In 2018 the problems facing Western Society are so deep and diverse and ordinary people have become so disempowered and fearful that a feeling of overwhelm can easily lead us to a kind of paralysis.
The Wall Street bailout in 2009 was a wake-up call for many as the rape of the economy to line the pockets of an unaccountable 1% was done in broad daylight so to speak. But it only made manifest the underlying problem of feudalizing powers in human society that are as old as the hills.
In the C20th the battle-lines were clear and the angle of response for people of good faith was the labor movement, the unionization of working citizens to serve and protect their interests in the workplace, followed by the creation of labor parties to represent of ordinary working citizens- men and women, black and white – in parliament in order to hold powers to account and secure policies that worked for the common good – for the 99%.
Today the issues may be parallel but the battle-lines are less clear. When the problems are so diverse and the individual cannot respond to everything it is difficult to choose a response.
In my mind there is something that ties together the things I would perceive as problems and issues of justice for ordinary citizens. If I consider the following (with Australia, the USA and the UK in mind):
- The hijacking of the economy for the 1%
- The despoiling of a country’s natural resources to profit private, foreign interests with no return for the people of the country – not even in tax revenues
- The diverting of public money to supercharge the profits of wealthy corporations
- The use of arbitrary drug laws to criminalize, incarcerate and permanently disfranchise indigenous peoples and people of colour
- Human trafficking
- Institutional child sexual abuse, covered up and protected by elite powers
- Particular, extreme abortion practices in parts of the USA and Australia
- Harsh policing of borders, dehumanization, criminalization, physical, psychological, sexual and child sexual abuse by state authorities of people seeking asylum
- The public (ie bodycam) lynching of African Americans by KKK infiltration of US law enforcement
- The privatization of water supplies – including the rain
- The hijacking of natural capacity to grow food by unaccountable corporations
- Deliberate disinvestment in schools, healthcare and infrastructure
- The unaccountable diversion of huge sums of public money – $9 trillion in the US
- The diversion of huge proportions of GDP to the MIC
- The non-accountability of high level crime perpetrated by elite bankers
- The privatization of essential resources and services
- Disregard of poisoned water supplies
- Disregard of toxic food production
- Disregard of growing numbers of working homeless
- Disregard of public care systems for children abandoning the great majority at the age of 18 to homelessness, exploitation, mental illness
- Child labor
- Exploitation of sweatshop labor
- Freak show TV
- Continual extreme violence on TV
What they all have in common is an attitude. It is an attitude that transcends the people who hold it and that resurfaces in every generation, perpetually manifesting wickedness and injustice. What the NT calls an elemental spirit. The unifying attitude as I perceive it is an active contempt for ordinary human beings. That is the emotion required to fuel the kind of unjust policies and structures and corporate behaviours listed above.
Each wrong may call for very specific responses. But I believe the most fundamental response to the elemental spirit is to follow the advice of the ancient mystic John Cassian. This hermit-monk from the dark ages of Eastern Europe spoke into a society riven with hatred and violence.
John Cassian’s advice to those seeking a righteous response was famously summarized by a little Latin phrase: “Contraris contrariis sanantur.” Interpreted it means “To heal, move in the opposite spirit.”
The opposite of contempt for ordinary human beings is love. The love of self is combated by the love of “us” – the love of society – the love of the common good – the love of the 99%
In translating this attitude of heart into justice and political principle some today use the South African word Ubuntu. It is a word for society that carries the understanding that the individual is nobody without the community around them.
The word Ubuntu belongs to a Zulu proverb which says, “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu” (tr.“a person is a person through other people.”) It was captured in Mohammed Ali’s shortest and most famous speech: “Me? We!”
It was the belief in “Me? We!” – the spirit of Ubuntu – that catalyzed the municipal movement and democratic reforms of the 1800s and the labor and labor reform movements of the C20th. Ubuntu is not a sentimental aspiration. It is political power.
So whatever the injustice we each respectively choose to combat; whatever the righteous outcome we each are aiming for, you and I are part of a big answer if we are building love – love of people, empathy with one another, understanding of one another and compassion for one another. If your work is built on those iterations of love, or if your work fosters that kind of love of one another than you are part of a big answer. For these are the elementals on which any happy, healthy and good society has to be built.
Or to put it in the words of an ancient middle-Eastern proverb: “Guard your heart. For it is the wellspring – the source – of your life.”