The War on Terror, Mass Incarceration in the U.S.A., and Another World Is Possible – by Angela Davis

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Angela Davis speaks:

“In Wisconsin black people constitute 4 or 5% of the state’s population and about 50% of the imprisoned population. Our criminal justice system sends increasing numbers of people to prison by first robbing them of housing, health care, education, and welfare, and then punishing them when they participate in underground economies. What should we think about a system that will, on the one hand, sacrifice social services, human compassion, housing and decent schools, mental health care and jobs, while on the other hand developing an ever larger and ever more profitable prison system that subjects ever larger numbers of people to daily regimes of coercion and abuse? The violent regimes inside prisons are located on a continuum of repression that includes state-sanctioned killing of civilians.” (The Meaning of Freedom, p. 62)

“It cannot be denied that immigration is on the rise. In many cases, however, people are compelled to leave their home countries because U.S. corporations have economically undermined local economies through ‘free trade’ agreements, structural adjustment, and the influence of such international financial institutions as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Rather than characterize ‘immigration’ as the source of the current crisis, it is more accurate to say that it is the homelessness of global capital that is responsible for so many of the problems people are experiencing throughout the world. Many transnational corporations that used to be required to comply with a modicum of rules and regulations in the nation-states where they are headquartered have found ways to evade prohibitions against cruel, dehumanizing, and exploitative labor practices. They are now free to do virtually anything in the name of maximizing profits. 50% of all of the garments purchased in the U.S. are made abroad by women and girls in Asia and Latin America. Many immigrant women from those regions who come to this country hoping to find work do so because they can no longer make a living in their home countries. Their native economies have been dislocated by global corporations. But what do they find here in the United States? More sweatshops.” (p. 64)

free_angela_button“Our impoverished popular imagination is responsible for the lack of or sparsity of conversations on minimizing prisons and emphasizing decarceration as opposed to increased incarceration. Particularly since resources that could fund services designed to help prevent people from engaging in the behavior that leads to prison are being used instead to build and operate prisons. Precisely the resources we need in order to prevent people from going to prison are being devoured by the prison system. This means that the prison reproduces the conditions of its own expansion, creating a syndrome of self-perpetuation.” (p. 67)

“The global war on drugs is responsible for the soaring numbers of people behind bars – and for the fact that throughout the world there is a disproportionate number of people of color and people from the global South in prison. (…) The drug war and the war on terror are linked to the global expansion of the prison. Let us remember that the prison is a historical system of punishment. In other worlds, it has not always been a part of human history; therefore, we should not take this institution for granted, or consider it a permanent and unavoidable fixture of our society. The prison as punishment emerged around the time of industrial capitalism, and it continues to have a particular affinity with capitalism. (…) Globalization has not only created devastating conditions for people in the global South, it has created impoverished and incarcerated communities in the United States and elsewhere in the global North. ” (p. 82)

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“Why, in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, have we allowed our government to pursue unilateral policies and practices of global war? (…) Increasingly, freedom and democracy are envisioned by the government as exportable commodities, commodities that can be sold or imposed upon entire populations whose resistances are aggressively suppressed by the military. The so-called global war on terror was devised as a direct response to the September 11 attacks. Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and George W. Bush swiftly transformed the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon into occasions to misuse and manipulate collective grief, thereby reducing this grief to a national desire for vengeance. (…) It seems to me the most obvious subversion of the healing process occurred when the Bush administration invaded Afghanistan, then Iraq, and now potentially Iran. All in the name of the human beings who died on September 11. Bloodshed and belligerence in the name of freedom and democracy!…

Bush had the opportunity to rehearse this strategy of vengeance and death on a smaller scale before he moved into the White House. As governor of Texas, he not only lauded capital punishment, he presided over more executions – 152 to be precise – than any other governor in the history of the United States of America.

Imperialist war militates against freedom and democracy, yet freedom and democracy are repeatedly invoked by the purveyors of global war. Precisely those forces that presume to make the world safe for freedom and democracy are now spreading war and torture and capitalist exploitation around the globe. The Bush government represents its project as a global offensive against terrorism, but the conduct of this offensive has generated practices of state violence and state terrorism in comparison to which its targets pale…

Estimates range from 500.000 to 700.000 so far – some people say that one million… – people that have been killed during the war in Iraq. Why can’t we even have a national conversation about that?”

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“What is most distressing to those of us who believe in a democratic future is the tendency to equate democracy with capitalism. Capitalist democracy should be recognized as the oxymoron that it is. The two orders are fundamentally incompatible, especially considering the contemporary transformations of capitalism under the impact of globalization. But there are those who cannot tell the difference between the two. In no historical era can the freedom of the market serve as an acceptable model of democracy for those who do not possess the means – the capital – to take advantage of the freedom of the market.

