The tiniest sign of humanness

Human dignity is inviolable

(Image: Article 1 of Germany’s constitution, “Human dignity is inviolable”, inscribed on the walls of the Regional Court of Frankfurt, Main, at the request of Fritz Bauer)

Fritz Bauer, Attorney General in the Auschwitz trial, said in an interview for the Hessian Radio (HR) in 1964 that he was waiting for “the tiniest sign of humanness” from the people sitting in the prosecution bench towards the surviving witnesses whose families had been completely wiped out. The victims’ families, all of Germany and the world could breathe a sigh of relief then [arte film documentary “Fritz Bauer, Generalstaatsanwalt, Nazi-Jäger”; 42:38]. But nothing of the sort happened. At the beginning of the trial they all pleaded “innocent” and stayed with it until their final plea, even though they had to admit in the course of the trial that their behaviour had cost lives. What should they have done? After all, orders were orders. “Befehlsnotstand”, as the German wording goes.
The same thing happened in the other war crimes trials: the Nuremberg Main Trial, the Nuremberg Medical Trial, the Bergen-Belsen Trial, the Ravensbrück Trial, the Dachau Trial, the Mauthausen Trial, the Buchenwald Trial, the Flossenbürg Trial, the Mühldorf Trial and the Eichmann Trial. Would it have been so awful – guilty or innocent – to express some sympathy for the fates of those affected and their families, as is not only customary but inevitable in personal encounters?

Considering that the few hundred who were held accountable in court are representative of the leadership, many of whom escaped justice by fleeing the country or committing suicide, and considering that tens of thousands of employees were actively and directly involved in the extermination machine, and considering further that the common people, who silently collaborated, were unable to talk about their wartime pasts until the mid-1960s, then it is fair to say that, apart from its symbolic effect, the legal examination of the Nazi reign of terror has been a failure. Leading Nazis were able to obtain lucrative and responsible posts in both German states, Austria and also with the Allies, which signals that no effective denazification took place in society either. What is quite certain, however, is that psychological processing, disassociation and reconciliation on a human level were practically completely absent. Nowhere did perpetrators stand by their deeds after the end of the Third Reich.

This allows for two possible conclusions.Firstly, that the war crimes trials produced gigantic legal misjudgments or else equally gigantic legal abuses – in other words, that those sentenced to death were actually not guilty. This is contrary to the apparent evidence of a massive flood of clues, testimonies and proofs, as well as to the simple logic of totalitarian regimes, as can be observed elsewhere, and would be tantamount to Holocaust denial. I would like to leave that aside for ontological and ethical reasons. The second possible conclusion seems psychologically more logical anyway and more probable from experience: that the accused – and with them all those who actively or passively participated in the crimes of the regime but remain silent to this day – are incapable of admitting the evil of their deeds to themselves or to others, and that they are therefore unable under any circumstances to show human emotions, such as Fritz Bauer would have expected from people who had committed a mistake but remained basically decent: There was no admission, no mea culpa, no regret, no remorse, no apology, no reparation. And people like Günter Grass lied or remained silent about their SS membership all their lives. This conspicuous absence of human emotion in the face of the most atrocious crimes prompted Fritz Bauer to quote Hölderlin:

Generalstaatsanwalt Fritz Bauer pd
Fritz Bauer
You see craftsmen, but no human beings, thinkers, but no human beings, priests, but no human beings, masters and servants, boys and set people, but no human beings.

The Third Reich is by no means an exception. The same applies to active participants in the GDR dictatorship, in the Soviet Union and the fascist dictatorships of Southern Europe, for the collaborators in France, Quislings in Norway, the countries of the BeNeLux and from the fascist and later real-socialist vassals Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, etc. It was the victors who exhibited individual faces of the overthrown regime in show trials and then had their heads rolled for public effect. There was no atonement, no reconciliation, and therefore no new beginning. On the contrary: Helmut Kramer, former judge at the Regional Court of Braunschweig, reported that resentment against emigrants and opponents of the regime had formed among the people because they had allegedly “evaded their responsibility”. Bauer’s hope that the complete discrediting of anti-Semitism would finally make reconciliation between Jews and non-Jews possible was perhaps dashed because the perpetrators assumed that their victims were not capable of this. Yet it was the perpetrators and their sympathisers who lacked both empathy and imagination and thus the will to make peace with the past, the victims, the emigrants and the members of the resistance.

Thinking about the time after the Corona dictatorship, this gives me a sense of foreboding. After all, making a comparison with Germany’s years of terror means for me not only looking at their conditions of origin, their mechanisms of repression and manifestations of violence in order to be able to correctly assess their counterparts in the present, but also to reflect on their end and their overcoming. In view of the fatal post-war years, it is to be feared that parliamentarians who voted for the Enabling Act will assume the most prestigious office in the new state, that torture doctors will head medical associations, that wartime engineers will continue to provide destructive technologies, that ordinary block watchmen will become mayors,that the informers of yesteryear continue to defend the government against the people, that mobs of thugs become policemen, that murderers of the judiciary are now to dispense justice, that a member of the old junta heads a state government, or that the flatterers of the Ancien Regime are allowed to lull the people even after the collapse, as happened in the early FRG.

It is not hard to identify such personalities in our time. It will be more difficult to convince the affronted silent majority not to fall into the same trap again, but to open up to another possible reality: conviviality (literally: living with one another), which says goodbye to disenfranchisement through mass production and to the institutionalisation of all human activities, from learning to mobility and the distribution of goods to health care and the celebration of one’ s faith.

What gives me confidence is the high number, by German standards, of groups that have formed in response to the worsening barbarism; they strive to counter blind obedience to the rules with education and appeals to compassion. It is striking that apart from numerous quasi-religious reactions – from silence to ridicule, distortion of facts, personal vilification, existential and violent threats to actual deplatforming, beatings, imprisonments and assassinations – there is no engagement with the content of the critics of the measures. Therefore, at this point, and hopefully only for the time being, I must conclude my text with an excerpt from Fritz Bauer’s Hölderlin quote:

Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843)
Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843)

The virtues of the Germans, however, are a shining evil and nothing more; for they are only makeshift, wrested with slave labour from the empty heart out of cowardly fear, and leave every pure soul desolate, which […] cannot bear the discordant sound that is shrieking in all the dead order of these people. […] And that is why they fear death so much, and suffer all humiliation for the sake of their oyster life, because they do not know anything higher than the fabrication they have stitched for themselves. […]
I spoke for all those who are in this country and suffer as I suffered there.
I now wanted to leave Germany again. I no longer sought anything among this people, I was offended enough by relentless insults, I did not want my soul to bleed to death completely among such people.

