Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Newtown Dec. 2012: loss of lives

Athens 17.12.2012

Dear poets,

I address you poets, but have in mind all friends around the globe, for all are stricken by what just happened in Newtown and what is continuing in Syria. A friend just wrote after having been visited by two people from Syria how full of fear of life they have become. Life is no longer anywhere 'normal'. Tragic all the more what happened in Newtown. This loss of life strikes home all the more when there are innocent children at the age of six and seven involved. Since there are many layers to this discussion ahead, I want to share with you this ongoing debate about the need for a flag and a national identity as exemplified most recently by the outburst of violence by the Loyalists in Belfast.

To this both Kevin and Bernard have written their opinions. Invaluable are these different insights as we need such conviction reality can be faced despite all set-backs and shortcomings. It is, therefore, crucial on how we perceive these events and exchange opinions to know more about how we can relate to these ongoing happenings.

We are at a loss precisely because we have also failed to stop all the killing in Baghdad once the invasion started in 2003, and we cannot forget what happened in Chile 1973 when Allende and everyone else standing for a human society were killed or put into jail. I just read a poem by Michael D. Higgins about the singer V. Jara whose hands were smashed first so that he could no longer play his guitar and then killed in that football stadium transformed into a concentration camp. Hence these questions linked to the Holocaust in Germany go deep while only few find the courage to speak words of wisdom, words of redemption as did Jean Amery who quoted Dostoevsky when writing about the need to go beyond crime and punishment. For redemption is needed but not possible if we do not understand our losses and learn fore mostly our need to mourn. If we trust the wrong forces again to fix the problem as if a broken down car, then we will surely go astray in a system meant to suppress the truth about humanity. In face of a child demanding to know the full truth, we see too often the world being transformed into a kind of horrid tale filled with monsters and threatening forces who will punish everyone for going astray. It is the best way to drive out of any child a sense for justice and for humanity. Rarely do children hear stories of true courage by which they can take heart that a spoken word, a true one at that, can sober down the other and resolve the situation rather than escalating still further till the violence becomes a sequences of revenge and counter revenge.

The Tunesian poetess Najet Adouani reaccounted to me when Salafists came to her house to threaten her and her three sons that if she would continue to write critically, they would all be killed; she looked into the eyes of the main spokesman of this group of men feeling brave together vis a vis one woman with her three sons, and she offered her hand to say we are not separated by religion for we are all people fromTunesia.

That offer of open talk is important. More of that is needed but we cannot do it if we are not sober enough inside ourselves and able to respond to the aggression of the other by being non aggressive. Klaus Heinrich, the philosopher of religion in Berlin, wrote about the difficulty to say 'no' against all forms of self destruction leading too often to the destruction of others.

Since Merlie M. Alunan has written already before this latest incidence a very vivid but brief history of the Philippines emerging out of colonialism and now coping with the new contradictions within a global world, and now Gabriel has responded below to her way to seek a language, let me pick up her main theme, namely how to organize society if not as a nation, than what?

Merlie reflected upon the USA which appears as nation to have something the Philippine people do not have, namely 'pride'. Much is implied with such a projection upon the United States. The term 'pride' reminds me first of all as to what Pablo Neruda said, namely the first thing we need to get rid of is pride for it leads to isolation.

Yesterday Barack Obama held a speech in Newtown and he spoke as President of that Nation. In what he said about children being an external heart to their parents, and the moment they are born, they will go through a world filled with dangers and risks, and parents will not be able to keep them safe all the time, I agree with him. But he stopped short of declaring human life everywhere as being sacred because he spoke only about the task of keeping the children inside of this nation called America safe. As if the nation has to become a secured place while not bothering about the outside world, that reminds very much about the community of Newtown portrayed as a tighly knitted community with everyone friendly and forthcoming. Then why the need for guns to feel save?

When Barack Obama left out that human dimension outside the nation, then something inherent in that declaration of wishing to safeguard children against loss of life is an inherent contradiction he as a politician needs to resolve. For instance, he did not mention the Drones he orders to kill others and yet innocent children have been killed when they striked in a far away land, may that be Pakistan or Bahrain. If that contradiction is not resolved, there is little to expect from such a political world that it will safeguard children in future from being shot by another person. As long as America keeps up this war fare to feel safe, there shall be no descalation of violence at home, in America. For how you treat others, this will end up returning in varied forms back home and hit you unexpectedly on your own home ground.

