains of recent decades?
Or as I fancy, is it more a matter of two steps forward, one step back?

Am I taking refuge here in ungrounded optimism, some resuscitation of the much derided notion of 'progress'? Perhaps, but I am old enough to have seen a major over-arching development in recent decades—the evolution in attitudes to childcare.  Childcare has moved away from the fear-filled alienation of authoritarian control—toward nurturance and gentleness—meeting the child's needs rather than controlling their behavior, (the UK, trailing other European nations, is even legislating to criminalize smacking children). Along side this in the last 30 years I have seen the gradual emergence into public consciousness of child abuse, neglect, bullying, paedophilia, and domestic violence.

All of which amounts to a raising of consciousness about domination, albeit haphazard and fragmentary, and often highly contested. But I have the sense, looking at the 'big picture', that history is inexorably moving in this direction,
If you are skeptical, I recommend Lloyd de Mause's History of Childhood, which shows extremely convincingly the historical trajectory from astonishingly abusive parenting, toward more caring, more loving, more child-centered approaches to upbringing and child-care. With, as a likely consequence, the moderation and/or marginalizing of domination. Locally it can be hard to see but generationally it seems to be a notion that has legs.

God invades White House
5. The politics of identity demolition

De Mause's psychohistorical approach has been complemented by George Lakoff's notion of two divergent parenting styles that he details in Moral Politics, see this article for a brief account. He calls them 'Strict Father' parenting and 'Nurturant' parenting, and he equates these with a conservative and liberal politics that correspond to each parenting style. 

Christian and islamic fundamentalism both appear to to enthusiastically endorse 'Strict Father' parenting i.e. patriarchy.

Here are a couple of items from a modern (1972) christian child-rearing manual:

The spanking should be administered firmly. It should be painful and it should last until the child's will is broken. It should last until the child is crying, not tears of anger, but tears of a broken will. As long as he is stiff, grits his teeth, holds on to his own will, the spanking should continue. (Hyles, How to rear Children pp99-100 in Lakoff: Moral politics)

Obedience is the most necessary ingredient to be required from the child. This is especially true for a girl, for she must be obedient all her life. The boy who is obedient to his mother and father will some day become the head of the home; not so for the girl. Whereas the boy is being trained to be a leader, the girl is being trained to be a follower. Hence, obedience is far more important to her, for she must some day transfer it from her parents to her husband. . . .
This means that she should never be allowed to argue at all. She should become submissive and obedient. She must obey immediately, without question, and without argument. The parents who require this have done a big favor for their future son-in-law. (Hyles,  How to rear Children p158 in Lakoff: Moral politics)

Such 'Strict Father' parenting naturalizes domination and subordination, and as Lakoff shows in this article, it shapes conservative political beliefs in the US.

My guess is that part of the considerable distress and alarm that many people such as myself have felt around the re-election of President
Bush, is that it signals a move toward the consolidation, and even extension, of the 'shock and awe' of America's 'full spectrum dominance', at home and abroad, 'strict father' politics.

However, as the 'strict father' approach to childcare gives way to a more 'nurturant' approach, many people
sense intuitively that the expressions of ('strict father') 'family and moral values' that shape the Bush Presidency are facing backwards in history. They are in regression from a secular plurality where, unencumbered by patriarchal theology, a rich variety of social movements such as feminism, minority rights, gay rights, abortion rights, racial justice, innovative spiritualities, and ecological awareness, have gained legislative and popular recognition. What these movements have in common is that they roll back the 'folk theory' of the naturalness of domination, especially male domination, perhaps most effectively and essentially, in child-care.

And on the other side of the coin, exactly these developments appear to be  anathema to fundamentalist christian church-goers.

Fundamentalist enclaves see these secular expressions of 'modernity', or as I would fancy 'post-modernity', as a revolt against God. And if you are a person of faith, who "bears witness", "walks with the Lord", "is busy harvesting souls", or "excising the cancer of deviation, sexual or otherwise", a revolt against God is the ultimate challenge. Why? Because it threatens identity demolition. Faith, like the optimism in this text, is an investment in a big idea, a "Yes". 
If significant doubt arises, such a 'Yes', can morph into a "No". If your whole identity is invested in the "Yes" of christian or other fundamentalism, based on the inerrancy of biblical texts, then de-construction or questioning of this faith  has to be strenuously resisted. After all, none us want to 'go out of our  minds'.

God invades White House
6. Echoes and resonances

For US christian conservatives, the secular values of plurality, diversity, negotiation and power-sharing do realistically threaten identity demolition.

American christian enclaves have reacted to
these perceived challenges to their faith with the classic characteristics of fundamentalism world-wide. They have selected scriptural items that support the present controversies while neglecting others, adopted moral manicheanism, signed up to absolutism and inerrancy, and framed the struggle as millennialism, the end of history.

Protestant fundamentalists of the United States select the apocalyptic prophesies to be found in the books of Daniel and Revelation... p94

...fundamentalism selects some aspects of modernity to affirm and embrace. Much of modern science may be accepted, for example, and modern technology such as radio, television, VCR's audiocassette tapes, telephone banks, and modern mailing techniques are effectively  employed.  p95 

...fundamentalisms select certain consequence or processes of modernity and single these out for special attention, usually in the form of focused opposition... abortion in demand in the United States. p95

Moral Manicheanism
A dualistic or Manichean worldview is one in which reality is considered to be uncompromisingly divided into light, which is identified with the world of the spirit and of the good, and darkness, which is identified with matter and evil. Ultimately, light will triumph over darkness. For fundamentalist movements, as we have noted, the world outside is contaminated, sinful, doomed; the world inside is a pure and redeemed "remnant." p95

Absolutism and Inerrancy
Fundamentalists... share a recognizable approach to religious sources. First, they steadfastly oppose... ...the canons of critical rationality as defined by outsiders. Instead of following philological or historical methods, fundamentalists employ their own distinctive strategies of interpretation, including "hardened" and "updated" traditional approaches, designed in part to reify and preserve the absolutist character of the sacred text or tradition. p96

Millennialism and Messianism
History has a miraculous culmination. The good will triumph over evil, immortality over mortality; the reign of eternal justice will terminate history. The end of days, preceded by trials and tribulations, will be ushered in by the Messiah, the saviour.

Do you find echoes and resonances between
the 2004 US presidential election and these headlines from the ten year study of fundamentalism around the world into christian fundamentalism? Here are some further quotes from that study that may account for the sense of urgency that has energized the christian right in recent years.

American fundamentalists see the United States as the third concentric circle of their "moral landscape," beyond their own independent church and the loose network of churches to which they belong (Baptist Convention, Liberty University graduates, etc.). America is of course endowed with a theological dimension (as the City on the Hill),...  ...The fourth concentric circle is the Middle East, with the Holy Land as its hub and the war theater of the Apocalypse. The prophetic landscape depicted in the Books of Ezekiel, Daniel, and Revelation saw its veracity confirmed by the strategic role of the Middle East in the international arena over the last quarter century. Cosmology has suddenly been endowed with a down-to-earth significance. (106) Strong Religion P73

Often, as noted above, the movement really gets off the ground only when a cataclysmic, transformative event occurs either within the movement itself or, more likely, in the local, national, or international environment external to the movement. The trigger creates a  new set of circumstances that provides an opening for a fundamentalist movement to expand and assert itself under the guidance of a charismatic authoritarian leader." Strong Religion p135

God invades White House
7. Death of the American dream of invulnerability

Initially I bought into the trance induction of accepting the appalling 9/11 damage as an unprovoked attack on the US by Islamic terrorists. That was how it looked. And then, as day by day the media built up the posture, constantly reinforced by the Bush   administration, that the US was an entirely  innocent victim, the trance bubble popped. as though  US complicity with oppressive authoritarian regimes in Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israelestine were not part of the historical record. A huge store of goodwill was sacrificed.

Then followed the acting out of revenge on Afghanistan, one of the poorest countries on earth—and so recently an ally against a previous 'evil empire'—
the USSR  (check out Stallone's Rambo 3 for details) and not long after, the illegal attack on Iraq. In a  massive betrayal of trust, the Bush US administration followed, and later (Iraq) exploited, a political need to rationalize the newly exposed vulnerability of the US and justify vengeance.  Rarely in history can 'persecutor' have reversed into 'victim' and back to persecutor so quickly,

From the perspective of several years on, 9/11 looks like an incident in a war of attrition between fundamentalist ideologies, christian and islamic, that has been going on since
at least the Iranian hostage crisis and Beirut bombings. The two ideologies seem to have much in common, not least profoundly misconstruing each other. Islamists see the US as the epitome of a satanic modernity that is a threat to the Koran based culture.  Since 9/11, the US has behaved as though the modern methods of fundamentalist islamists such as Osama bin Laden and al Queda posed a critical challenge to the US world hegemony. As though the overwhelming asymmetry of wealth and resources didn't exist.

I have to keep reminding myself that fundamentalism is archaic only in it's beliefs, in its methods it is typically highly innovative and indeed persons willing to kill themselves, and thus make routine objects such as home videos, cars and planes into very lethal weapons, are very modern form of weaponry.

So, following 9/11, in the US and al Queda, we appear to have two opposed fundamentalisms each out to undermine or destroy the 'modernity' of the other. However if we pop the trance bubble of feeling equally terrified of both of them, what we see is a gigantic asymmetry, the stupendous technological power and might of the world's only superpower severely challenged by the strikingly modern innovations of
al Queda's networked autonomous cells and suicide bombers. But, as I have learned to appreciate, 
(see BBC2 The Power of Nightmares video Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) while undoubtedly posing some risk, the fear of an Al Queda attack has been hugely inflated for political reasons by the US and British administrations.
It is not difficult to see how the US would see such critical innovations as suicide bombers as doubly threatening, because ultimately there is no secure defense against them, thus  key aspects of
US technological might are rendered obsolete overnight. And of course it is not only the opposed forces that are asymmetrical, the level of damage, however painful to us, in New York, Madrid, Bali and Morocco, is as nothing caused by the generational damage wreaked by the US, think Philippines, Vietnam, South America, Palestine, Iran, or Saudi Arabia.

And yet, was there not always the option, as the UK (IRA) and Spain (ETA)  have seen, of refusing to buy into the fundamentalist (terrorizing) trance of 9/11? Of seeing these as damaging actions of dissidents, a (major) nuisance, but part of the price of democracy; of choosing to respond by asking, 'Why us?'. 'Why now?'. Why couldn't the US administration do this?

God invades White House
8. Rolling Back Modernity

or US christian conservatism, 9/11 provided both a confirmation of its apocalyptic visions and a priceless window of opportunity. Both of these fed the unprecedented vigor of the 2004 presidential election campaigns in which—
as Esther Kaplan details in With God on Their Side through America's born again, Calvinist leader, George W. Bush, christian fundamentalism continued its invasion of the agenda of the US administration.  Their intention, as I hope may already be clear—rolling back modernity; at home, liberal modernity, abroad, islamic modernity.  Putting god in the White House.

So what is this liberal modernity that the US christian enclave (strictly speaking this should be plural) feels so threatened by? 
A rich variety of legal assertions of human rights and the criminalizing of sexual and racial discrimination—not to mention animal rights—that have made their way on to the statute books. Liberal modernity favours tolerance, mutual support, cooperation, the right to dispose of our bodies, especially if we are women; to share power, to negotiate, to live within the law, to honor the public and the private universes, to help the needy, to honor dissent? A list that even Jesus might endorse, were He around to be asked.

Darwin and DNA
The pre-modern
narratives of christian enclaves have no place for the sheer  plurality of modernity—astrophysics, molecular biology, sociology, psychology, evolution and stem cell research. But as it seems to me, what will ultimately consign christian fundamentalism to the history books lies
in the spiritual, political and psychological de-construction of our folk theories of realitythe post-modern universe—that shows the extent to which all such stories are humanly constructed. And parallel with this—the generation of new spiritualities that are outside patriarchy, that favor authenticity and open-ness and that honor the sacredness, the intrinsic value, of all life. 

Perhaps ultimately what traumatizes, and thus petrifies the fundamentalist imagination, is an awareness that, running through all these lines of post-modernity is a core human discovery, transparent and dramatically fruitful in physics for decades; that what we see, and the knowledge we generate, is shaped by who is looking. And the more intensively we look into nature, the more there is to find, and the more what we find echoes who we are. A paradox from which there is no escape, nor is there need for one.

And just as threatening to the fundamentalist christian sensibility, post modernity tell us about
process, reflexivity, emotionality, nurturance, metaphor, transference and so on. Above all it tells us about power, its nuances and its ubiquity. It shows us that just as there is no escape from our personal constructions of reality, so there is no space that is free from power relations. And as power thus deconstructed comes out in into the light of day, the inequities and injustices of its distribution in the world come into sharp focus. And nowhere is power thus rendered transparent, more visible, than in relations between parents and between them and their children. And so we arrive again at the feminist critique of patriarchy, of male dominance. In the new narratives of sexuality, intimacy and power, to quote the title of recent book, power is not biologically determined but is a matter of negotiation.

And this I believe, is ultimately what is indigestible for the christian and conservative right in the US. Understandably, because for many believers, many people of faith, to acknowledge, let alone embrace, the discoveries of post-modernity would, as I have mentioned earlier, be tantamount to identity demolition.

The 2004 Presidential election generated a lot of heat, not only in the US. This I feel was due to the correct perception that it involved a sharp confrontation between such divergent approaches to power. F
or the moment, in electing George W. Bush, the conservative christian right, have succeeded in forging a shield against the intrusions of modernity that they feel so much pollute and demean the purity of the Christian message. They succeeded in overwhelming the constituencies of people who value a post-modern approach to spirituality, one that supposes multiple stories rather than the single Big Idea of the Christian narrative.

However, the jury is out on whether they have defeated the post-modern narratives of plurality and power-sharing, or whether the Bush Presidency will prove to be a nightmare from which the world will one day awaken, a dream that will eventually implode, more than likely economically, or due to the wounds from a deepening, self-created, Middle Eastern crisis—as the Bush administration continues to insist on crashing America into the world.

Lastly and not least, there is a sense in which the US polity behaves as if the whole of psychology did not exist. As though for 100 years, and especially the last 50 years, not least in the US, there has been a wonderful flourishing of psychological knowledge  about group, inter-personal intra-psychic and social relations. 

And I guess...
psychology is one the core sticking points for the vast majority of the christian right,  since it is built around the notion of 'process', of 'reflexivity', of becoming aware of how we do what we do, of the context and antecedents of our actions, of becoming competent emotionally, of being able to investigate and integrate the shadowy reaches of our identity and re-evaluate, re-create, and regenerate, aspects of ourselves that are over- or under-endowed.  So far as we become even a little bit aware of 'process', we will be likely to to notice when someone is attempting to entrance us. We'll be better able to see through and out the other side of a religiosity that functions as a kind of exclusive (and excluding) loyalty oath, that disallows choice and dissent, and, through denying the Christian message of love and tolerance, legitimates violence.

God invades White House
9. Postscript
This attempt to compost the distress deriving from the 2004 US Presidential election and the culture of domination that sustains it, has lifted some of the bad emotional weather it generated. But I am left with a troubling outcome to this line of inquiry.

Because they are often structured round a few unifying, faith-based Big Ideas—
patriarchy, or male dominance—
christian conservative groups seem more able than liberals to agree on campaign strategies that favour a narrow range of issues with which large populations can identify. Media coverage that repeats such notions ad infinitum through interviews, photo-opportunities and commercials, amounts to trance induction, and such spellbinding promises of 'security' in the face of the inflated threats of a 'war on terror', can come to dominate political discourse, as they did in the 2004 Presidential election.

If, by contrast, you favor a paradigm of human relations that values diversity, plurality, nurturance, equality and empathy, these generate multiple messages, multiple meanings, multiple aims, that can seem incoherent en masse (though not necessarily locally). Politically this seems to me very problematic. How do liberal ideas hold their place in the world without compromising their diversity?

So a key ongoing element of this inquiry into domination is how to resolve this dilemma. How can we  create institutions, descriptions, naming, metaphors, and symbols, that hold true to notions of plurality, authenticity, nurturance, empathy, caring and love? So that they hold their value in contests where a handful of big ideas shaped by covert notions of absolute truth are used to sustain and regenerate control and dominance.

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.

Sat, 25 Sep 2004

The nth Crusade

Part of the intention of this inquiry is to be able to juxtapose items that might not usually seem related but which appear to support the notion that domination is ubiquitous, threaded through the grain of the time. So that the connections, once seen, increase the chances we can make a move from bullying and coercion to love and cooperation.

A nearby church is flying the Crusader flag of St George, again, the last time was during the world cup.

Curious at a time when Islam is in the news so often and for so many different reasons that the Crusader flag should have come to occupy so much public attention.

Crusader flag over church

It's not as though many of the thousands of football fans are likely to have any conscious understanding of the history that their nationalist emblem carries but perhaps they understand unconsciously that, both in the tribal world of 12th Century European warlordism that spawned the Crusades, and the domesticated versions of it that soccer embodies, the Crusader flag remains an emblem of 'us' and 'them' dominance, of overcoming the infidel, the 'other', the foreigner.

More on that later.

Purposeful forgetting

P. sent me a cutting from the Daily Mail (p15 Sept 21 2004) that she thought I ought to see. In an article entitled 'Iraq: Is Tony away with the fairies?', Steve Glover points to Blair's 'Messiah complex' quoting his 2001 Labour conference speech that referred to the Congo and Rwanda.

'This is the moment to seize. The kaleidoscope has been shaken. The pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle down again. Before they do let us reorder the world around us'

Headline: Order this World

I was reminded of another image from another century. How easily the lessons of history can be forgotten.

Pitt and Napoleon carve up World Gilray: The Plum Pudding in Danger - Pitt and Napoleon carve up the world

This historicity, forgetting or passing over, or simply being ignorant of the inconveniently horrible aspects of how the the present distribution of power in western society came into being does appear to be part of the entrancing stories that dominant elites tell. For example I have tended to see the US as a late-comer to, or even outside imperial ambition. Leaving aside the Roman antecedents, France, Britain, Germany, Holland, Spain and Portugal (did I miss anybody?) showed the way. And the US, leaving aside the Chilean intervention; it's Cuban conspiranoia and the Vietnam adventure, appeared to have clean(ish) hands.

Not so.

John B. Judis in Imperial Amnesia in the July/August issue of Foreign Policy details the chequered history of US imperialism and shows how the amnesic trance quality of the recent actions of the US administration belong to a long-standing US tradition that combines the use of force and evangelism. I'll pull a quote or two here but do read the whole text.

The Philipines
As Judis recounts, George Bush made a speech to the Philipine Congress on October 20 2003 that credited the US with transforming the Philipines into a democracy:

“America is proud of its part in the great story of the Filipino people,” said Bush. “Together our soldiers liberated the Philippines from colonial rule.”

