Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Resist the Rush to War

Ah, don't you feel it in the air? Americans of all political stripes coming together, the blues and the reds, Democrats and Republicans, liberal-oriented MSNBC and conservative cheerleader FOX News, all singing in the same chorus, calling for military action against the Sunni Islamic political-military movement ISIS (or ISIL or "the Islamic State" as it is various known) that has risen up out of the civil war in Syria to become a military menace to Iraq as well. Such unity of mind, heart and purpose! There is no patriotism like military patriotism, and in fact some would say there is no other kind! How wonderful! Yes, the reaction to ISIS's awful killing of two American journalists, James Foley and Steven Sotloff, by beheading has brought the country together like nothing since 9/11! And since we have been down this road before with our actions after 9/11, which led us to invade Afghanistan, then Iraq, and then to engage in drone warfare in Pakistan, Yemen and more recently Somalia as well, causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and the disruption of life for millions more, including what must be post-traumatic stress disorder on an absolutely epidemic scale--unless you think that PTSD is only a problem when it affects American soldiers and not the people that our soldiers move and fight among--we can certainly rest easy and be fully happy and confident that our military actions will not only give us the gut satisfaction of violent revenge against persons or groups that killed Americans, but also provide many benefits to the people of the Middle East, ensuring that they will be forever in our debt and eager to cooperate with the American government and provide us all with peace, security and prosperity forever! Hip-hip-hooray! Whoo-whoo! YES-S-S!!! Uncork the champagne! Strike up the band! America is ready for WAR, baby, and it's all good!! Freedom and democracy all the way! Let's go kill Muslims! Let's show 'em what Western civilization is all about! Let's bomb 'em back into the stone age, like we did in Vietnam, Hiroshima and Nagasaki! Anybody got some Napalm that we can strap on the drones? Oh yeah, baby, can you say, "Middle Eastern BBQ?" Isn't that FUN? Can we watch it on ESPN? Is it a video game yet?

Hold on... hold on. Let's think this over a little bit. Yes, the killing of the two journalists is a horrible thing, its horror amplified and extenuated by the online streaming of video recordings of the beheadings, but this is only one small piece of the many awful things that have been happening in the Middle East ever since.... when? Well, the starting date of armed violence in the Middle East is certainly a debatable matter, but we undoubtedly gave violent chaos a major boost when we invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, as these actions overthrew governments, destabilized the existing order in the region, disadvantaged particular groups in Iraq and other nations, setting them up for persecution, resentment, and a burning desire to exact revenge and retribution against their perceived oppressors, including the USA, and opened the door for all kinds of militant and extremist groups to rise up and seek to plant their bloody flags wherever they could find a space for them. This is VERY important to remember because one would hope that whatever action is taken by our government and military in relation to ISIS, it should not be a course of action that will simply further inflame the angry passions and traumatized psyches of the Middle East and create more support for violent and extreme Islamist movements in the future.

Yet I fear this is exactly what is going to happen, because our leaders seem to have learned nothing--NOTHING!--from our recent disastrous interventions. They are ready to rush in again, drop tons of bombs on large numbers of peoples, causing massive death, destruction and suffering, with not a care in the world that this will simply set the stage for a new set of militants to arise and seek revenge and retribution.

Remember: the first American invasion of Iraq in the Gulf War of 1990-91, and the attendant stationing of American troops in Saudi Arabia, the Holy Land of Islam, became the rallying cry of the original Al-Qaeda. The second American invasion of Iraq in 2003 led to the formation of "Al Qaeda in Iraq," formed of former members of the Iraqi army and Ba'ath political party, two institutions that were disbanded and criminalized under the American occupation and the subsequent American-backed Iraqi governments, as well as disgruntled Sunni Muslims who foresaw the threat of a pro-Shi'ite, anti-Sunni government taking control. Their fears of Shi'ite suppression of the Sunni minority in Iraq proved prophetic, as this is exactly what transpired under the government of the American-backed Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki. He is a Shi'ite politician who used the levers of government to disadvantage and persecute Sunnis and to convert the government and military into mechanisms for Shi'ite domination of Iraqi society. This helped lead to the rapid success of ISIS in Iraq, as ISIS is a Sunni-oriented political and military movement, which many Iraqi Sunnis are willing to support as the ONLY powerful force, however barbaric and vicious, able to protect Sunnis against Shi'ite domination. Prominent among the Iraqi Sunnis joining or supporting ISIS are many former members of the Ba'ath party and the old Iraqi military.

