I read my friend Rachel’s recent blog entry about the ethics of care and healing trauma, and that reminded me of something, something that is very important to me. Caring is an essential component to my political world-view. I quite literally cannot envision a new anarchist world, that is, a world that is not structured by things like government, prisons, police, domination or hierarchy of any kind – I cannot see such a world existing or surviving without a deep sense of caring being the norm that people have for each-other.
And yet, I am struck by the profound absence of caring, again and again and again and again. This goes for radicals and “normal people”, anarchists and politicians alike. Caring, real caring, is seeming to be conspicuously absent in people’s lives, relationships, outlook on society and vision for the future. An example for this (aside from what Rachel has already mentioned in her blog entry) is the song by Chumbawamba that I link to at the top of this blog entry. It is a damn catchy song, I love it, and yet, the line that immediately follows the chorus that I am using as the title for this blog entry is: “give the fascist man a gun-shot”. To me, killing people, especially the act of labeling large swaths of people into certain categories, and then executing all of the people within that category – that all belies a profound lack of caring.
Within self-described anarchist circles there is a kind of fashionable chic going around now that has violence, or at least the rhetoric and images of violence, seem really awesome and desirable. I suppose that this kind of thing has existed within anarchist scenes for a long time now, which has partly fueled the image within popular society that “anarchists” are all violent maniacs. I recently read a quote by the radical socialist author William Morris who describes my sentiments exactly: “I cannot for the life of me see how the principles of anarchism, which propose the abolition of compulsion, can admit of promiscuous slaughter as a means of converting people”. For me, the glue that holds a society or a group of people together, without compulsion, coercion or a state structure present, is that the people involved really do care about each other to some degree.
In a more mainstream picture of the world, right now the U.S. government is regularly and increasingly killing scores of people in different countries across the world by using unmanned drone planes. A recent editorial I read describes these attacks as being “too clinical; they are like video games”. It is a totally impersonal way to kill people, and it is more and more becoming the norm, because it results in far less U.S. casualties. At least directly. A lot of the time when people try to hurt or kill other people out of revenge it is done so out of a motivation of “NOW you will understand the pain that I am feeling, because of the death of my loved ones. I will MAKE YOU UNDERSTAND this pain that I am feeling, by having you experience the death of YOUR loved ones.” I am guessing that when you don’t even see the people that are killing your loved ones, when you just see death machines flying around in the sky, the urge is then even stronger to have the people that are behind it understand the pain that is being caused.
Death by drone strikes seems to me to be a part of a much larger trend in society of a way of dealing with horrors and death – hide it away from direct viewing. Other forms of abuse and death do the same thing – the whole massive prison-industrial complex, old people dying in nursing homes, news stories of people being killed by suicide bombers all over the world getting little tiny blurbs being written about it in the newspapers. I recently went to a play performance by a touring radical theater group where the play that they gave enacted out some of the various different horrors of prison life in this country. The idea being that if you see real-life people right in front of your face suffering different pains and injustices then you would have it begin to sink in that this kind of thing actually is taking place in this world that you live in. It is no longer so damned abstract that you can’t really believe that it’s happening.
However, there is also another dynamic – that of people being exposed to all kinds of different scenes and images of pain, suffering and violence regularly, on an on-going basis, as a form of entertainment. This is very popular, very normal, very “cool” even. The idea is that seeing this kind of thing taking place, regularly, on a daily basis even, makes you numb to it. It takes the meaning and the real-ness out of the whole thing. It all then ceases to matter. There is no caring in this, even though you see that it is going on.
To counter all of this, I want caring – a regular on-going practice of real, conscious, intentional caring. There are different ways to go about this, to cultivate this, and my personal favorite is a Buddhist practice – “Mettā meditation”. The idea is that after meditating for a bit, you then shift your attention to your body sensations in the present moment (particularly around in your heart-area) and saying to yourself something along the lines of “May all beings be happy. May all beings be peaceful. May all beings be free from suffering”. There are other ways to do Mettā meditation too, and other non-Mettā ways to cultivate real caring exist as well. The important thing is to really encourage within yourself conscious sincere wanting the well-being of other people – even if you do not know these people or even if you actively dislike them.
What I see as being important, from both a spiritual perspective as well as a radical social change perspective, is that people really do see and acknowledge all of the different pains, hurtings, sufferings and injustices that are taking place all over the world. And, together with seeing & acknowledging that, then sincerely responding within one’s self, within one’s heart, with a real feeling of caring and well-wishing for those people (or non-people, as the case may be). Whatever actions may be taken then, to help to remedy the situation, comes forth out of both seeing & knowing what is going on, as well as really actually feeling & wanting the best for those involved.
I don’t consider myself to be a pacifist, so please do not write off (or write up) what I am saying as being some kind of hard-line pacifist ranting. What is important to me is really, actually, caring about people. Really wanting people to be well, happy and healthy. Coming from this, I see nonviolence as usually being the best way to go about things, simply because violence often hurts people, and the idea is to minimize hurt, not to make more of it. (Paul R. Fleischman wrote up a good little essay about this perspective that I recommend, entitled “The Buddha Taught Nonviolence, Not Pacifism”)
Perhaps I am just a big sentimental softie here, but I just see wide-spread caring as being so important, so essential, a big part of what we all, or at least myself, am going for here. You can call me “unrealistic”, “naïve”, or a “dogmatic ideological” so-and-so. But I don’t care. Because as I see it, there is so much more, and so many more people out there, to care about.