Merlie M. Alunan described a part of the history in the Philippines when she mentioned American forces which returned to revenge themselves for that one successful uprising by people living on one island and who clothed as women to surprise the garrison of American soldiers who had come to occupy that island and to impose upon the people living there in simple ways their way of appearing to be thrifty, industrious i.e. not lazy and just enjoying life. The Americans stationed on that island were after that surprise attack either killed or they fled by boat if they could. Merlie accounts that later they returned with gun boats and more soldiers. The turned their military superior power upon those simple people who had just wanted to be free to live the way they wanted.

Armies have that in them. When resistance in Crete during the German occupation in Second World War captured a general, the German army was transformed by rage. Many young men were rounded up and just shoot. Elytis describes such a scene in his great poem 'Axion Esti' - life be praised. Any army acts out what is called revenge, but it means as well in the American context to extent the death penalty as highest form of a belief that death itself is the best deterrence of any possible crime in future. Thus the death penalty at home is what the army does abroad, namely to kill. The Western myth is linked to that: shot first and ask questions later.

If Barack Obama speaks about the need that something has to change in the American culture, then certainly it has to start with these false notion of what is a deterence. Even what followed 911 by starting war first in Afghanistan, then in Iraq was an act of revenge. The folksinger J. Cash said himself when hearing the news of the attack on the twin towers, "who is so foolish to try that and thinks he can get away." Barack Obama did then succeed in what Bush had pronounced as the main mission, namely to track down Bin Laden and then to kill him. Justice is fulfilled when a drone strikes nowadays. That is immediate punishment at the push of the botton. All what it needs to order the strike is to have someone identified as 'terrorist' and already that is sufficient justification. Equally at home Homeland Security defines who is an inner enemy. But it seems that the system does not work. For revenge brings only still further revenge.It is an endless process of negating life itself that besets life and makes peace impossible.

Revenge is a law which Hegel called a sign of uncivilized behaviour. The death penalty was called by Albert Camus and Arthur Koestler an act of revenge. If the law is applied by the state itself, it was meant to step in-between perpetrator and victom and thereby to suspend the principle of revenge. Yet ever since we had in Germany the Holocaust, I ask myself but what happens if the state as a whole entity seeks revenge? This Hitler did when he seized state power and made it into a totalitarian method to underscore that he is a 'radical loser' as defined by Enzensberger. Enzensberger considers Hitler to be a prime example of what it takes to make out of a loser a murderer as has become this young man who shot first his mother and then twenty children and six teachers at that school in Newtown.

So I want to ask especially the poets, and in the light of what Gabriel Rosenberg wrote as response to Merlie's quest for a language by which we can express our emotions and begin to understand the world we live in, how can we avoid falling into this national trap while still heeding the need to give full expression to cultural diversity and differences? It would be short sighted if poets cannot free others from national confinements, for a loss of human life is a loss for us all.

Too often we experience that American life matters, but not what the collatoral damage of drone attacks do to mothers and children of the 'terrorist' the drone supposed to kill as if those surgical attacks are always precise i.e. on target? For what happens to other children, women and men, and therefore to humanity, that will affect us all. As the news from Newtown was illuminated upon by the global newscasters, we also learned that 20 bodies of migrants had been washed ashore after their boat capsized while still others were missing, presumably dead due to drowning. These migrants had paid 2000 dollars each for a journey in an over crowded boat and they never made it. They must have been so desparate to flee Iraq and other places filled with unrest and violent killings as now in Syria, that they took upon them this risk to save their lives, but as it turned out in vain.

As you wrote Gabriel Rosenstock, as long as there dominates in the USA culture this winner takes all, the loser is left stranded, there is no bipartisan coalition possible for the sake of being an open society for everyone. Yet truth has to be impartial and every life considered sacred. It was the caution and criticism by the Ancient Greek poet when they wrote ethical rules about how to treat your neighbor and to make sure a judge presides equally in court whether the trial is about one citizen or about what a stranger has done. In both cases the same law has to apply, if humanity is to be treated according to this one value premise, namely that all human beings are equal.