So, you can trace a long line of disaster here, with each successive US intervention simply leading to greater division, suffering, embitterment, and radicalization, empowering increasingly vicious and desperate groups whose agendas are rooted in resentment and anger over the effects of past US interventions and policies. By opposing Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait with military forces whose presence greatly agitated Arab Muslims, we helped to create Al-Qaeda. By invading Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein and to dispense with the imaginary threat of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, we created an actual Al-Qaeda in Iraq. By supporting Al-Maliki and enabling him to form a Shi'ite-oriented government that persecuted Sunnis, we have helped to create a group even more brutal than Al Qaeda, namely ISIS (or ISIL, or the Islamic State or whatever name it comes to be known by). So if we now pursue a policy of bombing the hell out of Iraq to dispense with the unproven threat of ISIS attacking America a la 9/11, we will create... who knows what new Frankenstein monster. We really could bring down a new 9/11 by doing everything we can to agitate angry Islamists against us. If we feel free to kill them at will, why in the world would they not want to return the favor?

And Obama seems determined to undertake this foolish and ill-considered action. He doesn't want to send American soldiers in to fight on the ground, but he is all too happy--in my view, much, much TOO happy--to rain down death from above via drones and missiles. He has become the "Drone King," the leader who relishes killing and conquering distant enemies by using high-tech weapons that slaughter from the sky.

Sadly, I think Obama knows better. I think he is intelligent and well-informed enough to know that this kind of push-button slaughter will serve no real purpose beyond giving him a temporary uptick in the polls, where he has been lagging bit lately, poor baby. Americans love military attack, and any President who makes a dramatic speech about sending our "brave men and women" to do battle against Evil Others is guaranteed a brief boost in popularity. So all Americans, let's go to war! Let's make Obama feel better! Let the death of two journalists, who went to Iraq of their own free will, knowing full well the dangers, be our justification for mass slaughter! Let's spend billions of dollars on military futility! Sadly, very sadly, this seems to be the only course of action that our Washington politicians can agree upon. Why use our resources and abilities to help rebuild a crumbling America when you can enjoy bombing another country into an even greater state of devastation? I can only shake my head and fight back tears knowing that this will only lead to worse things, both in the Middle East, and possibly here as well. If we embark on a campaign of mass murder half way around the world, against a movement that has NOT attacked the United States, don't be surprised if attacking the United States now becomes a top priority and a major recruiting tool for ISIS.

Finally, let me say that I do believe action needs to be taken to stabilize the Middle East, but I think it is not up to us to do this. Obama's strategy does indeed acknowledge this, as he calls on other countries such as Saudi Arabia to take action to clean up the mess in their back yard. However, our "minimal" involvement via air strikes and drone missions will still cause massive death and suffering and expose us to future blowback. Not worth it! Let those who live in the region deal with what is, after all, THEIR region... not ours. And, THE single most fundamental factor is the Sunni-Shi'ite division in Islam, something far, far beyond our competence to adjudicate or resolve!

As a Pagan who wants to see more focus on the sacredness of the earth and nature, I furthermore regret that this kind of military madness will once again distract us from the greatest threat that we face, which is not instability in the Middle East that occasionally causes the deaths of American journalists, but the continual degradation of our natural environment, which threatens to poison and damage us all and even end the conditions for life on earth as we have known it. Where is the battle cry to save the earth?

Enjoy your war games, O Drone King, and all you pious worshippers of the American War God...history will judge you harshly, and so will the earth.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Peace Without Justice Is No Peace At All

The word "peace" has a pleasant ring to it, but it is thrown around much too easily, often without much thought as to what it really means and requires. When we think of peace as a desirable thing, it is not a "peace" floating in space, devoid of any social context or history or social obligations. It is a peace that makes people content to refrain from conflict because their needs have been satisfied to some extent, and because they feel respected and understood by those with whom they have been in conflict or disagreement.

In a couple of situations that have been very much in the news in recent weeks, the Palestinian-Israeli attacks, counter-attacks and ongoing animosity, and the tensions between protesters and police in Ferguson, Missouri following the police slaying of the unarmed, 18 year old young black man, Michael Brown, I note the tendency among many observers, commentators and politicians to plead for "peace," by which they mean an immediate cessation of violence. This make me reflect on how, for many people who do not think very often or very deeply about these matters, there is a very simple solution to such conflict situations: just stop fighting. Palestinians, stop shooting rockets and killing Israelis. African-Americans of Ferguson, stop throwing rocks and flaming bottles at the police. Embrace "peace." Lion and lamb, please come together, and all the surrounding sheep will BAAAAA in agreement!