As many Philippine commentators remarked afterward, Bush's rendition of Philippine-American history bore little relation to fact. True, the U.S. Navy ousted Spain from the Philippines in the Spanish-American War of 1898. But instead of creating a Philippine democracy, the McKinley administration, its confidence inflated by victory in that “splendid little war,” annexed the country and installed a colonial administrator. The United States then waged a brutal war against the same Philippine independence movement it encouraged to fight against Spain. The war dragged on for 14 years. Before it ended, about 120,000 U.S. troops were deployed, more than 4,000 were killed, and more than 200,000 Filipino civilians and soldiers were killed. Resentment lingered a century later during Bush's visit.

Judis goes from this echo of current events in Afghanistan and Iraq to outline the historical context for it. He calls it Divine Interventionism. At the end of the 19th century...

... by taking over parts of the Spanish empire, the United States became the kind of imperial power it once denounced. It was now vying with Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and Japan for what future U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt called “the domination of the world.”

There was active American interest in standing tall as a military power and a need to find someplace for US capital to find a home...

But proponents of imperialism, including Protestant missionaries, also viewed overseas expansion through the prism of the country's evangelical tradition. Through annexation, they insisted, the United States would transform other nations into communities that shared America's political and social values and also its religious beliefs. “Territory sometimes comes to us when we go to war in a holy cause,” U.S. President William McKinley said of the Philippines in October 1900, “and whenever it does the banner of liberty will float over it and bring, I trust, the blessings and benefits to all people.”

This belief, as Judis explains, was at the heart of the US establisment. Woodrow Wilson, later president of Princeton University and President of the US, defended the annexation of the Philipines in 1901...

“The East is to be opened and transformed, whether we will or no; the standards of the West are to be imposed upon it; nations and peoples which have stood still the centuries through are to be quickened and to be made part of the universal world of commerce and of ideas which has so steadily been a-making by the advance of European power from age to age.”

...the imperialists of the 1890s believed the United States could create an empire that would eventually dwarf the rival European empires. The difference would be that America's empire would reflect its own special values. Indiana Sen. Albert Beveridge and the Protestant missionaries advocated “the imperialism of righteousness.” God, Beveridge contended, has made “the English-speaking and Teutonic peoples . . . . master organizers of the world. . . . He has made us adept in government that we may administer government among the savage and senile peoples. Were it not for such a force as this the world would relapse into barbarism and night. And of all our race He has marked the American people as His chosen nation to finally lead in the regeneration of the world.”

As Judis outlines, by the early years of the 20th century, this notion of American empire had faded and President Woodrow Wilson had moderated the vision in favour of dismantling imperialism... the United States proved barely capable of retaining its hold over the Philippines. Wilson didn't merely change U.S. foreign policy; he changed its underlying millennial framework. Like Beveridge, he believed the United States was destined to create the Kingdom of God on Earth by actively transforming the world. But Wilson didn't believe it could be done through a U.S. imperium. America's special role would consist in creating a community of power that would dismantle the structure of imperialism and lay the basis for a pacific, prosperous international system. Wilson's vision earned the support not only of Americans but of peoples around the world.

The only way to prevent future war, Wilson concluded, was to dismantle the colonial structure itself. His plan included self-determination for former colonies, international arms reduction, an open trading system to discourage economic imperialism, and a commitment to collective security through international organizations, what is now sometimes referred to as multilateralism.

Sadly two World Wars, a Cold war and countless local armed conflicts intervened to sideline this version of democracy as practice rather than fig leaf.

As the 21st century dawned, the neoconservatives adopted Wilson's vision of global democracy, but they sought to achieve it through the unilateral means associated with Beveridge. They saw the United States as an imperial power that could transform the world single-handedly. But the neoconservatives and George W. Bush are likely to learn the same lesson in the early 21st century that Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson learned in the early 20th century. Acting on its own, the United States' ability to dominate and transform remains limited, as the ill-fated mission in Iraq and the reemergence of the Taliban in Afghanistan already suggest. When the United States goes out alone in search of monsters to destroy—venturing in terrain upon which imperial powers have already trod—it can itself become the monster.

John B. Judis is a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. This quote are from an essay based on his forthcoming Folly of Empire: What George W. Bush Could Learn from Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson (New York: Scribners, 2004)

Here we go - here we go
If the aspect of the crusader tradition that John Judis outlines seems out of reach (as well as being out of control!) then a reminder that the spellbinding trance of imperial righteousness may not only be out there in 'them' but also in 'us' is perhaps in order.

Thus in conclusion, back to the Daily Mail. On the back of the Steven Glover article I mentioned earlier was an obituary of Brian Clough, a renowned UK football manager who died recently.

Clough, famous for his egocentric arrogance, described himself as 'Old Big 'Ead'. He had, as Richard Pendlebury writes, a famous 'directness of approach',

'If I had an argument with a player, we would sit down for 20 minutes, talk about it and then decide I was right'.

Other legendary stories celebrating Clough's domineering style included this one:

'he (Clough) returned home one freezing December night after a match and climbed into bed where his long-suffering wife Barbara was already asleep.
'God, your feet are freezing' she complained.
'Eh, love, you can call me Brian in bed,' he replied.

A few lines later in the article, after describing how as a punishment Clough had once made his football team run through a nettle bed, Richard Pendlebury continues:

His treatment of Justin Fashanu, for whom he'd paid £1 million, was particularly savage once he discovered that his new signing was probably gay - taboo even now in a football dressing room. Fashanu's career never recovered and many years later he committed sucide. (my emphasis).

I wonder why I am so surprised that to be gay would still be taboo in professional football. I mean, come on Denis, what would you expect? All that heroic, testosterone charged 'masculinity'... how could it accommodate such a contradiction as same sex love?

However domesticated the violence on the field in football's nationally and internationally acclaimed spectacles, if Richard Pendlebury is correct, domination appears to run deep and untouched in the veins of the soccer industry. Reflecting, reinforcing, and upholding I suppose, the veins of domination running through the football supporting population.

Wed, 08 Sep 2004

When to kill an old dog 2

Interesting, after some other disagreement, meeting again this evening to discuss Jeannie situation. B. struggling with the feeling and emotion of hating to kill Jeannie, as she keeps calling it, and both of us seeing that even the trip back up north, two days of shuttling about, will be putting her through more than she deserves at this end point in her life. We took some pictures of her riding in her 'walker'
Jeannie in her walker
and 'walking' in her sling.
Jeannie in her sling
Very U shaped. Hardly any muscle tone. And becoming more incontinent. More maybe I suspect than B. is mentioning. So it looks like the decision is emerging - that she goes on Friday... middle of the day I hope. Leaving us time to try to deal with the feelings before we have to travel.

Curious, but perhaps not surprising, how sharply this points up what we believe - the notion that 'she has to show us when she is ready to go'. While very appealing, and the line we have held to for months, this seems likely, if held to too literally, to mean making 'her' wait until 'we' are satisfied. And as I realize even more strongly, to have a pet is to enter into a culture of domination, since we legally have the right to take her life, and even I suppose, since she is our 'property', the duty to do so when it is appropriate.

It seems so 'either or'. Such a huge, immeasurable difference between a dog even a little bit alive, and a dog lifeless. And yet we seem to have reached a point where the caring for the delightful companion, now weakened to the point of complete incapacity, but occasionally full of heart, is outweighed by the need to accept responsibility for the human side of the companionship. That however we construe it, keeping her alive now perhaps tips towards being for us, not her. Tough. Awkward. Ethically challenging. Painful.

Mon, 06 Sep 2004

When to kill an old dog 1

I have been feeling really upset about the Jeannie situation. How do we decide when this once delightful old dog now on her last legs or rather no legs at all, no hearing, blind, that it is time to take her life. Interesting yesterday to have a meeting with Barbara about it. What came out of it, apart from the sheer scale of the stress that 24/7 care takes out of our lives, is how far Karen Armstrong's notions about fundamentalism seem relevant.

We sat with the 'logos' of the situation, the practicalities, thinking through what to do. Are we looking after her well enough? Are we looking after ourselves well enough? Are the criteria for killing her that the vets speak about yet in place? The answer, despite her derlict condition, is no they aren't in place, she eats, demands attention for necessary bodily functions and still has a presence. And local discomforts apart doesn't appear to be suffering. Coping under strain yes, suffering no, so far as we tell.

So having sat and considered all this, everything we could think of, we could see standing apart from all this the 'mythos' as Karen Armstrong (and C. G. Jung) calls it, an over-arching core belief that life is sacred. A different form of domination, the chosen dominant 'mythos', by which we live. Among the occasional distress that caring for Jeannie causes between us and in restrictions on what we can do together, we aren't about to kill her to fix these difficulties.

So this seems an acceptable form of dominance the dominance of an adopted, higher order belief. That some people would call spiritual. When she barks for food or to be taken out, or growls, when a much bigger dog comes up to her, or she smells the out sight neighbour's goats, or wild boar, this animal still has the zizz of life. And interestingly, even our neighbour, a farmer life-long on this land, acknowledged this zizz yesterday.

So as I'm surprised to find, here is a willing submission to a spiritual imperative. A benign form of domination, and anyway another aspect of not supporting any form of meat production.

A second thought that emerged from this is how could this domination mutate into fundamentalism of the kind that is damaging in the world? I guess through holding to it too rigidly, knowing that Jeannie was in a lot of pain and incapable of doing anything for herself and refusing then to take her life. Something like the Jehovah's witnesses refusal to accept blood transfusions for biblical reasons. Then the dom of dominance reverses into the poisonous literalism of those branches of fundamentalism where too much god drives out love and compassion.

Intriguing and a bit shocking for this enquiry to have found in-house an acceptable form of dominance.

Sun, 05 Sep 2004

Fundamentalism? - Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.

There are few places where the dialectic between love and domination is more accessible than in fundamentalist religion. This article is the outcome of my inquiries so far into how and why so much fundamentalist religion embraces domination and tries to insist that we submit to their particular worldview. I've looked at what fundamentalism is, how it comes into being, and why it is likely to be harmful.

I was prompted to pay attention to fundamentalism by Katherine Yurica's excellent treatment of Dominionist Christianity The Despoiling of America - How George W. Bush became the head of the new American Dominionist Church/State and from a different direction, by Cardinal Ratzinger's rant about feminism (see my critical review of this article.) Karen Armstrong's book The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam has been especially helpful and much of what follows draws on what she has to say.

What fundamentalism is
Fundamentalist religions are intensely preoccupied with the protection and recovery of religious beliefs and ways of life that have been compromised, or are felt to be under threat, usually by some form of modernization. Fundamentalism rides on fear. Fear of the unknown; loss of identity; loss of status; loss of understanding; annihilation or extinction.

Each fundamentalism is a law unto itself and has its own dynamic. The term gives the impression that fundamentalists are inherently conservative and wedded to the past, whereas their ideas are essentially modern and highly innovative. px


... all follow a certain pattern. They are embattled forms of spirituality which have emerged as a response to a perceived crisis. They are engaged in a conflict with enemies whose secularist policies and beliefs seem inimical to religion itself. Fundamentalists experience it... as a cosmic war between the forces of good and evil. They fear annihilation, and try to fortify their beleaguered identity by means of a selective retrieval of certain doctrines and practices of the past... eventually they fight back and attempt to sacralize an increasingly sceptical world. Pxi

How fundamentalism comes into being
Karen Armstrong has a handy notion that fundamentalism is primarily a conflict between 'mythos', and 'logos'. 'Mythos', means mythical, often premodern religious stories featuring saints or prophets that embody a revealed truth about what it means to be human, that tell us how to live.

Mythology was an attempt to organize the experiences of the unconscious into imagery which enabled men and women to relate to these fundamental regions of their own being. P16

Myth does not provide a blueprint for pragmatic political action but supplies the faithful with a way of looking at their society and developing their interior lives. P50

'Logos', means practical, pragmatic action based on effective, rational, analysis of the 'facts' of life, planning, building, and administration.

Political life belongs to the realm of logos; it must be forward looking, pragmatic, able to compromise, plan and organize society on a rational basis. It has to balance the absolute demands of religion with the grim reality of life on the ground. p51

'Mythos' is concerned with universals that repeat, that stay the same, and provides imagery, ritual and ceremony that honours and celebrates these eternal verities. By contrast 'logos', deriving from the explosive growth of rationality and its fruits, science and technology, is future-oriented, it presumes perfectibility and progress and it has become the dominant form of 'belief' today.

When a community of believers find the spiritual 'mythos' they are committed to being overthrown, disabled, invalidated, contradicted or damaged by others who believe in the intrinsic superiority of a secular, rational 'logos', or of the intrinisc superioity of an incompatible 'mythos', resistance takes the form of fundamentalism. We attempt to reassert, retrieve, or defend the values beliefs or institutions that seem under threat.

One of the biggest challenges to traditional 'mythos', has been The Enlightenment, a revolution in beliefs involving philosophy, science and industry that, through globalization, is now reaching out to most of the planet. The Enlightenment began with the Copernican revolution that demolished the belief that the earth was at the centre of the Universe, later it confirmed humankind as being merely a branch of the animal kingdom and generated the modern notion that, in contrast to the rationality of science, religion is mythic, a narrative. A Big Story but a story nonetheless.

Fundamentalism – mirror of Western Modernism
Western European industrialization, with its rampant accumulations of capitalism, colonization, advanced technology, improved human rights and individualism isone of the fruits of the Enlightenment intellectual revolution. This modernity and the new thinking on which it was founded, grew quite slowly across several centuries. Despite huge amounts of suffering and privation, people in Europe and America were often able to find some accommodation to these new secular definitions of what it means to be human.

However, as Karen Armstrong details, this galaxy of Western values and practices, along with the ruthless exploitation of the commercial and political advantage they gave, was exported almost overnight to the rest of the world. Empires were built, people enslaved, territory expropriated, resources plundered. The age of Dominant Western Man. To appreciate the genesis of recent fundamentalist religions of rage and revenge, it is worth looking at this at some length, in for instance such countries as Iran and Egypt. In 1798:

Napoleon landed 4300 troops on the beach at Alexandria and took the city shortly after dawn the following day. Napoleon had brought with him a corps of scholars, a library of modern European literature, a scientific laboratory, and a printing press with Arabic type. The new scientific, secularist culture of the west had invaded the Muslim world, and it would never be the same again. P60

Work on the Suez canal began in 1859.

Egypt provided almost all the money, labor and materials in addition to donating two hundred square miles of Egyptian territory gratis. P 121

The Suez canal had given Egypt a wholly new strategic importance, and the European powers could not allow its total ruin. To safeguard their interests Britain and France imposed financial controls on the Kedive. p122

The whole of society would have to be reorganized, an independent industrial economy set on a sure footing, and the traditional conservative spirit replaced by a new mentality. Failure would be expensive, because Europe was by this time too powerful. The powers could force Egypt to finance the building of the Suez canal and then deny it ownership of a single share. p122

Cairo “was not passing through the same stages of a unilinear sequence of development that Europe has already passed through on the way to capitalism.”

Rather it was being made into a dependent local metropolis through which a society might be administered and dominated. The spatial forms grew out of a relationship based on force and a world economic order in which in this case Britain played the crucial role. quote from Michael Gilsenan p123

The whole experience of modernization was crucially different in the Middle east: it was not one of empowerment, autonomy, and innovation, as it had been in Europe, but a process of deprivation, dependence, and patchy, imperfect imitation p123

Iran had a similar experience, beginning early in the 19th century.

Iran had also become a pawn in the power games of Europe... Britain wanted to control the Persian Gulf and the South east regions of Iran in order to safeguard India.

The Europeans presented themselves to the Iranians as the bearers of progress and civilization, but in fact both Britain and Russia promoted only those developments that furthered their own interests, and both blocked the introduction of such innovations as the railway, which would have benefited the Iranian people, lest it endanger their own strategic plans.

The “capitulations” gave special privileges to Russian and British merchants on Iranian soil, exempting them from the law of the land, and fixed tariff concessions for their goods...p125

To improve communications between England and India during the 1850s, the British got concessions for all telegraph lines in Iran. In 1847 the British subject Baron Julius de Reuter (1816-99) gained exclusive rights to railway and streetcar construction in Iran, all mineral extraction, all new irrigation works, a national bank, and various industrial projects. P125

In 1917, British and Russian troops overran the country, After the Bolshevik revolution, the Russians withdrew but the British moved into the area they had vacated in the north of the country while holding on to their own bases in the south. Britain was now eager to make Iran a protectorate. Oil had been discovered in the country in 1908 and the concession had been granted to a British subject, William Knox D'Arcy; in 1909, the Anglo Persian Oil company was formed, and Iranian oil fueled the British Navy. Iran was now a rich prize. p 197

By the late 1930s... Britain still owned the booming oil industry, which contributed almost nothing to the economy and Iran was forced to rely on foreign loans and investment. P 226

In 1953, Operation Ajax, a CIA/British intelligence coup, removed the Prime Minister Musaddiq of Iran, who had nationalized the Iranian oil industry.

In 1954... a new oil treaty was made which returned the control of oil production, its marketing, and 50% of the profits to the world cartel companies. P231

There seemed to be a double standard. America proudly proclaimed its belief in freedom and democracy but warmly supported a shah who permitted no opposition to his rule... Iran was a prime market for the sale of American services and technology. Americans looked upon Iran as a an economic goldmine, and over the years, The United States repeated the patterns used by the British: strong arm tactics in the oil market, undue influence over the monarch, demands for diplomatic immunity, business and trade concessions and a condescending attitude to the Iranians themselves. p231

The peoples of Egypt and Iran and the many nations who were similarly exploited had little or no defence against the dominance, coercion, and violence of Western secular modernity. They were faced with few options: try to join it and succumb to identity demolition due to the alienation and dissociation of modernization - or resist - begin the fundamentalist task of reasserting the existing traditional spiritual 'mythos' of Islam that for generations had 'made sense' of the life tasks of birth, coming of age, marriage, ageing and death.

In Egypt such a re-assertion of Islamic values carried a huge burden of accumulated rage and anger due to the experience of generations of imperial humiliation and exploitation. The result was militant Islamic organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood, the assassination of President Sadat, and upwards of 20,000 Islamic militants in concentration camps. In Iran the Shah's brutalities triggered a return to the core beliefs of Islam and led to Ayatollah Khomeini's profoundly fundamentalist regime.

Why fundamentalism is likely to be harmful.
Conflicts between city and country, settled and nomad, industrial and agrarian, will often set 'logos' against 'mythos', modernity against tradition. But the dominant belief in the ultimate righteousness of the secular 'logos' of science, rationality, efficiency and market forces that is often driving such social change tends to have no place for the love and compassion of traditional spiritual 'mythos'. To paraphrase Sartre, Western secular rationality has a God shaped hole in it. That many people would want to resist such an impoverishment is unsurprising and so the seeds of another fundamentalism are sown.

