The End of Conflict - Avinadav Begin:
These thousands of years men have been legislating laws to organise society and minimise the violence in it - state laws and religious laws, international laws and commercial laws. See, for instance, the Hague Convention. It is supposed to determine what is moral and what is immoral in a time of war, through the formulation of laws. It seeks to make war more moral, more tolerable. Eminent judges in polished shoes sit in air-conditioned halls and discuss "rules of war". What nonsense man can create to justify the violence seething within him.
If I try to subordinate myself to something external, to adapt myself to the law, it will always create friction and conflict between the inside and out, always create distortion. There will always be an aspiration to become "something". This something can look wonderful, be serene, calm, spiritual, moral, wise. But there will always be a gap between what I am and what the external asks for. The inherent contradiction between the two - between what we are and what we aspire to be - is the source of violence.
Violence can end only when there is no more conflict between inside and out, when you don't aspire to become any thing, when you reject every truth you've heard, when you cease to separate yourself from the rest of humanity, from the world, from the whole universe."
To call this simplistic would be to make a dramatic understatement. The laws of war have saved hundreds of thousands - probably millions - of lives, and polished shoes do happen to clash with my set of aesthetic prejudices too, but there's certainly nothing remotely wrong with air-conditioning. The definition of violence itself is very selective here. It could also be defined as "intimidating people into doing what we want" or "the infliction of bodily and mental harm", and it is probably more these last two aspects that the various humanitarian law conventions have tried to and succeeded in mitigating.
Still, whatever Begin's actually against, what he's for is very clearly love. To talk about love is considered trite because we've spent so long prostituting the concept - paying lip-service to it without making any genuine attempt to take it to its logical conclusion - but Begin does. The main point being made, here as well as in the Tao Te Ching, is that devotion to love means, first and foremost, abstention from its opposite. Saying "This I will not be a part of, because it's thousands of years of a tradition which is shit".
The opposite of love is not hatred. And not, I think, as is often suggested, indifference. I think that violence, too, is too broad a term to suffice, for the reasons I mentioned earlier. I'd go for "repression". There's a (hypothetical) mode of living that is based on and around love, and there's the alternative people adopt when they're too terrified of the emancipating opportunities and open questions involved to embrace it. Instead they embrace laws.
I'm going to randomly throw out "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" in the full knowledge that this will influence nobody to read or reread it, but one of the more dominant themes in it is the view of intellectual analysis and scientific inquiry as a "knife" that brutally dichotomises our existence into "true" and "false", bringing order but also suffocating us under a blanket of insipid and alienating homogeneity. That book was better than most such "spiritually"-oriented works at recognising the need and value we nonetheless have in the scientific and systematic pursuit of order - the laws of war are an excellent example of its utility in terms of human welfare, despite the smugly disregardful attitude most people enjoy adopting towards it - but it insisted that to continue to categorise and catalogue our existence anywhere beyond where it is very strictly necessary is to completely miss the fucking point.
A mission-based life - socially, politically, romantically - is a life based on something other than love for people and for ourselves. Specifically, it's based on distracting us. If there's a set of criteria we can constantly try and consistently fail to meet, it can easily divert our attention from the fact that we have no understanding of what we're doing and how we got here. We can make ourselves too busy to even notice we're alienated. It's as effective a way as any of wasting our every waking second, but if we ever actually decide to live we'll have no choice but to embrace the chaotic and "anarchic" reality of a life based on nothing except love. And no doubt it will also result in us being less violent for transparently stupid reasons. It will make less sense.
Friday, 14 January 2011
I finally got around to taking out Menachem Begin's grandson's book – the one that made the news about a year ago when it came out for being leftist to an extent they're trying very hard to make it illegal to be in this country. That's kind of a dismissive way of describing it, so I'll add that his first name is Avinadav, the book is called The End of Conflict (though I don't think there's an English version), and it's actually surprisingly good.