This kind of quick, easy and empty "peace," a cessation of conflict without any resolution of the underlying grievances and injustices that drove the conflict in the first place, is not only simplistic, short-sighted and disrespectful to those who have risked bodily harm or even sacrificed their lives to voice their grievances in these actions, but often ensures that there will be more conflict and violence in the future, for the simmering grievances will not become less heated over time simply because "peace" has been declared or imposed.

In the two cases cited above, most of our news media and political leaders tend to side with whoever the dominant power in the situation is, and to show much more sympathy for their suffering and losses than those of the other side. So, in the violence between the Palestinians and Israelis, we hear much more about how the Israelis are justified in using force against the Palestinians than we do about why the Palestinians are rising up in the first place. If an Israeli civilian such as a mother or a child is killed by a Hamas rocket, this is lamented and dramatized, but less so when Palestinians are killed or have their homes and communities reduced to rubble by Israeli missiles and soldiers, even though many more Palestinians have been killed by Israelis than the reverse, in this and past conflicts as well. Still, the Palestinians are expected to accept the destruction of their communities, pick up the pieces and move on, and live happy, "peaceful" lives despite their poverty, trauma and despair, which Israeli policy enforces through such measure as the "Separation Wall" that seals off the Palestinian territories, the Israeli military-manned checkpoints that they have to pass through on a daily basis, to their great frustration and humiliation, and the Israeli-imposed economic blockade that strangles their economic life and ensures continuing poverty and desperation. Where is the sympathy and understanding for that? It seems to me that in much of our media and among many of our leaders, it is only the suffering of the Israelis that receives attention.

In Ferguson, though there is sympathy expressed for the death of Michael Brown, the protesters who have turned to violence are seen as unreasonable hooligans, unlike the "good" protestors, who march in the daytime in the streets holding signs and flowers without resorting to any violence. The state's governor, Jay Nixon, and senior senator, Claire McCaskill, have also embraced this narrative of "good" peaceful protestors versus "bad" violent ones who dare to threaten the police. When the state authorities send in National Guard forces and fire tear gas at protestors in the streets, this may be questioned as to whether it might be a bit excessive, but is still seen as understandable because something must be done to keep the protestors from getting out of control. This understanding attitude toward police use of force, coupled with an unwillingness to allow citizens to use force to fight back against the force used against them, overlooks the deeper reality that the violent protestors are not merely responding to the slaying of Michael Brown but expressing their burning resentment over months, years, and even decades of abuse and harassment that African-Americans in Ferguson have endured at the hands of the Ferguson police and other local and state authorities. There is the stubborn reality of decades of white flight, white-dominated government agencies, including the police, and economic disinvestment in the Ferguson area that have made the black community as poor and troubled as it is. So, when the African-American community here or elsewhere explodes in violence, it has to be understood as an explosion that was caused first and foremost by a long and continuing historical experience of injustice and suffering. Where is the sympathy and understanding for that? It is my impression that for many in our media and among many of our leaders, it is only the violence of the angry African-American protestors that is condemned, not the social conditions and police brutality that drove them to this point.

If we could have "peace" of the sort that our media and politicians seem to be calling for in these situations, a cessation of violent actions before there is any resolution of the issues driving the violence, what an empty and horrible thing it would be. It would mean that people in such situations as the Palestinian territories or the African-American community in cities like Ferguson would have to accept a life as a disrespected, disempowered second class of people, with no effective ability to oppose those who oppress, brutalize and disenfranchise them, vulnerable at any moment to violent treatment by state authorities, with no means of redress. This would be similar to the kind of peace that the Nazis were hoping to achieve, a nice peaceful society of clean, orderly, white German people after all the dirty and disorderly Jews and Slavs and others had been done away with. It would indeed have been very peaceful, but not at all very just.

