What Problem?

“We are not allowed to kill innocent people. We are not allowed to be complicit in murder. We are not allowed to be silent while preparations for mass murder proceed in our name, with our money, secretly. … Thou shalt not kill; we are not allowed to kill. Everything today comes down to that – everything.”
Daniel Berrigan
Court testimony during the trial of the Plowshares Eight, 1981
see http://ncronline.org/blogs/road-peace/daniel-berrigan-essential-writings

Today’s NY Times has the left front page above the fold headline “BUSH PANEL FINDS BIG FLAWS REMAIN IN U.S. SPY EFFORTS.” No doubt. But the problem is not that supposed. There are indeed problems with U.S. spy efforts, but it is not that intelligence is so poor, although it is certainly that far too much of the time. Rather, one problem is that the intelligence agencies are willfully wrong. That is another way, of course, of saying they are lying. This is nothing new. That is what they do, their mission, so to speak. It is in the nature of spook work to obfuscate, to mislead, and to direct history toward their particular world-view. The work of the CIA, for decades, since the forming of the agency after WWII, has been to direct events to increase the power of the U.S. Truth and “intelligence” have nothing to do with it. The FBI? Well, for most of its existence it was run by J. Edgar Hoover. ‘Nuff said.

It is foolhardy or willful to pretend that intelligence agencies are only trying to keep government (read executive) leaders informed. Intelligence agencies have an agenda. It isn’t even hidden. But it is deceptive.

But this is not what is troubling me today. I see another problem, a more serious problem in the immediate context. If U.S. spy efforts are flawed, then it is the fault of the spooks if we do things wrong, not the fault of the administration. Poor Bush, he is only a victim! Not so. Voices from every direction and from every vantage point clearly brought out the truth well before the invasion of Iraq. The ideologues had their own agenda. The decision to invade Iraq was made many years earlier, predating even the first election of Bush. It matters not whether reasons were true or false. In fact, they were patently false. Everything about this war is a lie.

Everything about this war is a lie. Yes. It is a powerful psychological factor about belligerents. They are always victims! This cynical, manipulative modus operandi is true no matter where on the spectrum of ideology or religious motivation the violence originates. If the violent one is not a victim, then he/she must admit to a heart that is less than pure. If one is not responding as a victim, then one is acting as a perpetrator. It matters not that the violence is claimed to arise from pure motives. This hypocrisy cannot be confirmed. Some are violent from “held beliefs.” They cannot see the violence in their own hearts. Others are well aware of the contradictions in their words and their actions.

This should not be surprising to intelligent observers, but apparently is. So now we come to the heart of the matter. This atrocious violence could not occur without the complicity of the people. The American people, for it is they who are in my mind as I am an American, do not want to know. If they knew, they would have either to resist such violence, or admit they are intimately involved, by acquiescence, at least, and by active approval, at worst. If we were to admit our tacit or explicit involvement, we would have to admit to participation in the slaughter of innocents. I believe most people to not want to think of themselves as killers. Others do not mind at all. For those who do not want this self-image, there is a dilemma, a self-evident dilemma. The solution? Pretend that U.S. motives are not tainted, but arise from the essential goodness of America and Americans.

So, that is the problem. It is said, with justification, that one cannot solve a problem until the problem is admitted. If the problem is denied, then it requires no solution, it does not exist. Yet it is not that simple. It cannot be that an entire population is in denial. Yet it is so. Well, not without encouragement. Which brings us to the milieu in which we live. In our particular case, capitalism. It is not my intent here to urge workers of the world to man the barricades. It is my intent to simply point out some truths that are hard to acknowledge. It is a commonplace that capitalism must have expansion to function. Without everlasting expansion, of markets, of output, of consuming, the whole facade collapses. Ergo, human beings become economic units that exist to consume. This needs an engine, a driving force. That force is desire. We are taught to desire, to acquire, in a word, to consume. Today we want SUVs. We are brought to believe that we must have that SUV. But wait, the market is becoming saturated. Virtually everyone has an SUV. Well, it’s time to create another desire. Very few who are not the creators of desire are even aware of this process. Sadly, even those who are do not want it to change!

So, desire, covetousness, envy drive our lives. Intolerable, surely. Well, not if it is denied. We do not admit we are manipulated. If we did, we would have to confess to the empty hollow lives we lead. This used to be called cognitive dissonance, a term that is now deprecated. Nevertheless it is descriptive. Cognitive dissonance must be repressed. When it is repressed, then all manner of violence becomes possible. Why? Because if the contradictions of our lives are revealed, we must own up to our complicity in the eternal violence of the world.

Suppose we were to give up our desires, our seeming need forever to have more, and more. What would be left to us? In fact, almost nothing. There is no mechanism of escape without a reformulation of our way of seeing the world and ourselves in it.

The Buddha said that existence is suffering. The only way to escape the suffering of existence is to renounce desire. Almost no one in our society can deal with this, or even to grasp the concept. So suffer we must, and suffer we do. If we deny the essential truth, if instead we place ourselves as victims, we can then continue as before. We perpetuate our privilege. But is au fond a privilege to make others into “collateral damage,” which is declared to be unavoidable and therefore acceptable. To deny that we are participants in unspeakable acts of violence, against innocents and not so innocent alike, is to deny our humanity, our place as God’s children.

If God loves all his children without exception and equally, then God loves the most violent terrorist. And God loves the drug-addled pilot who drops bombs or fires missiles at innocent and belligerent alike. “We are not allowed to kill.”

May peace come to us all.

In a future post, I’d like to suggest a way out of this predicament, a path to peace. In the words of A. J. Muste, “There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.”

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>