The Celebrations & Tragedies in Art Imitating Life

The Arts for the most part imitate life. Despite all the recent hype surrounding the release of the anti-societal and violent video game ‘Grand Theft-Auto V’, there is often a genuine attempt to reflect some of the highest endeavors a civilized society is able to reach. The Arts can be a commemoration of all that is good in humanity. The gifted painters, writers, photographers, journalists, actors, actresses, singers, dancers, musicians, directors, producers, make-up artists, costume designers, and the myriad talented individual who contribute to the Arts in all its splendor are a celebration of what is good in life and are a sign post for any individual to aspire to if they seek goodness, truth and beauty in life. The Emmy Awards which took place a few hours ago are a testament to these reflections.
At the same time, the Arts remind us of our darker side. While the Emmys took place on one side of the world celebrating the make believe world of high drama, and Claire Danes a.k.a Carrie Mathison collected her Emmy for chasing fictituous terrorists, a very real life tragedy beyond measure was unfolding in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.
Real life terrorists, dressed in war regalia attacked a shopping mall. Inside there were no soldiers or army battalions, just people-parents and their kids, friends and families, going about their regular routine of shopping, dining, and enjoying themselves. The militants threw grenades and fired randomly at these people-none of whom they knew. Their wanton hate and destruction was aimed at an enemy in their minds- people, good people for the most part, who opposed the madness of their repressive religious ideology. As I watched in disbelief and horror at the unfolding drama on a news broadcast-it imitated so many of the violent, destructive themes which are passed off as ‘entertainment’ today. And I wondered for a very brief moment whether what I was seeing was real or fictitious, until a sickening feeling of shock and despair engulfed me for those caught up in this mindless, deplorable act of violence. It was real. I paused further to reflect on how we live in a world which has become desensitised to violence. The daily occurrences of suicide bombings, mass shootings, killings for pure pleasure, gun crime, terrorist attacks and the slaughter of innocents are packaged by among others, HBO, ABC and the corporate based film industry for peak hour viewing pleasure and during the pause in the series productions we are left with a live news coverage of similar acts to sustain us.
It used to be safe to go shopping in a mall and expect to return home. It used to be routine to go to our place of employment and do a decent days work and also expect to return home. But these are no longer givens as recent events in both Washington DC and Nairobi have shown us.
Does it appear that we are no longer safe no matter where we go? Movie theatres, schools, shopping malls, the workplace and even the home-our once upon a time last bastion of safety (if we are fortunate enough to have one) seem vulnerable to the sane madness of ordinary men and women and “wanna be terrorists” of today. Perhaps Art, in particular the multi-billion dollar a day entertainment industry could work at imitating some of the more decent human values of kindness, compassion, goodness and caring for one another-this could grow into the politics of hope for a better future, especially for the younger generations and those yet to be born.

Raising the Costa Concordia: A Celebration of Mankind’s Ingenuity & Determination in the face of Adversity

Salvaging the wreck of the cruise ship the Costa Concordia is a celebration of the marvels of engineering and the will power, determination and ingenuity of mankind. It is also a respectful remembrance to those who died in this very avoidable human tragedy.
Recovering the now rusted hulk of what was once a state of the art cruise liner began in earnest after it was run aground by its captain trying to impress friends and the public, not far from the Shore of Giglio Island, off the coast of Tuscany.
This extraordinary engineering feat involved building massive metal cradles on which the wrecked hull could rest once it had been pulled into a fully vertical position. These gigantic iron platforms were supported beneath by an artificial ocean floor made up of sacks filled with specially made reinforced concrete which would be able sustain the weight of the 114000 ton ship. Colossal metal boxes like ballast tanks were welded to the upright side of the liner and slowly filled with water as heavy-duty cables winched and rotated the ship, freeing it from the shackles of the shallow submerged reef.
Among the many human qualities and attributes the whole salvage operation celebrates are team work, international collaboration and cooperation, human intellectual and practical accomplishments, success and achievement in the face of adversity, and the inexhaustible, resilient nature of our human imagination. The latter a quality unique to humankind.
The Scottish Mountaineer, W. H. Murray captured in essence the esprit de corps of all those who worked on salvaging the Costa Concordia when he wrote:
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. *Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” (Murray, 1951)

References
Murray, W. (1951). The Scottish Himalayan Expedition. London: Dent.
•This part of the quote is often attributed to the German Philosopher and writer Goethe

Barack Obama-A Nobel Peace Laureate for our Times?

