Is this what the denial of unconditional love for both really means?

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REJECTED IN THE NEW RACISM

Ireland is a country divided in a divided world. The Republic of Ireland is not a fraction as divided from those six counties of Ulster in the United Kingdom, as it is by the division  between the adherents of post-sixties modernity, and the adherents of a Christian culture which has been the hallmark of Western civilization for 2000 years. A cold, cold civil war continues unabated in Ireland. It is not a pleasant thought, but this conflict is nothing more or less than a race war, symbolized by the chilling rejection by two thirds of its voting electorate of the LoveBoth logo of the defenders of the right to life of human beings in their mothers’ wombs.

Any among the LoveBoth campaigners who happened to be able to endure the triumphalism of the victors in that historic referendum, will have wondered where their citizenship went last Saturday morning when they heard a (fairly) famous Irish journalist proclaim that at last Ireland was now “one nation”.

Yesterday, after a walk along St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin, I posted what amounted to a kind of cry for help on social media, the only way I could find at the time of dealing with a troubling existential experience.

I admitted that I was unable to look at the faces of those who passed me. The thought that two in every three were prepared to allow the killing of children in the womb was too potent a spark for enmity for me to deal with. I just had to look away. God help us! I said.

It struck a chord with a good number of people. One in particular, from the other side of the divide, seemed to want to help me bridge the chasm I was facing.

“Can I ask a genuine question?” She said. “How do you feel Irish society can move forward together following the referendum as there are such strong feelings on both sides?”

For my part, I could only reply to this effect, “I just don’t know. I am doing my best to resist hostility – of which we are receiving so much it makes it very difficult. The objective moral reality of this is shattering.”

She responded, disclosing formally that she was “pro-choice” – which I knew already –  saying that what concerned her was the ongoing split and that there didn’t seem to be any answers. “I…would like to think there is some way forward for all that is less divisive than (what) is happening now. Hopefully for all our sakes a more harmonious future awaits!” I felt unable to offer that hope. Why?

One of the biggest obstacles Ireland – and indeed the rest of the Western world faces when it comes to this particular battle in our ongoing culture war – is that there is no basis for dialogue so long as one side refuses to engage with the other on the central issue of identity at its heart. Throughout the campaign in Ireland the pro-abortion side studiously avoided using the word “baby”, the word “child”, even the word “mother”. What we got instead, constantly and repeatedly at every turn, were the words “health”, “compassion”,  “choice” and “my body”.

At the evil heart of racism resides the irrational conviction that one category of human being is less than – or not at all a member of – our own species. History is replete with many sad examples of the consequences of racism: in another era, the English treatment of the Celtic peoples in general, and the Irish in particular, over many centuries; the enslavement of Africans over centuries of colonialism, working its way through the bloody American Civil War and only ending in that hemisphere – legally at least – with the civil rights legislation of relatively recent times, and with the end of apartheid in ours.

Wherever racism was rampant, for the length of time it took to overcome it, the members of the dominant strain of our species who fought against this evil force and identified with the oppressed, were abused and sometimes persecuted and murdered for their acceptance of the common humanity which they dared to proclaim. For as long as racism persists,  racists refuse to debate the central premise of those who oppose them – the undeniable human identity of those it wishes to ignore, oppress, or, as in the case of Nazi Germany, eliminate altogether.

In the Irish referendum just concluded we have just had the latest example of this phenomenon. The defenders of the unborn humans in the wombs of their mothers again and again, scientifically, instinctively, morally, presented the case for the human identity of the gestating child. Again and again their arguments were sidestepped and ignored. There was no debate. For one side the child in the womb was simply not human, not of our race, so therefore the constitutional right to life enjoyed by those already born could not and should not be extended to these essentially alien things, mere invading “clumps of cells”. Now Ireland’s lawmakers are getting ready, on the basis of a mandate from two-thirds of the electorate, to pass a law to facilitate the killing of any among these non-beings whom other human beings decide should not live. All those who resist them will be deemed not part of the Irish nation and sidelined – at best.

Am I wrong in equating this reality with racism? I may be. But until someone is prepared to come and talk to me about it, and show me the error of my ways, I cannot move from where I stand – for to me it seems exactly where we are.

The legend of Parsifal tells the story of a wound inflicted on mankind – in the person of King Amfortas. The wound festers and resists all attempts to heal it until the one true and pure knight, Parsifal, is found. He, the embodiment of truth, innocence and simplicity heals Amfortas and humanity.

Ireland, and indeed the secularist West as a whole, is inflicted with a deep and festering wound at whose heart lies the central issue in the debate over abortion, recognition of the human identity of the unborn. Until such time as a knight like Parsifal comes to our aid and gets us to face our willful cowardice in the face of this truth, then our crippling divisions will persist with all the pain that goes with them.

