A family recipe, a childhood memory, a Depression-era handout
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The article on “The Warrior and the Militarist” [Issue 125] was superb. The speakers found common ground, yet their individual perspectives were not subordinated to precise agreement. I was especially pleased with the insights Gary Snyder brought to the discussion. What threw me, though, was turning the page and finding Brother David Steindl-Rast’s dogmatic essay on “The Price of Peace.” Although brilliant in places (e.g., the part about the nosebleed), it seemed self-righteously unequivocal beside the broad and aptly inconclusive discussion from Nuclear Strategy and the Code of the Warrior. I think the disparity between the articles points to a dissension in new age philosophies.
Having said that, I’ll go further and risk saying that, more times than not, The Sun appears to endorse the viewpoint of David Steindl-Rast. What is that viewpoint? Apparently that the root of modern crimes such as the nuclear one is to be found equally in each person’s heart, and that atonement is possible only by submitting to a subtle form of self-flagellation. As I read “The Price of Peace,” I saw an image of Steindl-Rast sulking in the shadows of his soul, prayerfully flogging his back with a cat-o’-nine-tails. This approach is dangerous because it fails to discriminate between those things that connect us to one another, and those that separate us. Although it’s true we are One, Cosmic Oneness does not implicate each of us in every other’s crimes.
If someone wants to pin a photo of Reagan to the wall and embrace it with Christ love, that’s fine; it may even help to exorcise a few private demons. For my part, I’d as soon throw darts at it. Reagan drops bombs without even consulting Congress, much less you and me. Are we to feel responsible for the murdered Libyans? What happened to democracy by and for the people? I agree with Steindl-Rast that the world around us “is one we have all created together,” but that doesn’t guarantee we have equal shares in creating it. Some people play a bigger role in creating the world than others, just as some play a bigger role in destroying it. For example, the wealthy can more easily refashion the earth’s surface than can the impoverished. And a billionaire can do about anything he damn well pleases.
This has become obvious to me growing up in a small town where a handful of rich families have decided nearly everything — which buildings will be built and which torn down, which crimes penalized and which overlooked, which properties sacrificed to greed and which conveniently rezoned just in time to fatten an already fat pocket. I’ve seen a murderer go free and a pot smoker sentenced to ten years in jail. And these are deeds of the petty rich. Consider what the Rockefellers can do — and have done. So what purpose does it serve to invoke the name of Oneness when in fact — at least on this level — there is an “us” and “them”? We each cast an internal vote by our intentions, an external one by our actions. There’s no set human nature that predisposes us to take part in war preparations. It’s a matter of conscious choice.
As Gary Snyder points out, the weapons now jeopardizing our planet were put in place by a long line of individuals, each with the freedom to consciously choose his or her path. Some chose to take part, others said no and paid the price of anonymity. We have the same choices today. There’s no wrong in discerning who is responsible for nuclear weapons, nor is there wrong in being indignant when they continue making them. On the other hand, it is wrong — as any good psychologist knows — to pretend to love these people when in fact we do not. We can care about them as fellow creatures, but that doesn’t oblige us to sit idly by while they spend $10,000 a second in their efforts to render earth a suicide-bomb or wasteland. The point is, we don’t have to love everyone, but we do have to live together.
This brings me to a final point: Steindl-Rast seems to think anything short of absolute peace is utter failure. He calls this a “peace-less world.” Where are his eyes? Is he blind to the incredible amount of peace going on all around us? I’ll define my terms in case we are using different definitions. Absolute peace, it seems to me, would be perfect equilibrium — most likely a state of profound boredom and nothingness. Absolute war, on the other hand, would be something like every human on earth intent on destroying every other (which, if you think about it, is even worse than the nuclear threat). Either extreme is ridiculous; existence, though never static, lies somewhere between the two. It’s obvious to me the world is mostly at peace, and always has been. Even in the midst of war the majority of humans on earth are probably engaged in peaceful, cooperative activities. To call this a peace-less world is to prolong the sick habit of seeing all the bad and none of the good. What I ask for in my prayers is not a world without violence, nor even one without wars (though I’m confident we can achieve the latter); what I ask for is a world without these absurd weapons that promise to destroy everything we know.