One of the key benefits of having a Nobel Peace Laureate as the leader of one of the most militaristic and aggressive countries in the West, is that he is able to hesitate, pause, reflect and think, before he orders cruise missiles to be launched into another sovereign state which is fighting a bitter insurrection and civil war.
The President of the United States of America Barrack Obama is under extraordinary political and military pressure to attack another self-governing, independent state. While to some extent this is of his own making (“the use of chemical weapons crosses a red line”) he has listened to his key allies, and to the Russians in deciding to wait before he issues the order to attack Syria. Fortunately for the rest of us Mr. Obama possesses key human qualities of rational thinking, reflection and understanding. Qualities which many of his predecessors have lacked, especially George W Bush and his administration who led the world to the point of no return following their illegal invasion of Iraq.
In his address at Cairo University in 2009 President Obama stated that “There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground. As the Holy Koran tells us, “Be conscious of God and speak always the truth.”
These are the decent, humane values which underpin this man’s political career and aspirations, his thoughtful and decent leadership qualities, as well as the directions in which he is attempting to lead his country and the world. He went on to say that “ We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security — because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children”. (Obama, 2009) So, it is in this context that American citizens and peoples of other countries need to situate his current stance on the Syrian Arab Republic and not in the politics of hate and disaffection which seems to taint and threaten America’s democracy in the 21st century.
Disaffected Democrat and Republican politicans and their supporters, along with war crazed peoples of the USA (and the world), caught up in their own blood lust, are calling for War and urging a catastrophic missile strike on the besieged Syrian state without any pause for reflection. They are caught up in their own narcissistic egos. They are filled with gloated pride and the faded ideas of war time glory, world domination and imperialistic grandeur. Shame on them! They have learned nothing from history or their countries covert and explicit involvement in wars outside of their immediate geo-political sphere over the past 70 years
President Obama continued “…events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible. Indeed, we can recall the words of Thomas Jefferson, who said: “I hope that our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be.” (Obama, 2009) This is a good and noble way of acting – to seek diplomatic solutions to world crises which may involve countries going to war. Indeed, it is the only way for a Nobel Peace Laureate to think and behave.
Those who talk of plots by the Russians and a new era of American appeasement and submission are enmeshed in their own webs of fear, trickery and deceit, and cannot see that the world is tired of war. The new age awareness of peace rather than war has never been erased from our consciousness, and we must work hard to keep it at the forefront of our critical thinking, awareness and understanding.
As one very fallible Nobel peace laureate recently said, “Too many tears have been shed. Too much blood has been shed. All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when mothers… can see their children grow up without fear; when the Holy Land of the three great faiths is the place of peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed, peace be upon them, joined in prayer” (Obama, 2009).
We need to pray in our respective traditions and cultures for peace in Syria, and throughout the world, and if we don’t believe in prayer we need to think positively and hope for a world where kindness and compassion are the core values we live by, rather than anger and aggression and the fear and ever present danger of war.
References

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-by-the-President-at-Cairo-University-6-04-09

