Saturday, 27 December 2014

An Apology for Violence

Undoubtedly it appears strange that one as myself a family physician and a pacifist might preach a doctrine of violence. In my defence I would immediately point to the traditional reasoning for violence that wags a crooked finger of blame towards the founding fathers of this or any nation and asserts with confidence that many of these marble and bronze casts were also pacifists at heart. Both history and the revolutionary might also argue (with no less vigour) that true political change can only arise out of a violence of some kind.

It might be said that all change is violent, relative to the rate at which it occurs and the pain that it endures. Doubtless a sneeze is a violent convulsion of the diaphragm, and the relentless and mute passage of time is a violence upon our youth that will leave us; bald, blind, arthritic, incontinent and demented. Indeed there may even be an act of violence in the social repression of violence as the time honoured modality of effective social change. On occasion Christ was a violent man, he was violent in the temple and violent in his indignation before the Roman court. In certain situations such as the silent oppression of thought in Ireland today; inertia, passivity and fear of violence, may be the greatest allies of our greatest oppression, and perhaps the greatest violence against our freedom of thought.

When looking outside our heads at the external real, at the flesh that hangs upon our bones, at the life that clings to the surface of this cooling rock, or the universe within which it floats; we encounter a mix of chaos and order, and we cannot help but desire there to be more of the latter and less of the former. It is towards a particular type of order that the chaos of all violence ultimately strives.

It is part of our make-up to desire order, even the anarchist wishes to destroy the status-quo so that he might impose his particular notion of a new, a better and ultimately more ordered society. In the total absence of law and authority, man would hence be compelled to live in accordance with the extrinsic order of Nature, - like every other animal with whom he shares this earth. This natural order has been in existence long before nature began its present human experiment. Our greater reality is ordered along lines that are outside of our comprehension, and as such all anarchy and violence is transient, delusory, and is subsumed within the greater order of the Universe.

The ideal of total anarchy, of the removal of society's rules and a return to this Natural order,  repeatedly finds practical and more often romantic expression in our notions of the 'noble savage', of the American Indian, or the Frontiersman, who staked out his claim at the edge of civilisation and raised his family by his own moral code and that of a simple agrarian community. Joyce describes our own Celtic ancestors as 'nature's gentlemen'.  Pearse's cottage in Rosmuc, his empty aspiration for a revival of the Irish language, and the reconstruction of our education system, were an appeal to the Celtic and natural order of our pre-colonial heritage.  

Evolution tells us that if any of these models were the 'fittest' they would have survived the passage of time and would perhaps be in the ascendancy today. That these simple, free, nature-respecting and relatively anarchic societies have all but disappeared from the Western horizon is perhaps proof enough of their 'inferiority' and their 'primitive' nature. And yet evolution is not such a simple matter, part of the whole may die in one place so that it's life might spring forth in another, with far greater vigour than before. The sepals of a bud, the first petals upon the stem will die before the flower explodes into being.

Within 'primitive' societies what was primitive was their technology, or more specifically their technology of warfare. It was the repeating Winchester and the pox-blanket that relegated the culture of the American Indian to the pages of history. It was the English army that subdued the Earls, and transformed Ireland into a jewel of the realm. However, whilst a native civilisation may be destroyed or transformed, certain aspects of its culture remain eternal and immune to the ravages of war. That which cannot be overcome by the gun and the plague, is the omnipotent immaterial form of thought.

The Noble Savage
The romantic often asserts that the Indian had no notion of possession, that he considered the earth to belong to all men. Yet their own history of inter-tribal warfare and the reaction that might have been evoked by the confiscation of; his wife, his horse or his britches, would undoubtedly contradict this notion in a  very real way. Our Celtic ancestors would foster their children to different clans, in order to maintain ties and peace with those others. Yet our own pre-colonial history of the feuding and wars between petty kings, attests to the incomplete success of this noble idea. 'Man'- as the gentleman historian Will Durant writes, 'is a trousered ape', it makes no difference if those trousers be of pin-stripped lambswool, or stretched animal hide.

It is highly unlikely that the 'noble savage' was noble enough to have no concept of possession. What is far more likely is that the Native American like all nomadic peoples, looked upon possession and ownership in an entirely different manner. To him possessions were literally a burden that had to be hauled behind the migrating herds whom he followed, and as such he was compelled to travel, and to live without the burden of a superfluity that is passionately pursued today. Likewise if we had to pedal or push our cars to work,  the roads would not be as congested and we would not be so fat. 