Though I regret violence and loss of life of any sort, I do not condemn those in harshly oppressed situations who turn to violence when they reach the desperate conclusion that they have no other way of asserting their needs and concerns. Since the creation of Israel, the grievances of the Palestinians pushed out of their homes and off their land to make way for the nation of Israel have never been fully addressed or resolved. Israeli groups continue to build settlements on land that still, according to international law, belongs to the Palestinians, and so the Palestinians, already disadvantaged by the way in which they were treated during the creation of Israel, see their lands further diminished by these continuing encroachments, while they endure such hardships as the checkpoints and embargoes mentioned above. Who can blame them for exploding into violence, as regrettable as its effects may be? And answer this: would the world pay any attention to the Palestinians, would many people outside Palestine actually know or care about their issues and grievances, if they did not occasionally attack Israel? Do the proponents of empty "peace" expect them to simply suffer and die in silence, so that Israeli communities can flourish in peace and security and never have to worry about the people living right next to them in abominable conditions that they, the Israelis, helped to create and now help to maintain, who live under constant fear of the Israeli police and military? When the Palestinians rise up out of their segregated areas to fire rockets at the Israelis, could this not be compared to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, when the disadvantaged, oppressed Jews decided to fight back courageously against their Nazi oppressors? This is indeed a most painful and horrible irony of the situation of the state of Israel and its troubled co-existence with its Palestinian citizens and neighbors.

And in Ferguson, if there were not violent protestors out in the streets at night throwing Molotov cocktails at the police, would anyone really know or care about the death of Michael Brown and the suffering of the black people of Ferguson? Would the national news media or politicians really pay much attention to quiet, peaceful protests? If the African-Americans there had only protested peacefully, without the drama of violence, would anyone really pay attention or care?

When the long-suffering, oppressed people of any location rise up in violence, it is only because they have been pushed to the brink by authorities that have often preferred to bury them than to care for them. If you want to stop the violence of tomorrow, start thinking about the disadvantaged, underprivileged, and either overtly or subtly oppressed people of today, and start thinking about how we and our institutions and authorities can help those people have a better life today and tomorrow, so that there will be no need for anyone to turn to violence to express the anger, sorrow, humiliation, bitterness and despair that we see in all too many places in our troubled and all too often indifferent world, and don't ask people to respect "law and order" when they have never seen any benefit or justice from that so-called law and so-called order.

Peace without justice is no peace at all. We need peace with justice and caring for the needs of all, not just for certain classes or colors of people, who get to live the good life while others have no life at all.

And to put a Pagan twist on this, I once again reject the narrow tribalism of ethnic division that some Pagans embrace. Just look at Ferguson and all the other communities in America where there is a sharp division between predominantly black and white communities. There are your clearly demarcated tribes, and there you have injustice and hate. Look at Israel and Palestine, and you find the same thing. We need to build bridges, not fences, and break bread together, and look for the good of all humanity, not just one enclave walled off from another and played off against it. Ethnic traditions such as songs, prayers, myths and forms of folk art that come to us from the past are beautiful things, but they are part of the common human heritage and should be respected and enjoyed as such. They should bring us together in moments of sharing and appreciation, and discovery of commonality across the range of diverse expressions of human spirituality and local culture, and not be used to separate us or inflame us against one another.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

What's Your Limit?

As humans, we dislike any limits on our way of life, our freedom of choice, and our range of options and so we rail and strain against them. However, the voice of wisdom tells us that some limits are necessary. When as a child you want to run as fast as you can and enjoy the vitality of your young body, that is a good thing. However, should you decide that in your enjoyment of limitlessness you want to race right off a cliff, not knowing or believing that there could be awful consequences, you may need someone to hold you back in order to save your young body from smashing to bloody bits on the rocks down below. This applies to so many things in our world today, most of all, our relationship to the natural environment, where human beings must learn to respect limits on our production and consumption of carbon-based energy and our usage of dangerous, poisonous chemicals, or we and the world are both going to be falling off a very steep cliff indeed.