But Hyperion returns, not for the sake of the people but for the sake of his beloved and the beautiful country. And he remarks conciliatorily:

Like the quarrels of lovers are the dissonances of the world. Reconciliation is in the midst of strife and all that is divided finds itself together again.

(Friedrich Hölderlin: Hyperion, Book 2 Tübingen, Cotta, 1799)

Another Nuremberg

I haven’t been shopping since March 15, 2020, the first day of curfew in India. Lockdown is the neologism for this – for once an apt expression, because it is a technical term originally used by prison administrations. I haven’t been to the doctor for a year, until last week not even to the dentist, although there was every reason to do so. I don’t go to the movies anymore, I don’t enter an office of the administration anymore, I don’t enter a cashier’s office of a bank anymore. I no longer travel, neither short nor long, neither by cab nor by train or even by airplane, the latter of which has become completely impossible. A book manuscript lies unprinted on my hard drive, gathering digital dust because the mere thought of crowded shops and city streets already feels suffocating. Invited by friends I went to lunch at a tiny cookshop that didn’t require specific clothing; I couldn’t enjoy it, though. I did resume work at the library, mainly at the insistence of the manager, who assured me I didn’t have to follow any rules, even if everyone else did. In the office, to myself, I have time to catch my breath again. But the way there, a few kilometers by bicycle is an ordeal. Not that anyone would talk to me about the missing mask, no. I wouldn’t like that. I wouldn’t like that at all; I can’t stand the sight of people anymore and avoid being seen on my part. Me and people, we are a divorced couple.

There is a long history of early traumatization; life since hasn’t been too kind either. Of course, I could try to see the positive sides of life. Why don’t I try to see it more positively? Why don’t I start anew somewhere else? Why don’t I… ? – I guess because by now I lack the necessary faith that the grass is greener elsewhere. As I said, there is a long history, but it does not matter for what I have to say: That all of us individual cases with our human problems, our likes and dislikes, our opinions, insights and realizations, we don’t count any longer. Beyond our function as consumers, employees, taxpayers, cannon fodder, we have long since ceased to play any role in the way matters get handled. We are merely the objects of observation and control, generic members of statistically ascertainable norm groups. Gendered, risk-evaluated, labeled, sorted, directed, manipulated, exploited, eventually dumped.

The raised index finger for all those without a mask.
We comply with the Corona rules.

[Billboard by the City of Berlin, paid from taxpayer money]

New Barbarism

Corona just caps it all off. Hardly any intellectual fails to mention that the Corona State finally flushes to the surface what had been pushed underwater for so long: all kinds of toxic garbage, looted goods, gasping victims of terror, gnawed-up floaters, fears and traumas, screwed-up biographies, stolen dreams, lost raison d’être, abdicated freedom. Add to all that the codified injustice, the structural violence, and a mountain of epistemic baggage that keep our polities stuck in unreformable rigidity. In the face of nightmare societies competing for the worst way , one can hardly tell the difference whether I am writing about Germany, India, or say, Mexico.

A lot of words that, in short, are supposed to explain why, these days, my trust in the human capacity to bond, in the manifest social structure and – yes, also – in the specific individuals that surround me, has slipped away. I have lost the desire to see anyone anymore, lost the joy of hearing what is going on with this or that person. In the same way, when I think of the big names of our time – people from music, philosophy, politics, science, etc. – I’d rather they kept their mouths shut, because what comes out of there usually offends the mind. If the verbal garbage remained just words – ok. But unfortunately the call for ostracizing the dissenters and the demands for harder punishment of “deniers”, along with all the other fantasies of social barbarism get implemented without big scruples only too soon after… and the whole pack of established media provide a platform for the hysteria. The state’s regulations regime has overtaken many a satirical exaggeration within a few weeks by issuing ever more repressive orders. And then there are the non-state ‘measures’. A friend from Berlin writes:

“The day before yesterday I was actually physically attacked for the first time in my adult life in the park by an aggressive but at the same time somehow calculating man. Afterwards I did some asking around and in fact it happened to my roommate in a very similar way. The girlfriend of another acquaintance was slapped in the subway; another one was yelled at in the supermarket because of the distance rules. People here are starting to go crazy.”

Doublethink

There is an archaic conception of man at work, incompatible with my worldview: it’s not autonomous individuals endowed with dignity, embedded in loving communities, who shape their lives in a self-responsible manner, but fear-driven government subjects incapable of making rational decisions, who must be kept on a leash for their own good and who — as self-appointed guardians of the status quo – habitually obey pre-emptively. Real dangers have given way to obscure statistical risk potentials, your neighbor is always a danger to your life, denunciation is a civic duty, children’s birthday parties get broken up as criminal gatherings. How quickly the turnaround has happened is frightening in itself already, because as far as typical features of Nazi Germany were concerned, the rule went, NEVER AGAIN! But already in early May, six weeks into the curfew, my mother wrote from rural Black Forest:

“My physiotherapist, who is friends with a policeman, told me that in [the county seat] 1000 people call every day to report friends, relatives, neighbors and acquaintances to the police – for Corona misconduct!”

In the eyes of a not insignificant part of the population, freedom and human dignity are no longer inalienable rights, but privileges that have to be earned by conformity – and thus are reduced to absurdity. Civil and human rights dwell in best company with other terms that have been usurped into Newspeak: Attitudinal journalism operates as “reporting”, Nazis masquerade as “Antifa”, “solidarity” is understood as forced conformity, “development aid” drives whole continents into poverty, “humanitarian intervention” stands for genocide, “vaccination” has become another word for genetic manipulation, forcing women about to give birth to wearing masks is part of “health care”, the authoritarian regime pretends to be a “democracy”, mob rule prides itself on “civil courage”, the middle finger replaces the “index finger”… I could go on like this for hours and literally fill a whole dictionary – the neo-liberal dictionary of falsehoods, which I already mentioned in earlier articles.

Those who feel reminded of George Orwell have long since no need to fear overstretching the comparison. Dystopia can hardly be manifested more clearly and obviously. In the novel “1984” Orwell writes:

“[‘blackwhite’] means a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary. This demands a continuous alteration of the past, made possible by the system of thought which really embraces all the rest, and which is known in Newspeak as doublethink.”