Exorcisms & The Problem of Evil in the Modern World

In a world ravaged by war, poverty, indifference, environmental degradation, human avarice and exploitation and general uncertainty we could be forgiven for thinking that our pale blue dot in a lonely universe is an evil place, the actual personification of the dark side. But it is too easy to lump all the negatives together and apply a universal term like evil to them-especially when the root causes of these issue are to be found in our own actions and behaviors and the simple truth that all of these major problems are caused by us. So the question of evil becomes more subtle and more complex.
The term is bandied about today without any real understanding. The meaning is still associated with the actions of demons such as Lucifer or Beelzebub found in the Judaic-Christian school of belief and understanding. These traditional and culturally bound concepts of evil have long been misrepresented, misunderstood and misinterpreted, especially in literature and film. But they seem to still have a place in our demon haunted world if a recent report by Lucy Wallis of the BBC’s news magazine is credible. (Wallis, 2013)
She reports on three teenage girls in the United States of America (where else!!) who perform ritual exorcisms on people who require them. Brynne Larson and Tess and Savannah Scherkenback are middle class, white conservative Christian girls who travel throughout the US and internationally performing ritual exorcisms on people who believe they are afflicted by demon possession. The girls, according to Wallis, see themselves as ‘freedom fighters’ waging a war on evil in the world. Sound familiar? It’s the kind of rhetoric which American leaders have been using for decades-the war on drugs, the war on terror and so on, so it’s no surprise that impressionable teenage girls would pick up on such carefully constructed propaganda and turn it into their very own cause célèbre. The girls are pictured with their perfectly coiffured highlighted hair, make-up and body hugging clothing, thrusting silver crosses into the lens of the camera. It could be a still scene from a fantasy-horror movie, but more frightening than that it captures a real life event. The girls take their exorcism crusade very, very seriously.
Among their strongly held beliefs are the idea that the United Kingdom is infested with necromancy, sorcery and bewitchment because of the vast popularity of the Harry Potter books. They are convinced that every single country has a specific kind of demon and those demons possess a person and cause suffering, unhappiness and all kinds of addictions. They claim when someone sins or does something wrong this allows a demon to enter into them. They understand themselves and believe themselves to be “enforcers’ who can take on demons. Their language is the language of street gangs and talk show television where they “look forward to kicking some demon butt”. (Wallis, 2013)
So how do upper middle class all American school girls become exorcists? Firstly, they were home schooled, which means they were denied access to a balanced, liberal arts educational program which encourages critical thinking, reasoned thought processes and the development of a rational view of the world. Secondly, the man who created and groomed the youngsters is the father of one and the pastor of the other two. He argues that ‘training’ the girls to perform exorcisms is a more noble and spiritual cause in a society rampant with lewdness, drunkenness and sexual promiscuity. Moreover in asking for money for these ritual performances he further asserts that it is unacceptable for people to expect spiritual services to be free of charge. His wife shares this irrational view of a demon haunted world and supports her husband and daughter in their work as “exorcists who are making a difference…” (Wallis, 2013) The mother of one of the girls abdicates total responsibility for grooming her daughter’s delusional thinking and behavior by arguing that “I didn’t really keep her from doing deliverances, but I didn’t discourage her.” (Wallis, 2013)
The parents of these girls are considered normal solid citizens, who love God and country-good living Christian folk. They are ordinary. Yet, in their ordinariness, with its thin veil of social respectability they have acted in an evil way. They have deceived their children into believing in a demon haunted world, and have coerced them into a delusional, irrational world view in which the girls believe they have some magical, divinely inspired power which allows them to cast out fictitious demons from the minds and bodies of the lonely, poor, neurotic, depressed, addicted and worried well in our societies. The parents of these girls are evil. In their incorruptible, inflated sense of self-righteousness they see everyone else who does not hold their world view as evil. And it is precisely because of their own self-conceited blindness to the harm they have caused their children in inflating and nurturing the girls’ delusions of grandeur as exorcists, that they are evil. They have psychologically abused and manipulated their children into believing that they are above reproach and must cleanse the world of others who do not fit their image and likeness, through using their carefully crafted silver crosses and Bibles.
But perhaps what is most disturbing in this story is that the girls and their parents are not displeasing to themselves, there’s no self-recrimination or regret only a blind faith in a discredited religious practice which has no place in modernity. It is lack of critical intelligence, humility, compassion and self understanding which denotes them all as malevolent in some way. Instead of exorcising the evil out of others, they ought to be healing the sickness in themselves. The artifice which goes into protecting the self image of moral purity and righteousness of these girls and their parents and those who condone their delusional practices are not so much designed to deceive others, as to deceive themselves, and that’s why they are evil.

References
Wallis, L. (2013). Teen Exorcists” The girls who expel demons on stage. London: BBC News Magazine.

