Lao Tzu

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” – Lao Tzu

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Necessity of Bearing Witness: from War Crimes, to PTSD, to Peace

Bearing Witness I

Eighteen American veterans per day die by suicide.   Let us not forget them, even while we remember what they could not forget:
Claimed filed by Iraqi civilian for compensation under the Foreign Claims Act. The Foreign Claims Commission describes the incident as follows: ‘The claimant alleges that on 2 December 2005, U.S. forces raided her house, killed her son and took her car, some money, gold, and furniture. The amount requested is $35,000.’ The Iraqi witness statements go in to more depth. According to the Claimant's statement, US Forces knocked on her door and she let them in. They took her and her daughter to a room, meanwhile they arrested her older son and placed a bag over his head, when her younger son saw this he began to run and was shot 11 times by US Forces and thrown off of a roof. His body was not returned to the family and the family located it 26 days later in the morgue. The older son was released after being held by US Forces for five days. The mother filed a complaint against the US Forces wherein she wrote: ‘After 26 days we found him at the [morgue]. I want to ask why the Coalition Forces lied to about this subject and they said they took him to Salman Pak? Why did they kill my son? What he had done to the Coalition Forces?’ The claim was settled for $10,000.” 
Bearing Witness II

Last night I saw  the movie Triage, with Colin Farrell. While its flaws as film detracted (frustratingly clipped editing, giving many scenes a rushed feeling), it nevertheless touched importantly on the atrocity that is war and the severe damage done to anyone who goes there.

It’s the story of a photojournalist who comes home from a Kurdistan war zone with undiagnosed PTSD, which is exacerbated by an unresolved, secret shame. His bearing witness to mad slaughter and tragedy via photography was one thing; bearing witness to his own psychological trauma was another, the most difficult and painful journey of his life. With the help of a wise old psychotherapist, he makes it through, when he reveals to his wife the guilty mystery of his friend’s disappearance, out loud and properly told in truth.

Bearing Witness III

Yesterday, while reading outdoors, I spotted a dove resting in the middle of my garden. I nearly missed her, for she was perfectly still and camouflaged against the dry soil and grayed oak planter behind her. I thought, “What a smart dove you are to choose that spot to rest in—what predator would see you there, so quietly blending with your surroundings?” But why she was there at all, I couldn’t tell.

It was such a rare event. Doves visit my place regularly, to eat from the feeder on the balcony, or to sit in the pine tree, but never do they stay ground-level for more than a minute or two. Cats are always present; coyotes, occasionally. Jasmine, my adoptee cat, was there yesterday too, napping on the patio bench, then later moving to her look-out tree to groom herself—without once noticing the dove.

I kept an eye on the dove for two hours, while I read my book, until about 7:45 p.m.  During that time, I worried over her, using my binoculars to get an up-close view. She hardly moved, except for blinking her perfect round eye and rotating her head this way and that; I could not see if she was wounded, or stunned, or just plain frozen with fear. I was tempted to approach her to get the answer and rescue her if need be. But something held me back— “Let’s trust in nature’s wisdom and just wait and see...”  I would go to her, but only if a predator approached.

Then, as day’s end and darkness approached, she began to relax, to test herself, moving to another position, extending her wings, flapping them briefly, tentatively.  And that’s when, with a long stretch of her neck toward the near-by pine, she took off, up into the branches, where she disappeared.

I don’t know exactly why this event made me as happy as it did. Most people wouldn’t be attached to a mere bird’s success, so very happy about a dove’s flight to safety, after a long, fearful wait. It’s one thing to be relieved and glad for the bird. But such inner hoorays...I don’t know.

Perhaps the event reminded me of something. Perhaps it just felt right, the symbol of peace, having been sent into hiding, to bide her time in a dangerous world, then at last swooping up to safety to live for another day. After all, couldn’t it be true— spirit long denied; spirit finally freed and made whole again?

Bearing Witness IV:

The rarely-visited issue of Military Sexual Trauma:

Psychotherapy for victims.

Interview, Eli Painted Crow, addresses the calling back of the spirit after war trauma, among other issues, excellently—also, touches on the disconnect between the heart and thinking within military life.
"For us, warriors are not what you think of as warriors. The warrior is not someone who fights, because no one has the right to take another's life. The warrior, for us, is one who sacrifices himself for the good of others. His task is to take care of the elderly, the defenseless, those who cannot provide for themselves, and above all, the children, the future of humanity."

...also just taking a moment to bear witness to such a welcome notion of "warrior."

