2 July 2021

We went to pick up Y, to take her to a café in Ein Kerem as a late birthday meet-up. She recently returned from Britain, where she had stayed with someone and then visited Brockwood Park. The Krishnamurti retreat center sounds just as lovely as it always was (except that it's strictly for those who can pay £100 per day). Yael has a bit of money now, for a while, as she recently retired. She is leaving soon to stay and volunteer in Intersein in Germany; a Buddhist retreat center, then to stay with friends in Switzerland, then on to San Sebastia/Donostia - so she's in a good period of her life now, and feels free.

We talked a lot about privilege, and what it means, whether it's real or imagined. I think that it's half-and-half, actually and, of course, all very relative. Y is a highly intelligent person who could have done lot's of things in life, but she deliberately chose not to make a successful career. She decided to live according to her values and not worry about making mone. In recent years, she worked only when she needed to - usually for non-profit associations of one kind or another, and in dull jobs like bookkeeping and accounting.

Now, with a few thousand shekels a month, she feels rich, whereas someone else in her position might feel poor. She feels "free", because she can travel whenever, and whereever she pleases. I mentioned the film "Nomadland", which she hadn't seen. What came across in that film was the great freedom that the characters feel, but also the fragility of their freedom - for example that their lifestyle could fall apart with the first serious medical emergency, or engine failure in their vehicles. But everything is always temporary. Mutability is part of whatever way we live our lives. Y too in aware that the windfall she is currently enjoying will not last - next year she will be back to living from day to day on a limited pension - though, as she says, she could easily rent out her apartment and go to live somewhere cheaper.

As we were driving through Ein Kerem, D remarked that they had managed to preserve well a pleasant villagey atmosphere there. But I pointed out that it's all fake; property values there are over the top. Then, it goes without mentioning that the village was stolen from Palestinians. Y, earlier, said that when it belonged to them, it was also wealthy. I haven't checked that, but obviously many of the old houses (such as the restaurant where we ate) were of well-to-do people. And the village was quite extensive; it reached all the way up the hill to the Jerusalem neighborhood where she is living (on Brazil Street). Those former residents too experienced how everything in life can suddenly be disrupted, and fortunes be reversed.

eatery in Ein Kerem

We live in a time of growing disparities between rich and poor. Y was saying that all though this is true, the bottom level keeps going up, so that even though the rich have more, the poor also have a better life than previously. I disagree with that analysis, having grown up when conditions in North America were probably better than those today. She mentioned a friend who feels that most of what is being done in the world fails to take her into consideration. Her friend refuses to take the Covid vaccination because it probably hasn't been tested on people of her race: so who knows what the effects may be? She feels unsafe to be on the streets in Manhattan, and feels utterly marginalized. As Y says, people who enjoy privilege do not feel privileged; they simply take it for granted.

cheese platter

The main problem, the problem behind all the other problems that we are facing is one of perception. The lack of perception by the privileged of their privilege, the internalization of oppression by the oppressed. That's part of it. But basically the wrong perception by everyone of separateness, of the lack of inclusivity: our feeling that "what happens to me" is somehow special and different; our inability to perceive the interbeing of every being on the planet. This basic error in seeing is responsible for the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few and the utter destitution of so many. The only happy person along this broken and treacherous stairway between the bottom and the top, is the one who feels companionship and empathy for all beings s/he meets along the way; who does not feel a need to have more than is necessity for simple survival; who feels that anyway it isn't a question of personal happiness at all, if we are all one at a level of being.

This error of perception is responsible for the capitalist system and all similar evils. It is what needs to change in order to save the earth from environmental catastrophe.

The catastrophe is probably going to happen in any case now, and even when it comes it is unlikely to persuade many people of the truth of human unity, or the connectedness to all beings at the level of being. In any case, the motivation to achieve such enlightened vision is not utilitarian; nor does it come in order to achieve a specific result; which is why spiritual texts rarely mention practical outcomes. The tension between what the masses expect of the messiah and what the messiah himself intends is present in the Jesus story, especially, and is one of the most interesting aspects of the gospels. A part of that story unfolded in Ein Kerem - just outside the restaurant where we enjoyed our cheese platter is Mary's well; a spring with a mosque above it.

"Mary's well"

"Mary's well"