In Norse mythology, there is an intriguing story of limits, the binding of the dangerous, demonic wolf Fenrir. As described in the text known as the Prose Edda, also known as the Snorri Edda, as it was written by the diplomat and poet Snorri Sturluson, Fenrir is one of the "trouble children" of the often-though-not-necessarily-always malevolent god Loki. From an early point in the life of young Fenrir, the gods realize that the wolfy child is trouble. They know that when he grows to full size, he will be immensely strong and dangerous, and pose a serious threat to the peace and order of the gods and the world. The gods decide they must find a way to bind Fenrir with a fetter strong enough to restrain him for all time. Lots are drawn and it falls to the brave god Tyr, a god of victory and justice, to persuade Fenrir to step into the seemingly frail rope loop that the gods have imbued with magic strength to hold the demon wolf fast. Fenrir, son of the trickster god, is not stupid, and only agrees to step into the rope circle if Tyr will put his hand into Fenrir's huge and horrible mouth as a guarantee that no trickery is involved. Tyr does this, and then loses his hand when the rope seizes Fenrir and he exacts his price by clamping down on Tyr. After this, Tyr is a one-handed god, and Fenrir is bound tight, for many ages. However, at the end of time, in the chaos of Ragnarok, he will break loose and wreak horror and havoc, finally devouring the leader of the gods and ending Odin's life.

What can we learn from this? That when a danger is great enough, a means must be found to keep it under control. If we were to say that the greatest threat to the world today is our addiction to carbon-based energy threatening life-threatening global warming, then means must be found to bring that threat under control. We must bind this Fenrir, but it will not be easy. The carbon fuel industries are as immense and powerful as the frost giants and fire demons and other ogres of the myths, and we may have to sacrifice much and suffer great pain and loss to bring them to heel. But this is our duty as guardians of the earth.

I am also moved to contemplate how so many things in our modern economy seem to revolve around promoting various kinds of addiction. These are other forms of Fenrir that we need to bind and resist. Our capitalist economy requires constant growth, with the corporate profit monster demanding endless feeding, like a young, growing Fenrir. Out of this need for limitless growth, our corporate magicians have learned to create many kinds of profitable mass addiction, because as any drug dealer knows, the best customer is the one who always needs and wants more. So how shall they addict thee? Let me count the ways....

Cigarettes...Casino gambling...Video gambling...Video games...Violent video games...E-Cigarettes (they're "e"! they're high-tech! wow, I want to try the heroin flavor!)...Junk food laced with salt, sugar, fat and chemicals...the list goes on, and on.

But one of the top prizes in the addiction competition has to go to the pharmaceutical industry. And you have to give them credit. They have really worked hard on this! They have pills to calm you down, pills to boost you up, pills to make you smarter, pills to make you sexier, pills to energize you, pills to stabilize you, pills to numb you. The government tells the young that "drugs are bad," especially ones that might help you relax and are not produced in corporate laboratories, like marijuana, or other types that might make you think thoughts that challenge the social order, like LSD, but then the children find that their school principals and psychiatrists, armed with helpful information provided by the pharmaceutical companies (aka Big Pharma, or is is Big Phenrir?) tell them that they really do need to take pills for the ADHD that keeps them from concentrating, unless they are depressed, in which case they need pills to obliterate their sorrow, and never mind the causes of that sorrow. Tinkering with brain chemistry and marketing magic in a bottle is ever so much more profitable than trying to change social conditions or provide support to people in difficult environments...

Another contender for top Wolf in the Addiction Olympics has to be the electronics industry. They really know how to make people psychologically dependent on having the latest device, the latest technology, the latest app. Do you remember ten year ago, when the consumer electronics titans were pushing the idea that you had to have a really, Really REALLY big TV in your home, or you weren't really a hip, happy, modern consumer? Well, nowadays they have flipped this around and the "in" thing is to watch your video on really, Really REALLY small screens on your favorite "smart" phone. What is so smart about watching tiny figures on a two inch screen? Never mind that! Shut up and buy Buy BUY what we tell you to. And what about Fecebook? How many times a day do the poor addicted Fece Folk have to update their profiles and share their exciting news about their cat's indigestion, the improperly buttered toast served to them at the chain restaurant, or their silly new sunglasses? What could be better for our society's well-being than people spending hours in idiotic states of distraction? After all, it is not like there were any problems outside our technological gadgets that require our urgent attention... If there was something we should do besides enjoy inane updates and endless streams of advertising, FeceBook and Gluegle would tell us, wouldn't they? After all, high tech companies know everything and care only for our welfare and the planet's well-being.

No...no....no!

