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June 16, 2005

Comments

Bryan Kerwick

Sounds to me like you need a vacation. Any chance of you and your family visiting the US?

We would love to have you and at least know you are out of harms way.

Any word on what happened to Karfan? He hasn't posted in over 6 weeks now and I'm troubled by that.

I hope you don't have the same problems but by the sounds of things you very well might.

Think about it my friend.

Bryan Kerwick

By the way, GeneraL Dashing needs a break too.

He and his family are welcome in my house so long as he leaves the bullshit at the door.

It really gotta suck if you are the guy in charge of that mess.

Ammar has the number. Karfan didn"t get that that chance.

I will try to get the ticket for those that really, really deserve it.

Yuber

LMAO, this Bryan guy is hilarious.

annie

This Bryan guy makes me ROFL; he feels SO powerful. We are wrong to antagonize him because on the day of reckoning (i.e. to morrow)he will throw us in the fire.

TOMLEO

I have treasured this essay ever since I read it many years ago. The essay is by the late Russian (later, American) writer Joseph Brodsky. You may treasure it as well. He is, of course, talking about himself.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the Class of 1984:
No matter how daring or cautious you may choose to be,
in the course of your life you are bound to into direct
physical contact with what's know as Evil. I mean here
not a property of the gothic novel but, to say the least, a
palpable social reality that you in no way can control. No
amount of good nature or cunning calculations will prevent
this encounter. In fact, the more calculation , the more
cautious you are, the greater is the likelihood of this ren-
devious, the harder the impact. Such is the structure of life
that what we regard as Evil is capable of a fairly ubiquitous
presence if only because it tends to appear in the guise of
good. You never see it crossing your threshold announcing
itself: "Hi, I'm Evil". That, of course, indicates its secondary
nature, but the comfort one may derive from this observa-
tion gets dulled by its frequency.

A prudent thing to do, therefore, would be to subject your
notions of good to the closest possible scrutiny, to go, so to
speak, through your entire wardrobe checking which of
your clothes may fit a stranger. That, of course, may turn
into a full-time occupation, and well it should. You'll be
surprised how many things you considered your own and
good can easily fit, without much adjustment, your enemy.
You may even start to wonder whether he is not your
mirror image, for the most interesting thing about Evil is
that it is wholly human. To put it mildly, nothing can be
turned and worn inside out with greater ease than one's
notion of social justice, civic conscience, a better future,
etc. One of the surest signs of danger here is the number of
those who share your views, not so much because un-
animity has the knack of degenerating into uniformity as be-
cause of the probability--implicit in great numbers--that
noble sentiment is being faked.

By the same token, the surest defense against Evil is
extreme individualism, originality of thinking, whimsicality,
even--if you will--eccentricity. That is, something that
can't be feigned, faked, imitated; something even a sea-
soned imposter couldn't be happy with. Something, in
other words, that can't be shared, like your own skin.: not
even by a minority. Evil is a sucker for solidity. It always
goes for big numbers, for confident granite, for ideological
purity, for drilled armies and balanced sheets. Its proclivity
for such things has to do presumably with its innate in-
security, but this realization, again, is of small comfort
when Evil triumphs.

Which it does: in so many parts of the world and inside
ourselves. Given its volume and intensity, given, especially,
the fatigue of those you oppose it, Evil today may be re-
garded not as an ethical category but as a physical phe-
nomenon no longer measured in particles but mapped
geographically. Therefore the reason I am talking to you
about all this has nothing to do with your being young,
fresh, and facing a clean slate. No, the slate is dark with
dirt and it is hard to believe in either your ability or your
will to clean it. The purpose of my talk is simply to suggest
to you a mode of resistance which may come in handy to
you one day; a mode that may help you to emerge from the
encounter with Evil perhaps less soiled, if not necessarily
more triumphant than your precursors. What I have in
mind, of course,is the famous business of turning the other
cheek.

I assume that one way or another you have heard about
the interpretation of this verse from the Sermon on the
Mount by Leo Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr.,
and many others. In other words,I assume that
you are familiar with the concept of nonviolent, of passive,
resistance, whose main principle is returning good for evil,
that is, not responding in kind. The fact that the world
today is what it is suggests, to say the least, that this con-
cept is far from being cherished universally. The reasons for
its unpopularity are twofold. First, what is required for
this concept to be put into effect is a margin of democracy.
This is precisely what 86 percent of the glob lacks. Second,
it is common sense that tells a victim that his only gain in
turning the other cheek and not responding in kind yields,
at best, a moral victory, i.e., something quite immaterial.
The natural reluctance to expose yet another part of your
body to a blow is justified by a suspicion that this sort of
conduct only agitates and enhances Evil; that a moral
victory can be mistaken by the adversary for his impunity.