During that ceremony in Newtown in the presence of the President of the United States, I also heard too many religious preachers speak about serving God. Indeed, serving is the first step to serve the nation when going to war. Such servitude excludes the notion of resistance. That person would be immediately branded as traitor. Yet who can really judge what is in the best interest of not the nation but of people who wish to get along with each other rather than go to war? As one Japanese woman wrote after Fukushima, you cannot love the corporations, you can only love other people. So why transcribe this human quality upon a nation in need to be loved? Still, Barack Obama ended his speech with 'God bless America'. Is that something by which a vigilance for the sake of humanity should end with?

The more problematic side of an orientation linked to the nation is the folly of man trying to claim victory in the name of that nation, in order to feel secure. Repeatedly nations go to war in order to test that myth of being invincible. America was deeply shaken by Viet Nam. There people stood up against even naphalm bombs. Students started to shake the convictions of those flying the planes which dropped those bombs. How could they if they knew it would kill innocent people, and in particular children on the ground? Today the remote control made possible by technology seems to have eased the ethical tension, while lawyers stand beside the young person trained at the computer in a bunker in Nevada when setting sights on a target in Pakistan. That person can be a computer wiz at the age of 24 so very close in age to that young man who did the shooting in Newtown, but no connection was made between the means by which a nation is made to feel safe and secure, and the impact that method has upon the basic morality!

About learning languages well, I agree with what Gabriel Rosenstock says. Yet I would want to just add one thought by Chomsky who said if we learn one language well, we learn a universal language by which we can learn and understand the other languages. Also there is the language of Pantomime and sign language. The Polish journalist Kapuscinski described well in his book 'Travel with Herodot' how easy it was to communicate with the man who drove him. Even if the man did not know his language, he had two words to make a difference: 'problem - no problem'. When they drove through dangerous territory, his face was ashen and he uttered only 'problem'. Once they were out of that valley, his face lit up and with relief he said: 'no problem'.

Indeed, we understand when we knock stones under water and the other listens as well under water, for then we become like dolphins who can give to each other intelligent signals. It matters that we can also communicate with our hands and feet, facial expressions and still are aware of all the hidden assumptions we make as if the others do understand what we wish to say.

So I think any argumentation for national literature needs to be reflected upon. My prime question is for what purpose, if not to curtail the identification process to a very limited identity defined for the purpose of organizing society in a certain way. When I read Merlie's account of the Philippine, and in understanding the dilemma the people there face, namely how to free themselves from a colonial past and now in face of global powers dictating another way of life, I wonder how can we combine our personal wish to be free from any determining ideology, the national one just one kind, and still assume society can be organized in a way which respects that freedom? Nations are just one way of organizing society and they have proven a failure in the past, and they do not allow a world governance the philosopher Habermas speaks about. Reference to national interest seems to go before world interest even if climate change affects us all! And also what happens on this globe to every human being!

National assumptions are based on claiming to be weak alone but together we are strong. Thus we end up giving in to a blind belief in the nation, and therefore follow through the thought in order to be strong we have to be together. But this together forms a 'we' when embraces no more everyone. Rather it means a closed society. Like a club only its members are allowed to enter. For that nations have invented passports and border controls. Through that system national identities are defined by some characteristics and then to be accepted a certain proof needs to be given. When the neo Fascists in Greece, the Chrysi Avgi gave out food for those in need, they had not only to show their identity cards as being Greek, but also provide the party workers with all personal data. They are driven by a hatred against all foreigners and strangers. Their slogan is Greece for only the Greeks! That means even for a taxi driver that everyone has to become a Rassist!

The main contradiction in the United States is that America was born out of a desire to be free. The Canadian writer Atwood describes it as a main characteristic of Canadians who do not wish to be determined by anything; they have fled Europe and its imposing, equally stifling institutions and yet they have still to come around to allow themselves to be determined by something positive. Michael Moore in his film 'Bowling for Columbine' reflects upon this difference between Canada and USA: why no violence in the former, while so much in the USA even if more Canadians are in possession of fire arms?