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Art of Politics: Honest Bastards, Phonies, and Authentic Spirits

“The most essential skill in political theater and a consumer culture is artifice. Political leaders, who use tools of mass propaganda to create a sense of faux intimacy with citizens, no longer need to be competent, sincere, or honest. They need only to appear to have these qualities.”  —Chris Hedges, Empire of Illusion, the End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle

In a lighthearted mood leading up to the 2008 election, I wrote the following:

“Among the worst lies George W. Bush has told is the one where he insists, ‘we do not torture.’ That was a doozy.

      I don’t know where he gets that. I mean, he tortures me every time his goofy self appears on television. All it takes is the sight of his bow-legged, cock-strut across the White House lawn, and my face goes twitchy, just like Clouseau’s torture victim Chief Inspector Dreyfus. Then, as soon as he opens his mouth, and his words wrangle their way toward my ears, hinting of a sloppy, sottish past (is the drinking in fact past?) — ‘Thish is an impresshhive crowd -- the havezsh and the have morezsh. Shome people call ya th’ elite -- Ah call you mah bayshe’— I cringe.  What can I say? It’s painful—he might as well be pigging on hot dog, smacking and chewing with his mouth open. 

     I don’t know if I can make it to January 20, 2009, without some kind of intervention on the guy. Like impeachment.

      Help!  Please, my friends, bring us a President who at least honors the Office of the Presidency —for a change— with eloquence, a resonant voice, and, even if he isn’t going to bring us Medicare for all, even if he supports 'clean' coal and 'free' trade, at least he has the ability to think on his feet and speak coherently.

      I think you know who that is. It is NOT John McCain.

      McCain. Think about that. It’s bad enough that he is painfully uncomfortable in his own skin, that is, physically, yes, but metaphorically in his ethics, values and opinions too; but the spector of McCain in the Presidency is nearly as horrifying as that which resides there now; we’re talking asymmetrical, puddin’ face, stiff-joints, a nasal tonality and an inspirational deficiency that simply will not improve with time. It’s only gonna get worse, Folks. You vote for McCain, and it will be nothing but four more years of Bush crimes against our aesthetic sensibilities. Don’t do it.

      What it boils down to is this: do you want four years of goose bumps, or facial tics? The choice is clear.”

To be fair to myself, I was never entirely seduced by Obama. I knew of his duplicitous character way before the day I voted for him. The surface charm, his affable presence, never quite erased the memory of his having voted for telecom immunity after promising not to vote for it. And I’ve never been one to judge by anything but behavior, with “trust only movement” my mantra for many years. However, with that one small lapse of critical judgment in comparing those two political choices, I could see the upside, as wobbly as it was, of a vote for the first black President of the United States. Besides, sometimes you have to allow yourself to be seduced just long enough for your seducer to reveal his true character— “give ‘em enough rope, and they will eventually hang themselves,” as the saying goes.

Now that Mr. Obama has revealed himself and decided, apparently, to push Social Security and Medicare over the cliff, along with grandma, along with the poor, the middle class, and everything the Democratic Party is supposed to stand for, hey, what I wouldn’t give now for an honest bastard in the presidency! What I wouldn’t give for a president who, while he might not be the virtual embodiment of eloquence and grace, would not represent, every time he opened his mouth, the political equivalent of kitsch, aesthetically speaking; that is, sly-sentimental propaganda, a pretense of art, charming lies. At least when Bush spoke, the aesthetic was consistent with the corrupt nature of his soul; with Obama, the inconsistency between the aesthetic, the presentation, vs. his behavior —eloquence, calm, while screwing us and slaughtering every known progressive virtue and principle known to all— sickens beyond the worst any artless villain can inflict on the wounded sensibilities of my inner citizen.

Let’s face it: Obama is the political equivalent of kitsch in the art world—he’s the Thomas Kincaid of politics, a phony who offers us nothing but pretty lies, a betrayal of authentic commitment.

As for the authentic spirits —the authentics in the art of politics— I would mention Bernie Sanders, Dennis Kucinich, Ralph Nader, Elizabeth Warren, Barbara Boxer, Raúl M. Grijalva and Keith Ellison, among others.

That our most authentic progressives have been marginalized paints another picture, though, one of America as captive to a kitsch-loving mentality that defies all cures short of wiping it all away and starting over, with a commitment to uncompromising ethics, where democracy itself is not marginalized, and truth reigns. Otherwise, we’re stuck with the spirit of uber-capitalist, masculinist values of power, domination and competition that permeate the entirety of society, from the elite ruling class all the way through to Facebook and