Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Modern Contemplative in Wartime

It is difficult to live the life of a contemplative in an age so fraught with strife, iniquity, and callousness. History, replete though it may be with violent conflict, has until recent decades never presented so many individuals with the threats we face today. Climate change, global war, and the spread of preventable disease, despite our collective ability to end such horrors, are epidemic. It is hard to make sense of a world where so many individuals struggle under these and other pervasive oppressions, with meaningless employment or debt, while the unimaginably wealthy, who profit from these struggles of others, cloister themselves away from the misery they’ve wrought.

When by the hands of ruthless oligarchs, lobbyists, and corrupt legislators, employment is systematically converted into a form of global oppression, there are relatively few problems that can be directly confronted by individuals, who are enslaved by market forces and daily distracted by unnecessary struggles. One turns perhaps to anger, violence, indulgence, or subservience as means towards the cessation of one’s struggles, if only for temporary release from bewilderments that render one deaf or mute before the presence of seemingly insurmountable corruptions, which threaten by their weight and inertia to drag down or hold back even the most simple of aspirations.

The contemplative of the Globalizing era, who seeks to struggle against war without engaging in violence, to procure sustenance without engaging in exploitation or oppression, who must look inwards while the sounds of the city beg endless distractions, must contend with an array of strange influences which the archetypal contemplatives of ages past were able to avoid; our present state of media saturation ensures that even if one does not watch commercial television, one is still made aware every time Tom Cruise has a baby.

Lovers of nature and seekers of simplicity are today most often without recourse to agrarian self-sufficiency or freedom from an increasingly invasive media landscape. Although by enculturation we lack personal knowledge of the ways of the seasons, of the soil, and of the stars, we move mountains, carve valleys and craters, redirect rivers, and create lakes. We shape the earth with machinery and color the heavens with the din of sodium vapor electrified, and claim dominion over the air itself with bands of electromagnetic radiation that turn the ionosphere into a deadly weapon. And what outrage will halt these machinations?

Anger, violence, indulgence... a fearful subservience before these unnatural powers, which can take from men and women their livelihoods or their lives with the stroke of a pen or the push of a button...

For all our modern refinement, we mask the visage of war in grotesque displays of nationalism and sacrifice, and deny our “savage” forbearers the nobility of their insights into the horrors of violence. The Vikings who fought their battles hallucinating on mushrooms, or the Aztec priests who, in ecstatic trances, tore out the living hearts of youths knew that to obscure the nature of violence was a grievous error that their civilization could not endure.

The symbolic lessons of our Western culture are so often buried under the clinical verbiage of disease and disorder that we no longer see why we inscribe our skin with tattoos, pierce our flesh, or why at birth we mutilate the genitals of our boys (to remind us all how powerless we shall be at the time of our death). Our clinical rituals are designed to hide from us any inkling we shall one day perish, while at the same time, on the other side of the globe, we cause scores of senseless deaths and permit the brutalization of the innocent for the sake of some man’s profit.

We have stockpiles enough of weapons to defeat any adversary by way of wiping clean the planet of our race, yet we continue to invest more resources in our military than our education, our art, and our starving citizens combined. Although our military expenditures are equal to those of the next nine most industrialized nations together, we encounter great difficulties gaining ground against insurgents in an impoverished plot of land in the middle of the desert: what can this mean but that war is some madman’s game, who defines victory how he sees fit? How can this be more sensible than peace?

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