Introduced later, the technical term for “doublethink” is “cognitive dissonance.”

De-Coronification

Here the question arises how after Corona — assuming the nightmare has a happy ending — a new togetherness can come about at all, given that such a massive slide into barbarism was supported by virtually all governmental, social, scientific and economic institutions, but especially by so many fellow human beings. How can one restore that trust to one’s arbitrary neighbor that is needed to build a relationship, how can one again look into the eyes of the perpetrators, of whom one knows that in their world one exists merely as an object?

I have my doubts that a simple “No hard feelings” approach is enough, because I cannot dismiss Schopenhauer’s remark that “to forgive and forget is to throw precious experience out of the window”. Prior to forgiveness, there must be recognition of one’s own transgressions and subsequent repentance. It involves the willingness to take responsibility for one’s own actions, to accept punishment, to repent, to make amends or at least to mitigate the damage. Then, and only then, may one forgive, but rather not forget. We must not allow ourselves to wrap the cloak of silence around the people’s role in the oppressing, torturing and murdering of millions, as we did after the disaster of the Third Reich, because at that time the historical traumas of hundreds of millions of people in dozens of nations remained buried deep in the individual and collective psyche. Uncured they continued to smolder within the closets of apparently purified hearts and minds, affected the world view of three or four subsequent generations, and found expression during the so-called pandemic in a mass hysteria unlike any other in history. The failed Denazification of post-WW2 – failed because it got stuck with mere criminalization of identified perpetrators — must be made up for in our present.

Denazification today means de-coronification. Without another trial based on the Nuremberg model – because of the symbolism (tribunal and codex) it should indeed take place in Nuremberg – a credible and trustworthy restoration of social cohesion is simply impossible. The enormity of what has happened demands a complete reappraisal, while those responsible for the worst mass suffering in human history must be held accountable. The thirst for revenge, the cry for crucifixion of exposed representatives of the Corona regime, however, must under no circumstances guide the trial. As now impressively demonstrated, with the death of the Nazi grandees, self-afflicted or on the gallows, the phantom of fascism was by no means banished, but could return in full glory as self-declared anti-fascism, as totalitarianism in democratic guise. The goal of a tribunal should be to educate the population about its own role in the emergence of tyranny. Of course, it is also urgent to ensure that the main characters in the Corona scam are permanently prevented from further agitation. Immediately thereafter, however, the real clean-up work begins: our language, our institutions, our laws and regulations, our economy and currency, our international as well as our personal relationships, our relationship to technology and food, and our use of art, medicine, science – basically, simply all elements of existence – must be examined. A complete revolution of our way of life becomes due, the core of which must be the confrontation of our traumas: a personal Nuremberg for each and every one of us.

“NO MASK NO ENTRY” – Ivan Illich and the exercise of freedom

The early Christians made … community by sharing the simple communion meal through which they remembered their Lord, and by a mouth-to-mouth kiss through which they shared their spirits in a conspiratio or breathing together,

states Canadian radio broadcaster David Cayley in a book on Austro-American social philosopher Ivan Illich’s views. [David Cayley, The Rivers North of the Future. The Testament of Ivan Illich. House of Anansi Pr., 2005]

 

So this is what it means to conspire. Rather than theorizing on others doing it, we are called to do it ourselves. Which brings me to a message published in our local gazette, the News & Notes 839. It says,

Mask dilemma

The Covid Task force in its weekly communication with the community in the News & Notes, on Auronet and through many Bulletins has done a heroic job! The Pandemic in India is  certainly  not  yet  under  control  and  we  are asked  to  take caution;  It  is  required  by  law  to  keep  social  distance, wear masks while going out and in public places and do not hold or go to large gatherings. As Auroville and Aurovilians, we have to follow the law.

Lately there are more voices of dissent, people who absolutely refuse to wear a mask in Auroville’s public places: going to the Financial Service, PDTC or Pour Tous, (despite clear signs that say: ‘NO MASK NO ENTRY ‘. Unpleasant, jarring, impatient and hot arguments were heard in PDTC at the entrance attacking the amazing people, who keep this service going since March, in a spirit of selfless service, wearing their own hot masks all morning!! and providing us with all our food needs, meanwhile keeping a beautiful atmosphere.  Over the carrot-and onion displays someone went ballistic: shrieking to another customer who dared to inquire why she wasn’t wearing a mask. This was shocking painful and hurtful to everyone present. If some Aurovilians feel so strongly not keeping these simple rules, they of course have the freedom to stop shopping or use Auroville services and do their errands and business elsewhere. It  would  great  if  these  simple  rules  could  be  accepted  and followed by everyone -whatever people’s private opinions are- without the necessity to enforce them.

Stay Healthy!  ~ L.

I have a lot of questions about this piece of writing. What exactly is heroic about sitting in a self-appointed group passing down rules from the Central Government to The City The Earth Needs?  Why are those who work for a wage called selfless, and inhowfar does their self-torturing behaviour make a good example for everyone? It is certainly not ok to accuse or even shout at them, but where is all the rage coming from, did you ever wonder? From the threat of enforcement of ‘voluntary’ obedience, perhaps? Where can they go when all public doors are marked with Get-lost signs? Can they visit alternative offices when there aren’t any? Are they supposed to starve to death in their homes? What has become of the Aurovilian pride in all the non-allopathic methods and ways of healing we once practiced? Once there were Chinese, Tibetan, Ayurvedic, Homeopathic, Yogic, Shamanic and all kinds of ways, now there is only one, the control-obsessed Western-orthodox approach, or rather a perverted politicised version of it that defies all scientific and common-sense understanding.

Despite the many questionable points in the above opinion piece, I’ll focus on the topic of obedience alone. Mirra Alfassa, the founder and “Mother” of Auroville, also called the place The City At The Service Of Truth, and she made clear in many of her statements that laws, rules, traditions, morals, or religions alongside money, police, courts, politics, governments etc. should not rule its ways. A life divine, but no religions, as she famously said.

source: Pixabay

As can be seen from the following quotes, to no surprise, the New Testament as a spiritual document anticipates some of the things that the Mother, along with many other wisdom teachers, said about proper relation of the truth-seeker to rules.
Let me quote from Cayley’s book [in italics]; not in order to establish yet another authority or to argue theological points, but to give a perspective on what the insistence on obedience might mean.

