Michael Lennea battles the demon that is modern cultural programming.
One day, in November of 1997, on Guadalcanal, in the Solomon Islands, a group of four young men, all dressed in regulation WW II US army fatigues, were making their way to the site of a battle that had been fought there over 50 years before.
We were extras in the film The Thin Red Line, and we were about to begin another day of shooting.
The fellow on the seat beside me asked, “Have any of you ever done any acting?”I replied “Yes, I’ve been pretending to be an adult for the last ten years.”
We played soldier, that day, and as we walked in the footsteps of the real ones, I couldn’t help but wonder what their spirits would think of our charade. It seemed sacrilegious to be pretending, like little boys playing war always seems. Of course, there could be nothing so profane as the original reality, what those men did and had done to them.
Their profanity was sanctioned by the president and generals who’d sent them, while our little facsimile was arranged by the studio heads, directors and producers at the top of our hierarchy. We were all children, playing out a game by the rules the adults gave us. The only difference was that this time we didn’t have to kill, suffer and die for our pretense. In fact, this time the Japanese were catering the event.
It is almost two years later now, and today I got embroiled in an argument with a veteran of the Canadian forces. He was far too young to have known the horrors of WW II, Korea or Vietnam, but he argued vehemently for the necessity, not only of warfare, but also of that most heinous type, atomic warfare.
He believed that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was necessary despite all the evidence that Japan would have capitulated without it.
When I brought up the injustice of fire and slow death by cancer being visited upon thousands of citizens, including helpless children, who had nothing to do with the war and who had no power over the Emperor, his generals and his legions, he denied that this was unjust. He claimed that they got what they deserved, because they allowed the Japanese army to do what it did.
This is, of course, the justification given for every war atrocity ever committed; guilt by association. It is as old as the Serpent in the Garden and Original Sin. Stained at birth, we are all guilty until proven innocent. Our innocence, interestingly enough, can only be proven by our allegiance to the Righteous, whichever flavor of the month they might be at the time.
It is the ultimate profanity, the intrusion of the Serpent into the Garden, and yet invariably it is Adam and Eve who get the blame. Why didn’t God tell the Devil to go to Hell, and stop playing silly buggers with His children?
Instead, He took great offence, and banished them to countless millennia of the cycle of pain and death. Meanwhile, He and the other immortals bask in celestial splendor. Sound familiar? Sounds a bit like the American President who gets his d*ck sucked while giving the order to bomb the oppressed citizens of the latest Dick-tator to offend him.
What is this human compulsion to answer every horror with something more horrible yet? As reasoning beings, we seem to use our faculties fabricating blame and justification for further atrocities and then wreaking punishment on those within reach.
Ultimately, our political rhetoric and logistical theory is only adult posturing, a plausible cover for delinquent behavior wreaked with grown-up toys. Childhood and the innocence it represents is the only truly sacred thing we have. Its demise is the only real Original Sin.
In our arrogant ambition to become grown ups – to replace our parents, teachers and other domineering adults – we throw out the baby with the bath water. All that makes children and animals so special, their honesty, humility, playfulness and sense of wonder, is what we destroy in the name of maturity.
Adulthood is assumed through the development of masks of hubris, prideful facades, and empty protective shells. The defining characteristic of most successful adults is the ability to lie well. Thus, the blaming and punishment of the most vulnerable – the weak & innocent.
The clearly evident reality of the unnecessary suffering of the many for the pleasure of the few is something deemed by the adult world as inadmissible. They inevitably trot out the tired cliches of individual responsibility or karma, depending on their philosophical predilections, whether they are talking about the unemployed or an AIDS baby.
In this cultural mythos, to admit individual powerlessness in the face of evil is the only sin. It is interesting that this unrealistic optimism is shared by victim and oppressor, by the successful and unsuccessful alike. The paradox of this philosophy of the supposed sacred freedom of the individual is that it denies the power we do possess to change ourselves and the world around us & affirms the power of the unwieldy systems our overlords have created.
It denies the value of each individual life and its inherent worth as an interdependent part of the cosmic whole. Asserting the power of the individual while denying his/her dependence on his/her environment and fellows is what has led us to the massive psychological and physical degradation which has marked this past century as the most abominable so far.
The Cult of Individual Freedom, the practice of self-interest without bounds, is what the high priests of industrial culture would have us defend to the death. The denial of our own nature as mortal, interdependent beings is essential for the continuance of the rule of these political and corporate hierarchies.
Until enough people awaken to the power that is ours for the taking through coÃ¶peration, but which will continue to elude all but the most venal in this system of unfettered competition, the tyranny of the high priests of Individual Freedom will continue. True individual freedom can only come about in coÃ¶peration with our fellow creatures and the planet we all share. It is only by coming to realistic terms with our own nature and the nature of the cosmos that we can truly progress as a species and find happiness.
The dramatic inventions of this century, which have given our species such unprecedented power, only underscore how truly powerless we are in the face of our own unfettered competitive and selfish nature.
The machinery that offers such freedom and power has also released unprecedented havoc and misery on its users. Like the sorcerer’s apprentice, we have been playing with things we are spiritually unfit to handle.
Endless debate about the proper legal restraints on the carnage, like so many theologians debating the number of angels who could dance on the head of a pin while Doomsday rages around them, has obviously not provided a solution. What is an acceptable rate of misery and death as the price for our toys?
It is time to grow up and face reality, kids.
That doesn’t mean sacrificing our childhood innocence to the adult gods of ambition, it means spiritual growth. For all of the bewilderingly complex systems and machines we have created, we are still like so many overdeveloped children, frantically playing joyless games we have forgotten the purpose of.
We are much more than these tools which we have allowed to define and rule us. We are spiritual beings, capable of overcoming our selfish instincts and creating a happier world than that which we’ve inherited. Happiness is the most valuable thing we can make.
Let’s put the toys in their place and concentrate on getting along with the rest of our playmates. So how about it boys and girls, can’t we all just get along?
Foto: Elliott Erwitt