Sadly, as Karen Armstrong shows, when fundamentalist resistance to this secular rationalism uses the 'mythos' of premodern spirituality as a basis for political action—theology becomes ideology—faith coagulates into duty, obligation, and sacrifice, even martyrdom. When this happens, love and compassion, core qualities of all authentic spirituality, tend to be discarded in favour of violence, coercion and domination.

This was a new idea to me, that any version of making the 'mythos' literal, of insisting on acting as if the 'mythos' were literally true, seems to be, by definition, disastrous.

How does this distortion of faith work in practice?

Fundamentalists unconsciously read religious texts in a modern way, i.e. literally. Originally such teachings were experienced as 'a mythical symbolic account of eternal realities'. p91

These movements are not an archaic throwback to the past; they are modern innovative, and modernizing. Protestant fundamentalists read the Bible in a literal, rational way that is quite different from the more mystical, allegorical approach of premodern spirituality. p369

Armstrong tells how early in the 19th Century a millenial movement in the US 'proved' by reference to the Book of Revelation that the Second Coming of Christ would occur in 1843. To paraphrase Karen Armstrong - the Great Disappointment His non-appearance entailed hasn't stopped new generations of Americans, for example Seventh Day Adventists, looking forward to an imminent End of History.

In Iran, one of Ayatollah Khomeini's responses to the attack by Iraq and the subsequent war, was to support the mobilization of 20 million young people, many of them belonging to his Foundation for the Downtrodden, who were eager for action.

The government passed an edict that allowed male children from the age of 12 to enlist at the front without their parents' permission. P328

Tens of thousands of adolescents, wearing crimson headbands (the insignia of a martyr), poured into the war zone. Some cleared minefields running ahead of the troops and often getting blown to pieces. Other became suicide bombers, attacking Iraqi tanks kamikaze style. P328

According to Khomeini:

... they were following the example of Imam Husain, dying in order to “witness” the primacy of the Unseen. It was the highest from of asceticism, through which a Muslim transcends self and achieves union with God. P328

“Dying does not mean nothingness,” Khomeini declared, ”it is life.” Martyrdom had become a crucial part of the revolt against the rational pragmatism of the West and essential to the Greater Jihad for the nation's soul. P328

As Armstrong points out, this took an element of the 'mythos' of Islam and turned it into 'logos'

When Mulla Sadra had spoken of the mystical death to self he had not envisaged the physical voluntary death of thousands of young people. P328

This cult of the child martyr was another fatal distortion of faith, to which fundamentalists in all three monotheistic traditions are prone. P328

... it also shows how perilous it can be to translate a mystical, mythical imperative into pragmatic, military or political policy. P328

...what works well in the spiritual domain can be destructive and even immoral if interpreted literally and practically in the mundane world. P328

Interim summary
What would be 'headlines' of what I have learned so far in this inquiry about fundamentalism?

A community of people who value and are committed to a set of beliefs, usually prophetically revealed, about what it means to be human, find these beliefs being invalidated, or suppressed in favour of what they perceive to be an alien belief system.

Since identity is often tied with this kind of belief that truth is revealed and unified and absolute, challenges to the belief system can be very alarming producing fear, terror, fantasies of annihilation and conspiracy and the sense that the challenged group is a 'righteous remnant'.

A common response by groups who experience their settled faith as threatened, is to revisit the origins of their belief system, selecting key elements of it which are held to be essential and thus articles of faith, i.e. literal truths that require duty, obligation and sacrifice. This is usually coupled with an obligation not to question authority. Leaders of such groups are usually charismatic, authoritarian men.

This reversion to the fundamentals of their tradition is undertaken with little or no awareness of its historicism. i.e. that the detailed textual analysis of 'scripture' is a modern phenomenon, that projects into mythic premodern oral story-telling modern agendas of a desire for security and certainty.

This kind of return to fundamentals may have several outcomes; it may lead to seclusion, withdrawal from the world; active avoidance of people who don't share their beliefs; demonizing of their opposition; public witnessing of their faith; mandatory dress, hygiene, or behavior; evangelical attempts to re-sacralize the world; militant piety, the use of force or coercion to insist on the adoption, public recognition and legal enforcement of their preferences by others.

This seems to define fundamentalism in a broader way than Karen Armstrong and led me, as befits an inquiry, to some surprises - examples of fundamentalism in unsuspected places.

Fundamentalism and psychotherapy
A wider definition of fundamentalism brought a fresh perspective on something very close to home. I was surprised to realize that The Independent Practitioners Network [IPN], one of the organizations to which I belong, and of which I am a founder member, has a gentle set of the ingredients of fundamentalism.

In the last twenty years, many counsellors and psychotherapists in the UK have felt at risk due to an incoming tide of 'professionalization' around licensing, qualification, training and state regulation. This 'secular modernization' has seemed to many of us to be very damaging, both to clients and the practice of psychotherapy and it threatened to put quite a lot of us out of business. We started IPN as a way of doing practitioner/client accountability in an ethically sound way that would contradict this damaging professionalization.

IPN appears to have all the characteristics of a fundamentalist sect; founded in opposition to a culture or tradition that was seen as alien and inadequate; under threat of state regulation that would take away the right of self determination, even the right to work as a therapist; public confrontation by militants of collusive, self-serving, organizations—hostile 'enemies'—that sought to colonize the precious territory of psychopractice and the hierarchical, categorizing, academic, professionalizing style of these organizations; creating an alternative organization that claims to be delivering an exemplary approach to practitioner accountability.

When I said IPN had a 'gentle' set of the qualities of fundamentalism, I meant that, yes, we had a perception of groups who seemed to be 'enemies', many of us felt unfairly side-lined by the 'professionalizer/colonizers' some of whom we knew quite well as colleagues. But in yet another fundamentalist ingredient, we claim a higher order of understanding of the subtle power issues involved in the 'modernization' of psychopractice. And very important, in contrast to the dullards who were busy reproducing or recycling existing and ill-fitting ways of holding the accountability to clients—involving some ultimate line of higher authority in the UK Privy Council no less—we were highly innovative and ingenious in devising a flexible, decentralised network structure with no bureaucracy and no hierarchical leadership. All of which sustained a certain sense of righteousness and dare I say it, superiority. We are doing this 'properly'. Exactly the sort of attitudes that appear characteristic of an early stage of fundamentalism.

Perhaps because some of us have had extensive groupwork experience as well as working as psychotherapists, we have also been busy looking at the ironies and contradictions of this 'fundamentalism', for instance the extent to which we might become entranced by a victim/ persecutor/rescuer pattern. This inquiry into domination is intended to be an example of this reflexivity.

One of the key elements of fundamentalism which Karen Armstrong points to is that while the popular received idea about it is of a return to archaic origins, how this is carried out is paradoxically a form of modernization. Paradoxical, because fundamentalism is almost always involves resistance against some kind of modernization that is perceived to be damaging, or the imposition of what is felt to be an alien tradition. But effective resistance means finding an ingenious, innovative way of holding or securing the tradition that is felt to be at risk.

Again IPN is a good example. We sought to preserve forms of accountability and ways of becoming a practitioner that in our experience seemed essential both for clients and as a route into becoming a psychotherapist. This required a unique piece of social innovation, building a community of practitioner peers in face to face contact who not only pay attention to colleagues work but also to 'where they are in their lives'—so that we can 'stand by' each other's work— and so that for example, a practitioner's slide into unresolved personal distress would become quickly apparent. (IPN details here link).

Where IPN would seem to part company with Karen Armstrong's take on fundamentalism is that the network has a good gender balance, no hierarchical leadership and gives scrupulous attention to how power is deployed and is diligent about sustaining the pluralism of the network and keeping it open and flexible.

Psychotherapy and religion
What counts as human nature and what counts as a viable form of companionship in the task of becoming more fully human - of human flourishing - are key elements of both religion and psychotherapy. Though in my experience not many psychotherapists are sharply aware of either power or their working definition of human nature.

Karen Armstrong's detailed descriptions of the highly contested ebb and flow of fundamentalist 'truths' about human life, how to be a person, how to relate to our inner and outer worlds, was strikingly reminiscent of the flux of definitions and redefinitions of psychotherapy in the last 100 or more years. Might psychotherapy and counselling— generically 'psychopractice'—belong on a continuum of world religions? Indeed as I am inclined to suspect, from a post modern psychological perspective, might not the notion of fundamentalism be a handy notion for understanding the processes of change and resistance to change of psychotherapy, or any other institutions?

While the number of people involved in IPN and the professionalization issues may be tiny and insignificant compared with say the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, the ingredients have a family resemblance. There is, or has been, fear of annihilation, or extinction by a group with alien values around accountability. This has unified a community of people who share the same threatened values, focused their attention on finding ways of preserving what is precious to them and resisting efforts from any direction to make psychotherapy into a 'state religion'. It's too soon to know this perspective on IPN will affect my participation in it. IPN-style I'll circulate this article and report later on what responses, if any, there are.

Bringing it all Back Home
A foot note. Through my local example of IPN, I found that fundamentalism is not only 'out there' but has found a fertile location in-house. Is it also driving some of the agendas of our political systems?

For instance, suppose the 9/11 attack was an inflection point, the point in the curve of history where a fundamentalist voice, speaking as it were for the oppressed down the ages, says to New York City, over-arching symbol of modernity, 'this is enough now!' This quotation from J. C. Scott certainly supports this notion. The American response to this attack—an unending 'war on terror', obsession with security, suppression of dissent , propagation of a climate of threat and fear, displacement of rage onto scapegoats, Afghanistan and Iraq, loyalty oaths with client state allies, patriotic fervor, itself looks strikingly like a classic demonstration of fundamentalism—the defence of traditional American values in the face of a new phase of (OBL style) modernity.

To briefly re-iterate the earlier definition, fundamentalism is the defence of beliefs and ways of life that are felt to be under threat, often from the threat of annihilation by an alien culture. Fundamentalism rides on fear. Fear of the unknown, loss of identity, loss of status, loss of understanding, annihilation or extinction. And curiously, at the point when America had reached a peak of overwhelming global military and economic dominance, OBL found an Achilles heel in this supposed invulnerability: emotionality - fear. Like two wizards jousting with their magic, Bush and OBL each cast spells entrancing whole populations of people. OBL in effect says 'get your foot off the neck of my people' – President Bush responds with a 'War On Terror' -that I have elsewhere here described as a trance induction, a spell - that makes his home population, 294 million people spread across 3000 miles, much more fearful than the level of danger would appear to justify.

In both actions the key ingredients of fundamentalism are in play. The mythos of Islam is enacted literally, denying the Prophet's teachings that emphasize the sacredness of life and using selected passages from His teachings to justify massive death and destruction. The US 'mythos' of 'democracy', 'freedom' and 'one nation under (a Christian) God' is enacted literally, in Afghanistan and Iraq with arbitrary, irrational violence that denies, as though it had evaporated, the Jesus, Sermon on the Mount story of love and compassion. Result - an impenetrable gulf of misunderstanding between the protagonists. And huge numbers of people in the West and the US successfully entranced, hypnotized into feeling some of the same fear and dread as indigenous peoples perhaps felt when the bulldozer of modernity arrived and demolished their centuries old certainties.

So a relatively benign, if painful outcome of this item of my inquiry may indeed be to notice what it feels like to be on the receiving end of domination. That if we feel anxious that a plane we fly in, or a train we travel on might be attacked, or a city we live in be wrecked by a dirty bomb, that this is what it feels like to have modernity thrust on you by a colonizer who is alienated from your values, who doesn't care if you live or die, whose purposes are entirely detached from your interests.

For example, following the Balfour Declaration establishing the Zionist project of a State of Israel - the 750,000 Palestinians who were displaced from their homes. Or those Palestinians who throw stones at bulldozers as big as a house that are demolishing their homes.

In the first six months of 2004 - Israel civilians killed by Palestians: 31, Palestinians killed in the occupied territories by Israeli security forces: 362 Source:

Fundamentalism seems also inescapably political, about power, who has it, who abuses it. Who feels abused. Who bystands these events.

Sat, 04 Sep 2004

Fundamentalism - Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition

I've had the idea for a while that fundamentalism might provide a promising line of inquiry into understanding domination and the love of power. Events in Russia, Iraq, Israel and Palestine in the last week have been a reminder that fundamentalist religion is now on all of our agendas.

I was prompted into pulling fundamentalism up into the foreground by two pieces I have mentioned here previously, Dominionist Christianity by Katherine Yurica and Cardinal Ratzinger's rant against Feminism. and my critical review response to it. First line of research turned out to be Karen Armstrong's article in the Guardian Monday December 29, 2003, 'When God goes to war', which prompted me to get her book 'The Fight for God'.

I've looked at what fundamentalism is, how it comes into being, and why it is likely to be harmful. And... as befits an inquiry, I found some surprises - examples of fundamentalism in unsuspected places.

I've written up my researches to date in this article, 'Fundamentalism - Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition', which you can read on-line, or download.

Writeback comments, objections, or amplification would be welcome.

Sat, 28 Aug 2004

Voices from the margins

An important part of this inquiry into domination is spreading the net wide enough, looking at a wide enough range of perspectives. Many of the most interesting voices come from the margins.

Once the cultural distortions attached to it have been lifted—the notion of anarchism has always been a challenge to cultures of domination. I was surprised to find Naom Chomsky in this interview speaking of it approvingly.

Another voice from the margin, John Zerzan describes the damaging imperialism of Western musical tonality (the division of the smooth spectrum of sound into scales of discrete notes and the structures of harmony built on them). Hmm, even the 'the freedom to fly' in the jazz improvisation that I play, is imprisoned in an ideology of tonal and harmonic domination.

The Big Picture - geo-politics - macroeconomics, is an important thread in this inquiry into domination. 'Crazy' behaviour in a person can make sense if you can get close enough to their world to empathically divine what is going on. If we can get past the headlock that says this behaviour is 'irrational' i.e. beyond the reach of any kind of sense-making, even the 'crazy' behaviour of national administrations may make sense, (while remaining insane) I found this overview of the rationale behind US global domination— a talk by David Harvey on 'The New Imperialism'—very helpful.

Wed, 25 Aug 2004

Cultures of domination

Just as we might suspect a goldfish knows nothing about the water it swims in, so in pursuing an inquiry so close to the roots of our  notions of human nature as studying domination, the object of the enquiry can be seem very elusive.

Recognising what I call 'cultures of domination' can be a useful stepping stone to realizing the extent to which domination appears to be in the grain of history, apparently a given. Until we see it we are not likely to be able to confront it.

This article 'Shock and awe?—too much God—not enough love' that I wrote in response to the US/UK attack on Iraq outlines what I mean by cultures of dominance.

And if the notion of domination still seems out of reach, while I was writing this today an item about bullying appeared on the BBC web-site that brings it into more local focus.

Tue, 24 Aug 2004

President Bush—four more years...?

Dominant elites such as the present US administration create, replay, repeat, re-iterate and re-inforce stories that explain, garner support for, and justify their actions in the world. These stories are often only adjacent to, or independent of the facts on the ground and it is a part of being a citizen to suss what is over-simplification, or special pleading, and what is lying. And when the time comes vote accordingly.

Over the last several years, I have casually collected what has come to seem a very large number of examples of derision, rage and contradiction directed at the Bush administration and the stories it tells. More, even much more, it seems to me, than there was coming towards past presidents, (though Reagan and Father Bush generated notable resistance) and amplified hugely by Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 film - the first documentary to gross over $100m at the box office, and a 'political event' as John Berger calls it.

The sheer quantity and quality of this opposition raises a question for this enquiry into domination: does it make any difference? Will the scale of opposition being directed towards the Bush administration be sufficient to influence the November electoral outcome? Can, as so often throughout history, incumbents still ignore to death (the Germans call it totschweigen) a take on history, culture and daily life that contradicts the dominant stories?

Since, unless you have been quite diligent, you may not be familiar with the huge scale of the derision, contradiction and anger that has been directed at the Bush Administration, I've assembled some examples that I had to hand (thanks Vincent) and listed links to others.

I've created a page devoted to writing that doesn't buy the Bush administration 'story of our time'. It is overshadowed by the excellent site maintained by Michael Olteanu which has accumulated a literally overwhelming series of such links. This site is doubly remarkable, one for its size and secondly because it is hosted on the christusrex domain.

Alongside this I have put together a page of links to a mix of tragic and hilarious animation and multimedia and yet another page that has a selection of the many derisory satirical pictures all of which feature President Bush and members of his administration.

Wed, 11 Aug 2004

Spellbinding stories

As this inquiry moves on I continue to be interested in two lines of explanation for the persistence of domination and subjugation in the world:

1. trance/hypnosis and the many varieties of /pr/news management that induce and maintain them.

and interwoven with these...

2. story telling, especially the telling and re-telling by dominant elites of stories that justify their dominance and invalidate conflicting or challenging views, especially those originating with subordinate groups.

Note, this is not to deny the value of either trance (we can be benignly entranced by music that touches us) or to believe that a life can be lived that is free of stories. We tell stories to ourselves (this is one of them) and we warm to, or feel touched by, or cool off, in response to hearing other people's stories.

The g.o.r.i.l.l.a. agenda focuses on pointing to those stories and trance inductions that maintain the domineering, bullying, discriminatory, racist behaviours that pollute our daily life and that attempt to invalidate resistance and demands for deference.

At certain moments in history an elite story is decisively contradicted and the trance it propogates fails dramatically.

If you want to discover more about how dominant elite stories, or 'transcripts', as he calls them, are devised and maintained, I recommend James C. Scott's book Domination and the Arts of Resistance Yale University Press 1990

Mon, 09 Aug 2004

You wanna bet?

Intuition is a great human capacity. It can be right on and it be way off. Anyway a day or two back I was musing over my muesli and risking indigestion mentally role-playing George Bush.

I am George Bush with half the world's armaments at my command and as usual I am drunk with the power of righeousness... I'm thinking... how could I be sure to get back into office in November? What would be an unanswerable event that would swing the 'don't knows' towards me? That would consign the Michael Moore tendency to the dust bin of history?

Intuition stirred and became a recognisable thought.  Find, kill or capture Osama bin Laden. But not yet. Not tomorrow or in the early fall, do it real close to election day.

So I'm guessing that the 'killer event' that will give Bush and his neo-con connections another four years may be exactly that. Look out for the surprising last minute capture of OBL.

On the other hand... if we run a bit of benign conspiranoia... Will it be a last minute lucky break? Considering the military and cultural resource that Pakistan has in the Afghanistan area do they really not know where OBL is? I find that difficult to believe.