We need limits. Limits on consumption, limits on advertising, limits on carbon, limits on chemicals, limits on mindless entertainment, limits on technology that takes us away from reality. But how can we bind our multiple Fenrirs? That is something we must continue to discuss and put into action where and when we can.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Patheos Forum on Paganism and the Environment

On the Pagan section of the multi-religion web site Patheos, there is a Public Forum on Paganism and the Environment, entitled "Has Pagan Environmentalism failed? Responses to Climate Change." There are articles written from a variety of Pagan perspectives, from Druidry to Wicca to Asatru, that may be of interest to readers of this blog, especially since the author of this blog submitted one of the essays. See http://www.patheos.com/Public-Square.html

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Solstice Meditations on the Fragility of Nature

Today, the day of the summer solstice, is a time to celebrate the beauty and vitality of nature, to bask in the rays of light and warmth reaching out to us all around the earth. In the Lithuanian Pagan solstice observance known as Rasos or Jonines, paralleled in the Latvian holiday of Ligo, and other similar festivities across Eastern Europe, Russia and Scandinavia, the peak of the nightlong celebration is the setting on fire of wagon wheels coated in pitch, which are rolled down hills to mimic the rolling or turning of the sun across the seasons. As there is only a brief time of darkness on the night of the summer solstice, owing to the phenomenon of the White Nights in the Northern European summer, the lighting of the wheel is meant to re-awaken the sun when it seems to have disappeared, however briefly, threatening darkness, chaos and death. Happily, the sun is soon again shining, and the cycle is complete.

The lighting of the wheel is a reminder that the ancients understood nature to be not only sacred and vital, but also fragile, in perpetual risk of destruction or disappearance. Whether you go out today or tonight to celebrate the solstice, or stay home due to the endless round of task and obligations that consume our lives like the darkness that swallows the sun each night, say a prayer or take a moment to contemplate how our modern way of life has threatened the continued vitality of nature like never before in human history. Let's take a note from the wisdom of the ancients, and remember that life is not just a quest for material consumption and social status. Life is also to be lived in, and with, nature, and that imposes a sacred obligation on us to not allow nature to be destroyed. Not by choking our air with automobile exhaust, not by blowing up mountains to burn more coal, not by ripping open the depths of the earth and ruining the water supply to scrape out more oil and gas, not by mining uranium to fuel unsafe nuclear power plants, not by islands of plastic garbage stifling the sea, and not by mountains of discarded electronics that poor children in Africa and elsewhere burn to separate the valuable bits to make more electronics to be discarded next year.

There are so many problems to be addressed in our unhealthy use of nature's resources, but the sun, who we Pagans salute on the solstice, contains one key to our planet's survival. The sun offers boundless energy that we can tap without destroying or desecrating our environment. Solar power is not a panacea to all that ails the earth and our relationship to it, but it is at least a partial solution to one piece of our environmental dilemma. Let's embrace that full-force and encourage our politicians to do the same!

May all hail the beauty, warmth and power of the sun.....!

May all remember our dependence on, and the fragility, of nature.....!

May all find the wisdom in their hearts to respect true and enduring values....!

Peace and plenty to you and yours on the solstice!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Rites of Spring, Then and Now

Sacrifice and Revolution...are these the Rites of Spring?

I was listening tonight to a radio program featuring a discussion of Stravinsky's composition "The Rites of Spring," a ballet inspired by Slavic Paganism and the notion of human sacrifice. The music and dancing in "The Rites" were so radical, so jarring, so unlike anything that had gone before in European classical music that this ballet actually caused riots in Paris when it was first performed in 1913. The discussion I listened to was on Chris Lydon's Boston NPR program "Open Source," which replayed a discussion of Stravinsky from the year 2000 on "The Connection," the program Lydon hosted on WBUR at that time. You can hear it at http://radioopensource.org/rite-of-spring-revival .

I am moved to reflect upon sacrifice, spring and revolution. We are just a few days in from May Day, once a worldwide day of tribute to workers and socialism, and more recently, a date on the calendar when modern-day Pagans often celebrate Beltane or other "rites of spring." In Stravinsky's vision, the Rites of Spring means the selection of a young maiden to be offered in human sacrifice in order to bring on the life-giving renewal of spring. The maiden is then driven to dance until she dies, which the frantic, driving music of the composition renders both hypnotic and frightening. Stravinsky's, and not only Stravinsky's view of sacrifice is that it is a very basic spiritual mystery, a primal bargain in which death pays for life, in which something must be given, wasted, killed, destroyed--sacrificed--by one, or by some, so that new abundance can be obtained for the many, or even for all of us. There is a similar logic in Christ's crucifixion and in Abraham's near-sacrifice of his son Isaac in the Old Testament.