A World at War with Itself

No country in the history of humanity has been spared the evils of war. We know that terrible suffering, deprivation and death are its end result. To argue that even The Great War (1915-1918), the so called war to end all wars was justified is a lie and a fallacy in the face of overwhelming historical evidence. The madness of WWI left fifteen million dead because two rancorous cousins didn’t see eye to eye. The world has been at war with itself since antiquity. White (2012) lists some of the more reliable figures on how brutal we have been to each other:
Number of Dead
66 million Second World War
40 million Mao Zedong (mostly famine)
40 million Genghis Khan
27 million British India (mostly famine)
25 million Fall of the Ming Dynasty
20 million Taiping Rebellion
20 million Joseph Stalin
18½ million Mideast Slave Trade
17 million Timur Lenk
16 million Atlantic Slave Trade
15 million First World War
15 million Conquest of the Americas
13 million An Lushan Revolt
10 million Xin Dynasty
10 million Congo Free State
9 million Russian Civil War
7½ million Thirty Years War
7½ million Fall of the Yuan Dynasty
7 million Fall of Rome

I was born in New Zealand, 8 years after the end of WWII and 10 days before the cessation of hostilities between North & South Korea. I grew up during the Vietnam War and missed the draft by a month. My cousin was not as fortunate as he fought in Vietnam, and many years later killed himself as a result of the trauma he experienced during that war. My father suffered irreversible psychological trauma as a result of his experiences as a soldier in WWII. I have been exposed to the realities of war throughout my whole life-Asia, the Middle East and the US led covert wars in South America, although I acknowledge that this is somewhat insignificant when one remembers the men, women and children of the Middle East and the occupied territories including Gaza, who have known nothing other than war for generations.
Today history seems bound to repeat itself as the United States attempts to rally support for a military strike on the Syrian Arab Republic, which has been afflicted with an internal civil war since 2011. The question for the West, in particular the United States of America is how much good will their intervention will bring to humankind? Taking the high moral ground in any conflict blinds us to the evils of war. And such evils are not just to be found in a body count. They include social and economic deprivation, the abandonment of a sense of moral purpose which holds a society together and the rampant inhumane behaviour which ensues. But of all the evils of war the most ugly and self perpetuating is the abandonment to pure hatred and injustice and the stripping away of the dignity and integrity of the individual person. (Russell, 1915)
What the United States is advocating is a war of principle and history teaches us that no authentic principle of value to humankind can ever be imposed at the end of a gun or through launching cruise missiles or unleashing nuclear or chemical weapons.
The current torpor which is gripping the world today over Syria is described succinctly in the late Bertrand Russell’s summation of war WWI:
“The objects, for which men have fought in the past, whether just or unjust, are no longer to be achieved by wars amongst civilized nations. A great weight of tradition, of financial interests, of political insincerity, is bound up with the anachronism of international hostility. It is, however, perhaps not unreasonable to hope that the present war, which has shocked the conscience of mankind more than any war in previous history, may produce a revulsion against antiquated methods, and may lead the exhausted nations to insist upon the brotherhood and co-operation which their rulers have hitherto denied them. There is no reason whatever against the settlement of all disputes by a Council of Powers deliberating in public. Nothing stands in its way except the pride of rulers who wish to remain uncontrolled by anything higher than their own will. When this great tragedy has worked itself out to its disastrous conclusion, when the passions of hate and self-assertion have given place to compassion with the universal misery, the nations will perhaps realize that they have fought in blindness and delusion, and that the way of mercy is the way of happiness for all” (Russell, 1915)
The civil war in Syria should not be seen in isolation from the numerous ongoing wars of today or others wars throughout history. It is an abhorrent spectacle of men bloated with pride fighting over some kind of lost and misguided principle related to vague concepts of religion and culture while holding on to power and control no matter what the human cost.
Tolstoy argued that all war is a crime. I agree with him. Rational justifications for war tend to be very subjective and more often than not are based on opinion and constitute an attempt to apply some kind of moral principle to an emerging or ongoing conflict. (Russell, 1915)
The civil war in Syria is a crime against humanity. The rag tag group of rebels and their affiliates, along with the Syrian army are both guilty of war crimes. Their use of conventional and chemical weapons and how they justify the ongoing atrocities each is committing in the name of their culture, religion and respective political affiliations is barbaric and has no place in a civilised world. Yet, Military action by the West will widen the conflict and may engulf the world in yet another major war. The only solution is through diplomatic and political dialogue and negotiation, and through engaging with the minds of men, in which the seeds of war are sown in the first instance. It’s madness to fight outside ourselves when the ongoing struggle is within.

References
Russell, B. (1915). The Ethics of War. International Journal of Ethics, Vol 25, No2, 127-142.
White, M. (2012, January 1). Selected Death Tolls for Wars, Massacres and Atrocities Before the 20th Century. Retrieved from Twentieth Century Atlas: http://necrometrics.com/pre1700a.htm