What the Samaritan does is to step fearlessly outside what his culture has sanctified in order to create a new relationship and, potentially, a new community. He does not seek God within a sacred circle but finds him lying by the road in a ditch. His possibilities cannot be predicted or circumscribed. He lives, in the apostle Paul’s words, “not under the law, but under grace.” [Cayley]

“We are released from the Law, having died to what was binding us, and so we are in a new service, that of the spirit, and not in the old service of a written code.” [Paul, Letter to the Romans, 7:6]

In other words, the spirit defines our relationship, not our man-made arbitrary rules. One of Illich’s central tenets was that even the duty to help and the obligation to solidarity eliminate empathy and spirit from the good work. Before everything else, there ought to be compassion, not judgment. The person that comes to your doorstep is a person in need. Right action does not draw its direction from the norm or from fear of breaking rules.

 

“If I had not come and spoken to them they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin.” [Jesus, Gospel of John, 15:22-23]

While modern political and social theory has it that societies are shaped and held together by their rules, the bond of community is understanding. It doesn’t mean that laws, traditions or rituals are absent in community, but that they do not have precedence over compassion. Through the message passed on by numerous voices such as the Buddha, Jesus, or the Mother, we have been made aware of our freedom to act compassionately, and that the strict application – not the breach – of rules is a sin:

 

Sin, in this new context, no longer means just a violation of the law, but something more — a coldness or indifference to what has been revealed and made possible. [Cayley]

Don’t take ‘sin’ for the religious crime codified by the Roman Church, but for the betrayal of the relationship established by the loving trust of the Samaritan into the commonly despised stranger.

“Sin,” Illich says, “is refusing to honour that relationship which came into existence between the Samaritan and the Jew, which comes into existence through the exercise of freedom, and which constitutes an ‘ought’ because I feel called by you, called to you, called to this tie between human beings, or between beings and God […] It is not in any sense offensive of a law. It is always an offence against a person. It’s an infidelity.”

To value the law over the person, that is sin. Freedom, though, is not about permanent rebellion against rules in general, but about unrestrained acting in the spirit of the good: compassion, truthfulness, community.

Sin, on this account, is not simply an evil, or a moral fault. It is a failing against the Spirit, possible only for those who have heard and ignored what they have heard, and visible only in the light of that freedom that Paul says is identical with “the forgiveness of sin.” [Cayley]

What is justice?

How do you define justice? What is its measure? How do you fill it with life? How do you bring it about? These questions haunted me for many years. Recently I brought up the justice issue in my book “Mach was!?”, and I also put it before Tom, a dear friend whose ponderings I value highly. Yet I have not been able to come to a satisfying conclusion.

So what is justice?

The suspicion that my questions might be based on invalid hidden assumptions has been with me for quite a while already. In John Michael Greer’s book “Star’s Reach” we read,

“The balance of the world is always exact but it’s never fair. That’s true in politics, in war—” He shrugged, glanced at me. “Anything else you care to name. One person gets the benefit, another pays the price, and there’s no justice to who does which—but the price still gets paid.”

Here we go. I read and translated JMG’s novel five years ago. It took that long for the penny to drop.

There is no justice.

by Albrecht Dürer

It is that simple. Justice doesn’t exist because the word has no clear meaning, and the word has no clear meaning because justice doesn’t exist – not even in the sense that a law exists. It rather has the properties of a ‘human being’ or a ‘tree;’ for practical communication purposes we may pretend that there is a generic standard human or a norm tree, separate from all other humans / trees of its kind, and from everything else that exists. The truth is, though, that each being is unique and has neither a clearly defined beginning nor end; it is inextricably interwoven, interconnected, interdependent with the continuum we call ‘Kosmos.’ Similarly, the justice concept develops its usefulness only if one acknowledges its fuzziness: What we perceive as or refer to as just is highly personal, cultural, and circumstantial in nature. It varies from time to time, from case to case, and from place to place.

Justice, as a word, symbolizes an abstract idea that describes an ideal. Being abstract in nature it does not bring any concrete content with it. Whether it is just that a thief’s right hand gets removed, whether it is just he gets sentenced to a fine or whether it is just that he may join a welfare program against poverty is totally up to cultural values. And whether the thief agrees that he is being treated in a just and fair way is completely dependent on what he expects to receive as a reward for his behaviour.

As an idea justice does not possess a physical counterpart – which it also cannot have because as an idealit refers to a perfection that does not exist in the world of forms and shapes. Justice is about the things that should and shouldn’t be, and it is therefore extremely is-phobic and judgmental. Depending on who defines what justice is, it is not even clear whether it is supposed to be a thing, a condition, a feeling, a perception, or a process: justice is achieved, gets done, feels right, seems justified, or gets established; and it can only occupy its place in a world in which people possess agency. Whether they do, or not, is under dispute, though; mind the philosophical discussion on Determinism. Still the people of our culture believe in their agency, and so we tend to fall into the trap of confusing sanctions for justice, as there seems to exist a need for such a thing.

Having dismantled human-made justice, what could take its place in our lives? For it seems to me that its removal as a factor leaves an ugly wound behind that will fester if it cannot be healed. What is it that makes us construe the kind of ‘justice’ that we could achieve by acts of will? Is the justice concept a manifestation of something deeper? Do we perceive a kind of natural or divine balance, a moral equivalent to the law of gravity?

If so, Karma – the rule of ‘justice,’ a Kosmic mechanism of cause and effect which the Buddhists describe – might be the answer. While we may, to a certain degree, take decisions which change the course of our lives, those lives are also the result of decisions taken at an earlier point in time. As we cannot foresee most of the consequences of our actions, though, willed decisions rarely lead to happiness or harmony, unless we follow ‘right action,’ i.e. action that is guided by compassion. When we learn to accept what life dishes us out we begin to perceive the immensity of a dynamic balance that is truly Kosmic.

Within this balance we feel no need to judge people, do not divide situations into ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ do not label events as ‘just’ or ‘unjust.’ We do not need to prevent anything from happening, nor do we long for punishment, retribution, or vengeance. Compassion, the enactment of ‘justice,’ has us not only feel for, and love other people; it lets us understand that everything that happens does so for a (Karmic) reason and is therefore in perfect harmony with everything that exists. All dichotomies dissolve, and justice becomes the air that we breathe, the element that we live in, the thing that one does not need a word for. Justice is what-is.