It seems deliberately modeled after the Tao Te Ching, but maybe that's a commoner format than I think and I'm just drawing from my limited pool of literary comparison. In any case, in style as well as content it could be accused of slight pretentiousness, but I think it's worth bearing with. Whether intended or not, it does have a certain Chinese flavour to it, and it's kind of par for the course for that kind of thing to be a little over-stylised and didactic. Two of its very short "chapters" spoke very specifically to what I keep trying to talk about here, and seemed to give something of an insight as to how my separate tangents may be linked. These chapters, translated below, immediately follow one another in what seems like a seldom-made statement about the spirituality of politics. There's more than a small chance that this won't become entirely clarified from the translated text, but the important thing is that I know what I'm talking about. More or less. Begin is in italics.
Hanukkah, Sukkot, Passover, Yom Kippur, Ramadan, Eid Al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, Independence Day, Holocaust Remembrance Day , the Nakba, birthdays, brit milah, bar mitzvah, wedding, funerals. Festivals and ceremonies; national, religious, personal. Why do we need them? We repeat them compulsively, year after year, time after time. They constitute for us a rock in troubled seas. We hold on to the time markers and are afraid to let go.
The ceremonies constitute peaks within a homogeneous sequence of superficial and cold life, a great excitement for a single moment. Whole lives pass over us without direct relation to reality, to the forming and emerging existence. We try to connect to it through ceremony, trying to dredge up some depth from the shallowness consuming us. In our day-to-day routine we are indifferent to the labouring ant, to the weed waving in the wind, to the beggar lying in the street; indifferent to asylum seekers without a roof over their heads, indifferent to suffering, indifferent to love. We allow it to penetrate for a small moment when the glass is broken underneath the HUPA, when we see a couple kissing in the street or witness a car accident, but immediately we go back to our concerns, to routine, back to thinking about ourselves. Our souls swim in circles of shallow water. We have no clarity. Our empty heart is full of anger and bitterness.
The ceremonies and festivals, events and rituals are part of a conditioning mechanism meant to create a cultural person, that functions in the social arena within obtuse, mechanical conventions. Like a dog bringing back a thrown ball, we become moved when a flag is raised, a ring is worn, a birthday candle is snuffed out or the singing of the anthem is heard. We are moved at the right time by the right thing, sad on a memorial day for a friend or relative and happy on a birthday or the day of the nation's independence. Happiness and sadness by demand.
This isn't true identification with suffering or joy, this is conditioning. This is a mind carefully tamed since a young age, through promises of reward and punishment, under a steamroller of conformance to the collective, fearful of peculiarity, of judgement and criticism. A tamed mind, its horizons always narrow, will always look for an owner. Can I observe the mechanism that makes my mind a tool in the hands of others?
Can I live in a world devoid of the false mannerisms of this insanity? Can I live an existence without marking of time, with no place for ceremony and gesticulation,with no need for the marking of territory, for declarations to the public, for declarations to the self, with no place for rehearsal, for ritual?
Let us observe our mind - how it thinks, how it ties knots. Such an abundance of knots leaves it stuck in place, unable to escape its contradictions.
The observation itself, the question, the echo returning - will start unravelling knots.
Throw a stone into a lake, observe the stone, the impact on the water, watch the forming ripples, observe the throwing hand.
The act of observation has power, it will start collapsing walls.
It will expose the heart."
I'm going to get carried away and also give you the ending paragraph of chapter 19, which is also quoted on the back cover:
"It's not possible to love a country or a nation, not possible to love a land or an anthem, this isn't love but lordliness and possessiveness; it's the mind clinging to what gives it security, a promise of force and power. Force corrupts the heart, force does not discern beauty, force leads only to pain."
And all this somehow has to do with my "social life", which no longer seems cynical or superficial enough to warrant that handle and that will therefore be tentatively re-dubbed "my relationships with people that are on some level or another based on love." When you have love, you don't really need any of the other bullshit, and when you don't have love, all you're operating on is bullshit and are effectively wasting good sleeping time.
I would like to be free of ritual. Almost all of what I do, all the time, is purely obfuscation. I think I do this much more than most people but that doesn't really even matter. Everybody, in life in general, constantly has to choose between predictability & approval and conduct that isn't entirely meaningless and divorced from who they are, and most people consistently make the wrong decision. It's a question of deciding to love. It is not reconcilable with the desire to never have life surprise or disappoint you - to never feel anything. Down with Big Brother.