The most convincing contemporary evidence against the equation of capitalism and democracy can be discovered in the fact that many institutions with a profoundly democratic impulse have been dismantled under the pressure exerted by international financial agencies, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. In the global South, structural adjustment has unleashed a juggernaut of privatization of public services that used to be available to masses of people, such as education and health care. These are services that no society should deny its members, services we all should be able to claim by virtue of our humanity. Conservative demands to privatize Social Security in the United States further reveal the reign of profits for the few over the rights of the many.

Another world is possible, and despite the hegemony of forces that promote inequality, hierarchy, possessive individualism, and contempt for humanity, I believe that together we can work to create the conditions for radical social transformation.”

ANGELA DAVIS,
The Meaning of Freedom 
City Lights Books
San Franciso, California, 2012.

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You might also like:

MTTW

Mountains That Take Wing
(2009. 97 min. Color.)

A WMM (Women Make Movies) release:
orders@wmm.com and http://www.wmm.com.

“This film, co-directed by C.A. Griffith & H.L.T. Quan, is a “Conversation on Life, Struggles & Liberation”. Internationally renowned scholar, professor and writer Angela Davis and 89-year-old grassroots organizer and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Yuri Kochiyama share intimate conversations about personal histories and influences that shaped them and their shared experiences in some of the most important social movements in 20th century United States. The film’s unique format honors the scope and depth of their knowledge on topics ranging from Jim Crow laws and Japanese internment camps, to Civil Rights, anti-war, women’s and gay liberation movements, to today’s campaigns for political prisoners and prison reform. These insights, recorded over the span of 13 years, offer critical lessons about community activism and tremendous hope for the future of social justice.”

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Great videos:

Gaia no Antropoceno – Bruno Latour em “Uma Antropologia dos Modernos”

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GAIA IN THE ANTHROPOCENE By Bruno Latour

“Geologists are beginning to use the term ANTHROPOCENE to designate the era of Earth’s history that extends from the scientific and industrial revolutions to the present day. These geologists see humanity as a force of the same amplitude as volcanoes or even plate tectonics. It is now before GAIA that we are summoned to appear: Gaia, the odd, doubly composite figure made up of science and mythology, used by certain specialists to designate the Earth that surrounds us and that we surround, the truly global Globe that threatens us even as we threaten it.

If I wanted to dramatize – perhaps overdramatize – the ambiance of my investigative project, I would say that it seeks to register the aftershocks of the MODERNIZATION FRONT just as the confrontation with Gaia appears imminent.

At all events, we shall not cure the Moderns of their attachment to their cherished theme, the modernization front, if we do not offer them an alternate narrative… After all, the Moderns have cities who are often quite beautiful; they are city-dwellers, citizens, they call themselves (and are sometimes called) “civilized”.

Why would we not have the right to propose to them a form of habitation that is more comfortable and convenient and that takes into account both their past and their future – a more sustainable habitat, in a way? Why would they not be at ease there? Why would they wander in the permanent utopia that has for so long made them beings without hearth or home – and has driven them for that very reason to inflict fire and bloodshed on the planet?

After all these years of wandering in the desert, do they have hope of reaching not the Promised Land but Earth itself, quite simply, the only one they have, at once underfoot and all around them, the aptly named Gaia?”

BRUNO LATOUR.
“An Inquiry into Modes of Existence: An Anthropology of the Moderns”
Harvard University Press, 2013. Translated by Catherine Porter.
Download e-book at Library Genesis.
Join: http://www.modesofexistence.org

 

Adam and Eve (Art by Alex Grey)

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You might also enjoy:

The Affects of Capitalism (full lecture)
(If you wanna skip the intro, Latour actually starts speaking at 12 min and 45 seconds.)

“Os Jacobinos Negros”, de C. L. R. James + Maya Deren no Haiti (documentário + LP com gravações Voodoo)

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THE BLACK JACOBINS

by C.R.L. James (1901-1989)

From the author’s preface:

“In 1789 the French West Indian colony of San Domingo supplied 2/3 of the overseas trade of France and was the greatest individual market for the European slave-trade. It was an integral part of the economic life of the age, the greatest colony in the world, the pride of France, and the envy of every other imperialist nation. The whole structure rested on the labour of 500.000 slaves.

In August 1791, after 2 years of the French Revolution and its repercussions in San Domingo, the slaves revolted. The struggle lasted for 12 years. The slaves defeated in turn the local whites and the soldiers of the French monarchy, a Spanish invasion, a British expedition of some 60.000 men, and a French expedition of similar size under Bonaparte’s brother-in-law. The defeat of Bonaparte’s expedition in 1803 resulted in the establishment of the Negro state of Haiti which has lasted to this day.