Think Presidential again and maybe... OBL's whereabouts are well known... but leaving aside the Presidential Election agenda... he hasn't been picked up because dead or alive he presents more of a problem than leaving him alone. Dead he becomes martyr number 00001. Alive he's another kind of problem. What the hell do we do with him? Put him in Gitmo and let the dogs loose on him? Half the world will freak out if we treat him badly... and so on and so on.

First week in November? You wanna bet?

Sun, 08 Aug 2004

Femininism—getting there!

Cardinal Ratzinger, Papal Prefect recently put out a LETTER TO THE BISHOPS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH ON THE COLLABORATION OF MEN AND WOMEN IN THE CHURCH AND IN THE WORLD Even a cursory look at this ecclesiastical rebuttal of feminism showed that it was a great example of two of the themes that are emerging in this enquiry: 1. how dominant elites use trance induction, i.e. hypnosis, to maintain and reinforce their dominion. 2. how domininant elites tell and re-tell stories that justify and sustain their domination and the subjugation of others, and invalidate subordinate stories. Feminism is the coming into the public domain of previously hidden subordinate stories about how it is for some people to be human. However unfashionable its refusal to accept that male domination is natural and inevitable may seem at the moment, it is a testimony to the value of feminism that in mid 2004 The Catholic Church felt the need to trash it. As my review of the Letter shows, Cardinal Ratzinger is a skilled exponent of both trance induction and elite story-telling. You might not agree, if so, let me know.

Mon, 28 Jun 2004

Dominionist Christianity

I uploaded yesterday's blog (and found that due to some server glitch it didn't appear). Then, feeling that I had done enough business with one or two of the messages from our lost planet, I took myself a glass of wine and checked to see if Google had indexed yet (it seems to be taking an age) I searched for a unique piece of my text 'we all live in Israel now' and what came up was this page.

'We all Live on the West Bank'. a blog page by Janine Roberts that is essentially making the same point as my page - that Israel's intransigence has resulted in the export of the style and content of their conflict to the rest of the world.

Some short but eloquent notes follow on the religious discrimination that Israel practices that would, as Janine Roberts points out, be illegal almost everywhere else.

Further down her page I followed this link:

The Despoiling of America - How George W. Bush became the head of the new American Dominionist Church/State

by Katherine Yurica

It's hard to convey the extent to which I felt gobsmacked by this piece, perhaps that was what was intended, and I will be duly sceptical.

However, The Despoiling of America is a long, referenced article. It supports with chapter and verse what I had previously felt were intuitions, lacking in evidence, of the extent to which christian fundamentalism in the US was allied, even fused with neo-conservatives there and pursuing autocratic, world domination agendas. I wouldn't have dared coin the phrase 'Domionism'... but Yurica presents evidence enough.

Here are some quotes from the article: (but do read it for yourself)

As Antonin Scalia, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court explained ... the Bible teaches and Christians believe "... that government... derives its moral authority from God. Government is the 'minister of God' with powers to 'revenge,' to 'execute wrath,' including even wrath by the sword..."

It is estimated that thirty-five million Americans who call themselves Christian, adhere to Dominionism in the United States, but most of these people appear to be ignorant of the heretical nature of their beliefs and the seditious nature of their political goals. So successfully have the televangelists and churches inculcated the idea of the existence of an outside "enemy," which is attacking Christianity, that millions of people have perceived themselves rightfully overthrowing an imaginary evil anti-Christian conspiratorial secular society.

Dominionism started with the Gospels and turned the concept of the invisible and spiritual "Kingdom of God" into a literal political empire that could be taken by force, starting with the United States of America. Discarding the original message of Jesus and forgetting that Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world," the framers of Dominionism boldly presented a Gospel whose purpose was to inspire Christians to enter politics and execute world domination so that Jesus could return to an earth prepared for his earthly rule by his faithful "regents."

But the Dominionists needed the aberrant extension of Calvinism; they believe as did Calvin and John Knox that before the creation of the universe, all men were indeed predestined to be either among God's elect or were unregenerate outcasts. And it is at this point Dominionists introduced a perversion to Calvinism... its technical name is "supralapsarianism." It means essentially that the man called from before the foundation of the world to be one of the elect of God's people, can do no wrong. No wonder then observers noted a definite religious swing in George W. Bush from Wesleyan theology to Calvinism early in his administration.

All this and the pages listed below look to be essential reading for anyone trying to figure out how anyone could conceivably combine global domination with Jesus-style love. It turns out the recipe, a purified form of Calvinism, is well established, even hugely popular in the US, if also well hidden.

As of today it has the effect of me telling myself that now I can pause, stop digging in this patch and direct you to Katherine Yurica's article and the sites below and doubtless others as they emerge.

Religious Right Watch. More dominion!

...and if this wasn't enough there is 'Christian Reconstructionists - Theocratic Dominionism Gains Influence. This is an earlier article, pre-Bush, pre the neo-con infiltration of the US administration, that draws a picture of the origins of US fundamentalism, brought up to date in 'The Despoiling of America'.

Sat, 26 Jun 2004

Sailing barge, repair and maintenance.

I live on a large timber boat and at this time of the year if the weather blesses, which it has these last weeks in the UK, I shift into shipyard mode,  I scrape, paint, chisel and fill the damage due to sunshine, frost and bad weather in the previous 12 months. Which explains, if explanation were needed, the recent gap in the blog.

This doesn't mean that the world hasn't been offering a shedload of experience, example and evidence matching the theme of our inquiry here, just that until today I haven't had time to write about them.

The Normandy landings - a snippet
Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt met off Newfoundland to discuss the invasion of occupied Europe in 1944. Their business completed, they and all the assembled officials sang the hymn 'Onward Christian Soldiers'. Isn't that neat? How bizarre that, 60 years later, the contemporary leaders of these same nations could plausibly do the same.

Fundamentalism cont.
I begin to get an inkling that fundamentalisms of all kinds, but especially branded religiosity, are parasitical. A special form of dominance; living off the rest of the world but putting nothing back, contributing only destruction and damage. A example, familiar to me, is the scale insect, which mines the sap of tasty plants such as amarylis and lemon trees and has killed several of my house plants.

Another is the tapeworm. Reading the amusing, if challenging tale of my friend Vincent's tapeworm, triggered the notion that here is a great metaphor for fundamentalism. The tape worm feeds off, and yet makes zero contribution to, the economy of its host. Isn't this also true of fundamentalism? For example the 'Reverend' Ian Paisley whose fundamentalist religiosity has depleted and impoverished Northern Ireland for decades while holding it locked into Protestant dominance; and the economic fundamentalists who persuaded Russia to move from a command to a market economy in 30 seconds, creating a licence to steal state utilities; a pope, sitting in the country with the lowest birth-rate in Europe, who imposes worldwide the belief that contraception, women priests, and abortion are anathema.

Hmmm, abortion, we'll have to come back to that.

I begin to get a sense that fundamentalisms often equate to a love of power. Not necessarily personal power but being in love with the expressions of power, in love with powerful others, tycoons, kings, queens and princes, popes, stars, saints, warriors, champions, tyrants and gods.

Here are a couple of examples of 'warrior worship' that I recently collected. This ad is for a computer game, currently on show in London's underground celebrates... well what do you think? And this one on Pepsi Cola bottles champions a soft drink. And lest this seems self-righteously aloof, here is a warrior drawn on his bedroom door(now a storeroom) by my youngest son, then aged 12ish, and at the time a Judge Dread enthusiast. More on the warrior stereotype another day.

State power
In the way that the world turns, an example of state power interrupted this writing. I opened the post to find that my request to be excused jury service because it conflicts with the work I do as a psychotherapist, was refused. I can and will appeal but this probably means shaking out the suit and tie and showing up before the appeal judge. Not that I have anything against jury service as such, no doubt it will provide a sobering experience of the inner psyche of West London, maybe my own included.

If this is the first entry you look at today be sure to check out the new section, Satyagraha, devoted to living from love, living from liking, creating the world we want alongside confrontation of those aspects of the the world we find damaging, or indefensible.

Wed, 02 Jun 2004

We all live in Israel now

I have had less difficulty admitting to naiveté about the politics of the Middle East since I realized how few people would count as well-informed. Plus, the realization, as Madrid recently discovered, and as I have elsewhere proposed, that 'we all live in Israel now', means that the Middle East has become a branch of local politics. UK petrol £4 a gallon. It matters. Today's entry here is a result of giving some further attention to how this could be.

A friend who has made several tv documentaries about Israel told me, perhaps as a warning hint, that whatever the Palestinian/Israeli conflict needs, it is not, as he put it, 'more words'.

And yet.... for this inquiry into cultures of dominance, there is something about the Middle East that exposes the dynamics of what is supposed to 'natural' and 'inevitable' about human nature. So that we can see how we do ourselves, see past the words to how we bystand, or collude with, offensive and damaging political arrangements.

And so it was that today, while looking on the web for something else, I came upon a site that surprised me. Jews against Zionism. Could this be? You can read it for yourself but an executive summary of the overall argument of the site sheds interesting light on the kinds of worldview that orbit around Zionism.

I hadn't understood that there was a version of Jewish faith that, as the site emphasises, following the biblical expulsion of the Jews in 60AD from the 'Holy Land', argued strenuously, with biblical support, for assimilation of Jewish communities in whatever country they find themselves.

The Holy Land was given to the Jewish people on the condition that they observe the Torah and its commandments. When they failed to do this, their sovereignty over the land was taken from them, and they went into exile. From that time, we are prohibited by the Torah with a very grave prohibition to establish a Jewish independent sovereignty in the Holy Land or anywhere throughout the world. Rather, we are obligated to be loyal to the nations under whose protection we dwell.

This Torah strand of Jewish faith, at least as expounded here, looks like a clear recipe for subordination. It looks as if it might account, at least to my relatively uninformed eye, for the apparent docility and lack of active resistance of many European Jews to the Nazi pogroms of the recent century and perhaps earlier one too.

By contrast despite the injunctions of the Jewish teachings, Zionism, the political wing of the Jewish faith (think Provisional IRA and Irish Catholicism?) appears, in both origins and continuing history, to be at home with the use of force and coercion.

This tends to challenge my take on Zionism as a classic exponent of domination, might it have been equivalent to the IRA? A necessary, if appalling, way of bringing an oppressed people out of subjugation? I don't know. Maybe someone will offer clarification here.

What does seem increasingly clear is that Zionism, as it took to itself and became entranced by the myth of a 'return to the homeland' was, and continues to be, as ruthlessly uncaring of the rights and well-being of indigenous population of Palestine as other colonizers, such as the Britain, France, Belgium, Spain, and the US. Did I miss anyone?

Israeli History: take 2
A substantial group of Israeli scholars have opened the book on the official rewrite of Israeli history taught in Israeli schools. Their account, read a very helpful summary of it here, pays more attention to the 'hidden transcript' as James C. Scott calls it, of the oppressed Palestinians.

What seems to emerge from this is that Zionism mimics the Great Game of the European imperial nations, reproducing, in a Zionist secularization of the Jewish faith, many of their least humanly caring traits. In particular their devotion to colonization, militarism, nationalism, enemy-making and racism.

So if we look in horror at the cruelties of the Israeli state cultures of dominance, where did they learn it? Stand up the UK?

Israeli History: take 3 'Cruel Zionism'
In 'The Jews of Iraq', Naeim Giladi, an Iraqi imprisoned in Abu Ghraib in 1947 and sentenced to hang as a Zionist smuggler of Iraqi Jews out of Iraq into Israel-to-be, has written a very different, first hand account of Zionist history on the ground.

Giladi was profoundly disillusioned with the Israel he eventually reached.
"I write about what the first prime minister of Israel called "cruel Zionism." His text details the discrimination that Giladi, an Iraqi Arab Zionist activist suffered when he reached Israel. But as he saw first hand, the Palestinians were being hurt much, much more.

"... through the Jewish Agency, I was advised to go to al-Mejdil (later renamed Ashkelon), an Arab town about 9 miles from Gaza, very close to the Mediterranean. The Israeli government planned to turn it into a farmers´ city, so my farm background would be an asset there.

When I reported to the Labor Office in al-Mejdil, they saw that I could read and write Arabic and Hebrew and they said that I could find a good-paying job with the Military Governor´s office. The Arabs in what was now Israel were under the authority of these Military Governors. A clerk handed me a bunch of forms in Arabic and Hebrew. Now it dawned on me. Before Israel could establish its farmers´ city, it had to rid al-Mejdil of its indigenous Palestinians. The forms were petitions to the United Nations Inspectors asking for transfer out of Israel to Gaza, which was under Egyptian control.

I read over the petition. In signing, the Palestinian would be saying that he was of sound mind and body and was making the request for transfer free of pressure or duress. Of course, there was no way that they would leave without being pressured to do so. These families had been there hundreds of years, as farmers, primitive artisans, weavers. The Military Governor prohibited them from pursuing their livelihoods, just penned them up until they lost hope of resuming their normal lives. That´s when they signed to leave. I was there and heard their grief. "Our hearts are in pain when we look at the orange trees that we planted with our own hands. Please let us go, let us give water to those trees. God will not be pleased with us if we leave His trees untended." I asked the Military Governor to give them relief, but he said, "No, we want them to leave."

"I could no longer be part of this oppression and I left. Those Palestinians who didn´t sign up for transfers were taken by force—just put in trucks and dumped in Gaza. About four thousand people were driven from al-Mejdil in one way or another. The few who remained were collaborators with the Israeli authorities."

"I was disillusioned at what I found in the Promised Land, disillusioned personally, disillusioned at the institutionalized racism, disillusioned at what I was beginning to learn about Zionism´s cruelties. The principal interest Israel had in Jews from Islamic countries was as a supply of cheap labor, especially for the farm work that was beneath the urbanized Eastern European Jews. Ben Gurion needed the "Oriental" Jews to farm the thousands of acres of land left by Palestinians who were driven out by Israeli forces in 1948."

Where did the Zionist leaders learn this domineering ruthlessness? An important part of Giladi's account deals not only with the origins of Israel, but also of contemporary events in Iraq, not least the ruthless use of force of British colonial rule, being reproduced in Iraq, 50 years later, by the UK and US administrations.

Goodbye Goodwill
So what does all this tell an inquiry into cultures of domination? Here is a preliminary review.

Faced with taking account of the gross victimizations of Torah spirituality, which across centuries had lived peacefully within, or alongside many very different communities, Zionism appears to jump to one of the opposite psychological poles, from victimization, persecution.*

The necessary beneficial alternative, for nations as for persons (the US is a ripe current example) is to examine how much of the hostility directed towards us is justified, self-created, due to how we do ourselves. But I hear you say, isn't this blaming the victim? No, what I want to point to is the need for previously victimized populations such as the Jewish community to realize that, if they choose to be client-state masters of shock and awe, as Israel has done, that this is to take to their hearts, adopt, and reproduce, the inhuman cultures of dominance that have been so damaging to women, jews, roma, homosexuals, trade unionists and communists, to speak only of Europe in the last century.

Israel continues to reap the whirlwind of this profound political (and psychological) error. It generates for Israelis, as night follows day, a 'shadow' of suicide bombings and war crimes, and the onset of pariah status. And provides a living model, were one to be needed, of how a people can piss away, as both the US and Israel have done in my adult lifetime, the goodwill of half the world.

* This tendency along with 'rescuing', is a well-known psychological notion first outlined by Stephen Karpman, a teacher of Transactional Analysis. Here is an accessible account by Lynne Forrest of how it plays out.

Tue, 01 Jun 2004

'Subjects for your approval...'

A friend sent me the following remarks about Prince William's future:

Here in the UK the press have recently been preoccupied with what Prince William will do when he graduates.  One commentator favoured his going into the army as, in her view, it would allow him to meet a wide range of “future subjects’ from all walks of life, in a safe environment.  The word “subject’, redolent of times I thought had passed - of forelock-tugging and executive lavatories, is offered as a definition of the relationship this young man will be expected to have with other citizens of the UK.  Going out into the world is not intended, for him, to be an opening up: a journey of exploration or discovery, an opportunity to find out what goes on in this country and others, the opportunity to really get to know people from different backgrounds.  Rather, this step on life´s way is presented as a closing-down, a time when he will assume the mantle of dominance, and look down on his fellow man from a position of superiority.  In this context the army will indeed offer a safe environment, as those he meets will already have subscribed to notions of hierarchy, of everyone-in-his-place, in fact to what is likely to be Prince William's own view of the world.  And so it will be reinforced.  No closet republicans there.  What a missed opportunity!

W Riley

Wed, 26 May 2004

Holy Enemies

I need to remind myself from time what I'm up to here. The weight, the sheer horribility of events, especially in the Middle East but also out of that frame, tends to induce a lean. I am tempted to develop eloquent rants about injustices and oppression but this would be to enemize, one of the diseases of dominance of which more below. And so I need to remind myself that this inquiry is about confronting the love of power, pointing to evidence of the love of power, figuring out how it can be confronted and doing something to actually confront it.

Alongside that, the inquiry is also about freeing the power of love, of learning to live from and with love. A weak but adequate definition of love is a life in which coercion is absent; perhaps an overly passive and ultimately unsatisfying way of approaching love and loving. Yet it is a good question, not by any means settled, whether love can thrive if coercion is tolerated or condoned, if we fail to confront the love of power in ourselves. Some people prefer to try to jump straight to love, to living in the light, without attending to the culture of dominance that they are overwhelmingly likely to bring to this.

This, it seems to me, generates a spirituality that can often take the form of a flight from politics, a spirituality that bystands oppression in favour of the sweet delights of local harmony, or inner peace. At its most corrupt—when there is an insistence on the literal truth of the 'word of god' of whatever flavor—spirituality becomes completely water-logged with domination.

For example a friend visiting yesterday told of someone they know who is a charismatic Christian who believes in the literal truth of the bible, and who argues that, since Arabs are not mentioned in the Bible they don't have any rights to the 'Holy Land'. Mighjt this be one of the reasons why the present 'Christianate' US administration is so heavy on the Palestinians?

Trance-breaking cont.
Which brings us back to events in the Middle East and the ways in which they are described, I was going to say sold, to us, not perhaps too far from the truth.

A thought about that. Part of bystanding is the passive reception of what comes out nthrough ewspapers, TV, other media, or gossip. A small but important move away from bystanding is to actively seek out alternative sources, alternative perspectives. Part of the point of what I'm doing here, so far as I get it right, is to show how that can be done, what it looks like in practice, and to provide, at least via the web, a gateway to more active rather than passive participation. By comparison the one-eyed, down-market bevity of TV news looks well, inadequate.