How to identify imperialistic thought (Yurugu series #2)

The Yurugu blog series attempts to uncover some of the myths the dominant culture is based upon. As we have a hard time seeing the things we take for granted the view from outside, through the eyes of a different culture, may help with discovering our biases and enable us to act more consciously.
Marimba Ani, the author of the book “Yurugu: An African-centered critique of European cultural thought and behavior”, is not involved in putting up the series and does not necessarily agree to its contents. The series is also not meant to present the book’s central thesis, or to agree one-hundred percent with it; rather the blogs are inspired by the deep thoughts Marimba Ani has put forward, and offer some of them for consideration.

[previous article]

With all the many groups of people and their many ideas on what it means to live a good life, it has become increasingly harder to tell who are the ones we would like to identify with, help along, and promote in their efforts to make this world a better place. With so many people lying through closed teeth, so many others pretending to be someone they are not, and with yet so many others not understanding the implications of their own words, how can we tell the real deal from fake and delusion?
The answer could be something like this: look out for the imperialist mindset.

Why is this important?

European rationalistic ideology has “created” a particular kind of person who can be expected to behave in certain characteristic ways. If the uniqueness to the culture is not understood, the positive possibilities of other cultures will get lost, and, whether consciously or not, this is a thoroughly Eurocentric objective. For this reason, we assume the particularity of the European form and therefore the need to explain its development, not as the result of some “universal” process, but by understanding its asili[cultural core] – a unique combination of factors that in circular relationship generate the personalities and ideological commitments that form the influencing matrix.

This explanation is all the more compelling since Europeans represent an extreme minority culture. It is the realization that Europe is in fact a culture in which imperial domination of others does indeed become a “comprehensive world-view” that is important. This is unique in the world and the characteristics (themes) of European culture – its “rationalism,” violence, and lack of spirituality – are not merely isolated pathologies; rather these characteristics are linked to each other in a developmental matrix (asili) that is itself “pathological” in the context of human societies.

(Marimba Ani: Yurugu. An African-centered critique of European cultural thought and behavior, 1994, p392)

While the drive for power permeates all of European-based thought, philosophy, and religion its presence, in most people, goes unnoticed by its carriers. In any case, apart from rather rare displays of unmasked power tripping, it hides behind a shroud of idealism, altruism, alleged necessity, or “universal” values such as humanism, humanitarianism, equality, freedom and democracy.

Nevertheless, there are quite a few signs by which the imperialist mindset can be identified in somebody’s speech or behaviour, one of which is againstness, which results in kind of a war mentality. When you notice someone pointingtheir rhetoric against evil politicians andmad scientists, professing to be Anti-this orAnti-that, concludingthat a certain group of people or certain circumstances were the cause of all evil and need to be singled out and fought against, exterminated even, you may already be on to recognizing the imperialist mindset’s workings.

Saito Musashi-bo Benkei,
the Buddhist warrior monk
But be careful: there is also such a thing as legitimate, productive criticism, a legitimate form of liberating rebellion, and the spirit of the consciousness warrior as described by Joanna Macy and others. Today, I will not go into describing what they are about. Instead, I want to point out in relatively simple terms how to identify the imperialist mindset. Here we go:

1) Differentiation
As a first step, the imperialist mindset is looking for differences in opinion, clothing, preferences, size, religion, or anything else people (and other beings)may differ in. There is no problem with this in itself. People do have different skin colour, accents, opinions, possessions, etc. The imperialist mindset is actuallydifferent from everyother mindset, and any serious analysis must point this out. Yet people also have many things in common; basically we are the same, or even one. And this is what the imperialist mindset denies when it takes the next three steps, which are almost always veiled in moral statements or rational argument:

2) Separation and Othering

In the second step, the imperialist mindset seeks to separate itself from the ‘Other’, claiming to not be (like)that, and to overemphasize differences to the degree where differencesovershadow any common ground onemight have with the ‘Other’.

3) Devaluation

In a third step, the imperialist mindset devalues the ‘Other’, makes it a less-than-human object, seeking not only to compare its ownvalues with those ofothers, but to devalue and negate the latter. So we could also talk about objectification and dehumanization.

4) Crusading
As the ‘Other’ has become something bad, a less than human object, there is morally no problem with trying to control, oppress, or extinguish it. The ‘Other’ can now be fought against by all means available, from ridiculing to verbal character assassination, to torture, to literal slaughtering of its body.
Daniele Ganser. Photo: Ingo Wösner
Daniele Ganser, a Swiss historian and peace researcher, describes the process in three steps only, “Teilen – Abwerten – Töten,”(Divide, Devalue, Kill) when he talks about how governments, with the help of mainstream media, convince us of the necessity of warfare against “terrorists”, “dictators”, and other evil-doers of the day. In short, this is Ancient Rome’s two-step programme divide et impera, but I found it important to indicate that its first necessary step is differentiation, that differentiation is also a necessary step for us in evaluating a situation, and that it can have a positive effect when diversity inspires us to create a new synthesis of pathways and views.
Were I to say, To liberate our communities from imperialist rule (the enemy without), and our minds from imperialist thought (the enemy within), we must destroy Elitist agency, you should by now be able to identify such a statement as speaking from an imperialist mindset. This is what we need to become conscious about. What we seek is not elimination, but deep understanding that inspires us to act from a different place. Marimba Ani who could be described as a warrior for decolonization and African self-determination says about that place:

While one functions pragmatically within a profane reality, that “reality” is never thought to be the essence of meaning. In spiritual conceptions there is always a striving for the experience of a deeper reality that joins all being. Learning is the movement from superficial difference to essential sameness (Na’im Akbar). This “sameness” is spirit; beyond and ontologically prior to matter. It is the basis for human value. One’s spirituality involves the attempt to live and structure one’s life on national, communal, and personal level in accordance with universal spiritual principles. (Yurugu, p368; emphasis mine)

 [next article]

P.S., Bébé Vundermann has written a companion article titled, A Yurugu Mirror & the Role of Consciousness Warriors for our Time, which I recommend reading.

Cognitive Justice: Science and the Sacred

Let’s take a step back and forget about climate change and the planetary catastrophe called global industrial civilization for a moment. Some of the deeper roots of our predicament have been discussed here repeatedly. (see some of the articles under the label ‘collapse of civilization‘) I have also touched into the epistemological dimension of it, what I’d call ‘nature of truth and reality‘.