The revolt is the only successful slave revolt in history, and the odds it had to overcome is evidence of the magnitude of the interests that were involved. The transformation of slaves, trembling in hundreds before a single white man, into a people able to organise themselves and defeat the most powerful European nations of their day, is one of the great epics of revolutionary struggle and achievement. Why and how this happened is the theme of this book.”

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From The New York Times:

“Mr. James is not afraid to touch his pen with the flame of ardent personal feeling – a sense of justice, love of freedom, admiration for heroism, hatred for tyranny  and his detailed, richly documented and dramatically written book holds a deep and lasting interest.”

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Download e-book in english (PDF, 19 mb)

http://bit.ly/1hWPwHC

New York: Vintage Books.

 Buy at Amazon.

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You might also enjoy:

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Voices Of Haiti (recorded by Maya Deren) Elektra EKLP-5 (10-inch mono) 1953

Voices Of Haiti (recorded by Maya Deren)
Elektra EKLP-5 (10-inch mono) 1953

“The belief that the proper performance of a sacred formula of symbols or sounds is the means by which man achieves contact with divine powers is a basic principle not only of Voudoun, but of every religion. Such formulae were known as mantras in ancient Sanskrit, and this is still the term for all such ritual action, whether the chants of the Muslim muezzin or the saying of the Catholic rosary. The use of mantras is as ancient and as universal as man’s desire to improve his condition and secure his destiny. It is as prevailing as the proud conviction of each man that his weaknesses and inadequaceis are, by and large, common to all men and that, consequently, the power which is sufficiently superior to sustain and fortify him is one which is superior to man altogether. In times of need a man may seek to enlist such assistance by magic means. (…) If the songs and drumming achieve the compelling power which I believe is represented in this album it is because the microphone, lashed to the center post of the ceremonial peristyle, has captured a record not of men and women at play, not of their relaxed spontaneities, nor of their effort to create an art work for other men or for the satisfaction of any employer. It is a record of labor, of the most serious and vital effort which a Haitian makes, for he is here laboring for divine reward, addressing himself not to men but to divinity. They are singing for the gods. It is a privilege to have overheard and to have recorded it.” -Maya Deren

VOICES OF HAITI >>> DOWNLOADMIRROR

side one:

a1- Creole O Voudoun  (yanvalou) 5:02
a2- Ayizan Marche  (zepaules) 3:23
a3- Signaleagwe Orroyo  (yanvalou) 3:37
a4- Zulie Banda  (banda) 3:09
a5- Ibo Lele  (ibo) 1:16

side two:

b1- Ghede Nimbo  (mahi) 4:39
b2- Nogo Jaco Colocoto  (nago crabino) 2:50
b3- Miro Miba  (congo) 2:59
b4- Po’ Drapeaux  (petro mazonnei) 5:49

Recorded during ceremonials near Croix Des Missions and Petionville in Haiti by Maya Deren in 1953.


The Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti
Full Documentary. Directed by Maya Deren.

Galeria de Arte na Web: Diego Rivera (1886-1957)

Zapata de RiveraAgrarian Leader Zapata (1931)

“Emiliano Zapata, a champion of agrarian reform and a key protagonist in the Mexican Revolution, here leads a band of peasant rebels armed with makeshift weapons, including farming tools. With the bridle of a majestic white horse in his hand, Zapata stands triumphantly beside the dead body of a hacienda owner. Though Mexican and U.S. newspapers regularly vilified the revolutionary leader as a treacherous bandit, Rivera immortalized Zapata as a hero and glorified the victory of the Revolution in an image of violent but just vengeance.”- MOMA

Rivera - Liberation of the Peon

Liberation of the Peon (1931)

“In Liberation of the Peon, Rivera developed a harrowing narrative of corporal punishment. A laborer, beaten and left to die, is cut down from a post by sympathetic revolutionary soldiers, who tend to his broken body. Peonage—a system of indentured servitude established by Spanish colonizers, under which natives were forced to work the land—persisted in Mexico into the 20th century. The mural offers the injustice of earlier social and economic conditions as a rationale for the Mexican Revolution.” – MOMA

Rivera - Sugar Cane

Sugarcane (1931)

“Set on a sugar plantation, this portable mural introduces the tensions over labor, race, and economic inequity that simmered in Mexico after the Revolution. In the foreground, an Indian woman, with the traditional braids and white clothes of a peasant, cuts papayas from a tree while her children collect the fruit in reed baskets. Behind them, dark-skinned men with bowed heads gather bunches of sugar cane. A foreman, with distinctly lighter skin and hair, watches over them on horseback, and in the background a pale hacendado(wealthy landowner) languishes in a hammock. In this panel, Rivera adapted Marxist ideas about class struggle—an understanding of history born in industrialized Europe—to the context of Mexico, a primarily agrarian country until after World War II.” – MOMA