Here is a mini shortlist of resources that can help the move away from bystanding.
Matters for America
Working for Change
Occupation Watch
Baghdad Burning
home of Salon des Refuse message board
AlJazeera in English
Desperately rebuilding Iraq blog
Common Dreams: News Center
Palestine Monitor
Use write back at the end of the text t0 recommend others. Or question these.

Spellbinding story lines
Evidence of the ubiquity of cultures of dominance continues to be overwhelming. As I've outlined earlier, two takes on how we do it to others and to ourselves (there may be more, but these will do for the moment) are 'trance induction' and the invention, editing, and censoring of stories that justify and rationalize dominant elites and the subordination, i.e. 'bystanding', of others. Along side this there is the mirror image of trance induction and the editing, invention and censoring of stories that justify and rationalize subordination and victimization.

What would a catalogue of this trance-induction/story-telling look like?
The first thing that comes to mind is the gradual acceptance of the conflict in Iraq being described as a 'war' when manifestly it was an unprovoked and illegal attack.

The notion of an 'endless war on terror' is a trance induction that serves to propagate terror i.e. it terrifies all of us, not the same as alerting us to changed levels of risk. For people in love with power it justifies dispensing with previously core essentials of judicial procedure. i.e. creating 'illegal combatants'. This hides the reality of prison communities of people without rights, 'unmenschen', and justifies holding them without charge or trial.

The pictures from Abu Ghraib have wonderfully shattered the trance that many Americans and others have taken to themselves, of an American moral superiority matching its technological and economic superiority.

Other trance inductions have effortlessly slipped into place to paper over these cracks, including calling the interrogation methods at Abu Ghraib 'abuse', when the experience of the participants was of 'torture'. If you doubt this, see these sworn statements by Abu Ghraib detainees som eof whomappeared in the infamous pictures.

The Washington Post who obtained these documents warned: 'Some of the descriptions in these statements may be disturbing because of their sexually explicit or graphic nature'. A misplaced warning that points us in the direction of seeing this as a local aberration rather than normality exposed.

Nori Samir Gunbar AL-YASSERI, Jan. 17:
Hiadar Saber Abed Miktub AL-ABOODI, Jan. 20:
Shalan Said ALSHARONI, Jan. 17:
Abd Alwhab YOUSS, Jan. 17:
Thaar Salman DAWOD, Jan. 17:
Mustafa Jassim MUSTAFA, Jan. 17:
Mustafa Jassim MUSTAFA, Jan. 18:
Kasim Mehaddi HILAS, Jan. 18:
Ameen Sa'eed AL-SHEIKH, Jan. 16:
[Name Withheld], Jan. 21:
Mohanded Juma JUMA, Jan. 18:
Asad Hamza HANFOSH, Jan. 17:
Abdou Hussain Saad FALEH, Jan. 16:
Hussein Mohssein Mata AL-ZAYIADI, Jan. 18:

An overarching relative of the denial of the experience of these prisoners is the failure to acknowledge, as anyone who, like myself, has worked with victims of torture and violence would know, that the damage, the traumatization generated by the Abu Ghraib interrogations is overwhelmingly likely to have life-long effects, generating flashbacks and nightmares decades later. Apart from a previously mentioned piece by Ariel Dorfman, I have yet to find statements in the US or UK where appreciation of this psychophysical damage surfaces.

Terrorist enemies of security and civilization
President Bush and other speak of being 'shocked' by the pictures. They don't speak of being shocked by the experience of the people in the pictures. Reading reasonably diligently accounts across the British and US press of the Abu Ghraib interrogation methods left me feeling that their exposure was regarded as a public relations disaster. In other words a failure of the dominant elite to contain and censor news or subsidiary plot-lines that undermined or contradicted the story it wished to have told.

The speech by President Bush that I saw yesterday contained many items of dominant elite story telling/trance induction that appear detached from reality. I'll take a look at a few of them.

Let's start with where it was held—the Army War College. Where as President Bush observed:

Generations of officers have come here to study the strategies and history of warfare.

Why, yet again, a speech to the nation from a military establishment? Because it guaranteed a tame compliant audience? I guess no one in the military is going to heckle a President.

I look through the speech for evidence of trance induction. A candidate emerges, Bush refers no less than 16 times to 'our enemy(ies)' in Iraq.

Trance induction—we have an 'enemy'.

But wasn't the invasion of Iraq an unprovoked attack? So how come people who, for whatever reason resist it, are 'enemies?' Perhaps they have little appetite for further humiliation in the name of freedom. And even the Saddamists, and religious fundamentalists, much though I deplore them, are entitled to their opinions and preferences.

There is a second candidate. President Bush refers to terror(ism)(ists) 19 times.

Trance induction— Terrorism. The more I have contemplated 'terrorism' as a political notion being sold as though it were a 'brand', the more I have had a sense that it is a rationalization, 'finding a reason for' how a supremely endowed nation, armed to the teeth with the latest and best in overwhelming weaponry, could be shown by the 9/11 events to be vulnerable to 'Independence Day' style attack by a handful of Afghan cave-dwellers.

A focus on Terrorism puts us into a trance that encourages us to bystand the denial of the reality on the ground for people in the Middle East and elsewhere, many of whom are likely to see their past and continued oppression as supported and financed by the US, Britain and other European nations.

The rise of a free and self-governing Iraq will deny terrorists a base of operation, discredit their narrow ideology and give momentum to reformers across the region. This will be a decisive blow to terrorism at the heart of its power and a victory for the security of America and the civilized world.

Here again we are invited to be entranced by the need for a victory by America and the civilized world. As though Mesopotamia has not itself been a cradle of civilization and as though the West with our reckless exploitations of peoples and planetary assets were so exemplary.

Keep in mind that trance works through restricting, narrowing awareness. Attention is captured by a narrow focus on a particular object and/or idea and from then on, depending on the depth of the trance, discrimination is more or less shut down. And then any of us can be highly suggestible.
We can come to believe, the reason for the attack on Iraq was that:

by removing a source of terrorist violence and instability in the Middle East, we also make our own country more secure.

The trance seems intended to help us forget a series of other potentially very plausible reasons for the attack on Iraq: that Iraq was never the slightest threat to the US, Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction (yesterday's trance induction) didn't exist after 1991; Iraq's contribution to terrorism was that of a murderous Stalinist repression of its own people; it was intended to be seen by 'evil axis' nations as 'making an example' of a 'rogue' nations; securing oil supplies in light of the oil production predicted to peak in 2008 (and the possibility that everyone in China will want to own a car); the likelihood of a fundamentalist meltdown in Saudi Arabia; an act of vengeance and revenge for the 9/11 attacks and so on.

Elsewhere In President Bush's speech there is the outright denial of reality, as in this section on the US response to the killing of four civilian contractors in Fallujah.

In the city of Fallujah there has been considerable violence by Saddam loyalists and foreign fighters, including the murder of four American contractors. American soldiers and Marines could have used overwhelming force. Our commanders, however, consulted with Iraq's governing council and local officials and determined that massive strikes against the enemy would alienate the local population and increase support for the insurgency.

For anyone disposed to look at the non-mainstream sources of information on the attack on Fallujah, (see earlier entries here) the use by the US of overwhelming force was the reality, that massive strikes against the 'enemy' did alienate the local population and did increase support for the 'insurgency'.

'Insurgency', here is another dubious trance-inducing label. It denies the reality that many Iraqis are likely to see the US as alien, 'infidel' invaders displaying too many of the 'shock and awe' characteristics of overwhelming force of the previous regime. Abu Ghraib being an iconic reinforcement of this, if any were needed.

Another example of the highly dubious use of language occurs in President Bush's frequent reference (10 times) to 'sovereignty'. Various commentators have cataloged the severe limitations on the power that Iraqis will have at their disposal under the emerging sovereignty. I won't add to that here, except to argue that talk of sovereignty is a trance-induction that hides the reality that what the US has in mind is that of 'client state'.

President Bush notes that:

America has dedicated more than $20 billion to reconstruction and developmentprojects in Iraq.

To ensure our money is spent wisely and effectively, our new embassy in Iraq will
have regional offices in several key cities. These offices will work closely with Iraqisat all levels of government to help make sure projects are completed on time and on budget.

Again, others have documented the extent to which this 'gift' involves a huge pork barrel of business opportunities that overwhelmingly favors US corporations and that recycles the the American reconstruction 'gift'. What seems to have been missed is that there is a clear precedent for what this would look like on the ground in Shah Palavi Iran.

I have eye-witness experience of what a post Saddam client state might look like. In the mid 70's, along with several dozen other Brits, I spent many months making a film history of Iran for David Frost's production company. I'll end with a few recollections of this.

Looking for locations and resources for the large historical reconstructions meant a lot of driving, many hours of flying around in a helicopter and many visits to army installations. All of this was unusually privileged, and only feasible because, as I eventually realized, the whole project was literally being signed off personally by the Shah.

Some items from this experience included flying over military installations, where I saw literally hundreds of 40ft articulated trucks parked, a sea of them, all in military colors; counting five 747 military transport planes lined up at Tehran airport, this at a time when the 747 was a new and very expensive airplane. Using for daily location transport to a Chinook twin rotor helicopter, flown day after day very expertly by American trained crews. In case you don't see the connection, this hardware belonged to the Iranians, who had bought it and the training from the US. Persuaded perhaps that without this 'support' the USSR might look unkindly on the Shah's regime.

Lastly, when now and again we visited a military commander, or his deputy, down the corridor a door or two away we commonly saw the office of the US military 'adviser'. Add to this the creeping but unconfirmed emergence of a suspicion that my assistant/interpreter was a Savak secret police agent and you see how the US had secured the 'cooperation' of the Iranian nation.

Though much of the material we filmed was uncontaminated by the circumstances of its production, from today's perspective the work now seems politically indefensible, and something that I'd now decline. With the over-throw of the Shah, the film series itself became history and has never to my knowledge been shown anywhere.

Sat, 22 May 2004

Dances of death

I went on holiday thinking that the time away would provide perspective on the astonishing daily brew of dominance-related events.

I return to find it, if anything more poisonous, the dances of death more ominous.

While I was away I sometimes had the feeling of being the only person for whom the damage being visited on the middle east was of any great interest. How come it has that much reality for me?

Is it some illusion, even a delusion, to think that a curtain has lifted on 'how we do ourselves'? And that 'how we do ourselves', both locally and internationally, is a form of bullying and tyranny? And further, that, faced with the discomfort of this self-reflection forced upon us by the Iraq attack and the continuing oppression of the Palestinans, staring into cozy, unproblematic, media or retail spaces is preferable to confronting, at least in the UK and US, what is happening, in our name.

Would it be more 'real' to concern myself with food, and eating and shopping and neighborliness? Harder to do that when, as I have discovered, people you know, appear to be active in the military in Iraq.

I'll content myself today with a few items that at least intuitively support the g.o.r.i.l.l.a. notion of an inquiry into cultures of dominance and their counterpart, 'living from liking', 'living from love'.

Creative bystanding
In this film clip (you'll need realplayer installed) we see the normality of US military abuse of helpless detainees. Several things are of interest. A prisoner is punched in the head by a soldier. Replay the clip a couple of times and it is clear that he was resisting taking off his clothes. After the punch to the head he starts to strip off. This is casually watched by two men in military fatigues. The man doing the violence wears fluorescent green gloves that resemble these toy gloves on sale in an Italian market - place. Look at the recommendation that comes with them. The toy and the military violence, seem a clear example of what I mean by culture of dominance.

The two military bystanders in the Abu Ghraib video witness the dragging around the floor of another naked man and then the manhandling of a third man also naked, who is pushed into a kneeling position in front of the camera. A curiosity for anyone with video experience is that the video format is portrait, an accompanying Washington Post caption explains:

The video, which was originally recorded sideways, has been edited to display vertically here and certain body parts have been obscured.

They have indeed. In the background of a few frames of the sequence are several other naked men, huddled against the wall. The vertical mask, a more appropriate term for the reformatting, looks to have been deployed to keep their genitalia out of sight. Evidence, it would seem, of a bizarre double standard. A military machine that enacts grossly damaging abuse and a media machine that colludes with it by keeping the sexual content of the abuse out of sight. Violence is OK, sex is not. Yet the US is a nation where, as I have mentioned here on another day,(Monday 10th May) the 'adult' sexually explicit video market is worth perhaps $10 billion annually.

Tolerating the intolerable
And then on UK Ch4 news there are yet more Israeli bulldozers wrecking streets of houses in the Rafah Palestinian refugee camp and monstering their way through the orderly rows of plastic roofing of a large commercial horticultural business nearby. And destroying the zoo. And denying it was so.

And the newspapers, pursuing some petty journalistic balancing act (much, much worse in the US papers) argue about whether the numbers of children killed in Rafah on Thursday, or in the US attack on a wedding party in Iraq, are accurate. As though the overwhelming imbalance of scale of these attacks visiting the full force of modern military might on Palestinian refugees, or a tiny remote Iraqi village, did not denote yet another occasion for a war crimes investigation and trial.

Are we becoming de-sensitized? As Richard, in one of the write backs here (Monday 10 May) claims, US (and UK?) troops are made to watch videos of injury and damage to ready them for combat. Is this also true for us? Has gore fatigue set in? Has war crime behavior become tolerable? As though life were a Hollywood movie or a video game?

Or, as I prefer to think, have we become 'entranced', hypnotized, by the belief fed to us by mainstream media, in fairness, itself a reflection of popular opinion, that some lives, ours, are worth more than others, for example asylum seekers; that somehow an American or Israeli or British life is worth more than an Arab life.

So far as this is enacted, as it has been again in recent days in Rafah, is this not also racist? How can Israel, a nation carrying a history of racist persecution, forget this history, forget how damaging it is to be on the receiving end of overwhelming persecution? Forget it to the extent of enthusiastically inflicting so much damage and humiliation on another victim people?

The current extremes of force and damage in Israel and Iraq do have one small benefit, they make it even more transparently obvious how cultures of domination couple the use of, and threat of force, with the power to tell a story about events that rationalize them, denying, or obscuring, all or most of the facts on the ground. Rafah, and a few weeks back, Fallujah, exemplify the extent to which 'deniability' is form of weapon used against bystander populations.

Trance breakers cont.
The continuing revelations of bizarre levels of torture and abuse in US military jurisdictions in Guantanamo, Iraq and, more than likely, Afghanistan, continue to undermine the trance of US/UK moral superiority.

When Spec. Joseph M. Darby, who blew the whistle on the Abu Ghraib 'abuse', asked Spec. Charles A. Graner Jr., one of the much photographed perpetrators, what he thought about the photographed 'abuse' in Abu Ghraib, Graner replied that "The Christian in me says it's wrong, but the corrections officer in me says, 'I love to make a grown man piss himself.'" (Punishment and Amusement: Washington Post Saturday, May 22, 2004; Page A01)

The abuse images often have the 'normality' of holiday snaps, for example this picture of a woman soldier posing for a 'fun' picture with the corpse of an Iraqi detainee in Abu Ghraib. It's a trophy picture, a celebration of dominance. Just as the pictures of white men and women standing with one foot on lions or elephants they have shot, celebrated their dominance over the 'wildness of pure nature'.

Similarly the hunters I see in France, who parade their ethical uprightness in this announcement that they are out for a morning's killing. There are usually about two dozen of them, mostly men but with some women, armed, and with as many dogs. When they have chased and killed a wild boar, they often tie it to the front of their 4x4 and then drive in triumph through nearby villages.

Why is this part of France supposedly over-run by wild boar? The part of the story that this trophy procession conceals is that, shortly after WW2, due to a shortage of boar for hunting, domesticated pigs were released to bred with the wild stock and the resulting stock breed about twice as often producing many more young.

Holiday snaps
Something about these shrines, more, more, that I saw in Italy fascinated me. In all of them the Virgin Mary seems imprisoned, literally behind bars. As Starhawk has pointed out, the prison is an archetypal expression of 'power over', of domination. An imprisoned mother? Is that all there is to it?

Language, language
And lastly. My wife called me out for talking carelessly about how a tardy insurance person 'was in need of a kick in the shins'. We have both found ourselves talking about 'advancing on a different front'. Warfare talk.

Tue, 11 May 2004

Cultures of domination

I turn on the TV at 9.45pm Monday 10 May to see the BBC 1 News at 10.

A stubbly man threatens another stubbly man with a knife. The threatened man headbuts the man with the knife, who falls to the ground.

I switch channels.

On Channel 5  there is a huge closeup of an enormous bleeding wound. I watch horrified. A surgeon chats casually about what she is going to do. It's an operating theatre. Its an 'operation', live.  Eventually I realize—a caesarian delivery live.

Shielded by a curtain across her abdomen from this astonishing violence, the mother, awake, alert, due presumably to an epidural injection, lies completely passive.

The surgeon cuts again. Into the uterus. She reaches into the cavity and grasping the baby, pulls it out. A wonder-full sight as ever. The new born baby I mean. After the umbilicus is cut, the surgeon holds the baby boy up over the curtain for a moment so that the mother can see it and then passes it to an assistant. She patiently wipes him clean. Weighs him. Wraps him in a blanket.

It seems an age before all this medical housekeeping is complete. She brings the baby back to the mother  'give me your hand' she says, 'I don't know where my hand is', the mother replies. Eventually the baby passes to the father who is close by.

In the studio, two men, consultant obstetricians I guess, recycle the notion that Caeserian birth is a 'good idea' and that the 25% proportion of UK births by this method is also a 'very good thing'.

Meanwhile, out of sight, the surgeon deals with the too messy to show placenta, and stitches up the mother's belly.  At 9.59pm the live peak-time show ends.

Childbirth as a spectacle.

Mon, 10 May 2004

Ships passing in the night

I've been struggling for a day or two now to find a voice adequate to the incoming tide of recent dominance-related events, especially the US forces treatment of Iraqi prisoners. My earlier notion of trance—of the US administration and the US population being entranced—spellbound—by their belief in the intrinsic naturalness of their right to dominate world affairs, may yet be adequate. We'll see.

From this perspective, calling the treatment of the prisoner in this picture 'abuse', is to reinforce the dominance trance. It denies the reality that, for the victim, this is torture. According to the New Yorker, unpublished pictures show the same man moments later on the ground bleeding, having apparently been savaged by the dogs in the picture. The revelations have been received with both horror, and as we'll see below, denial, except in this article by Ariel Dorfman nowhere have I found an empathic appreciation of the appalling traumatization and long-term psychic damage that this kind of treatment produces.

Nevertheless, the Abu Ghraib and British pictures do appear to have broken the moral superiority trance that justified the US and British attack on Iraq. Damage limitation, in the shape of mealy-mouthed near-apologies, testifies to the US administration's surprise that these events had not only occurred 'on their watch', as Secretary Rumsfeld put it, but were being seen world-wide. The spell of high moral superiority, of intrinsic American virtue, was in pieces.