There are other, graver reasons to be suspicious. If the
first blow hasn't knocked all the wits out of the victim's
head, he may realize that turning the other cheek amounts
to manipulation of the offender's sense of guilt, not to speak
of his karma. The moral victory itself may not be so moral
after all, not only because suffering often has a narcissistic
aspect to it, but also because it renders the victim superior,
that is, better than his enemy. Yet no matter how evil your
enemy is,the crucial thing is that he is human; and al-
though incapable of loving another like ourselves; we none-
theless know that evil takes root when one man starts to
thing that he is better than another. (This is why you've
been hit on your right cheek in the first place.) At best,
therefore, what one can get from turning the other cheek
to one's enemy is the satisfaction of alerting the latter to the
futility of his action. "Look," the other cheek says, "what
you are hitting is just flesh. It's not me. You can't crush my
soul." The trouble, of course, with this kind of attitude is
that the enemy may just accept the challenge.

Twenty years ago the following scene took place in one of
the numerous prison yards of northern Russia. At seven
o'clock in the morning the door of a cell was flung open and
on it's threshold stood a prison guard, who addressed its in-
mates: "Citizens! The collective of this prison's guards
challenges you, the inmates, to socialist competition in
chopping the lumber amassed in our yard." In those parts
there is no central heating, and the local police, in a manner
of speaking, tax all the nearby lumber companies for one-
tenth of their produce. By the time I am describing, the
prison yard looked like a veritable lumberyard: the piles
were two to three stories high, dwarfing the one-storied
quadrangle of the prison itself. The need for chopping was
evident, although socialist competitions of this sort had
happened before. "And whit if I refuse to take part in this?"
inquired one of the inmates. "Well, in that case no meals
for you," replied the guard.

Then axes were issued to the inmates, and the cutting
started. Both prisoners and guards worked in earnest, and
by noon all of them, especially the always underfed prison-
ers, were exhausted. A break was announced and people
sat down to eat: except the fellow who asked the question.
He kept swinging his ax. Both prisoners and guards ex-
changed jokes about him, something about Jews being
normally regarded as smart people whereas this man...
and so forth. After the break they resumed the work, al-
though in a somewhat more flagging manner. By four o'clock
the guards quit, since for them it was the end of their shift;
a bit later the inmates stopped too. The man's as still kept
swinging. Several times he was urged to stop, by both
parties, but he paid no attention. It seemed as though he
had acquired a certain rhythm he was unwilling to break;
or it was a rhythm that possessed him?

To the others, he looked like an automaton. By five
o'clock, by six o'clock, the ax was still going up and down.
Both guards and inmates were now watching him keenly,
and the sardonic expression on their faces gradually gave
way first to bewilderment and then to one of terror.
By seven-thirty the man stopped, staggered into his cell,
and fell asleep. For the rest of his stay in that prison, no
call for socialist competition between guards and inmates
was issued again, although the wood kept piling up.

I suppose the fellow could do this--twelve hours of straight
chopping--because at the time he was quite young. In fact,
he was then twenty-four. Only a little older than you are.
However, I think there could have been another reason for
his behavior that day. It's quite possible that the young
man--precisely because he was young-- remembered the
text of the Sermon on the Mount better than Tolstoy and
Gandhi did. Because the Son of Man was in the habit of
speaking in triads, the young man could have recalled that
the relevant verse doesn't stop at

but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek,
turn to him the other also

but continues without either period or comma:

And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take
thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.
And whosoever shell compel thee to go a mile, go
with him twain.

Quoted in full, these verses have in fact very little to do
with nonviolent or passive resistance, with the principles
of not responding in kind and returning good for evil. The
meaning of these lines is anything but passive, for it sug-
gests that evil can be made absurd through excess; it
suggests rendering evil absurd through dwarfing its de-
mands with the volume of your compliance, which devalues
the harm. This sort of thing puts a victim into a very active
position, into the position of a mental aggressor. The victory
that is possible here is not a moral but an existential one.
The other cheek here sets in motion not the enemy's sense
of guilt (which he perfectly capable of quelling) but
exposes his senses and faculties to the meaninglessness of
the whole enterprise: the way every form of mass produc-
tion does.