Of necessity the Native American had an entirely different concept of possession. In a modern world where man is driven by and towards the possession of superfluous wealth, the superiority, or the truth of the nomadic concept of ownership becomes increasingly valid. Nonetheless, his is a truth that arises out of necessity, and out of the permanence of its own reality, rather than the superior thinking of the 'noble savage'.

The Native American, like the pre-Christian Celt was animistic in his theology. He saw gods in every place, the earth would consume and digest the corpses of his father and mother, and so become invested with the spirit of his ancestors. The river, the trees and plains, would feed him, and these were his gods. Modern man has come to personalize God, to remove him from Nature and transform him into a personal and ultimatly private possession. Modern man has transformed  God from the 'persona of the external real', to an entirely private possession.  Indoing so, Neitzsche may have been correct in his assertion that God is dead, and we have killed him.

Unlike the native, civilisation, seeks continued  ownership of his dead, through the preservation of its corpses in specific social spaces we refer to as 'grave-yards'.  It embalms them and puts them in boxes with brass handles. It also puts grains in the store house, in the market, and on the supermarket shelves.  In doing so, our God has become unseen; a single entity that resides within our head our heart, our immortal soul, or somewhere in between.

God cannot live in the fields when we are fed from the packet and the shelf. The rivers do not flow with the blood of our ancestors when those ancestors are dressed in suits placed in boxes and laid to rest beneath stone slabs. If he wished to remember his father the pre-Christian Celt or Native American would listen to the birds and look to the mountain or the river, modern man searches for a carved stone in a field of many.

In this respect there are aspects of the thought of the Celt or the Native American that will continue to endure, not because he was better than us, but rather his thought remains relevant and current in its philosophy. The contemporary validity of that thought is merely the natural consequence of a more 'primitive' or more nomadic life. The universal 'ownership' of our children, or the eternal truth of a practical and intelligent rejection of superfluity, will inevitably form part of an evolved consciousness;- if man can survive himself, and evolve to this 'higher' plane of thinking. What nature once imposed upon us through necessity will ultimately be embraced through the application of intelligence and the evolution of intellect and reason.

The Native American would have paid a certain price for the emergent sophistication of his thought and his philosophy of living. Doubtless the nomadic life has not persisted because of the hardships it entails. However that is not to say that modern living or 'civilised' life is not devoid of its own hardships. Modern man cannot convincingly claim to be more 'happy' than his native counterpart. In stark contrast to the primitive, modern, particularly western hardships are predominantly self inflicted. Whilst we might point to the Celt or native American and assert with confidence that his life expectancy was less than ours, that his teeth were rotten or his belly often empty; the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in the western world are cancers and cardiovascular disease. Disease that is a consequence of fat and consumption. Whilst the Native American contested with nature, with the elements, with privation and conflict, today the struggle of modern man is with the self, with loneliness, ignorance, ennui, with rejection and delusion.  Therefore  only a true primitive would suggest that this modern life is not equally or even  more fraught with unhappiness, danger and despair.

Whilst many if not most practicalities of 'Native' life have given way to the modern,various aspects of his thought persist as those aspects of thought form part of the enduring reality of truth, the timeless philosophic fabric of human existence. By definition wealth or superfluous possession is entirely superfluous. Atheist and theist alike will agree that 'something' beyond us; God, Science or the infinite mystery of the universe, is poetically and objectively manifest in the river and the Mountain. They might differ only in the name and value that is applied to that 'mystery of the real'. The soil scientist the meteorologist and the Shaman will all agree that the dirt and the breeze are infused with the remains of our forefathers, and that the atoms of our flesh and bones were born in stars. In this respect the theology of animism, (or the dust of ancestors being manifest in the reality of nature), is a truth that can be validated upon any theological or scientific level. And so these native truths form part of the enduring truth of an enduring and existential reality.