Several attempts at trance repair (I'm making up the terminology as I go!) occurred during the US Senate Rumsfeld hearings on Friday, notably the several voices that claimed that the perpetrators at Abu Ghraib were 'rogue elements'.

Sec. Rumsfeld: these terrible acts were perpetrated by a small number of U.S. Military...
Gen Smith. The situation at Abu Ghraib is not representative of the conduct of U.S. and coalition forces, it is a distasteful and criminal aberration
Sec: Brownlee: The reported acts of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib are tragic and disappointing, and they stand in sharp contrast to the values of our Army and the nation it serves.
Gen. Shoomaker:  what we are dealing with are actions of a few, as has been pointed out. These are conscious actions that are contrary to all that we stand for. This is not a training issue but one of character and values. Our Army values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage are taught to our soldiers from the moment they enter the training base.

While they were commendably open, the Senate hearings contained nothing on the suffering of the tortured but a lot of agonizing about the broken US trance and how it could be restored.

Sec. RUMSFELD: This degree of breakdown in military leadership and discipline ......defies common sense. It contradicts all the values we Americans learn, beginning in our homes.
Sec. Rumsfeld cont. We value human life. We believe in individual freedom and in the rule of law. For those beliefs, we send men and women of the armed forces abroad to protect that right for our own people
SEN. LIEBERMAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Secretary, the behavior by Americans at the prison in Iraq is, as we all acknowledge immoral, intolerable, and un-American.
SEN. SESSIONS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. These are indeed actions that go against the very core values of America.
....what we have seen [is] a violation of American values.
Our nation to a degree unprecedented in human history has sacrificed its blood and treasure to secure liberty and human rights around the world, now must try to convince the world that the horrific images on their TV screens and front pages are not the real America; that what they see is not who we are.

Others who I fancy who do indeed accurately reflect mainstream US values didn't see any need to repair the trance. As Media Matters reported for Rush Limbaugh - US right of sensible talk radio host, it evidently wasn't broken.
From the May 4 Rush Limbaugh Show, titled "It's Not About Us; This Is War!":
CALLER: It was like a college fraternity prank that stacked up naked men --
LIMBAUGH: Exactly. Exactly my point! This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation and we're going to ruin people's lives over it and we're going to hamper our military effort, and then we are going to really hammer them because they had a good time. You know, these people are being fired at every day. I'm talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release? You of heard of need to blow some steam off?
The day before, on his May 3 show, Limbaugh observed that the American troops who mistreated Iraqi prisoners of war were "babes" and that the pictures of the alleged abuse were no worse than "anything you'd see Madonna, or Britney Spears do on stage."

There were also voices in the US, and to me a surprising number of them, who refused to feed the administration damage limitation and contradicted the notion that the Abu Ghraib events were an aberration. In the Senate Rumsfeld hearings, some Senators coupled the Abu Ghraib events with the US administration's decision to withdraw protection of the Geneva convention from Al Qaeda personnel.

Sen. Levin: The president's legal counsel, Alberto Gonzales, reportedly wrote in a memorandum that the decision to avoid invoking the Geneva Conventions, quote, "preserves flexibility" in the war on terrorism. Belittling or ignoring the Geneva Conventions invites our enemies to do the same and increases the danger to our military service men and women. It also sends a disturbing message to the world that America does not feel bound by internationally accepted standards of conduct.

Sen. Kennedy: You and your senior leadership have shown, I believe, a disregard for the protection of the Geneva Conventions in detainee operations. In January 2002, you were asked why you believed the Geneva Conventions do not apply to detainees in Guantanamo. You replied that you did not have "the slightest concern about their treatment" in light of what has occurred in 9/11.

Sen. Levin: Secretary Rumsfeld, I was struck upon seeing one of the photographs from the prison depicting three naked prisoners in a lump on the floor being overseen by a number of soldiers, while other soldiers in the cell block were assisting or were going about their business without any apparent interest in or concern about the obvious abusive treatment, that the conduct that we were witnessing and watching was not aberrant conduct of a few individuals but was part of an organized and conscious process to extract information.

Dominant elite trances of the kind that appear to have captured large sections of the US population take upon themselves the right to insist that rules, regulation and laws are for other people. Boundaries and limits are defined by what you can get away with, rather than by negotiation, cooperation, empathy, caring, or a sense of social responsibility.  The Guantanamo prison regime with its as yet uncharged, untried, 'illegal combatants', is a continuing example of free-range dominance in action; the senators could have added the American refusal to be a signatory to the International Criminal Court because of the possibility that US citizens would be indicted. A realistic concern it would now seem.

To invoke another, more psychological dimension to these events, in this article Donna Hughes found the Abu Ghraib images 'Not Unfamiliar'. In her work inquiring into abuse and people trafficking in the Ukraine and elsewhere she had come across methods of identity demolition being used to initiate women into prostitution that very closely match the Abu Ghraib practices.

The images from Abu Ghraib are trophy pictures. The sadistic MPs are shown posing, smiling, and gloating over their victims and what they have made them do. Similarly, I found numerous offers on the Internet from pimps for men to bring cameras and video recorders with them to make trophy images and videos of their sexual use of women and girls.

From another perspective she echoes Limbaugh in seeing the Abu Ghraib pictures  and the events to which they testify as commonplace images of American Culture

President Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld have condemned the acts and the abuse of the Iraqis. They said that these acts do not represent American values. I want to believe that is true. Yet, I see the common themes and methods used by other types of perpetrators on different victims. These similar images are what the young American soldiers from the Internet generation have grown up with and learned to call "adult entertainment." Did they become desensitized to the harm of doing such things to people by seeing multiple images of similar abuse to women? Did they learn how to violate someone by being a voyeur to abuse, and in Abu Ghraib they had the chance to become perpetrators — and pornographers? Did they fully comprehend the harm they were doing?

And elsewhere, if we were to be in any doubt of the extent to which US values are dominance-driven, here is a mainstream account of the estimated $10 billion a year US 'adult entertainment' industry, a sub-set of the prostitution trade. Some headlines:

- well over 800 million rentals of adult videotapes and DVDs in video stores across the country each year
- 11,000 titles produced annually
- California 'adult 'entertainment employs an excess of 12,000 people
- California 'adult 'entertainment  pays over $36 million in taxes every year.
- The big hotel chains: Hilton, Marriot, Hyatt, Sheraton and Holiday Inn, all offer 'adult' films on in-room pay-per-view television systems. They are purchased by 50 percent of their guests, accounting for nearly 70 percent of in-room profits.

Judging from the number of porn shops near where I live in Brussels, similar figures would apply to Europe.

Two things emerge from all this for my inquiry. One is that the Abu Ghraib revelations have probably been a trance-breaking event comparable to the 9/11 events in New York. And second, that from an Islamic perspective, the US trance was already broken, or was never securely in place. In Islamic cultures if I understand them correctly, it is deeply shameful for men to see each other naked, and for women's hair, or in some corners of Islam, any part of women's bodies, to be exposed. For such a culture the extent to which sexuality has become a commodity in Western Societies will be anathema.

And yet I'm inclined to see that in their innermost workings both enshrine dominance as a given. In a way I hadn't seen before, they mirror each other, mirror control over women's bodies.

In Islamic societies, male dominance requires that women's bodies, perhaps bodies in general, be hidden. In the West, male dominance requires that bodies, especially womens' bodies, be exposed, made to seem potentially available. As for example in this ad in downtown Brussels, or this boutique window in Venice.

Small wonder then that such societies behave like ships passing in the night.

NB some of the US newspapers links require (free) registration for access to the linked pages

Fri, 07 May 2004

The Falluja Siege

Today has been the first full day of revising and building g.o.r.i.l.l.a. It took me in some surprising directions. I began the day with a feeling that there was a hole in the media coverage of the siege of Falluja in Iraq, now coming into its third week and I searched the net for some information. The first pages that offered themselves were from AlJazeera, pictures of many dead, mostly civilians, including women and children. I had ringing in my ears the figures from a day or two earlier of 2xx women and 2xx children killed out 300 hundred dead and a 100 or more wounded. Perhaps this was an 'exaggeration' and yet these scenes suggested otherwise So why wasn't this in the mainstream media I had seen? Digging deeper showed why that might be. The only crew inside the siege was the AlJazeera one. Vice Donald Rumsfeld dismissed their coverage of the American assault on the town as 'outrageous nonsense', and the US general running the siege had made the departure of the AlJazeera crew one of the conditions in the negotiations for lifting the siege, while describing the US approach to the siege as 'humane'. And then digging a bit further I found "Inside the fire" Jo Wilding's courageous account of driving into Falluja and of what she saw. Her eye witness account tripped me into tears. Why is the inside story missing from the media? Is it because, with the exception of alJazeera, the reporters are embedded with the troops?

I have to keep reminding myself that I'm building a site devoted to confronting domination. Falluja, like Jenin and Shatilla appears to be an example of the of wholly disproportionate use of overwhelming military power. Revenge (reprisal?) for the previous week's atrocious killing and humiliation of four US mercenaries appears to be costing the lives of hundreds of women and children. The Falluja equation of four American deaths with the terrorizing and killing of hundreds of Iraqis echoes the similar racist attitude to the indigenous population that shapes events daily in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.</P>

In my search for details of the Falluja siege I came on an apparently unrelated presentation in the Washington Post "One Land, Two peoples" that for me shockingly added to this sense of gross disproportion. I had not understood the extent to which Israeli governments had colluded with, or supported, the creeping expropriation of Palestinian territory. Like you I had heard of the 'settlements' and what a 'provocation' they were to Palestinians, while representing for Israeli Jews the consolidation of their 'return' to their biblical roots. But take a look at screen six of this presentation...'Israel today', check out the number of settlements and the way they are sprinkled evenly across the West bank and the Gaza strip. What does it look like to you? If you had been dispossessed of the rest of your homeland by the Jewish colonization of the last century what would you be likely to feel about the accelerating 'facts on the ground' that these settlements represent? Anger? Outrage?

We all live in Israel now
And then there was an interesting support for my relatively uninformed intuition that "we all live in Israel now" that, since as it seems to me having triggered the Intifada, Israel had succeeded in exporting the content and style of its grossly imperial ways of dealing with its Arab neighbors to the rest of us. (Not that we can claim, especially if British, to have been innocent bystanders in the generation of the mess the "Holy Land" is in). In an article in the London Guardian, "Sharon's Banana Republics", Afif Safieh explicitly tells of two alternate takes of the Arab/Israeli conflict by historians; one that the Israeli client state has mimicked the methods of the US along with the fire-power they have delivered... and secondly, which more than matches my intuition; that the reverse is often happening, that successive US governments have been spellbound by the Israeli approach to the Palestinians. As Safieh puts it, "This is seen as a result of a powerful pro-Israel lobby that succeeded in turning "Capitol Hill into another Israeli-occupied territory". From this perspective might not the US in Iraq be mimicking Israeli's heavy-handed and racist methods in its efforts at 'pacification' there? Maybe even had some tutoring from Israel? Further, not that controversial, I guess, a US administration facing a tightly contested re-election is not about to alienate the substantial pro-Israeli vote (which apparently includes large numbers of fundamentalist Christians) by restraining or even criticizing Sharon's government.

The Law of Conquest - the Justice of Civilization
One of my recurrent preoccupations here in g.o.r.i.l.l.a. is with the ways in which domination is threaded through the grain of the times. With how we live with it through ignoring it to death, by splitting off domination and the damage it causes from conscious awareness. Psychologists call this dissociation. Some of the most telling images of dissociation involve the use by American businesses of imagery and naming derived from Native American peoples. This use splits off the romantic image of the noble savage from the reality, as has been lately re-iterated by I. Charney, of by far the biggest genocide that we know about, the virtual elimination of indigenous peoples by the Spanish, Portuguese, British and then the American settlers as they colonized North America.

Genocide Chic
The use by Jeep (Daimler/Chrysler) of "Cherokee" for one of their vehicles that is driven by innumerable people, even near neighbors, where I live in west London, seem one of the most offensive dissociations between image and reality that I know (but you may be about to tell me of others). As though Mercedes were to name one of their vehicles the "Warsaw Ghetto: limited edition". There are innumerable parallel examples, a restaurant in West London has for several decades promoted its food with an over-life-size plaster statue of an Native American Chieftain and from my collection here are some Native American corn chips. But to get back to the Cherokees, I started to explore again their story, parts of which, for example, the forced removal from their homelands to Oklahoma, echo the Palestinian experience. Among this harrowing material I tripped over this footnote to the the genocide of Native Americans by L. Frank Baum, later to be famous as the author of that delightful children's story 'The Wizard of OZ'. Here is what the 'wizard' had to say about the Native Americans near him in South Dakota.

'About a week prior to the slaughter at Wounded Knee, Baum, the editor of South Dakota's Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer newspaper advocated the extermination of all America's Indians. "The nobility of the Redskin is extinguished and what few are left are a pack of whining curs who lick the hand that smites them. The whites by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians. (WHY NOT ANNIHILATION?) Their glory has fled, their spirit broken, their manhood effaced, better they should die than live the miserable wretches that they are". Shortly after the massacre, (at Wounded Knee) Baum stated his approval, in the "Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer, stating that; "we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up and wipe these untamed and untameable creatures from the face of the earth."

As you might imagine in this enquiry I sometimes need to find a moment of elation and delight. And there on the front page of the Washington Post was LockheedMartin's celebration of the great work that they have done in creating 'Iraqi Freedom'. A classic of the genre of dissociation, an example of how deeply we can split off results from intentions, damage from imperious gestures, made and sold by people whose commitment to the delivery of death and destruction pays their mortgages and puts their children through college. It is self- explanatory, or perhaps I should say, self-obscuratory. So far as I felt elated it was at the prospect of re-editing the LockheedMartin brochure to better match the 'facts on the ground'. Perhaps I'll yet do that.

Mon, 03 May 2004

Shock and H(Awe)rror

The 'pacification' of Falluja by the US and its allies triggered the installation of this blog.

Falluja sounded and felt, especially from eye-witnesses in the city, like punishment, an off the scale reprisal for the shocking killings and mutilation of four US civilian contractors. Reprisals count as war crimes.

The massive civilian casualties appeared acceptable to the US military and except on the Internet and alJazeera, no one seemed to be noticing. The extraordinary mismatch of overwhelming force coupled with gratuitous 'collateral damage' to civilians seemed an acute example of domination in action. See Monday April 19th page here for more on this.

And then a bit over a week ago, the capacity for the dominant elites to control the stories that they tell and to suppress stories that contradict their favorite tales was decisively broken by The New Yorker, which decided to tell what it knew about gross abuse of prisoners in Iraq. The New Yorkers' Friday publication, complete with a set of online photos, prompted a pre-emptive Thursday airing of a CBS Special on the same subject that had been on hold since the Pentagon had let it be known it would be 'unhelpful'.

The pictures of the abuse and torture at Abu Ghraib unbuttoned the uniform of military denial of treatment of Iraqi detainees that the Red Cross and Human Rights groups had been complaining about since this time last year. Since then artifacts of domination from Iraqi prisons have become, and continue to be, front page news pretty much everywhere. A woman, photographed holding a 'dog lead' round the neck of a naked male prisoner – a more cogent image of dominance and subjection would be hard to find.

So where does this take me in my inquiry? In that curiously impressive and paradoxical way of things American, the Rumsfeld Senate hearings yesterday, despite patriotic grandstanding, began to put the finger on what ultimately matters about Abu Ghraib and the parallel British evidence of abuse. Is it due to a rogue, perhaps untrained, unsupervised, element in the military? Or is it systemic, intrinsic to the US military/intelligence gathering mindsets? Even reflective of core (if denied) US values?

Telling Stories
One take on this, following James C. Scott that I have found very helpful, introduces the notion that dominant elites tell and recycle stories to themselves and their subjects that justify and rationalize their dominance. Similarly subordinate individuals, groups and peoples—slaves, colonies, client states—tell stories that justify and rationalize their subordination, with the added value of helping them survive its difficulties.

An essential condition for this situation to be sustained is that this story-telling be in the form of one way traffic. Dominant stories are perpetually recycled inside the dominant elite groupings and broadcast in myriad ways to the subordinate populations.

Subordinate group's stories are also recycled in the subordinate populations but discreetly, because their content is likely to be regarded as 'dissent', 'unpatriotic', 'unAmerican', and it storytellers as 'troublemakers', or even 'evil-doers'. Active subordinate storytellers learn to take care where and when they tell their stories, lest, like Jesus, they become victim of a dominant elite's anxieties.

From time to time, some aspect of the subordinates story bridges the gap and is heard by both the dominant elites and the subordinates. A truth about their relative relationship is suddenly exposed in an event recognizable because it resembles a lightning strike. The 9/11 attack on New York, in which a bin Laden subordinate Islamic story was heard only too clearly by the world, seems an obvious example. Similarly the series of pictures of the 'abuse' and torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib.

To put it another way, the dominant elite story that the US was bringing Infinite Justice and Freedom and Democracy to Iraq was short-circuited by the exposure in pictures of what this often looked like on the ground. Arbitrary arrest, detention without charge, no contact with relatives or lawyers, brutal, damaging interrogation techniques. Torture.

The US military establishment, having known at the end of last year about both the 'abuses' and the pictorial evidence, made a five-line text/oral announcement to the press in January that it was being investigated, guessing that like lots of such press releases, it would be ignored. Press releases are one of the myriad forms taken by the dominant elite stories we tell ourselves. They can instruct us to forget, or, as in this case, ignore.

Rather than acknowledge the origins of the appalling 9/11 demonstration of American vulnerability, the lightning strike of these events seems to have been absorbed immediately by most of the US into their dominant elite story of the invincible superpower starring Secretary Rumsfeld as Achilles. Faced with the near impossible task of finding bin Laden, the US military enacted a reprisal on his supporters, the perhaps justly infamous Taliban, and subsequently have been prepared to reach an accommodation with Afghan warlordism, the epitome of grassroots dominance.

Secretary Rumsfeld yesterday said that the pictures from Abu Ghraib were only the beginning, apparently there also videos and even more sadistic images. As the revelations unfold, they will continue to short circuit the tension between the dominant elite stories of patriotic men and women sacrificing their lives to protect America, and the Iraqi subordinate stories of a people whose lives are devoid of value, where humiliation, gratuitous damage and abuse are justified. An insidiously successful part of the dominant elite story about the Abu Ghraib events which I find myself wanting to reject, is that that the prisoners were not tortured, only 'abused'.

The scale of the Abu Ghraib contradiction worldwide of the US administration's dominant elite story of America as a 'crusader' in a 'war against terror', and 'protector of civilized values', has yet to sink in. Yesterday, in the Senate Rumsfeld hearings, this acute discomfort, and the extent to which the Pentagon, for all it supposed technical superiority was out- flanked by digital technology and the internet was (commendably) on public display.

