Sunday, April 21, 2013

Human Tragedy

"I simply can't believe it's the same person!"
"Why did he do it? What possible motivation could he have had?"
How many times have we heard these sentences during the pursuit of the Tsarnaev brothers and beyond? Remarks such as these reveal a mentality that is out of touch with knowledge of what it means to be a human being and blind to our cultural matrix: we should never forget that each of us is capable of anything, given sufficient context and provocation.
Next, the amount of repression, schmoozing and masking required to live successfully in a culture such as ours that is based on competitive materialism, appearances, and spin, as opposed to authenticity and integrity, can arouse unbearable conflicts, in sensitive, intelligent, impressionable people, especially those who come from life-threatening situations in which everyone's life is on the line. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev seems to have been such a person.
And though she came from a very different background to the Tsarnaevs, these conflicts also arose in my classmate, Diana Oughton, who, as a member of the Weather Underground, blew up a house on West 11th Street in New York City while she was making bombs to kill and maim servicemen and women at a dance in New Jersey. Some  people who knew her at that time say she set it off deliberately.
Das was the daughter of a wealthy banker, privately educated. She had a stable midwestern childhood and, from a material point of view, everything a young girl could desire. She was attractive, popular, and intelligent. She was physically graceful and accomplished, a leading member of the modern dance club at Madeira School. She was accepted by all seven of the Ivy League Seven Sisters when she applied for college. She obtained a degree from Bryn Mawr.
She then began to work with poor children in the USA and in Guatemala. Their plight cut her to the quick. She was horrified by poverty and squalor, by the indifference and corruption of governments and individuals. She became increasingly torn: she hated the impact of affluence on society, but she equally despised Marxism. From all accounts she felt increasingly alien from everyone, personally and culturally, including herself. She fragmented every political pressure groups she belonged to, including the Weathermen, becoming ever more radical. One friend who saw her in the days before the bomb shredded her body said that she and her friends seemed disoriented, incapable of making rational decisions. One might say her terrorism arose from her having been terrorised by the state of the world.
Remember the Unabomber? He was perhaps another person of this stripe. A lot of people agreed with much of what was in his manifesto, though they completely rejected his violent tactics. And reaching back a little further into history, whoever would have thought that the mild-mannered pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, would become part of a group that attempted to murder Hitler?
It doesn't take a mentor, or a conspiracy, or an organisation to make a terrorist: it takes a culture of extremity, whether that culture expresses its extremity as the idolatry of materialism, religious fanaticism or genocide. Every time an event such as the Boston marathon bombing takes place, we need to look hard at the stresses our own culture puts on people, far more than we need to look outside and beyond our selves and our international borders in a paranoid search for aliens conspiring against us.


Blogger Daisyanon said...

I think your final para sums it up completely. We never seem to look at our part in creating the circumstances that lead to these sort of events.

8:39 am, April 22, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'we should never forget that each of us is capable of anything, given sufficient context and provocation.'

Isn't this where the work of silence and beholding is focused - in the being present both to our collective responsibility and to the overwhelming mercy of God? And in doing so giving ourselves to the hidden work of transfiguration for all people and places? Your words help me to give myself to this call more and more - thankyou.

2:05 pm, April 22, 2013  
Anonymous MS said...

It seems as though the more we crave things, the more we push them away.

2:52 pm, April 22, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

MS- This 'Committal' in the BCP helps me with that apparent paradox:

All that the Father giveth me shall come to me;
and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.

He that raised up Jesus from the dead
will also give life to our mortal bodies,
by his Spirit that dwelleth in us.


Thou shalt show me the path of life;
In thy presence is the fullness of joy,
And at thy right hand there is pleasure for evermore.

Yours, Amber

4:17 pm, April 22, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How is proper breathing during meditation, walking to the store characterized?

12:12 pm, April 23, 2013  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

There aren't any hard and fast rules that I know of. Supposedly during meditation four breaths a minute is optimal but it's much better just to led the breath settle naturally on its own as you go deeper into the silence.

Same applies to walking meditatioin: it's better not to be too artificial about it but allow it to find its natural pace

I am sure there are people who will disagree, but I think all of us worry far too much about doing these practices "correctly" according to a template when in fact we should be letting go of these strategies of control so that the exercises can work on us instead of the other way round

12:31 pm, April 23, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...

I began meditating, in a disciplined sense, using centering prayer. Later, an interest in Zen switched this to counting breaths.

After doing the latter for some time, I began to "pester" the roshi (who agreed to guide me in such matters) with the question, what method is best?

Finally, in exasperation, he said, "Do what works at any given moment."

It was/is very good advice.

5:46 pm, April 23, 2013  

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