Ireland was perhaps unique in its revolutionary aspirations of 1916, as the leader of that rebellion might well be described as a practical apologist for the primitive or the native.  Or perhaps it would be more correct to assert that Pearse was an apologist for many of the enduring truths of  Celtic thought. The revolution itself may have been an abject failure, and those enduring truths of language, culture and a respect for the natural order, may have been erased from  Modern Ireland's contemporary social dialogue. However as Christian ideals are immortalised in the person of Christ .  So too are those enduring truths of native Irish culture alive in the writings and ideals of Pearse. Pearese cannot be (although frequently is) accused of wishing to return to the past, rather he was unique in his capacity to recgonise the enduring philosophical truths of the past that need to be applied to Irelands present and Irelands future.  This aspiration particularly manifest in his hope for the evolution of an education system that might unveal these truths in their magesty before what can only be described as our enduring modern intellectual primitivism   It is merely a matter of time before we Irish come to prefer the cultivation of  our intellectual  heritage, our language and the Gods of our natural world, instead of the colonial lords of status and  material wealth. When this day comes the timeless aspiration of 1916 will at least be part achieved. Perhaps Ireland's first Poem was Padraig Pearses last, written on the eve of his execution in 1916:

The Wayfarer

Tbeauty of the world hath made me sad, 
This beauty that will pass; 
Sometimes my heart hath shaken with great joy 
To see a leaping squirrel in a tree 
Or a red lady-bird upon a stalk, 
Or little rabbits in a field at evening, 
Lit by a slanting sun, 

Or some green hill where shadows drifted by 
Some quiet hill where mountainy man hath sown 
And soon would reap; near to the gate of Heaven; 
Or children with bare feet upon the sands 
Of some ebbed sea, or playing on the streets 
Of little towns in Connacht, 
Things young and happy. 
And then my heart hath told me: 
These will pass, 

Will pass and change, will die and be no more, 
Things bright and green, things young and happy; 
And I have gone upon my way 
Padraig Pearse (May1st 1916)

The process whereby eternal truths are transformed into applied truths may be defined as social evolution, and Revolution is generally the driving force to that evolution and that inevitable  transformation.

Our Eternal Spirit
The French Philosopher Teilard De Chardin maintains that  man's eternal spirit (what ever that is) is evolving in a manner no different to the evolution of our biology. He offers some moral encouragement to the misanthropist, in that we might better consider society, the self and even the soul, as a 'work in progress', moving towards a single ideal that is one of universal truth or universal love (De Chardin's :Omega Point).  It is a most interesting notion to apply the concept of evolution to the non-material world of  'spirit' and or philosophy.

Indeed, we may in fact be a little kinder and a little more humane as individuals and as a species than we were ten thousand years ago. It may merely be that we sacrifice our virgins and our children in a different more deluded manner? Rather than send them to the factory or down the mine shaft at the behest of necessity, today we abandon them at the crèche, and process them through the 'murder machine' of an education system that will strip them of their self confidence and their intellectual curiosity. Today, instead of openly bludgeoning each other in pursuit of more; we bludgeon the earth and other species from behind the morally sterile interface of our technology.

Alexander's hoards may have raped and pillaged their way across a continent. The army of the federal government may have extinguished a civilisation, the Nazis may have dreamt and applied ways to gas, roast and extinguish an entire race. Today we might dispense a barbarism that is simply more sophisticated in its delusion and apparent sterility. We may equally destroy species and sacrifice our children, we may warm the planet and freeze our souls through the benign activity of the drive to a pointless daily occupation and so on and so forth.

The fact is that even if we are no better today in the evils we perpetuate, we at least perpetuate those evils in a 'nicer' and 'more' sophisticated manner. We may merely wish to remove ourselves from an awareness of the consequence of our behaviour. And yet even in this tiny act of choosing not to see, we are acknowledging (on some tiny level) the immorality of our behaviour. Even in this mute act of predilection for delusion; the spirit lives, and perhaps evolves? If it did not, that same evolution would have dispensed with the delusion and the predilection long ago. That same delusion persists for a reason, in some fundamental way man at least desires a moral order.  If he manages to survive himself for long enough, that same delusion cannot help but evolve, and may ultimately evolve into an applied truth.

It is not much I will grant you that, it is a small a tiny gratuity that we extend to ourselves but we must extend it nonetheless. We cannot with equal certainty assert that man is becoming more barbarous in his dealings with his fellow man. We might only be able to assert that where he is less barbarous towards his immediate neighbours he has merely become more barbarous to the other species with whom he shares this earth. It may not be much, in his turning from beating his wife to beating his dog, he remains a cruel brute, but a brute that is conscious on some level of the meaning or the consequence of the pain he dispenses.