COMMENTS

This article also appeared on the website, MercatorNet.com, where it attracted the following comments:

There is and will be a way to bridge the split. It is the one being realized in every pro-abortion country. It is called pragmatism. Being pro-abortion does not and cannot work. Ireland once was abundant in energetic intelligent people. They were Ireland’s only natural resource but with that resource they outpaced many countries like the Ukraine that has all the resources but insufficient people. Because you cannot run a free market economy with a declining population, I assure you that Ireland’s economy will decline exponentially as its population declines. Moreover because an abortion is only and always detrimental to the health of a woman, Ireland’s health care budget will spiral up which will put increasing pressure on health care providers to give their elders an early, dignified of course, death. All this and more will be realized all too late to reverse the trend. Don’t believe me? Ask any citizen of a Nordic country.

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  • NOTE: The picture appears to be from a previous referendum held in 2002 which tried to tighten the laws around abortion.

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    “Am I wrong in equating this reality with racism?”

    No, good point – and, similarly, in equating it to slavery too where one individual exists for or at the convenience of the other.

Black Panther and the fragmentation of our sense of what it is to be human

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There is an awful lot being written about Black Panther  which seems to point to significance far beyond its value as a work of entertainment – or even art. There is undoubtedly something extraordinary about it. There is also, however, something about it which nags – is this, on two fronts, just a bit too much more of the same? On the entertainment front, when one gets used to the wonderful African settings and the casting which the story demands, there is little about it to separate from the rest of Marvell’s universe. It is in its familiar ideological tropes, however, that its predictability mostly undermines the film.

Is Black Panther just one more barrage of cannon fire from the legions of Social Justice Warriors or is it more than that? A writer in America magazine, a solid SJW ally, says this is the movie Hollywood – and America – needs. On the other side of the divide Tom Slater in the contrarian Spiked.com complains that it just represents one more example of culture’s enslavement by politics.  “Superhero films are, let’s not forget, mainly for kids. That some political commentators seem to be discussing Wakanda (the idyllic fictional country at the heart of this Marvel artefact) as if it’s a real nation shows how ethereal, how obsessed with surface issues, how trivial, in fact, so much of supposedly radical politics now is.”

This is not a review of the movie. It is more an expression of uneasiness of what it and other elements of our culture may tell us about the path on which we, as human beings, now find ourselves.

There is no doubt but that we now live in a world where popular culture – and a great deal of the higher stuff as well – is undoubtedly in thrall to political correctness. The annual round of award events for the entertainment industry has ceased to have any real reliability as a guide to artistic merit. Instead they serve as a guide to the periodic shock-waves prompted by the revelation of the faux or real outrages trending on social and mainstream media. Indeed they are spoiled for choice when it comes to things to be outraged by. When award ceremonies are not infected with outrage, they are used to compensate for the shortcomings of past ceremonies. It is all pretty tiresome.

The critical consensus so far seems to be that Black Panther is a significant work of art. What it certainly seems to be is a work of ideology. That is no bad thing in itself. Ideologies should be judged on their merits, their correspondence with truth and justice and nothing else. Probably the worst of all ideologies is the ideology of ‘no ideology’.

Tom Slater asks that culture be liberated from politics. But the underlying problem is not really that political viewpoints emerge in art.  Great art has frequently been preoccupied by social and political issues. Consider the work of Victor Hugo (Les Miserables), Charles Dickens (Hard Times), Joseph Conrad (Heart of Darkness), to name but three.

The real problem is deeper and it is a problem which is manifested in contemporary culture across a whole range of issues. It is the problem of our descent into chaos caused by the utter fragmentation of our consciousness of what it is to be human. If there is a problem with the ideology permeating a phenomenon like Black Panther, it is that it is a symptom of this same fragmentation.

The preoccupations which increasingly seem to dominate our culture today – in the broadest sense of that word culture – are race, gender, religion, entitlement and equality. Our engagement with all these issues is ostensibly to seek some semblance of social justice for the oppressed or for those perceived as oppressed. Our efforts however, in many cases, seem to go in the opposite direction and all we achieve is a state of war rather than peace and real justice. The common thread which runs through all of them is a pursuit of identity. Each separate identity which is asserted then seems to have to pit itself against other identities in order to create and vindicate itself. For movements which purport to be inclusive, this is an incredibly divisive process and ultimately cannot but lead to chaos.

The implicit ideology underlying an artefact like Black Panther is that one race, a race which in one part of the world – which we generally call the West – has been viciously oppressed for centuries, is in fact a race superior to all others. It preaches this lightly and with some humour – but it still preaches.