In Norse myth, the world itself is created by the sacrificial killing and dismemberment of the primal being Ymir, and wisdom, poetry, writing and more are made possible for mankind by Odin's agonizing self-sacrifice on the world tree Yggdrasil. The apocalyptic vision of the end of the world in the poem Voluspa is also in a sense a story of sacrifice, as the destruction of the existing world is the prelude to the revitalization and re-creation of the world, rising up from the depths of the ocean, "fresh and green."

With our retrospective knowledge of what would happen in Europe and Russia in the years immediately following the debut of the "Rites of Spring," Stravinsky's ballet now seems not only a powerful reflection on sacrifice and death, but an artistic prophecy of the huge changes about to occur in Europe through WW I and the Russian Revolution. I find its message still entirely relevant, still full of jarring, even frightening resonance, in our own time. Our society has become dominated by a corporate and economic elite as corrupt, self-serving and unresponsive to human needs and aspirations as was the Tsarist regime of Stravinsky's time. Are we perhaps building up to the point when a revolution--a massive, horrific, collective sacrifice--is again required to make this society a more promising place for all of its citizens, not just a privileged elite? Will we need to rise up and accept the necessity of risk, loss, ruin, danger, and even death, to break the death-grip of the corporate oligarchy that now controls the parameters of our lives?

It is a tired refrain of American political thought that in a democracy such as ours, we must work through the political system, with all its flaws and contradictions, to achieve improvements in society, and that we should accept the reality that change comes slowly, and may take many generations. There is no need for drastic action, so this thinking goes, no reason to imagine anything as violent and radical as a revolution. America had a revolution once, it is true, but that was long ago, and we now have a constitutional democracy designed to accommodate public demands and to foster change and adjustments in our society, however slowly. All things in good time, you see.

Stravinsky's "Rites of Spring" reminds us of other, darker chords that can be played on the strings of the collective social orchestra. We are not in a time of social and political progress. The system is not working, or if it is, it is only working for those with massive financial power to bring about the results that they desire. Thus, when we have a financial Ragnarok as in 2008, it is only the oligarchic elite that gets much help from the government that is supposed to be "by the people, of the people, and for the people." Thus, when the world is threatened by massive climate disruption, when the icecaps are melting and increasingly violent storms and droughts rock one country after another, the carbon fuel industry is able to manipulate the media and cloud the public discourse in the United States to such a degree that most people doubt the need for any decisive action, and the profits of the carbon companies go up and up and up, just like the earth's temperature, with all the great danger that entails. Whatever happens in our world now is assimilated, adapted and repackaged by the forces of international finance and corporate power into a way for them to gather greater wealth and influence. What chance do the rest of us have?

In our world of dazzling, digital distractions, where our concerns about pressing social and political issues and our desires for real and meaningful change can be so easily dissipated, neutered and anesthetized by ever-proliferating forms of mind-crippling entertainment, it is hard to imagine a massive uprising such as the French, Russian or American revolutions. Furthermore, in a world where the economy has been transformed into an ever-more competitive, ever-less supportive, ever-more frightening zone of total insecurity for the vast majority of wage-earners, more and more of whom fear that at any moment they might be replaced by the latest "labor-saving" technology, which offers vast profits to the corporate and financial elite and the prospect of unemployment or progressively lower-wage work to many, most people are rightfully terrified to embark on any course of action that could endanger what little economic and occupational security they have managed to hold onto against the powerful techno-capital forces rumbling in the background like Tyrannosaurus Rex monsters looking to devour any and every creature that they can force into their perpetually ravenous mouths.

And yet... and yet, the brutal lesson of history, and of the "Rites of Spring," is that there can be no real spring, no true renewal, no large-scale social progress, without sacrifice and loss. The time may come when people will rise up to demand this, and be willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the welfare of future generations. It is my hope that as the threat of such uprising and revolution begins to take on shape and form and momentum, as began to happen with the "Occupy Wall Street" protests of 2011 and 2012, that the people with great power in government and the corporate and financial sectors will finally realize t the need for a thorough renegotiation of the basic social contract, and then our society can be renewed on a better basis for all. But if they are unable or unwilling to accept the need for such change... if they are so blinded by their own narcissism and the delusional belief that they have a right to perpetuate the order that is of such service to them and such disservice to others... then all bets are off, and the "Rites of Spring" may again need to be performed.

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