De Chardin believes that this evolution may culminate in a universal love. Something that might approach the ideal that is described in John Lennon's Imagine. Of course it might appear that man has light years to travel the distance from the brute nature of today, to one of universal love. De Chardin was a geologist and a palaeontologist and would undoubtedly have been acutely aware that our ten thousand years of civilisation is but a hairs breath upon the evolutionary road. The question still remains as to whether man can physically survive himself so that his thought might evolve beyond that nature. The violence of revolution may be crucial to that survival.

De Chardin's idea is a beautiful one, and indeed if man does not ultimately destroy the web of ecology that sustains him, he might live to realise this ideal of love.  The present trajectory of civilisation and ecology would not support this hope and this aspiration, and yet regardless of reality it remains a beautiful ideal, one that invigorates and sustains, in spite of the brute and the storm that rages about our heads.

Essential to any future form of universal love would indeed be the physical survival of our species and for this to occur,  radical paradigm shifts and revolutionary change is necessary and entirely inevitable. To prolong or delay that evolution through a fear of violence is to limit the possibility of that evolution, and thus through passivity, to perpetuate a deeper and more far reaching violence, upon the future of man. To stand an assert that one is against revolution, that once is against violence and that one is against change is anti- human and un-deserving of that capacity for independent thought that all mortal men and women have been endowed with.

The task for modern men and women, for pacifists and activists alike, is not to avoid violence, but rather to define how and in what manner  the violence that is intrinsic to change, to revolution; should and must occur. The brute will attach his violence readily to any cause that might pass before his vacant eyes. The brute will enjoy a violence for the sake of violence. We see this brute in the tapestry of Irish politics in the guise of a political left that seeks to rouse the rabble against; water charges, bin charges, abortion, the plight of the Palestinians, or the Spotted Owl ...., and so on.  We see man take the stick from his wife and apply it to the dog who has just come into the kitchen.

Almost a century ago in a little tobacco shop in Dublin a handful of iconoclasts met, discussed and decided upon how a particular and a definitive type of change might occur, and the violence that would be necessary to effect that change. Their task was easier in that the enemy had a flag a uniform by which he might be identified. The violence was agreed upon not for the sake of violence, but rather to escape the ongoing violence of oppression, of dire poverty, of dire inequality and the asphyxiation of a language and a culture. Today we have yet to recognise that the source of our oppression is not our government, the water charges the bin charges or the fleeting causes of the 'looney-left', but rather the primitive, colonial and un-evolved thought that has constructed and constrained our society into its present form.

The stick, if it is to be effectively applied, must be applied to our thought, and to our capacity for thought, not simply to beat it and oppress it even further, but rather to cause it to awaken.

Marx once asserted that 'whilst it is the job of a philosopher to imagine or think of a better society, it is the job of the revolutionary to make society better.' The German philosopher Martin Heidigger famously replied, that before we can change society, we must first change the manner in which we think about society; and that is the job of the philosopher. All revolution is predicated upon a revolution in thought. In Ireland we may have rebelled almost a century ago but we have donned the britches of our colonial master, and in doing so we have turned each other into perpetual peasants.

We are not yet at the stage where we can even see the oppressions of today and consider the appropriate form of violence that is needed to end that oppression. Our politics and our thought remains confined to its colonial horizon and is devoid of ideology, other than the seizing and holding onto public or private power.

Today the functional ideology of all mainstream political parties can be considered upon three distinct levels; firstly the superficial 'tit for tat', point-scoring, struggle for mass sentiment, or media approval, that is the struggle for power.

Secondly there is the silent motive behind that struggle, the need to feed the 'core' of the party, political salaries, pensions, favours, appointments; the sharing of spoils that have been fairly won through the petty contest of contemporary politics.

Finally there is the banner ideology; green, labour, independence, progress, business etc., the marketable posters and ideals that make up the vessel that will carry the rabble-rousers through the gates of the castle and into the kings store house, where he might get his hands upon the spoils.