Twentieth century Irish nationalism was a symptom of just such an ideology. One of the many tragedies of Irish history was the opportunity which was lost when an outward looking Celtic consciousness which had been beautifully woven together and fostered by the poets, playwrights and novelists of the literary revival of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century was cruelly corrupted by a narrow nationalist ideology. This nationalism defined Irishness as a crude ‘not other’ identity, that is, “not British”. This, for most of that century, crippled the Irish popular imagination and at its most extreme boundary generated a hatred of that “other”.

The illusion which fed that hatred was that the injustices experienced by the oppressed in the past – and even in the present – were at source racially driven. Race – if it is meaningful at all – is a neutral amoral force. Racism, on the contrary, is a personal sin, personally driven by a flawed morality. The source of all injustice is ultimately in the individual human heart. The solution to all injustice, institutional or otherwise, must be sought in the same place – the human heart. In the Irish context the moral evolution of the heart and soul of W.E. Gladstone, one of the “others”, is an example of how such a journey might be made. The tragedy of his failure is an indictment of the divisiveness of narrow nationalism. Narrow racism is even more heinous. But it is not the sin of a race. It is a personal sin, of which only persons and not a race is culpable.

When a people and its culture loses the sense of its core universal humanity, for whatever reason, often provoked by the injustices inflicted by people in one group on those in another, then the risk is that this process of fragmentation will begin. What has to be done to prevent it? The solution is in the recognition and the reinforcement of the truth and beauty inherent in the very fact of being human. Setting in opposition to each other the differences which distinguish one from the other is a path to destruction. Setting man and woman against each other as representatives of patriarchies or matriarchies is a poisonous process. Setting people of one colour against those of another is not only poisonous but also utterly stupid.

Is Black Panther just another symptom of the cancer of identity politics currently and increasingly afflicting our culture and our global community?

Colonialism, imperialism and racism, with a sprinkling of feminism seem to be the contexts around which the underlying ideology of Black Panther revolves. Colonialism and imperialism are endemic conditions which infect all human societies. As the ages progress the first two of these uninvited guests just change their colour, chameleon-like, and continue to worm their way through our world.

But railing against them is about as futile as railing against the weather. Like the poor, they have always been with us and always will be. Like the weather they can be hot or cold, violent or temperate. Like the weather they can both wreak destruction or help cultivate the earth. Just as we find ways to protect ourselves against the weather, with these forces of human nature we have to find ways of taming and managing them.

But unlike the inanimate forces behind weather, the animate phenomena which mankind generates – good, bad or ugly – are rooted in the soul. Their impact on the societies which humans create and inhabit come back eventually to individual human acts. All human acts, as we know, have the capacity to be good, bad or indifferent. In our lives each one of us can do good or evil. Empires and colonialism provide ample evidence of our capacity for both. Mother Teresa of Calcutta would probably never have found herself in India if the British had not been there before her.

Writing of the phenomenon of empires in history, John Darwin in his book on the British Empire, Unfinished Empire, notes that

Few subjects in history evoke stronger opinions than the making of empire. Indeed, some historians of empire still feel obliged to proclaim their moral revulsion against it, in case writing about empire might be thought to endorse it. Others like to convey the impression that writing against empire is an act of great courage: as if its agents lie in wait to exact their revenge or an enraged ‘imperialist’ public will inflict martyrdom on them. These are harmless, if rather amusing, conceits. But they reveal something interesting: that for all the ink spilt on their deeds and misdeeds, empires remain rather mysterious, realms of myth and misconception.

This is partly the result of thinking in monoliths. ‘Empire’ is a grand word. But behind its facade (in every place and time) stood a mass of individuals, a network of lobbies, a mountain of hopes: for careers, fortunes, religious salvation or just physical safety. Empires were not made by faceless committees making grand calculations, nor by the ‘irresistible’ pressures of economics or ideology. They had to be made by men (and women) whose actions were shaped by motives and morals no less confused and demanding than those that govern us now.

He complains that these misconceptions lead to a history in stereotypes; to a cut—and—dried narrative in which the interests of rulers and ruled are posed as stark opposites, without the ambiguity and uncertainty which define most human behaviour. Darwin points out that

This view denies to the actors whose thoughts and deeds we trace more than the barest autonomy, since they are trapped in a thought-world that determines their motives and rules their behaviour. It treats the subjects of empire as passive victims of fate, without freedom of action or the cultural space in which to preserve or enhance their own rituals, belief-systems or customary practices. It imagines the contact between rulers and ruled as a closed bilateral encounter, sealed off from the influence of regional, continental or global exchange.

We need to ask ourselves if Black Panther contributes to this stereotype or helps us to escape from it. On the answer to that question may depend how we judge, regardless of its artistic merit, the political validity of its underlying ideology.