Flower Festival Feast of Santa Anita by Diego Rivera OSA117

Flower Festival: Feast of Santa Anita (1931)

“Rivera spent the tumultuous years of the Mexican Revolution (1910–20) painting and traveling abroad in Europe. Upon returning to his native country in 1921, he exalted indigenous Mexican people and traditions, making them a central subject of his work. As he later recalled, “My homecoming aroused an aesthetic rejoicing in me which is impossible to describe. Everywhere I saw a potential masterpiece—in the crowds, the markets, the festivals, the marching battalions, the workers in the workshops, the fields—in every shining face, every radiant child.” This painting, depicting a flower festival held on Good Friday in a town then called Santa Anita, was included in a solo exhibition of Rivera’s work at MoMA in 1931. Only the second artist (after Henri Matisse) to receive this honor, Rivera was, at the time, an international celebrity: the New York Sun hailed him as “the most talked about artist on this side of the Atlantic.” – MOMA

"The Arsenal" (1928)

The Arsenal (1928)

“Almost all of Rivera’s art told a story, many of which depicted Mexican society, the Mexican Revolution, or reflected his own personal social and political beliefs, and in The Arsenal is no different. The woman on the right side of this painting in Tina Modotti, an Italian photographer and revolutionary political activist, who is holding ammunition for Julio Antonio Mella, a founder of the internationalized Cuban communist party. Vittorio Vidale, an Italian-born Stalinist sympathizer, stands behind them in a black hat. The figures in this painting are an illustration of Rivera’s transferring his political beliefs onto canvas. He was an active member of the Mexican communist party, and was friends with Leon Trotsky, who lived with him for seven months. ”  – Wikipaintings

Frozen Assets (1931-32)

“In Frozen Assets, Rivera coupled his appreciation for New York’s distinctive vertical architecture with a potent critique of the city’s economic inequities. The panel’s upper register features a dramatic sequence of largely recognizable skyscrapers, most completed within a few years of Rivera’s arrival in New York. In the middle section, a steel-and-glass shed serves as a shelter for rows of sleeping men, pointing to the dispossessed labor that made such extraordinary growth possible during a period of economic turmoil. Below, a bank’s waiting room accommodates a guard, a clerk, and a trio of figures eager to inspect their mounting assets in the vault beyond. Rivera’s jarring vision of the city—in which the masses trudge to work, the homeless are warehoused, and the wealthy squirrel away their money—struck a chord in 1932, in the midst of the Great Depression.” – Wikipaintings

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Man at the Crossroads (1933-34)

“Rivera stirred up controversy yet again when he was commissioned to create Man at the Crossroads for the Rockefeller Center in 1933. He was chosen to complete a mural on the first floor of the Rockefeller Center, with the theme of man at the crossroads, looking to the hope of a new and better future. The original work included pictures of women drinking alcohol, cells depicting sexually transmitted diseases, Leon Trotsky and a portrait of Lenin, which upset Rockefeller, who commissioned the work. He demanded that the face of Lenin be changed, but Rivera refused. Rockefeller immediately paid for the work, dismissed Rivera, and covered the mural. Rivera, who was determined to have his mural shown, re-created it at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City and renamed the piece Man, Controller of the Universe. The original Man at the Crossroad in the Rockefeller Center was smashed and hauled away in 1934.” – Wikipaintings


Diego Rivera's The Uprising (1931)
The Uprising (1931)

“In The Uprising, a woman with a baby at her hip and a working man fend off an attack by a uniformed soldier. Behind them, a riotous crowd clashes with more soldiers, who force demonstrators to the ground. The location is unclear, though the figures’ skin tone implies that the scene is set in Mexico or another Latin American country. In the early 1930s, an era of widespread labor unrest, images of the violent repression of strikes would have resonated with both U.S. and Latin American audiences. The battle here stands as a potent symbol of universal class struggle.” – MOMA

Rivera - Aztec Warrior

Indian Warrior (1931)

“Of all the panels Rivera made for The Museum of Modern Art, Indian Warrior reaches back farthest into Mexican history, to the Spanish Conquest of the early 16th century. An Aztec warrior wearing the costume of a jaguar stabs an armored conquistador in the throat with a stone knife. The Spaniard’s steel blade—an emblem of European claims to superiority—lies broken nearby. Jaguar knights, members of an elite Aztec military order, were known for their fighting prowess; according to legend, their terrifying costumes enabled them to possess the power of the animal in battle. The panel’s jarring vision of righteous violence offered a Mesoamerican precedent for Mexico’s recent revolution, as well as its continuing struggles.” – MOMA

“Life Far From Hot Baths” – Simone Weil’s philosophy in connection with Zen Buddhist ethics

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“The true hero, the true subject, the center of the Iliad is force. Force employed by man, force that enslaves man, force before which man’s flesh shrinks away.

