A force that gives us meaning

/ 19 November 2004

I’ve been reading Christopher Hedges “War is a force that gives us meaning” again. I think there is much there that helps to explain this past election. He writes:

Lurking beneath the surface of every society, including ours, is the passionate yearning for a nationalistic cause that exalts us, the kind that war alone is able to deliver. It reduces and at times erases the anxiety of individual consciousness. We abandon individual responsibility for a shared, unquestioned communal enterprise, however morally dubious.

There is little that logic or fact or truth can do to alter the experience. Moreover, once this crusade is embraced by the nation, the myth predetermines how the world is perceived. It is only after the myth implodes, often as suddenly as it descended, that one can again question the motives and actions of the state.(45)</blockquote>

So how can we hasten that implosion? One of the few hopeful moments in his book has to do with individuals who refused this kind of groupthink. He writes:

Many of those who defy the collective psychosis of the nation are solitary figures once the wars end. Yet these acts of compassion were usually the best antidotes to the myths peddled by nationalists. Those who reached across the lines to assist the "enemy" freed themselves from nationalist abstractions that dehumanized others. There were vaccinated against the cult of death that dominates societies in wartime. They reduced their moral universe to caring for another human being. And in this they were able to reject the messianic pretensions that come from the nationalist agenda. By accepting that they could only affect a few lives they also accepted their small place in the universe. This daily lesson in humility protected them. They were saved not by what they could accomplish but by faith. Such people are, however, very rare.</blockquote>

In this culture that we live in, images seem to communicate so much more than words. We don't have the pictures, the video images, because there's so little way to get documentarians into the middle of this conflict. Still, there are some pictures, and it's worth holding your breath, clenching your stomach, and taking time to meditate with them. Fallujahpictures is one blog with images. The information clearinghouse hosts a number of others, including videos. Take a hard look at what our tax dollars are buying in sheer loss of life in Iraq. You won't see these images on rightwing blogs. But then, I'm not sure how much humility and faith you'll find there, either. Pray.