Saturday, 15 January 2011


The End of Conflict - Avinadav Begin: 

"Chapter 34:

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.

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