Sec. Rumsfeld: We're functioning in a -- with peacetime constraints, with legal requirements, in a wartime situation, in the Information Age, where people are running around with digital cameras and taking these unbelievable photographs and then passing them off, against the law, to the media, to our surprise, when they had -- they had not even arrived in the Pentagon.

Reading the transcript of the senate hearing reinforced my sense of a disconnect between the American dominant elite story and life as lived on the Iraqi ground. The acute pain, damage, and traumatization that the detainees must have suffered was out of the frame. Abu Ghraib was on the way to becoming a public relations failure.

Sat, 01 May 2004

Dogs and 'war'

After just a week of this inquiry into domination I'm already becoming overwhelmed by the evidence.

Fallujah looks like it was some kind of 'a bridge to far', a turning point, a cusp defining the limits of US hubris. Using battlefield weapons, c130 gunships, Apache helicopters and 500lb bombs to 'pacify' a town of 300,000 people, redefines the notion of overkill. Jo Wilding's 'The second trip to Fallujah and the courteous kidnappers' fills in some of the missing detail of what was happening on the ground. Her article, 'Inside the Fire', woke me up to why events in Fallujah were so important.

And then there has been Jeannie, our 17 year old dog, a very sharp reminder of how domination can be very close to home. I'll come back to her.

In your face examples of cultures of domination this week have also included the images of US military rednecks tormenting naked Iraqi men. Most media accounts neglect to say that these men have been mostly picked up at check points and are being held without charge and out of communication in a country that has no settled judicial system for prosecution or defense. For a detailed account of the arbitrary way many of these prisoners have been accumulated, see this blog: 'Baghdad Burning' (Tales from Abu Ghraib... Monday, March 29, 2004). And then today, as if this were not enough, a UK newspaper has a series of pictures of UK soldiers apparently abusing an Iraqi prisoner (my caveat is because, as a photographer, these pictures looked posed, not as they purport to be, live action shots)

Yet why should we be surprised at such a gross culture of abuse? Only if we are unaware of the kind of bullying that military training commonly involves. Only if we are uninformed. The US created, and the UK government has tolerated, the continuing illegal imprisonment of thousands of prisoners in the Guantanamo base in Cuba. And faced with world-wide exposure of video evidence of gross abuse in Abu Ghraib what does the US do? They import the governor of Guantanamo, Major General Geoffrey Miller to sort it out. The application of an emperor of abuse to an already abusive regime. For an eye witness account of the culture of domination he commanded see this article.

If you have read some of the earlier entries you'll have seen that in this inquiry, my take on domination is favors the notion of trance. That dominant elites are entranced by the idea that domination is natural and inevitable. To sustain their dominance they use speechifying, law-making and media and copyright control, to promote trance inductions that install and re-iterate this belief. Subordinate peoples and groups buy into the dominance/subordination trance partly because it comes to seem that this is 'the way things are' and partly because the price of contradicting it can be very high.

From this perspective, events such as the public emergence of images of US personnel interrogating prisoners in the Abu Ghraib jail, previously notorious for some of the most gross human rights abuse in recent history, are trance-breaking. I want to add that considering its history, choosing this jail to house several thousand detainees seems to me further evidence of the extent to which the abuses of dominance are intrinsic to the US administration and thus its military. They choose to adopt (rather than raze to the ground) a site that is an icon of damage, agony and loss for Iraqis, and thus signaled that the US and its allies belonged to the same spectrum of abuse and damage as the previous regime.

But we'll let that pass. When the spell, or trance, of Infinite Justice and Iraqi Freedom is broken by the CBS transmission across the US of US soldiers torturing Iraqis, how does the dominant elite, in this case the Bush administration, respond? In the White House rose garden, President Bush says:
"I shared a deep disgust that those prisoners were treated the way they were treated," "Their treatment does not reflect the nature of the American people. That's not the way we do things in America. And so I didn't like it one bit."
Here indeed is trance induction. The American People and the American Way is intrinsically virtuous. Implicitly, these perpetrators are not truly American. By reinforcing the trance in this way, Bush disconnects the audience from the normality of the torturer's behavior. People who are so entranced would fail to connect the images of the Iraqi abuse with the images or reports of Guantanamo (or for that matter, the fact that there are close to 2 million people in prison in the US)

If you didn't read the eye witness Guantanamo returnee interview above here it is again. It details appallingly offensive and systematically damaging treatment of 'enemy combatants' imprisoned without charge.

The Guantanamo regime detailed in this trance-breaking account, only makes sense as retribution/punishment for the 9/11 events and as described, surely merits continued attention as war crimes. Guantanamo shows that, contrary to the trance induction of President Bush's assertion of the ultimate virtue of the American Way, the Iraqi torture regime in Abu Ghraib is an intrinsic part of the American Way. Far from being an aberration, it is a method of choice. Were we to seek further evidence of the disconnect, replacing the commander of Abu Ghraib with the Guantanamo prison chief seems a bizarre reinforcement of this level of approval.

The Jeannie
This much focus on the macro extremities of domination may seem to over-balance this inquiry into domination in the direction of 'out there', of 'blaming', of identifying bad other 'others', when, as I am sharply aware, these matters are also local and personal, and can be acutely painful.

Domestication of animals and pets in particular is one of the more obvious forms that domination takes. Pets are likely to be entirely dependent on their owners, and as they age bring sharply into focus the extent to which, however politically correct we may believe we are, domination is still with us. My wife's long-time companion Jeannie, a fox terrier (think of Millou in the Tin Tin illustrated stories) is getting close to the end of her life. She is very deaf, almost entirely blind, and has lost the use of her hind legs. Very fit, having enjoyed vigorous exercise all her life, Jeannie is otherwise healthy and not in any pain. For many months she has not been able to walk and so has to be carried everywhere, including up and down many flights of stairs to the street. My partner, honoring the decade and half of companionship they have shared, cares for her diligently, willingly carrying her up and down the many stairs several times a day and, using an improvised sling, takes her out for her visits to the grass patch nearby. A tremendous strain, endured willingly, even happily.

The usually invisible, but for us sharply defined, context of Jeannie last days, as you'll have guessed, is domination. She is my wife's 'possession', and convention about pet ownership gives her, within some limits, the power of life or death. Any vet seeing Jeannie would willingly end her life. But while severely disabled and fairly obviously very bored and frustrated, she is very evidently alive, if week by week, less present. Immobilized in her waking life, she runs and runs in her dreams, chasing, or being chased, growling and biting.

The choice, free of the trance words of 'putting her to sleep', 'letting go of her', 'mercy killing', 'putting her out of her misery', is between keeping her, or killing her. I certainly experience a tremendous tension between honoring the continuing living warmth of her life, and trying not very successfully to hold part of the responsibility for deciding that the time has come where her life may have mutated into intolerable suffering and should be ended. This is not a time for misplaced sentimentality, for distressed attachment. A choice for life means tolerating the inconveniences of dying, and bearing the grief of loss. Honoring life means being in touch with its astonishing improbability, that this bundle of fur with a cold wet nose, snuffling around for tidbits, and licking any available foot, continues to breathe and digest and look eagerly to her mistress, the leader of the pack, for reassurance and companionship.

The spell binding trances of domination make it easy to regard pets such as Jeannie as objects, things, possessions, adornments, status symbols, lifestyle enhancements—encouraging us to colonize the life a pet offers and end it when the demands of its living become burdensome. We are a species who have licensed ourselves to kill. Trouble is, the power we take to ourselves to kill pets and farmed animals is all of a piece with the power to declare some other living, breathing, digesting, human beings, people with histories, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, dreams and ambitions, and hurts and uncertainties, as 'objects', 'unmenschen', people who lives are regarded as devoid of value.

The perpetrators of the atrocity in Fallujah, the marines who visited retribution on its civilian population, the abusive interrogators of Abu Ghraib, and if confirmed, the British army abusers, appear to have lost sight of the intrinsic value of life in general and human life in particular, seeing themselves as dealing with 'unmenschen', non-persons. So far as we 'bystand' it and do nothing , just as most of the German population did in the middle of the last century, we join the trance.

As I mentioned in a previous item in this blog, the US administration rubbished AlJazeera's trance-breaking TV images of civilian casualties in Fallujah and tried to make the departure of the alJazeera crew one of the conditions for the cessation of their siege. That AlJazeera evidently sees Iraqi people as persons, people who do have a life of value, breaks the trance that some, or many Iraqis are likely to be 'terrorists', or at best, inadequate, uncivilized people who need a superpower parent.

Such news management, which in recent months has included the banning of images of dead American 'soldiers remains' being returned to the US, contrasts with this Faces of the Fallen website in the Washington Post. The title, 'The Faces of the Fallen' sustains the trance of righteous sacrifice, of American soldiers dying in defense of Iraqi Freedom and Infinite Justice. I nevertheless found it very touching, so many of the dead soldiers were in their early twenties, and surprised that there were so few black people among them.

The catalogue of horribilities of the last few days has masked for me the potentially massive contradiction of the American imperial model of how to be a powerful nation promised by the accession to the European Union of 10 more countries.

I live close to the heart of the EU in Brussels. I hear first hand of the painstaking negotiation that building such a communion of nations entails. While the jury is still out on whether the EU will feed an oppressive extension of globalization, the recent enlargement is a further historical moment in a deepening tradition of non-violent transformation, as Jonathan Schell points out his recent book “The Unconquerable World"; a family of countries running on improved, if imperfect levels of democratic transparency and accountability, where governments change without violence, where elbowwork in committee (and football) has replaced battlefield formations.

I presently look on the EU as a source of optimism, the continuing emergence of model of social relating that contradicts the whole style of American hegemony, which despite its unsurpassed technocratic sophistication, begins, by contrast to the EU, to look archaic and primitive. In its relation to the rest of the world, the US knows so much, and yet often, as in Iraq, seems to know nothing that is of value.

More later on the EU, perhaps including my recent visits to Mons in Belgium, and Lille in France.

Wed, 28 Apr 2004

We insist on you being free.

You will be free, the US and its allies tell the Iraqis. But not from us. As June 30th approaches, an army of liberation, transformed into an army of occupation controlling everything of economic importance, will remain. Nor, reading between the lines of blogs coming out of Iraq, of which Baghdad Burning is a recommendable example, will Iraqis be free from Islamic fundamentalism.

One of the distinguishing features of a culture of domination is the insistence that you are either with us or against us. Following 9/11 the Bush administration's fundamentalism, its crusade (hush... don't call it that in public) against non-believers in free-range capitalism and the American Way has been persistently couched in these terms. I have first hand experience of Islamic gentleness and hospitality and in the past, of Christian generosity too. Despite this, it pains me to acknowledge that when Islam is dehydrated by peer pressure and imam pressure and the loss of face of humiliation, exploitation and occupation, its unreformed literalism—Islam's version of you are either with us or against us—becomes poisonous too. Jihad and Fatwa mirror Crusade and Inquisition.

And as I keep asking myself, why do present conflicts seem SO alarming? Not worse than the nuclear threat perhaps, but why have I felt such an urgent need to make some kind of public intervention, as with this blog, however marginal it and its associated pages may be?

I come this morning again to the realization, touched on elsewhere in recent pages here, that the actions of Israeli, US and its allied governments and the shifting, out of sight forces, that oppose them, seem so threatening because they are propagating worldwide trance states. I see every mention of 'terror', 'war on terror' and jihad as a form of trance-induction—hypnotic interventions that seek to short-circuit discrimination—that try to insist on 'Us' and 'Them', 'good' people, 'defenders of civilization', and 'evil-doers', 'terrorists'.

As Barbara Tuchman's outlines in her book “A Distant Mirror”, that I have mentioned here before, from the 14th Century on, European populations became increasingly terrified of supposedly demonic people and 'witchcraft'. But as the perspective of history and feminist critique has shown, witches were a fiction, a figment of (mostly male) imagination, an artifact of religious belief. It was the witchfinders who were spellbound, not their victims. and they who, through their dominant social status, were able to propagate the trance.

Earlier in the year I came upon this quotation from Jean Bodin (1530-1596) who, while not the most notorious of witchfinders, spelled out the entrancing power of the witch myth very clearly. I was intrigued to note how closely it echoed current preoccupations of both the US administration and Islamic counterparts such as Osama Bin Laden.

"Now, if there is any means to appease the wrath of God, to gain his blessing, to strike awe into some by the punishment of others, to preserve some from being infected by others, to diminish the number of evil-doers, to make secure the life of the well-disposed, and to punish the most detestable crimes of which the human mind can conceive, it is to punish with the utmost rigor the witches. . . . ”
“Those too who let the witches escape, or who do not punish them with the utmost rigor, may rest assured that they will be abandoned by God to the mercy of the witches. And the country which shall tolerate this will be scourged with pestilences, famines, and wars; and those which shall take vengeance on the witches will be blessed by him and will make his anger to cease. Therefore it is that one accused of being a witch ought never to be fully acquitted and set free unless the calumny of the accuser is clearer than the sun, inasmuch as the proof of such crimes is so obscure and so difficult that not one witch in a million would be accused or punished if the procedure were governed by the ordinary rules."

What comes out of this for me is further deepening of the proposition that cultures of dominance equate to trance states. So far as we buy into them, or fail to interrupt them in ourselves and the people around us, we too become spellbound.

And cultures of dominance with accompanying trances can take unexpected shapes. I'm not altogether changing the subject, last week my friend V.E. pointed me to this short report From the International Herald Tribune which points to the culture of domination that appears to entrance many, but not all, of the Japanese population. Several Japanese people, including a careworker and a freelance photojournalist who were taken hostage in Iraq and then released, had a shedload of shame dumped on them by everyone from the prime minister down when they got back to Japan.

The Herald Tribune's description of the returning Japanese hostages and why they were there, suggests that they were what I'd now call trance-breakers:
'They are Nahoko Takato, 34, who started her own organization to help Iraqi street children; Soichiro Koriyama, 32, a freelance photographer; and Noriaki Imai, 18, a freelance writer also interested in the issue of depleted uranium munitions. Two others kidnapped and released in a separate incident were... Junpei Yasuda, 30, a freelance journalist, and Nobutaka Watanabe, 36, a member of a peace group.”
'Yasuda, who was in the second group of hostages, quit his position as a staff reporter at a regional newspaper to report as a freelancer in Iraq. "We have to check ourselves what the Japanese government is doing in Iraq," he said in an interview. "This is the responsibility on the part of Japanese citizens, but it seems as if people are leaving everything up to the government." '

Their offense? To step out of line, to fail to be obedient. As the article outlines, there is even a Japansese name for this trance state, 'okami', literally respect for "what is higher", meaning respect for hierarchical power, demonstrating belief that its layers of authority and seniority are natural and inevitable.

Sat, 24 Apr 2004

Davids and Goliaths

Each day throws up some more or less in your face example of domination. Yesterday there were several. One was self-induced. For a year or more I had had a DVD of King Kong, a film I had seen a couple of times, but of which as it turned out I remembered very little, except the grotesque distortion of our ideas about gorillas. And second, out of the net appeared a picture (with news of more) that matched those from alJazeera of dead children in a day or two back, the interior of a plane bringing back US soldiers killed in Iraq. And there was this picture of Palestinian youths throwing stones at an Israeli bulldozer coupled with an article about the effects of the use of hugely disproportionate force. More on that later. And Falluja again, grief stricken relatives in an improvised cemetery.

Theme for today Damage. The damage that cultures of dominance generate and that dominant elites work to keep hidden, not least from themselves.

Damage comes in several varieties and flavors. There is the physical damage of loss of life and injuries. There is the damage of denial, the need for dominant elites to maintain and refuel the stories that rationalize their behavior as OK and even the epitomy of civilization; there is the damage of victimization, of being forced into subordination and subjection which generates its own stories and we might suppose includes the enervating need to maintain an essential form of denial, resistance, of refusing the dominant wish for compliance and obedience. There is another deep and pervasive layer of damage that rolls across generations, the traumatizing of the young, the very young, and the unborn.

Before I go on I want to acknowledge another closer to home form of damage that surfaces when the temptation to launch into a rant against the more obviously brutal and crass tyrannical exponents of full spectrum dominance arises, which I feel fairly often these days. Satisfying but not necessarily illuminating. Dangerous because it can support the false promise that we can somehow be outside all of this. And so we might deny the probability that, at some times, in some places, with some people, we are all highly likely to be acting as a dominant elite. And even if we become refuseniks, we will still be seen as such by some people. However in an inquiry such as this, awareness of our own heavy-handedness can a valuable lens through which to better see the damage that industrial strength dominance inflicts.

I'll return to King Kong but first Iraq. One of the components of the dominance trance inductions of the present US administration that evoke 'freedom', 'security', 'terrorist' and so on has been the suppression, since the Gulf War of media access to photos of the 'remains' of US soldiers killed in Iraq (I was going to say 'fallen' but that is one of the euphemisms that keep the denial of damage in place). The release this week of pictures that break that taboo brings into focus the denial/splitting that suppressing them was intended to support—that damage be kept out of sight, out of the national consciousness. Pictures of actual damage if they escape trance central control can be trance-breaking. Will the US media collude with the Pentagon, who realizing their error in releasing 300 pictures of the dead arriving at the dover Air force base tried to suppress them? As of this moment, apart from a single picture in the Seattle Times I haven't been able to find any of them. Though a little goes a long way, as you'll see if you open the image.

So—A guiding rule of dominant elites is that evidence of damage resulting from the pursuit of their interests that might be trance-breaking must be denied, hidden, or blamed on the victims. Self-censorship is one of the ways we do it, another is through the euphemistic naming that I referred to above. (and to which I will return another day). This process, even if we are persuaded that we are some kind of Top Gun, is itself damaging since we are denying to ourselves feeling the pain of others suffering. Such denial has its price in terms of depression and other symptoms of denied emotionality. As Daniel N. Nelson spells out, the price also commonly includes defeat:
'defeat comes through arrogance. Capacity-driven behaviors are preceded by an assumption that power is deserved, and that deserved power embodies one with a mission to use such capacities for a greater goal. Such a missionary vocation is irrevocably intertwined with hubris - the conceit of power. Yet such arrogance conceals fundamental weakness. Every utterance of arrogant power generates fear, alienation and, ultimately, the development of countervailing and often asymmetric force. With each deception or evidently cosmetic spin, the power of trust and the legitimacy of just force wither'.

And it perhaps goes without saying that to be the object of coercion, exploitation, and discrimination is damaging. The persistent denial of rights, of actual violence, or painful punishment if we don't comply with demands erodes self-esteem and builds the victim trance—which it occurs to me as I write, is the intention of much of a dominant elite's actions— submissive compliance i.e. don't even think those out-of-the-box thoughts.