Today, I’d like to have my – much more learned – colleagues elaborate on how the dominant worldview, i.e. our most basic assumptions on the nature of truth and reality, not only started the cycle of destruction but perpetuate and aggravate it through a self-reinforcing mechanism called scientific discourse.

This is in no way meant to diminish the epistemological achievements of science (see below, Nagler), or to strike a blow for the deliberate distortion of facts that runs by the name of ‘alt-truth’. Yet for us to get a more accurate picture of what is going on we need to be aware that there are actually truths alternate to our own understanding and that those truths are just as valid as what is scientifically believed to be real (see below, Wilber).

Drone magic, by Mike Licht (CC)
There is an abundance of alternative views to rationalistic materialism, yet they initially are – very – hard to discover. The dominant culture is fighting an epistemicidal war against ‘the other’, a war that is unseen by most because the enemy is not supposed to even exist. Why?

Empire is not merely territory covered, not just populations made into subjects. Empire rules not only through political, economic, and military force but through the very culture that gave birth to Empire. In other words, Empire rules the minds of its subjects, and it does so by defining what they can know — what is real. This may sound overstated to some, likely most, but the cognitive injustice created by scientific discourse is actually key to the question why social injustice does not spawn the kind of movements that would overthrow Empire. Marx had it wrong because we are not simply victims, we are co-creators of oppression. Awareness has never been enough; it takes an awakening.
The totalitarian exclusion of ‘the other’ from our view has turned it from a simple alternative into the deadliest enemy of the dominant culture, because once you start seeing it, awakening to it, you can no longer buy into the common dogmas around separateness, competition, materialism, utilitarianism, or scientism.

If you are still with me let’s foster cognitive justice now, by exploring an example which helps making the issue obvious: the relationship between science and the Sacred.

A discourse provides a set of possible statements about a given area, and organizes and gives structure to the manner in which a particular topic, object, process is to be talked about. In that it provides descriptions, rules, permissions and prohibitions of social and individual actions.”
– Günther Kress – Linguistic Processes in Sociocultural Practice, 1988
Epistemology(literally, the logical discourse on knowledge) is the branch of philosophy concerned with the theory of knowledge. Epistemology studies the nature of knowledge, justification, and the rationality of belief. Much of the debate in epistemology centers on four areas: (1) the philosophical analysis of the nature of knowledge and how it relates to such concepts as truth, belief, and justification, (2) various problems of skepticism, (3) the sources and scope of knowledge and justified belief, and (4) the criteria for knowledge and justification.”
– Wikipedia

“The whole notion of ‘discourse‘ and ‘discourse community’ is a circular one – the community is defined as those that share certain discourse habits and functions, while skill in the prescribed discourse is a prerequisite for being taken seriously by the discourse community. Hence, academic discourse is thus revealed, from the outset, to be a self-referential self-justificatory practice that determines what may legitimately beconsidered as knowledge.”

In this era of increased knowledge the essence of religious phenomena eludes the psychologists, sociologists, linguists, and other specialists because they do not study it as religious. According to Mircea Eliade, they miss the one irreducible element in religious phenomena—the element of the sacred.“
– 1996 introduction to Mircea Eliade’s book „Patterns in comparative Religion“ (1958)
The dark side of modern science, and unfortunately it has one, does not arise from science itself, still less from any of the facts of nature. It arises from the impression we allow science to give us: the impression that we are merely biological machines in a meaningless material universe.
Science has every right to confine its attention to the physical, i.e. the outside world. It has no right to say, when it has done so, that it has given us the whole story.”
– Michael N. Nagler – Is there no other way?, 2001
Cognitive injustice, the failure to recognize the different ways of knowing by which people across the globe run their lives and provide meaning to their existence.”
– Boaventura de Sousa Santos – Epistemologies of the South: justice against epistemicide. 2014 (pdf)
Epistemicide: the war on, and the destruction of existing knowledge and the subsequent abortion of the possibility of acquiring new knowledge within a certain system of thought.
The way that a particular culture formulates its knowledge is intricately bound up with the very identity of its people, their way of making sense of the world and the value system that holds that worldview in place. Epistemicide, as the systematic destruction of rival forms of knowledge, is at its worst nothing less than symbolic genocide […]
There are others […] that view the encroachment of the scientific paradigm as a form of cultural imperialism […] They often experience the rationalization and objectivization of reality as a kind of reductionism that is inadequate to explain the complexities of human experience.”
– Karen Bennett – Epistemicide! The Tale of a Predatory Discourse. 2007
The modern age has forgotten that facts and information, for all their usefulness, are not the same as wisdom—and certainly not the same as the direct experience of Reality. We have lost touch with the intuitive wisdom born of silence and stillness, and we are left stranded in a sea of information that cannot deliver on its promise of ever-increasing happiness and fulfillment.”
The Way of Liberation is not a belief system; it is something to be put into practice. In this sense it is entirely practical.”
– Adyashanti – The way of Liberation: a practical guide to spiritual enlightenment, 2012

“When we find those types of statements in Plotinus or Asanga or Garab Dorje or Abhinavigupta or Shankara, rest assured that they are not simply theoretical hunches or metaphysical postulates. Those are direct experimental disclosures issuing directly from te subtle dimension of reality, interpreted according to the backgrounds of those individuals, but issuing from this profound ontological reality, this subtle worldspace.