Outside of this horizon there are currently no possibilities in Irish politics. The absentee in our daily lives and consequently in our politics is thought, ideology, or a philosophy of the future. We see only the familiar colonial mentality transformed into an Irish version of democratic capitalism. We see only the struggle for power and a sharing of the spoils;

With self,- through immediate benefits of power.
With supporters - through appointments, favours etc.
With the middle classes, through a social welfare system that is called 'the civil service' or 'local government'.
With the poor and uneducated, through a system of social dependence that is referred to as their 'dole' and or 'entitlements'.

From the top to the bottom of Irish society this remains the ideological horizon of the peasants who have just burst through the gates of the palace, and are trying on the kings garments and sharing out the spoils of revolution. But as we ravage and plunder the wealth of the king, we do not yet realise that it is our own backs that we are pissing on.

Revolution in Ireland is not to be had upon the streets beneath the various banners of the brute, rallying behind Ireland's contemporary purveyors of  anarchy and of ignorance. Nor is it to be found in the ballot box. Undoubtedly the inevitable form of future government will be one of a combination of 'the same but different' political banners. Sin Fein and Fianna Fail perhaps? Who knows, and who cares? It makes no real difference, as the functional colonial process behind the banner remains the same. Whilst former governments had their pipers and paymasters in the shape of bankers businessmen and developers; the pipers and paymasters of the Shinners, are former provisionals, incarcerated republicans, and those still wedded to the exhausted fantasy of a united Ireland.  One that aspires to be united, but has long ceased to be Ireland.

The big bang. 
If  I could lay my hands upon some of that semtex of the provisional IRA. If I had the wherewithal to wrap it in cellophane and attach the alarm-clock and essential appendages. I would do so, and place enough beneath Gay Byrne's desk at the headquarters of RTE.  If I could be entirely certain that during the dead of night without a scratch or bruise to a single hair upon the head of the army of delicate employees there. I would with great pleasure and delight push the button, ignite the fuse, or pull the switch that would send that poisonous institution into the stratosphere, in a billion particles of dust. For that would be the first step towards our freedom from the greatest of our oppressions; the active suppression of analysis, of creativity, of newness and of independent thinking.

If perhaps you think this to be a ludicrous assertion and insane aspiration. I challenge you now this very moment to turn from this page or this screen, turn on that institution, its radio or televised form, and listen, perhaps for the first time in your life with open ears. I will tell you exactly what you will hear. You will hear and see the metronome of the hypnotist, one who maintains this nation in its intellectual paralysis, its stupor of ignorance and passivity.

You will hear perhaps, Mr Tambourine Man, or Bruce Springsteen singing Born in the USA, as he has been doing for the past thirty years. You will hear this frozen fare of music and paralysed thought, despite and in spite of the reality that the world of music has moved on, and around the world there are artists and musicians producing their art and their music in new and evolved forms. Listen to the presenters; to Joe, or to Marion, or to a perpetually embalmed and resurrected Gaybo, you will hear the thoughts the analysis of thirty and forty years ago. The same good guys and bad guys remain the cause of our problems, and even our problems remain the same problems of  decades past.

If we are ever to have a democracy in Ireland that democracy cannot exist in the absence of a free press. Presently media that must sell its wares.  Through advertising and in deference to the market it  is compelled to appeal to the majority, and to  the lowest common denominator of intellect. It must offer the masses what they wish to see and hear, as opposed to what they might need to see and hear. In Ireland; newness, new thought, new ideas, new art, new music, new social theory...., all of this is an anathema to a market that insists upon a traditional Irish breakfast of sugar and fat, of soccer and sex, of good guys and bad guys etc etc. 

In Ireland we pay a television licence fee in order that we might see and hear advertisements. We wave banners that we might have free water and put no price upon the freedom of our thought. Media is almost entirely subject to the silent censor of the market. Media is perhaps the single greatest influence upon, and manifestation of, the thought of a society. The complete destruction of RTE, and the establishment of a press that is free from the silent censor of the market; free to celebrate new ideas, new art, and the infinite creative genius of the Irish soul,- that would be the beginning of the end of a revolution that began in 1916.

This would be the first and most essential step towards the freedom of thought that might permit us the space to evolve, and begin to consider a better self and a better society. If that evolution, if that freedom is predicated upon a painless explosion in the dead of night,  I applaud that violence and I would be the first to pray for that bang, and to ignite that fuse.

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