Resistance and dissent
Just because enslaved populations submit to superior force doesn't mean that there are not many among them who are awake to the trance inductions that are literally targeted at them, and who see through them. This generates a dissenting position, where we may from time to time get caught up in either victim or dominance positions but aren't believers. The special form of damage that standing aside from the herd, from the collective trance entails is at least self-chosen, it takes the form of enlivened feelings. Feeling the tension between the stories that dominant elites tell and the facts on the ground. Feeling empathically the pain of other's oppression and not infrequently, feeling the pain of not being able to interrupt or influence much of what we find objectionable.

The illogic and irrationality of the use of overwhelming force in acts of retribution or revenge continues in both Iraq and Palestine. The Falluja siege continues as I write, with denial on the part of the US military that the hundreds of civilian dead could be due to their fire-power and evidence that the main hospital housed US snipers. Falluja feels like an archetypal version of Israeli-style confrontation that fights fire with fire. The Israeli suppression of Palestinian resistance at Beit Lahia on the Gaza-Israeli border and especially this image from yesterday's London Guardian of Palestinian youths stoning a huge bull-dozer also seems to me to carry the psychic quality of the dynamic of powerless and oppressor that the Israeli colonization of Palestine daily reinforces. A footnote to the events in Beit Lahia Ewen MacAskill's report mentions that:
'During the fighting, behind a screen of tanks and soldiers, Israeli bulldozers destroyed, apparently as a punitive action, a sewage works built for the Palestinians by the Swedish international development agency. An hour before leaving yesterday morning the Israeli army blew up a police training centre and a newly completed - but never used - school for disabled children'

Having visited places like Dachau and KD Mauthausen, near Linz in Austria, where so many Jews were tormented and murdered, I feel a deep sadness that, faced with threats to the viability of the Israeli state carved out by force by the colonization of Palestine, the Israelis can do no better than mimic in so many ways the methods of their former persecutors.

King Kong
King Kong might seem to sit uneasily with this real world pain and yet not so. While it would serve a PhD culture-miner very well, I wanted to check out its portrayal of 'gorilla' characteristics, horrible in several senses. I had seen this film a couple of times in the past but discovered that I had very little recall of it. What concerns us here is less the filmic values, which for the time, 1933, must have seemed astonishing, more the whole film as an unconscious celebration of dominance.

The plot
Carl Denham a filmmaker persuades a New York ship's captain to take him and his camera and a stock of gas bombs to a secret location for his new film. His notoriety prevents him from being able to hire a female star, so he picks up and hires Anne Darrow, a homeless starving woman on the streets of New York. The island turns out to be inhabited by 'savages' who, when the Denham and the ships crew show up, are preparing the sacrifice of a young women. The savages steal Denham's star instead and Darrow is carried off by Kong, a huge gorilla-like creature, that lives in the primeval forest behind an enormous wall across the island.

Kong disappears carrying the terrified Darrow with Denham and helpers in close pursuit of his joint assets. Throughout encounters with several prehistoric monsters, Kong cares gently for his captured sacrifice, but kills all the human pursuers except Carl Denham, and the ship's mate, John Driscol, who against all his macho inclinations, has become romantically attached to the female star. They find Kong and the unharmed Darrow resting on a mountain ledge. While Kong is distracted fighting a pterodactyl, Driscol rescues the girl and they head back to the ship. Kong chases them, breaking through the protective wall, and eventually reaching the beach, where Denham's gas bombs stun Kong.

The scene moves to New York where an audience of gliterati are gathered in a huge theater for the exhibition of Denhams 'Eight Wonder of the World'. The curtain rises on Kong, fastened like a laboratory animal in a huge frame. Carl Denham introduces his star and her husband-to-be rescuer to the audience but press photographers flash bulbs startle and enrage Kong. He frees himself, breaks out through the wall of the theater and climbs up a building in search of his lost beauty, eventually locating her in a room with her rescuer. Kong retrieves Darrow, and with her clasped in his hand, climbs up a high building which turns out to be New York's Empire State building. Panicking police authorities call for fighter aircraft to kill Kong, and after some exchanges they succeed. Having previously set down Darrow gently, Kong falls to the earth and the star is safely re-united with her husband to be.

I guess there have been many commentaries on this film. Psychologically it looks like a replay of the myth that our inner psychic worlds are dangerous territories featuring wall to wall savagery and thus very risky to enter. More important for the task of g.o.r.i.l.l.a. is a political perspective; what does King Kong reveal about power?

It's not hard to find, domination shapes every frame. Carl Denham manipulates and coerces the ship's captain into joining him in a risky exploit that requires gas bombs at a secret location. When theatrical agents refuse to supply a female star for the film Denham picks up a vulnerable woman who is stealing because she is hungry.

Carl Denham, and his 'crew', all men except for the female star, voyage to somewhere near Sumatra and descend in full colonial style with camera and guns on a remote island intent on capturing one of its spectacular assets on film. The film maker's talk is peppered with male bravado lines that betray their ignorance and insensitivity. The island wilderness and its 'savage' primitive society is treated as ripe for harvesting/exploitation. Nature, in the shape of Kong, a gorilla-like creature as big as a building, plus a selection of prehistoric animals, is seen as brutal, a series of fights to the death. The overwhelming physical strength of Kong is matched by the overwhelming technical strength of the 'gas bombs' that the filmmaker uses to subdue it. Kong is gassed and captured. Instead of his intended film, the filmmaker brings back to civilization a 'piece of nature' to entertain the dominant elite of New York, bejeweled, dinner-jacketed top-hatted city-dwellers. Impresario Denham introduces Kong with these words:
'He was a king and a god in a world he knew. Now he comes to civilization merely a captive, a show to gratify your curiosity'.
When Kong breaks out of his imprisonment, aircraft and machine guns, further examples of the reassuringly superior and overwhleming forces of civilization, are brought to bear and Kong falls to his death from New York's Empire State building. This in itself seems an ironic choice that underlines the unaware thread of imperial, colonial domination throughout the film.

For me King Kong echoes uncannily present-time events on the ground. It is a treatise, a primer on the internal dynamics of the myth of domination as natural and inevitable: that the use of overwhelming force, exploitation, coercion and imprisonment are OK because we possess the means to effect them; the notion that nature is a resource to be harvested; that civilization is outside nature; plus the damaging cultural lie of inflating the idea of 'gorilla', an immensely strong but gentle, vegetarian creature, into an iconic Enemy. An icon, it quickly becomes clear, that reflects only too well the crass, domineering masculinity of its colonial oppressors.

As if this needed underlining, since I wrote the previous paragraph I discovered that Merian C. Cooper and Ernet B. Shoedsack, the producer and director of King Kong, played the pilots who enthusiastically gun down and kill Kong. For people, not a few I guess, who felt some sympathy for Kong, Denham is given lines that let him (and the producers) side-step their guilt for Kong's capture and death. Standing next to the dead Kong's body at the foot of the Empire state building, Denham blames the feminine for this macho disaster, 'It was beauty killed the beast' he tells a policeman.

How sad to have to acknowledge that the spirit of King Kong's oppressors still lives on in too many of us and especially in the overwhelming and inappropriate use of force that the Israelis are using daily in its colonization of Palestine, and the US and it's allies in their colonization of Iraq.

Wed, 21 Apr 2004

Falluja Again

I still feel preoccupied with the siege of Falluja. OK it was a a favored town under Saddam Hussein and so likely to have a lot of people who prospered through mimicking his style of tyrannical domination. As in other times, and places, 'strong leaders' often insist that if you are not with us you are against us.

Partly what keeps Falluja in my mind is the random juxtaposition of the siege, still in place today as I write, with the pages I was reading last evening in Barbara Tuchman's book that I recommended earlier, about a siege of the town of Limoges in France. It might turn out to be a digression but I think not.

As Barbara Tuchman tells it. In 1370 Charles V of France was trying, through piecemeal negotiation to regain territories lost to the occupying English, then commanded by the Black Prince, son of Edward III. Charles succeeded in luring Limoges back in the French national fold despite the oath of fealty it had taken to the Black Prince. “Enraged by the “treason” and vowing to make the city pay dearly for it, the Black Prince determined “to make an example that would prevent further defections”. He led an elite force of knights to assault Limoges, tunneling under the city walls to make them collapse. “Plunging through the gaps, the men at arms blocked the cities exits and proceeded on order to the massacre of the inhabitants regardless of age or sex. Screaming with terror, people fell on their knees before the Prince's litter to beg for mercy but “he was so inflamed with ire that he took no heed of them” and they passed under the sword.”

Collective punishment
The UN's special adviser in Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, is today reported to have expressed his shock over US behaviour in Falluja. As Jonathan Steel puts it in the London Guardian, 'he condemned Washington's Israeli-style overkill in Falluja as a collective punishment, in effect a war crime'. The use of inappropriate force is a characteristic of people under the spell of domination and in Falluja there would appear to be a very clear split between the value of the four American mercenaries murdered in the city and the value of the 600 civilians as of today's estimates who have been killed in the siege. This is another characteristic of dominance, the split between highly valued Us, and little or no value, Them.

On a previous page of “A Distant Mirror” Tuchman tells of knights distraught at the loss of a charismatic leader, Sir John Chandos, they “wept piteously... wronge their handes and tare their heeres.” She notes that the knights who wept for Chandos were weeping for one of themselves, whereas the victims of Limoges were outside chivalry. Besides as she continues, “Life was not precious, for what was the body, after all but carrion and the sojourn on earth but a halt on the way to eternal life?”. Such religious beliefs, the soil in which dominance grows, are still very obviously alive today in the three religions that are shaping many people's approach to conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere.

In a a further reflection, Barbara Tuchman points out that, as was the custom with such punishments, Limoges was sacked and burned but that, while it was probably successful for a time in suppressing other resistance, the reprisal fostered a hatred of the English that led eventually to the heroic resistance of Joan of Arc.

What is it in us that means we can kill on this scale? Or collude with killing on this scale? Buried somewhere at the back of my practitioner experience is a hypnosis training that I attended years ago. I never took it into practice because it seemed to give practitioners way too much power, but I came to appreciate that hypnosis is a very powerful and greatly undervalued human capacity. It works through narrowing the attention, so that elements of the brain that mediate discrimination are shut down or restricted. At this point what is 'suggested' takes precedence over experience and discrimination. I'm more and more inclined to see the belief in the naturalness and inevitability of domination as a trance (hypnotic) state.

How else can the designation of some people as having 'lives devoid of value' can appear reasonable? So that they become 'evil-doers', 'enemies of freedom'? I begin to see that it requires that we become entranced by leaders and peers, perhaps reinforced by the cultural values of capitalism, convinced of the absolute ultimate rightness of our belief that to dominate is natural and inevitable. Why else would we be prepared to bystand the huge numbers of civilian casualties, as in Falluja (as I write there are 470 dead and perhaps a 1000 injured) plus those of Jenin and Shatilla, and Gaza?

If we are spellbound by a belief that domination is natural and inevitable, doesn't this amounts to the militarization of daily life, of warfare as a deeply defining value, or as I'd prefer, 'the myth we live by'? Recalling what I heard from Joel Kovel some years back about military combat training, the installation of twin opposites—dominate the enemy, behave aggressively, be willing and able to kill (i.e. deny the value of the life of the Other) AND be obedient - do exactly as instructed—qualifies it as trance induction—literally brain-washing—the shaping of discrimination so as to fail to notice the context of what we are doing. As Joel Kovel pointed out, this is psychologically hugely stressful. To bear it requires dissociation, splitting, internally failing to notice what is being felt and externally failing to note the context of our actions. In other words spellbound, and I guess this is what unites the US forces in the Falluja siege, and the English knights at the Limoges massacre in the 14th century, and I suspect, the rest of us non-innocent bystanders.

Tue, 20 Apr 2004

The Law of Conquest

The sun was shining and I'd had enough of human misery for the moment. I picked up my camera, went out, and walked a couple of blocks to take this picture of a statue high up on a recently restored building on the corner of rue St. André that had caught my eye a couple of weeks back.

Since I began to see through the spell that says that domination (and thus subordination) are natural and inevitable—to be accepted as a form of political 'weather' that we must learn to tolerate—I have begun to see the Law of Conquest—'Might is Right', 'Winner takes all' being celebrated in innumerable public places. Very often it's a man on a horse like here in Venice. Elsewhere, surprisingly often, it is one man crushing, stabbing, or bludgeoning another, like these images from my recent CD-ROM. People met in committees or coffee house and had discussions and commissioned artists to make these monuments, paid money, lots of money, for them. That's to say, at a deep psychic level they were buying images of what they believed to be true.

But back to the statuary... I often follow intuition on these matters and apart from the bright new gilding on this statue I wasn't sure why I found it so interesting. Closer study shows that it is probably a depiction of St Michael patron saint of Brussels. I dug a little deeper and found St Michael described as follows:

“Michael is our sword and our shield against evil. He is heaven's defender... Slayer of Dragons.... he is said to have been a friend of Lucifer before the fall of the Angels but became the Christian war cry against the Christian enemies, including Satan. Michael... . was taken up as patron by many of the military orders that formed around the Crusades... In the book of Revelation it is Michael who leads his heavenly armies against the Dragon (Revelation 12:7). ...He is the patron Angel of Israel... he is usually pictured in armor, carrying a lance or sword, often with his foot on the neck of a dragon... Saint Michael the Archangel, as leader of the heavenly army, was viewed as the patron of every Christian knight. Men went to Michael for protection in battle.....”

Something about this takes me by surprise. I hadn't much associated angels with the celebration of force and yet there it is. I have to get used to thinking of St Michael as the patron saint of bullying—as a match, if you like—for Jesus as the patron of subordination.

Ah... it's only history you say... and its true, it is history but it matters because we all have our history with us. In the UK “St Michael” is one of the dominant brands, for Marks and Spencer, (As I write this I'm wearing a “St Michael” shirt). What else is history but these stories that we tell each other to justify and rationalize our power and privilege? Or the lack of it? And the St Michael story is a story about the inevitability of enemies that have to be crushed, of intrinsic evil that has to be vanquished. Much easier I fancy, to vanquish, than to be good.

This unexpected opening of a yet another doorway to spirituality as a vehicle for the use, or channeling of force, makes me inclined to explore some more of the hidden fundamentalisms that we inhabit and that inhabit us.

As elsewhere in g.o.r.i.l.l.a., I tend work from the visual through to the inferences, or meaning that images or intuitions carry. Put another way I often have a gut feeling, an intuitive zizz, that an event or an image carries more than it surface appearance suggests.

How does this sit with our theme of inquiring into the phenomenon of domination? When driven by distress, spiritual beliefs can cement in place the building blocks of a 'literal truth', that once out in the world has to be obeyed, has to be defended, has to be imposed on others (This is not a polemic against spirituality, quite the reverse, spirituality as ongoing open-ended inquiry into the sacred has great intrinsic value). Spirituality allied with a belief that force and coercion are legitimate for the propagation and defense of the faith have proved to be poisonous like few other mental substances. Not only that, at the present time such beliefs are close at hand, even in the driving seat in several of the governments that are insisting we join their new world order. In a timely way, when I opened today's copy of the London Guardian here was an article by George Monbiot "Their beliefs are bonkers, but they are at the heart of power - US Christian fundamentalists are driving Bush's Middle East policy".

So how do we open this up further? How do we feel our way to loosening the bonds that tie us to over-rigid commitment, say to biblical truth? And how do we do it without 'attacking'? As I write this, my mind settles on this image, the front page of a UK newspaper, the Daily Express for Thursday September13th 2001, two days after the attacks that demolished the World Trade Center in New York. Making the presumption that Christianity is universal, its headline, over a picture of the devastation says 'Let us Pray'. A curious request to make of a nation that pays only lip service to Christian beliefs i.e. something to be deployed when there is a baptism, a wedding, a funeral. And people did indeed pray including the UK Prime minister and his wife, Kofi Annan, and Bill and Hilary Clinton.

What makes this Daily Express front page such an entrancing masterpiece of domination is the permanent everyday feature of its mast head, a crusader complete with sword, chain mail, and a shield with a cross on it.

Its been there on the top of the Daily Express since I was a child, it's part of the landscape, the psychic wallpaper. But how do you think it might look to someone not entranced by the idea of crusades as a good thing i.e. people who have been the victim of crusades, or who have chosen, wisely or not, to carry the collective history of Western (i. e. Christian) oppression—for example Osama bin Laden?

The Twin Towers attack was an appalling atrocity, a moment in history like few others. The Daily Express and other responses to it at the time and later have brought to the surface and made visible like never before (at least to me) the stories that powerful elites tell each to justify and rationalize the use of violence to gain advantage and keep privilege. The notion of crusade, 'war of the cross', is an example. Before someone close shussed him, President Bush even talked of a 'crusade', for example here, talking to troops in Alaska . John Hanchette of the 'Niagara Falls Reporter' opens out the story very well

A search of, for 'Crusader' brings up 454000 pages, I even recall having an indemnity policy with a 'Crusader Insurance Company'. The notion of 'crusade' is a popular and potent story that we in the west tell ourselves when we want to evoke a sense of the collective orchestration of the forces of good against evil. Here is recent religious example . But as John Hanchette so eloquently reminds us, in a world where populations of believers are no longer so remote from each other, people who were, and are still being oppressed by the crusades of hostility to Islam, especially in the Middle East, have another take on the idea. They see it as an icon of domination evoking the collective memory of invasion and butchery by Christian armies seeking to impose western i. e. Christian values and notions of 'freedom', as here in these images of the crusades by Gustave Doré that were popular in the 19th century and continuing today in this currently available crusader computer 'game'. Scenes full of knights and advanced technology of all shapes and sizes, who like President Bush, insisted that 'our cause is just, our cause is noble and we will defeat the forces of terror' even if, as in both sectors of history, it involves killing large numbers of civilians.

If you want to see how the crusades live on in us look no further than the way they introduced a couple of psychosocial innovations that are still with us. The First Crusade appears to have been orchestrated by Pope Urban 11 as a way of setting up an external enemy on which to direct extremely destructive local enmities; as the limits of extreme warlordism were being reached in medieval Europe the crusades demonstrated the economic value, if not virtue, of colonizing far away places, (the Doge of Venice financed the Crusade against the Constantinople in exchange for half the booty); lastly by coupling the Chivalric tradition to military action, the crusades consolidated the dissociation commonplace in Europe at the time, and subsequently in later imperial conquests, of technocratic 'knights' who celebrated violence and who spent their lives fighting, plundering, raping and pillaging, while claiming the high moral purposes of Christianity.

For more detail I recommend the book about the period I have been reading for weeks past, Barbara Tuchman's “A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century” and Dr. E. L. Skip Knox's History of the Crusades