And if you want to know what these men and women are actually talking about, then you must take up the contemplative practice or injunction or paradigm, and perform the experiment yourself […]
So this experiment will disclose the archetypal data, and then you can help interpret what they mean. And by far the most commonly accepted interpretation is, you are looking at the basic forms and foundations of the entire manifest world. You are looking directly into the face of the Divine.”
– Ken Wilber – A brief history of everything, 1996

V for Violence

Not so long ago an Ecuadorian told me that he appreciated one thing about the dictatorship that once ruled his home country — things got done; instead of chaos there was order, instead of dispute there was ‘peace’. My grandparents and other members of their generation used to say that not everything had been bad about Hitler’s Germany; there had been full employment for everyone, the riots in the streets that were so common during the Weimar time would have stopped, and there had been the Autobahns, of course, of which everybody was proud. This perception overlooks that comfort came at a high price — the misery and death of thousands, even millions of perceived enemies of the regime. Yes, you could live quite comfortably at that time, have a family, a job, a home while your freedoms were stripped from you and you were lied to at a grand scale which of course you knew and accepted as necessary. Others, though, had to pay for your wellbeing. Full employment came through the remilitarization of the country, in preparation for a war that cost sixty million lives, the highways were built by political prisoners, and the riots went away because they happened only in order to destabilize the state, to pave the way for tyranny.
Germans today say, Thank God we are living in a democracy, we have everything we need, and there hasn’t been a war in decades. Now, like then, it is others that pay the price for our wellbeing — other humans as well as non-humans. Now, like back then, or even more so, the perceived benefits of the regime sugarcoat the tremendous violence and fear that constitute everybody’s lives. And now, like in the not-so-good old times, we simply deny the fact that this is so. Every German, back then, helped perpetuate the tyranny through their thoughts and deeds, by just doing their jobs, by obeying immoral orders, by repeating the propaganda in their conversations, by shopping politically correct, by voting for the right guy, and by keeping their mouths shut in the face of injustice, and that has not changed the slightest bit since.
What has changed, though, is the scale at which these things happen — now globally — and the lengths at which both governments and subjects go to cover up the violence their comfort is based upon and comes along with. As violence has become omnipresent, this can only succeed through its normalization. Both those who say they cannot see any violence in their environment, and those who have a dislike for their situation but don’t know what to do — listen, read. I got something for you.
Violence is not just wars and molotov cocktails and truncheons. It is not just the blood and guts and gore you see, either.
Violence is built into the fabric of our daily lives, as structural violence. And even that is not the whole story.
Violence is in the food you eat, not only the obviously murderous meat, but the greens as well which get beaten out of the ground with the help of pesticides and poisonous fertilizers that kill the soil; Daniel Quinn calls it totalitarian agriculture. Yet food violence does not stop there; day by day we ingest up to one hundred thousand different chemicals that ‘accidentally’ have entered the ‘products’ and we never get told about it. Those in power think you don’t need to know because it’s not all that bad. Maybe it ain’t, if we ignore the ever rising number of cancer cases. Food violence continues in the notion that you must not eat if you do not pay, or you will go to prison. But who cares after all the violence dished out right from the start.
Violence is in our drinking water, treated with chemicals, often bottled in plastics made of oil. Violence is having to pay for a sip of water.
Violence is in our politics that divides us into left and right and reduces us to fanboys and fangirls of cardboard characters who verbally beat each other up. Politics is the science of dehumanizing the ‘other’ so they can justify ripping them off, exploiting them, and, in case they resist, killing them in the name of national security.
Violence is in our relationships which for most of us are nothing else but contracts. Give me what I want, then I give you what you want. If you disagree I’ll take it away from you anyway; unless I can’t, then just go to hell.
Violence is in the law and its thousands of paragraphs that rule into your life. You don’t agree, you go to jail.
Violence is in the constitution that makes you a subject of the state, thus takes away your freedom so it can pretend to generously providing it to you in the first place.
Violence is in the mass media that tell you lies about what is going on in the world and keep you hynotized with manufactured information and entertainment that have no relevance to you.
Violence is in education, the schools you must attend, sitting still for hours that pile up to years, the useless curriculum you must learn while at the same time you don’t know how to take a shit outside the million-dollars sewage treatment systems. Violence is the marks you get and the detention you receive. Does getting pressed into a standard mold for the sake of making a good wage slave of you violate your well-being? Hmmm.
Violence is in the books you read which normalize everyday violence and banalize it to pointless stories. The same goes for films and music.
Our whole culture in all its aspects is violent. We are all sick with it.
Violence is the deprivation of the ability to create and repair items by our own hands.
Violence is the right denied to copy and modify pieces of art or technology.
Violence is in the polluted air of our cities.
Make no mistakes, violence is everywhere.
This daily struggle for money, the rat race and the competitive dog-eat-dog life are getting us depressed, enraged, hateful, aggressive, narcissistic, drug-addicted, obsessive, split-minded, and/or we suffer from attention deficit. Who do you turn to for help?
The shrink and the loony bin who tell you that it’s your own fault that you are mad, when all you ever wanted was to better adapt to this violently insane society. Come get your detention spell in a sanitarium, with lots of colourful pills that knock you out, kill every coherent thought and make a good student / worker / consumer / tax payer / citizen of you again.
And our hospitals are no better, with their suppression of symptoms and their war against germs, led with chemical weapons that make you sicker than you have ever been before. Medical science is guaranteeing as much.
Violence is in science when it claims there is no other truth than scientific fact, that there is no sacred dimension, no meaning in life, no soul, and that love is just a bunch of chemicals and neurons in your brain. Most scientists claim that they were not responsible for the violent use of the outcome of their research through technology. I don’t know if this can be called violence but it sure is a sign of cowardice, and it is outright wrong.
So violence is in technology; the machine guns and bombs, yes, and also the vending machines, the cell phones, and the tv sets which disconnect us from each other and thus destroy our every relationship;
Violence is at your workplace to which you are a human resource only; remember the many times when you wouldn’t go to work in the morning, but you did anyway, for fear of getting laid off. Remember the many times when you didn’t dare to tell the truth, for the same reason.
Violence is in the economy to which you are a consumer only, and to which the whole world is just a pile of stuff to be extracted for profit. Think of the many jobs that do not get done because there is no money in it, and the many destructive things done just for the sake of profit.
Talking about money, that’s violence in the form of paper bills and computer digits, the debt of somebody in a Ponzi scheme who will never be able to pay back and thus will lose everything to the bank.
Last not least, violence is in the state that treats you as a subject and a tax payer.
The German word for violence, Gewalt, is contained in the word for the state’s authority, Staatsgewalt, and in the word for checks and balances, Gewaltenteilung. Language establishes a connection between governance and violence and sort of justifies the structural and also the physical brutality from above that runs by the name of ‘monopoly of legitimate use of force’. In its German translation, Gewaltmonopol, we have yet another phrase which includes violence. You can’t get more explicit about it.
As the state is not a person but simply a supersized group that consists of individuals, it is not far-fetched to say that the violence of the state is an amplification of the violence in all of us. I believe this has ramifications for how to go about it.