What will ultimately get us to the root of this malaise and deal with the cancer that is racism – and all other afflictions emanating from the illusion that any human being is essentially superior to another?

Perhaps it is only the truth of these words which will cut through and shred the lie behind those illusions, and then repair the fragments of our humanity to wholeness:

‘I will announce the decree of the Lord: the Lord said to me, “You are my Son. It is I who have begotten you this day.”’ The power of the truth of those sacred words has moved men and women throughout history to cut through prejudice, greed, deceit and rapine. We might ask ourselves if all this heightened identity conflict is not the result of the loss of our sense of our core humanity, the true basis of our identity as created beings? We might also reflect on the fact that this fragmenting conflict is a phenomenon generated within western culture and its propagation has not a little of the odour of imperialism and colonialism about it, perhaps the latest manifestation of those perpetually meddling twins.

Thinking about it… Racism

The Help is not a great film but it is an honourable film and worth watching because it once again reminds us of things we prefer to forget – the banal injustice and ludicrousness of racism.

A few hours after watching it I was again reminded of it and its heroines when I read these words:

“The dignity of the human person and the common good rank higher than the comfort of those who refuse to renounce their privileges. When these values are threatened, a prophetic voice must be raised”
– Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, Apostolic Exhortation

There are still many mountains to climb.

Another warning from history

A new book about Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger and their role in the horrors associated with the events which led to the creation of Bangladesh is frightening. A Times Literary Supplement (10 January, 2014) reviewer writes of it:

Bass (the author) deploys White House recordings, including several new transcripts, to excellent effect, and although the bigotry and small-mindedness of Nixon and Kissinger are widely understood and known, the book contains enough material to make the reader sick. As Bass recounts in one instance, “Nixon bitterly said, ‘The Indians need – what they really need is a – . . .’ Kissinger interjected, ‘They’re such bastards.’ Nixon finished his thought: ‘A mass famine’”. The bigotry and rage are not limited to Indians, either (‘they’re just a bunch of brown goddamn Muslims’, Nixon says of the Pakistanis).*

There are three great realms of intolerance in this world – and probably always have been: cultural intolerance, religious intolerance and racial intolerance. Of the three, racial intolerance is the most irrational, blind and obnoxious. In these utterances of this supposedly wise and powerful duo we have all three mixed up together.

This is naked evil. There is no other way to judge it. A commandment forbids that we judge as evil the men who uttered these words and harboured these thoughts. But if this is the consequence of the political philosophy of realpolitik then that is an evil philosophy and we must call it such.

I don’t know if there is anything as genocidal as these remarks on record from the administration of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland which presided over the Irish Famine in the 19th century. I don’t think so. That these words should come from the mouths of an elected representative of a civilised people, and his learned and widely admired aide, is truly shocking. The prevailing laissez faire economic philosophy of the 19th century is offered as an excuse for government neglect of the starving Irish. It is a weak enough excuse. But what can excuse the racism, the callousness and the arrogance of these two – and how many more – in the middle last quarter of the 20th century, in living memory.

The grounds for disillusion – even disgust – with the political class are hard to cope with. Is it really true that “all power corrupts”? It seems that we should worry much less about absolute power than about power in its more ordinary manifestations. This is where the real rot lurks.

What is the antidote to this poison? Our only hope of escape from this evil would seem to lie in the spirit of these words:

People in every nation enhance the social dimension of their lives by acting as committed and responsible citizens, not as a mob swayed by the powers that be. Let us not forget that ‘responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation’. Yet becoming a people demands something more. It is an ongoing process in which every new generation must take part: a slow and arduous effort calling for a desire for integration and a willingness to achieve this through the growth of a peaceful and multifaceted culture of encounter.**

That is an excerpt from the Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, recently given to the world by Pope Francis whom the incumbent successor of Richard Nixon is due to meet shortly. We can be sure that the White House has by now dealt with the dreaded leakage problem which opened the world’s eyes to what went on in the mind and heart of Nixon and his advisers. We may have mixed feelings about Edward Snowden and his ilk but there is an upside as well as a downside to their approach to ‘open government’. Do we really think that we now enjoy a purer, selfless and more just exercise of political power than we did half a century ago? We would be naive to think so.

In the modern state, even in states which proclaim themselves of the people, for the people and by the people, our only hope of integrity, honesty and dignity is in remembering and living by those words, ‘responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation’.

*THE BLOOD TELEGRAM: Nixon, Kissinger, and a forgotten genocide. Gary Bass, 475pp. Knopf. $30.
**Excerpt From: Francis, Pope. “Evangelii Gaudium, Apostolic Exhortation”, 220. 24-XI-2013.