To define force – it is that X that turns anybody who is subjected to it into a thing. Exercised to the limit, it turns man into a thing in the most literal sense: it makes a corpse out of him. Somebody was there, and the next minute there is nobody here at all; this is a spectacle the Iliad never wearies of showing us.

 Nearly all the Iliad takes place far from hot baths. Nearly all of human life, then and now, takes place far from hot baths…

Such is the empire of force, as extensive as the empire of nature.”

SIMONE WEIL  (1909-1943),
Iliad: Poem of Force, pgs. 3-4-10.

 

6Simone Weil reads the Iliad as if she is witnessing before her compassionate eyes those occurrences evoked by the poet’s verses: she doesn’t turn her face away, refusing to see, when the horrors of war are depicted in Homer’s blood-soaked pages. The war between Trojans and Greeks offers infinite occasions for us to reflect upon Force – especially in its deathly effects. What results from the battles is always men laying lifeless on the ground, “dearer to the vultures than to their wives”, and Simone Weil stresses that even the greatest heroes – Hector or Achilles – are frequently reduced to things by the enemy’s force. “The bitterness of such a spectacle is offered us absolutely undiluted. No comforting fiction intervenes; no consoling prospect of immortality; and on the hero’s head no washed-out halo of patriotism descends.” (WEIL: p. 4)

If there’s a lot of tragedy in the Iliad – and it surely has, even tough it was written centuries before the Greek tragedians (Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides) were born – it’s because force often is employed with tragic effects. It’s clear to me that Simone Weil uses the concept of “force” to denote something she morally condemns, and in such a manner that one might fell she has affinities with Eastern wisdom, especially Buddhist ethics. For example, D. T. Suzuki’s Zen Buddhist philosopy, in which he opposes Power and Love and describes them as hostile to one another. Force/power is imposed upon a subject in order to reduce him to a thing, either by killing him (and thus forcingly throwing him back into the inanimate world), either by violating, humiliating, opressing or harming him in such a way that the person is still alive and breathing, but is no longer an autonomous subject. “A man stands disarmed and naked with a weapon pointing at him; this person becomes a corpse before anybody or anything touches him… still breathing, he is simply matter.” (WEIL: pg. 5)

A difference or imbalance between the forces of two individuals are excellent evidence of the onthological presence of Simone Weil’s force or Suzuki’s power among all that’s human. Trivial examples abound. Someone with a bazooka overpowers someone with a knife. A knifed man forces an unarmed woman into carnal processes she wouldn’t unforcibly agree to. And there are hundreds of movie scenes, especially in westerns and action blockbusters, that tell stories about this battle of forces and powers. But for millenia before cinema was invented human history cointained in its bosom duels, rivalry, competion – and one of the most ancient of literary monuments of the world, Homer, has blood of battle soaked all over his pages. To speak like a Greek, human history is filled with ágon and húbris.

Weil writes about the Iliad being a French woman in the industrial-commercial age, and surely her experience in Renault’s factory, where she went to work in order to experience in the flesh the fate of the proletariat, informs her reading of History as a whole. The factory’s of the 20nd century are a force that dehumanizes and turns subjects into things, Weil dennounced on her writings La Condition Ouvrière, and she can sense a similar process mirrored in  The Iliad.

Iliad

“There are unfortunate creatures who have become things for the rest of their lives. Their days hold no pastimes, no free spaces, no room in them for any impulse of their own. It is not that their life is harder than other men’s nor that they occupy a lower place in the social hierarchy; no, they are another human species, a compromise between a man and a corpse. The idea of a person’s being a thing is a logical contradiction. Yet what is impossible in logic becomes true in life, and the contradiction lodged in the soul tears it to shreds. This thing is constantly aspiring to be a man or a woman, and never achieving it – here, surely, is death but death strung out over a whole lifetime; here, surely is life, but life that death congeals before abolishing.” (WEIL: p. 8)

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In the epoch of the Trojan War, it was destiny of a conquered enemy to become a slave, that is, to be turned into a thing, deprived of autonomy, and Homer describes in some occasions how people are forced into ships, taken away “to a land where they will work wretched tasks, laboring for a pitiless master” (HOMER. Iliad. Apud WEIL: p. 9).