Arbitrary rule

Recently, the Auroville Council has presented a draft paper, for feedback, containing the envisioned future conflict management procedure of the township. A significant part of it deals with the final steps of conflict resolution, namely arbitration as a means to finish the dispute.
Let me explain why I think arbitration is detrimental to what we are seeking to achieve in Auroville, and what we could try instead.

From the collection of Mother’s explanations of Auroville’s aims and ideals we know that its society is supposed to be what she calls a “Divine Anarchy”, a community in which each individual, and the township as a whole, is guided by a higher consciousness. In effect, we would not need to be governed by any worldly authority because we would take responsibility for our deeds ourselves, acting in the interest of the common good. We would still have different opinions, but we would not deem them more valuable than anybody else’s needs. Embracing our diverse world as it is we would make decisions in consensus with others. That requires a great deal of understanding of people’s needs and motivations.

In the old paradigm, the civilization we have been born into, it is understood that, in a world of scarcity, the needs of individuals compete with each other for fulfillment. Therefore my gain is your loss, and vice versa.
In order to overcome this kind of thinking we must learn to resolve conflicts by achieving a win-win situation, i.e. the needs of everyone involved getting met. Just like NVC [non-violent communication] it doesn’t come easy to us; it has to be trained, dispute by dispute, until it becomes our natural habit to look for common ground. From this new point of view, each conflict situation is a challenge rather than a problem, and it becomes an opportunity to learn and grow. Conflict must not be suppressed in favour of superficial harmony, but rather lived through consciously.

To a large part, the Council’s draft reflects this understanding, describing a procedure that ranges from rather informal talks to facilitated, strictly reglemented methods, including restorative circles, reconciliation, mediation, NVC-meetings, and negotiation. If no agreement is reached the Council imposes arbitration on the conflicting parties and everyone else involved.

Arbitration

Arbitration, basically, is a settlement of affairs by judgement of appointed, ideally non-partial, persons. Their sentence is binding, leaving no choice to anyone affected by it.

As far as the Council is concerned, the conflict, and hence the suffering, ends there.
This is a misapprehension.

Arbitration may shorten the timespan until the issue is off the Council’s table, true enough. But it also stops the process of conflict resolution within the minds of the quarrelling people. It takes their responsibility for coming to a conclusion off their shoulders, and hands it over to an authority which they have no power over. To say that arbitration puts an end to suffering is objectionable for two reasons.
First of all, every time we suffer life tells us that something in our thinking, something in our strategies, something in our actions is not working out. We run into walls, physically or mentally, get hurt, analyze what has happened, and adjust to our new understanding of the world. That’s how we usually learn the important lessons in life. Some call it “trial and error”, some call it “learning by doing”. In short, we need suffering in order to be able to let go of non-functioning thought and behaviour.
Secondly, with arbitration being used to end a dispute, a person’s suffering from the pressures of conflict is getting replaced by suffering under the felt injustice of the verdict. Usually one, often both sides feel that their needs have not been met, their position not been understood. Rightly so, because we all know that even the most respectable arbiter is not free of bias. The pain of being degraded to an object in a decision-making process, to powerlessly having to bear the judgement by another, can be some of the most agonizing among all perceptions. Arbitration thus undermines the belief of the individual in the just, equitable functioning of its society. Authoritarian approaches such as arbitral verdicts are IN THE WAY of achieving a true dissolution of conflicts because the arbiters’ view suppresses contradicting opinions, thus creates rejection instead of acceptance, and the grudge against our opponents, and society as a whole, remains as a splinter under our fingernails.

We should not get forced to accept arbitral verdicts. Not to be willing, though, to do the inner work necessary to achieve the kind of human unity mentioned in Auroville’s charter makes our presence in the township pointless, or even disruptive. Personally developing solutions to our conflicts is therefore a must, a top-priority task given to us, an order to learn. If our consciousness is not evolved enough to come to an agreement with our fellow human beings, we should be forced to work on exactly that issue.
How do we do that?

Intensification

Time seems, to me, of cruical importance in matters of conflict. The longer the quarrelling lasts the more we get used to the rhythm of strike and counterstrike. We adjust to the constant presence of pain. In time we also lose the confidence that struggling will eventually end. If, however, the opponents are kept in close proximity, their suffering will be more intense; so will be their efforts to solve the problem, as well. We may expect a speeding up of the process, resulting in a quicker finalization.

Let’s call the last step of conflict resolution “intensification”, and let’s say we make the opponents meet each other daily for two hours, under the guidance of an NVC-trained facilitator. NVC as such may have failed before when some of the persons involved have learned the phrasing technique, but refuse to consequently actualize its meaning. The objective in intensification is to bring about a deeper understanding of the other’s needs, deep enough anyway to be able to propose how those needs may be met. The method consists of the following steps:
a) collectively attempting to phrase each person’s needs until they feel exhaustively understood
b) reciprocally proposing actions that are likely to meet our opponent’s need, until that person feels satisfied
c) harmonization of the proposed actions
d) written agreement that is binding to everyone involved. Its contents should be quantifiable in time and amount.

It is the duty of each party to find acceptable solutions for its (former) opponents, and the process must not get interrupted until we have come to a written agreement. As there is no deadline to the process, and as the meetings are happening daily, unavoidingly confronting us with the suffering of our neighbour (and our own), eating up a sensible amount of our precious time, with impacts on both work and private life, we cannot help but break our inner resistence. There is only one way out: achieving a consensus. Having truly understood this, suddenly there is motion.

Persistent resistence

What do we do, then, with those resisting to collaborate? – Well, the same as with those resisting to abide by the arbitral rule, now. Only would I propose to expand the range of tools into the realm of social control, before we go into exclusion from the Master list. Step by step we would be approaching friends to make them have a talk with the person in question; respected Aurovilians may later take the role of a coach to carefully steer the person into understanding the need for opening up. A denial of service and a temporary stopping of work engagement may further help with achieving the insight that society and individual are in a mutual relationship of dependency, which means that a society can only support the individual if the individual contributes sufficiently to its functioning. Only after it is made sure that someone will persist, regardless, is it justified to exclude people from citizenship in Auroville due to their involvement in a conflict. While it is not asked too much to deliver on the promise that we made when we came here by our own free will (to collaborate and constantly evolve), it is  important to note that imposing “solutions” produces the exact opposite: resistence and rigidity. We must avoid, by all means, what literally becomes an arbitrary rule.

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