In the USA the determining factor has been the great nation. Barack Obama stated after reflecting what has happened last Friday, that now things have to change. Asking if the prime job has been done up to now, namely to protect the lives of children, then in view of six and seven year old children having been killed, the answer is definitely 'no'. But what has to change to prevent such killing? It seems there is no understanding as of yet why so many radical losers stay for such a long time unnoticed amidst in a society based on denial that something is amiss. That was as well the tragic case in Norway.

When you follow up all the news coming out of USA, then it is strange that no one presents this simple case of contradiction: why the mother of that young man who did the killing took him to the shooting range to train him in the use of the gun? Or why had she so many guns herself? Everyone asked about her said that she was such a wonderful, lovely woman! Still, some bits and pieces of odd details emerge. For instance, it is said that she was so over protective of her child that she told the babysitter never to leave him alone for one moment, even when he goes to the bathroom. That anxiety suggests a lack of trust and says a lot as to what must have been a deeply disturbed relationship between mother and child. Her child was said as well to have a temper which could suddenly flare up. That boy ended up killing first his own mother, then all those innocent children. And yet everyone seems surprised that it could happen in such a community.

It is said that Newtown where mother and that young man lived is a community tightly knit, but by what is revealed in terms of reflection, it seems much more to be ruled by silence. It is a peculiar kind of silence since based on denial of reality. Yes, there is this silence which upholds an image and symbolizes the key problem of any society! For all children feel terrible alone, isolated and tend to lose any empathy for others when there are no good discussions at home, when practically the problems parents have, are not put on the table and the truth is confronted in every moment.

We need to reflect much more how we socialize each other. For what hurts every child very deeply is to be educated into a sole national direction, whether now to acquire Greek habits and a mentality to fit in with the rest or to adopt a Britishness based on 'definance' as was propagated again after the bombing of the London tube in 2005. Children are born free, but through schools they are made to be traitors of themselves. The universal human being they were as a child while still roaming freely in nature is ended once they enter that class room with school prayer and singing the national anthem. I was literally shocked when I visited a school in Detroit to see how all the official forces - firemen, police, security officials, army etc. converge upon the school and indoctrinate loyalty to the nation. It is done with the pretense that this is the only way to feel save.

In other words, once children are forced into fitting into a certain scheme, then they are over alienated and become strangers to their ownsoul. And if they learn to distrust the stranger - how often do they hear their parents say don't trust a stranger - how can they trust themselves, strangers that they become amidst the society they grow up in? Moreover they learn at school all kinds of horrid tales about war which are transformed into freedom fights filled with those who have done heroic deeds. Everything is done to ensure no guilty conscience exists when claiming others were killed solely for the purpose to ensure this nation to be free. It is a black and white moral scheme with no tones of grey in between. This kind of ideology is pressed upon children who have still other dreams. You have in the national narratives always the good and bad guys. It is like Brendan Kennelly says 'learned hatred is so hard to unlearn', and if based on prejudices transformed over time into convictions, then it is even harder to change attitudes towards the stranger inside of everyone.

Dileep Jhaveri has written some critical things about Nationalism. I mentioned the youth project we did about 'nation and identity'. I am glad this topic is taken up amongst poets. These thoughts of mine are therefore just an initial response. Some very critical questions need also to be asked. Here your viewpoints need further reflection in reference to what the other has said. This includes my request to take a look as well as some of the thoughts which were expressed in our youth project seeking some answers to the question whether or not Patriotism is a viable alternative to Nationalism, or not?

Indeed, how to educate children and criticize the youth when they test their independence by becoming fans of certain ideas? The art of education goes together with criticism since youth can catch very quickly fire for wrong ideas. This is due out of a desire to prove themselves over and again as in those tales with heroic deeds. It is like Hölderlin would write in his poem about 'fatherland': "an ordinary death will not do, it has to be glorified by doing a great deed for the fatherland best done by making sure it is free even it means to sacrifice one's own life for such a cause."