A person enslaved is being treated like a beast, like a horse on reins. 12 Years A Slave, Scott McQueen’s film, is a fresh reminder of these horrors. Simone Weil denounces the inhumanity in human affairs wherever she sees it: be it on a Greek epic-poem or in the factories of the car industry. In this we can see how Simone Weil joins hands once again with Buddhist ethics: she denounces the ways in which misused force, or tyranny, disrespects sentient beings by treating them as if they were inert matter.

What Weil and Suzuki denounce in the workings of Force and Power is that lack of compassion which Buddhist ethics, by dissolving the ego, aims to cure ourselves of. Enlightnement or Nirvana, in Buddhism, can’t be achieved without compassion. It may also be argued that French philosophy in the 20nd century has few voices more compassionate than Simone Weil’s.

“Force is as pitiless to the man who possesses it, or thinks he does, as it is to its victims; the second it crushes, the first it intoxicates. The truth is, nobody really possesses it. In the Iliad there is not a single man who does not at one time or another have to bow his neck to force.” (WEIL: p. 11)

There’s no simplistic dualistic division between the forceful and the forceless in Weil’s philosophy – of course one can be a slave for a whole lifetime, and one can be a master and tyrant from birth to the grave, but force isn’t something a human being can only exert upon others. Nature itself overpowers tremendously each and every one of the sentient and living creatures in its bosom, in such a way that even the most powerful among humans is still a frail thing – and always mortal, transient.

Let’s remember that the Iliad begins when a heated controversy is dividing two very powerful Greeks, Agamemnon and Achilles. This fight for supremacy is all around Homer’s poem, everyone wants to increase his power, and this can’t be done by any other way than at the expense of others. The result of this mad rivalry is huge bloodshed. “He that takes the sword, will perish by the sword. The Iliad formulated the principle long before the Gospels did, and in almost the same terms: Ares is just, and kills those who kill.” (p. 14)

1Certainly inspired and influenced by the philosophy of one of her dearest teachers, Alain  (Émile-Auguste Chartier, 1858-1961, author of Mars ou La Guerre Jugée), Simone Weil is a passionate apologist for philosophy’s powers against inhumanity – because “where there is no room for reflection, there is none either for justice or prudence.” (p. 14) And, she argues, the horrors and tragedies that Homer depicts can also be understood as results of lack-of-reflection, of hastiness to act, of an incapacity to refrain from agression. “Hence we see men in arms behaving harshly and madly. We see their sword bury itself in the breast of a disarmed enemy who is in the very act of pleading at their knees. We see them triumph over a dying man by describing to him the outrages his corpse will endure. We see Achilles cut the throats of twelve Trojan boys on the funeral pyre of Patroclus as naturally as we cut flowers for a grave. These men, wielding power, have no suspicion of the fact that the consequences of their deeds will at lenght come home to them – they too will bow the neck in their turn.” (WEIL: p. 14)

What’s astonishing about these last words is how closely Weil gets to the Buddhist idea of karma. And what’s also touching is how compassionate Simone Weil truly is when she describes those numerous occasions when we fail to treat ourselves as “brothers in humanity” (WEIL: p. 15). But Weil is no Buddhist, and in the text we are following she’s interested mainly in the Greeks and how they also had a concept similar to karma, some sort of “retribution which operates automatically to penalize the abuse of force”. She claims this is the “the main subject of Greek thought”:

Nemesis

Greek godess Nemesis

“It is the soul of the epic. Under the name of Nemesis, it functions as the mainspring of Aeschylus’s tragedies. (…) Wherever Hellenism has penetrated, we find the idea of it familiar. In Oriental countries which are steeped in Buddhism, it is perhaps this Greek idea that has lived on under the name of Karma. The Occident, however, has lost it, and no longer even has a word to express it in any of its languages: conceptions of limit, measure, equilibrium, which ought to determine the conduct of life are, in the West, restricted to a servile function in the vocabulary of technics.” (WEIL: p. 16)

In André Comte-Sponville’s philosophy, especially in his Short Treatise Of Great Virtues, Simone Weil’s ethical legacy lives on, and it’s enough to read his wise chapters on “temperance”, “prudence” or “love” to get convinced that France is keeping alive the flame of these virtues, or at least hoping to spread them by inviting more humans to practise them. “A moderate use of force, which alone would enable man to escape being enmeshed in its machinery, would require superhuman virtue, which is as rare as dignity in weakness.” (WEIL: p. 20)

In Simone Weil’s ethics, moderation of force, care for the feelings of others, awareness of alterity, are virtues to be practised by those who see themselves as brothers and sisters in humanity. But when we look back at History we have few reasons to be optimistic. And besides, as Simone Weil points out with irony, we still live in times where “there is always a god handy to advise someone to be unreasonable.” (21)

