Violence

With mass killings spreading around the world as they are it seems like there's a kind of international civil war going on. Except that till now it's being waged by people mainly on the fringes radicalized by hate propaganda, or in some parts of the world by mobs who are either gullible or eager to attack neighbours of another caste or religion. But there are all kinds of ways that this can and probably will get worse:
- the internet and technology make it easier than ever to buy or create weapons that kill a lot of people.
- Overpopulation makes for easier targets.
- Finding people with similar beliefs and organizing was never easier.
- the disparity between rich and poor is growing; the failures of capitalism and neo-liberalism are causing explosive social pressures
- climate change, population density, resource scarcity and all kinds of other problems are also likely to raise the threat of violence.

I don't think that governments can contain these pressures through anti-terrorism measures, surveillance, gun control, etc. any more than they can control ordinary social problems through policing. Trying to cap popular anger through authoritarian control never works in the long run.
Since the problems that we face are probably unsolvable, the best that governments can do is probably to admit that and make a convincing case that we are in it together and will work together; the greater the feeling of community, the more this will be effective.

Complacency and its antidotes

Richard Stallman's Political Notes is a superbly curated timeline of horrors that lie just under the surface. It should be read every morning as an inoculation against complacency.

There are a few people who perform a similar service around specific issues. In Israel/Palestine there's Amos Gvirtz, who for years has been publishing and sending to a small email list his "Don't say we didn't know" in Hebrew and English (the Hebrew version is collected on Blogspot). It details the evils of the Occupation and the abuses perpetrated against groups like the Bedouin.

Such journals are intended as calls to action, but I think that is not necessarily the result. A lot of people would simply murmur "too much information!" and stop reading. It's as if, on hearing faint cries for help under the rubble of a collapsed building, we shrug and say what can I do; I don't have a shovel. Or, when a beggar tugs at our sleeve, we say that we can't feed all the hungry people in the world.

I too no longer know what to do with this information. I don't have the mettle of an activist. Rather than rail about or fight against injustice, I'm just as likely to purse my lips and think that these are merely the rumblings of a civilization in its death throes. What I know is that I don't want to participate in perpetuating the evil, so these notices help me to limit the consumption of goods, the seeking of entertainment, the number of journeys made, so I gradually live more and more as a kind of recluse. In early China, if one fell out of disfavour with the emperor, it was best for dissidents to take refuge in the mountains. That was probably a comfortable arrangement for the regime. But some of these exiles went on to write books of poetry and philosophy that had a lasting influence.

Even today, in the Zhongnan mountains south of Xi'an there is a revival of hermitism.

Coping in the modern world

It's charming to read, in The One Straw Revolution, Masanobu Fukuoka's frustration with Japanese officialdom. He's the epitome of the crazy genius nobody understands, the idealist who makes everyone else feel uncomfortable. I knew a man like that, Toma Schuck, who counseled me in my successful attempt to avoid military service as a conscientious objector. By the time we'd finished, the military understood that I wasn't exactly the material they were looking for.

Since that time, the world has grown ever more rigid in the formality of its structures, even as it simultaneously grows more fragile. The dystopian experience I had recently in Moscow airport highlights this trend. Masses of people held up and missing their flights because they have to be forced through the bottleneck of security scanners that nobody was paying any attention to and no one could. The baggage scanner was just a conveyor belt through which objects were rapidly passed. I think I could have gotten through with a miniature hydrogen bomb. Then the airline wouldn't pay up for lost flights because an hour was supposed to be enough to get through. The formal structures were maintained, but inside a theater of the absurd.

The material world is increasingly complicated to negotiate; whether it's getting through an airport or getting a job. In China they're introducing their social credit system, in India they're tying information in the Aadhar. There have been brilliant documentaries and feature films about people who fall through the cracks of our increasingly complex systems. I, Daniel Blake of British director Ken Loach comes to mind.

Sometimes I too feel like I can't or won't cope with all this. I'm relatively good with technologies, but slow and inarticulate in many human interactions. Yet I'm still in the normal range. What of other who are old and senile, or damaged by drugs, traumatized by wars and violence? Human beings cannot be forced into a straight jacket of formal structures. It's preferable to live on the fringes of the monstrous civilization we have created, and simply not have to deal with it.