Let me remind you that we are not talking here about a
situation involving a fair fight. We are talking about situa-
tions where one finds oneself in a hopelessly inferior position
fro the very onset, here one has no chance of fighting
back, where the odds are overwhelmingly against one. In
other words, we are talking about the very dark hours in
one's life, when one's sense of moral superiority over the
enemy offers no solace, when the enemy is too far gone to
be ashamed or made nostalgic for abandoned scruples, when
one has at one's disposal only one's face, coat, cloak, and a
pair of feet that are still capable of walking a mile or two.

In this situation there is very little room for tactical
maneuver. So turning the other cheek should be your con-
scious, cold, deliberate decision. Your chances of winning,
however dismal they are, all depend on whether or not you
know what you are doing. Thrusting forward your face
with the cheek toward the enemy, you should know that
this is just the beginning of your ordeal as well as that of
the verse--and you should be able to see yourself through
the entire sequence, through all three verses from the
Sermon on the Mount. Otherwise, a line taken out of con-
text will leave you crippled.

To base ethics on a faultily quoted verse is to invite doom,
or else to end up becoming a mental bourgeois enjoying the
ultimate comfort: that of his convictions. In either case (of
which the latter with its membership in well-intentioned
movements and nonprofit organizations is the least palat-
abel) it results in yielding ground to Evil, in delaying the
comprehension of its weaknesses. For Evil, may I remind
you, is only human.
Ethics based on this faultily quoted verse have changed
nothing in a post-Gandhi India, save the color of its adminis-
tration. From a hungry man's point of view, though, it's all
the same who makes him hungry. I submit that he may
even prefer a white man to be responsible for his sorry state
if only because this way social evil may appear to come
from elsewhere and may be perhaps be less efficient than the
suffering at the hand of his own kind. With an alien in
charge, there is still room for hope, for fantasy.
Similarly in post-Tolstoy Russia, ethics based on this mis-
quoted verse undermined a great deal of the nation's resolve
in confronting the police state. What has followed is known
all too well: six decades of turning the other cheek trans-
formaed the face of the nation into one big bruise, so that the
state today, weary of its violence, simply spits at that face.
As well as the face of the world. In other words, if you
want to secularize Christianity, if you want to translate
Christ's teachings into political terms, you need something
more than modern political mumbo-jumbo: you need to
have the original--in your mind at least if it hasn't found
room in your heart. Since He was less a good man than a
divine spirit, it's fatal to harp on His goodness at the ex-
pense of His metaphysics.
I must admit that I feel somewhat uneasy talking about
these things: because turning or not turning that other
cheek is, after all, an extremely intimate affair. The en-
counter always occurs on a one-to-one basis. It's always your
skin, your coat and cloak; and it is your limbs that will
have to do the walking. To advise, let alone to urge, anyone
about the use of these properties is, if not entirely wrong,
indecent. All I aspire to do here is to erase from your minds
a cliché that has harmed so many and yielded so little. I also
would like to instill in you the idea that as long as you
have your skin, coat, cloak, and limbs, you are not yet
defeated, whatever the odds are.
There is, however, a greater reason for one to feel uneasy
about discussing these matters in public: and it's not only
your own natural reluctance to regard your young selves
as potential victims. No, it's rather mere sobriety, which
makes one anticipate among you potential cillans as well,
and it is bad strategy to divulge the secrets of resistance
in front of the potential enemy. What perhaps relieves one
from a charge of treason or, worse still, of projecting the
tactical status quo into the future, is the hope that the
victim will always be more inventive, more original in his
thinking, more enterprising than the villain. Hence the
chance that the victim may triumph.

Williams College, 1984"
From: 'Less than One Selected Essays'
by: Joseph Brodsky
Farrar Straus Giroux
New York, NY 1986

Karim Elsahy

If you haven’t gotten a chance to already come check out my site. It promotes a new Pan Arabism and I would love your input.

www.onearabworld.blog.com
Karim Elsahy

PhotogInAsia

Is *any* culture reformable? Where I live, many things seem to happen like this, trying to get anything done can be a challenge. No. Trying to get something done RIGHT the first time is the challenge (and DHL is...well, don't get me started, now I only use FedEX).

But, I'm living in a place that is not my native culture, and after over a decade even my wife (who *is* Chinese) has given up on reforming this culture. I gave up on reforming my own culture years ago (brick walls are able to comprehend more) and quit writing, thinking music was the way. Well, that didn't work. Photography??

Simply a brilliant 'blog, one that I'm going to spend quite a bit of time reading.

Thanks so much for keeping it.

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