That search for greatness is important to criticize. As Foucould would say, "we need to get rid of illusions which harm us, but keep those we need to live and to imagine life!" So how to make possible this transition from childhood into adulthood? Children and youth have to avoid many things, in particular abuse by adults and the mobbing of their fellow school mates. But they also have to overcome the fear to speak out in public and to stand up to their own opinion regardless whether or not the others laugh at the strange ideas offered for discussion in the class room. It is the lack of publicness both at school and in the home which silences too many and then they explode but too late for the others to say 'no' as to the kind of action thought by that estranged person to achieve greatness!

In the past Erikson spoke about the youth needing a moratorium - a delay - before being pushed into the question, but what job shall they take up to sustain their and other lives? Nowadays, and here in Greece, 57% of the youth is unemployed and more often those who do make it have gone through a highly selective school system. Even Barack Obama despite all of his compassion speaks about the middle class but where does this leave the poor and the people in jails? America has one of the hightest proportions of people in jail when compared to the rest of the world.

But while all these are good ideas, we still have not tackled the prime point, namely the fear of loss due to failure in many ways: the failure to speak up in class just the beginning, the failure to speak up when injustice is inflicted upon another another critical moment. There are always choices involved and the fear of consequences instilled into the many makes sure they stay the silent majority. And thus the brutality of the group is covered up by the illusion of being a warm and loving community when in fact underneath it powerful rules regulate the punishment if going against the spirit of that community and nation.

'Crime and punishment' was a motive by Dostoevsky to renew the contact between the good and the bad, but in the Christian mythology the bad guy is the 'evil' one about no one speaks anymore and who is ousted even out of the 'kingdom in heaven'. Thus the separation of good and evil is not a Christian idea, but rather a mystification of the other as evil while oneself is always good. The comparison is slanted and one sided for everything depends upon who sets the rule and who has the power to inflict punishments, the means of silencing those who would protest against such an oversimplified scheme of justice more powerful than anything else. For with this kind of silencing goes the method of 'non recognition' and consequently many are stranded since they do not know what contributions they could make to make life in the community with others possible. And this save community is compared in religious terms with that 'kingdom in heaven', with the unseen but ever present powerful, itself identified with the term 'God' and complemented on earth by reference to a figure like Jesus. It was interesting to see all faiths present at that ceremony in Newtown presenting a similar view and always prayers were linked to sentences or passages taken from sacred books as if they contain unchanging words of wisdom which can be applied to every occasion. No one then will ask if these ontological sentences have not been invented to ensure the enemy picture linked to evil can be upheld while all look in the same direction and do not notice that to see who need the invisible to understand what is going on. Here Freud was a start. He stated why does everyone accept someone as being hurt when he has an open wound but when someone has been traumatized by bombs having fallen near him, but he remaining without a scratch to his body, he is deemed safe? At least this ceremony in Newtown tries to relate to that invisible pain caused by the sudden fact that six year will never come home again. How to deal with this visible-invisible in non religious terms would have been most important to let the pain for which hardly anyone finds words become a new language of understanding. For the dilemma is most often were the pain is, there are no words, and where the religious words are spoken, there is not the pain even though it is intended by such a ceremony to address that pain. It is not!

In all religions there prevail these anarchronistic projection upon everything being safe once a kingdom in heaven has been established, and as a model thereof as well on earth! That myth is apparently taught to children. In school but various fables and other kinds of stories they learn about kings and princesses and heros. These kinds of narratives make all efforts at rational discourse and reflections redundant. For then the images and symbols count, not the substantial word felt and experienced.

It becomes dangerous once a child learns to follow the path of hatred adults have so often due to their failures in life. Self hatred is a powerful force which can distort the truth. Thus they learn very quickly what it means to hide failures. They will manipulate and pretend to be lovely, when in fact they begin to hate themselves for giving in to such a fake world of success. Indeed, they learn from adults who do everything to pretend of having come clean and being successful especially when they are faced by the innocent eyes of children just asking silently 'why' this disguise, why this lack of a humane language, why stay silent in so many cases where injustices are inflicted upon others both close by and far away?

hatto fischer

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