Simone Weil’s writings frequently denounces inhumanities commited by humans. She spreads awareness of our common humanity by showing how frequently we treated ourselves in a subhuman fashion. And it’s not true that only the slaves are turned into subhumans when they are forced into slavery: the master also loses his humanity when he enslaves. And war and slavery are dehumanizing forces because they work towards destruction and death, “yet the idea of man’s having death for a future is abhorrent to nature. Once the experience of war makes visible the possibility of death that lies locked up in each moment, our thoughts cannot travel from one day to the next without meeting death’s face.” (WEIL: p. 22)

Is Weil, then, simply a pacifist, a Gandhian? Or did she approve armed uprisings against the Nazi occupation of Paris, for example? Her condemnation of war, and not only on “moral” grounds, but in a much broader sense, in an existential level, would necessarily lead her to a practice of non-resistance? The answer is hard to give, considering that Simone Weil, during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), enlisted to fight against the fascists, and can be seen in a famous photograph with a shotgun in her hand, quite willing to add a little bit of force to the Anti-Franco militias. But Simone Weil was no brute – on the contrary, she was gentleness incarnate, and her personal favorite in the Iliad is “Patroclus, who knew how to be sweet to everybody, and who throughout the Iliad commits no cruel or brutal act.” (WEIL: p. 26)

The possession of a fire arm does not imply the right to brutality or cruelty. Being armed isn’t a license to act with mad húbris. When I think of Simone Weil armed with a shotgun in Spain, willing to fight against Fascism when she saw it dangerously spreading through Europe, I can’t be simplistic about pacifism, as if it was some kind of ethical absolute. I don’t believe it is – and neither did Simone Weil back in the 1930s or the Zapatistas under the guidance of Marcos in Chiapas, Mexico, nowadays.

Encounter-with-Simone_Weil-Filmstill-06.

War turns us into subhumans beasts killing themselves in mad rivalry, but how on Earth are we to build a planetary community in which war has been banned, and ample dialogue and mutual enlightnement between cultures reigns? For thousands of years, war seems to follow humanity, always on its trail. That ideal sung by John Lennon in “Imagine”, the Brotherhood of Man, remains to be futurely made flesh. In Homer’s Iliad Simone Weil sees nothing to be optismistic about, just “a picture of uniform horror, of which force is the sole hero.” (p. 27) But what’s sublime about Homer’s art, the lasting artistic value of ancient epic poetry, lies in the poet’s capacity to portray suffering befalling all – both Greeks and Trojans. Thus it points out to the fact that we’re all brothers in sorrow, and that’s an excellent reason for peace and compassion, as a Buddhist could put it.

“However, such a heaping-up of violent deeds would have a frigid effect, were it not for the note of incurable bitterness that continually makes itself heard. It is in this that the Iliad is absolutely unique, in this bitterness that proceeds from tenderness and that spreads over the whole human race, impartial as sunlight. Never does the tone lose its coloring of bitterness; yet never does the bitterness drop into lamentation. Justice and love, which have hardly any place in this study of extremes and of unjust acts of violence, nevertheless bathe the work in their light without ever becoming noticeable themselves, except as a kind of accent. Everyone’s unhappiness is laid bare without dissimulation or disdain; no man is set above or below the condition common to all men; whatever is destroyed is regretted. (…) Whatever is not war, whatever war destroys or threatens, the Iliad wraps in poetry; the realities of war, never. (…) The cold brutality of the deeds of war is left undisguised; neither victors nor vanquished are admired, scroned, or hated. An extraordinary sense of equity breathes through the Iliad. One is barely aware that the poet is a Greek and not a Trojan.” (WEIL: p. 30 – 32)

For Simone Weil, the poet who wrote the Iliad acted with marvelous impartiality, and sang about the misfortunes and losses, about the victories and triumphs, of both sides of the conflict, in such a way that Greeks and Trojans are shown as co-participants of a common process. “Attic tragedy, or at any rate the tragedy of Aeschylus and Sophocles, is the true continuation of the epic. The conception of justice enlightens it, without ever directly intervening in it; here force appears in its coldness and hardness; (…) here more than one spirit bruised and degraded by misfortune is offered for our admiration.” (p. 34) The enduring existential value of such art lies in this: to be aware of human misery is “a precondition of justice and love”, claims Weil. (p. 35)

When Simone Weil affirms that “misery is the common human lot” (p. 35), she’s once again approaching a landscape familiar to Buddhists: one of the Four Noble Truths enounced by the enlightened Sidharta Gautama is  “all is suffering”. From this awareness  springs compassion. Love, justice, compassion, can’t arise without the clear perception of our brotherhood in suffering. However, it’s clear as water that, even tough she was born in a Jewish family, Simone Weil is deeply suspicious of the doctrines and dogmas of Judaism:

“With the Hebrews, misfortune was a sure indication of sin and hence a legitimate object of contempt; to them a vanquished enemy was abhorrent to God himself and condemned to expiate all sorts of crimes – this is a view that makes cruelty permissible and indeed indispensable. And no text of the Old Testament strikes a note comparable to the note heard in the Greek epic, unless it be certain parts of the book of Job. Throughout 20 centuries of Christianity, the Romans and the Hebrews have been admired, read, imitated, both in deed and word; their masterpieces have yielded an appropriate quotation every time anybody had a crime he wanted to justify.” (p. 36)

Belief in gods is seen as highly problematic in Simone Weil’s philosophy, even tough it would be an exageration to call her an atheist, considering the intense mystical impulses that she manifests so vividly in her ouevre. What Weil can’t stand is the arrogance of those who use religion to falsely believe they are superior to the rest, that they are immune from evils that will only befall others. When religion leads to the denial of our common humanity, Weil rejects it: “the only people who can give the impression of having risen to a higher plane, who seem superior to ordinary human misery, are the people who resort to the aids of illusion, exaltation, fanaticism, to conceal the harshness of destiny from their own eyes.” (p. 36)

We still have a lot to learn from the Greeks, including its great epic poet, and Simone Weil admires Homer’s Iliad so much that she claims that

“in spite of the brief intoxication induced at the time of the Renaissance by the discovery of Greek literature, there has been, during the course of 20 centuries, no revival of the Greek genius. Something of it was seen in Villon, in Shakespeare, Cervantes, Molière, and – just once – in Racine. To this list of writers a few other names might be added. But nothing the peoples of Europe have produced is worth the first known poem that appeared among them. Perhaps they will yet rediscover the epic genius, when they learn that there is no refuge from fate, learn not to admire force, not to hate the enemy, nor to scorn the unfortunate. How soon this will happen is another question.” (WEIL: p. 37).

These words also sound, to my ears, in tune with Buddhist ethics, especially for the praise of compassion for the suffering of others. And of course that within the realm of The Other we should include Life-As-A-Whole, and not only human life. The Buddhist notion of “sentient beings” is such a great idea, methinks, because it describes something much vaster than Mankind, something that, without being a god, certainly transcends the individual self. Dogs and cats, lions and owls, sunflowers and worms, they all belong to the great family of the living, they are all sentient beings, even tough the degree of self-cousciousness greatly varies.

If both Simone Weil’s philosophy and Buddhist ethics are worthy of our attention, study and discussions, methinks it’s mainly because of the imminent ecological catastrophes that will quake our future and will shatter the current “Western Way” of dealing with Nature. Or, to put it in another words, it won’t be possible for the West to continue in its industrial-commercial path, on its productivist húbris, in its crazy consumerism meddled with egotisticall individualism, simply because the Earth’s biosphere won’t stand for it – and if we keep on going in the same direction, we can only expect mass-scale tragic consequences arising from so much atmospherical pollution, fossil-fuel burnings, deforestations, oil spills… A wiser relationship with Nature urgently needs to emerge from the cultural slumber of destructive capitalism – or else we’re damned.

Suzuki 2

“Westerners talk about conquering Nature and never about befriending her. They climb a high mountain and they declare the mountain is conquered. They suceed in shooting a certain type of projectile heavenwards and then claim that they have conquered the air. (…) Those who are power-intoxicated fail to see that power is blinding and keeps them within an ever-narrowing horizon. Love, however, transcends power because, in its penetration into the core of reality, far beyond the finiteness of the intellect, it is infinity itself. Without love one cannot see the infinely expanding network of relationships which is reality. Or, we may reverse this and say that without the infinite network of reality we can never experience love in its true light.

To conclude: Let us first realize the fact that we thrive only when we are co-operative by being alive to the truth of interrelationship of all things in existence. Let us then die to the notion of power and conquest and be resurrected to the eternal creativity of love which is all-embracing and all-forgiving. As love flows out of rightly seeing reality as it is, it is also love that makes us feel that we – each of us individually and all of us collectively – are responsible for whatever things, good or evil, go on in our human community, and we must therefore strive to ameliorate or remove whatever conditions are inimical to the universal advancement of human welfare and wisdom.”

(D. T. Suzuki, The Awakening of Zen, “Love and Power”, pg. 70)

REFERENCES

WEIL, Simone; BESPALOFF, Rachel. War and Iliad. Preface by Christopher Benfley. New York Review Books Classics, 2005.

SUZUKI, Daisetz Teitaro. The Awakening of Zen. Edited by Christmas Humphreys. Boston: Shambhala, 1980.

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(Article by Eduardo Carli de Moraes, at Awestruck Wanderer,
Toronto, Canada. March 2014.)