Tuesday 22 March 2022

No victory, only healing

In the last couple of weeks, the war in Ukraine has grabbed the headlines, and the hearts of many people. There is the flood of images and stories: of the destruction of cities, and of ragged lines of refugees struggling for safety – and being received with open arms, food, and shelter. European countries have thrown open their borders (with the shameful exception of post-Brexit Britain) and people are moving forward by the thousands with helping hands. This is inspiring. It states the truth of right social order: the people act according to values – and the government facilitates. And the opposite is also true: 

War is not unusual it’s been going on throughout human history; it’s going on in many countries now. And yet terrible long-term conflicts such as in Yemen and Syria seem to pale in regard to the current situation in Europe. No doubt Euro-centricism plays a part, but for those of us living on the continent that initiated two major world wars and endured the nuclear threat of the Cold War, old resonances start echoing.

All of this is heart-breaking: Ukraine being mutilated, Russia crippled and left to a dictator to play with; the only winners are the arms-manufacturers. And on the wider scale this rift is already having global effects. Borders and divisions are hardening. And what was this what it was all about? The security of the borderlands between Russian Europe and NATO Europe? Two Europes? The borders of ‘Europe’ have changed over the centuries: an acorn taking root in the Polish-Lithuanian Empire might have become a sapling in Poland, blossomed as a mature oak in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, aged in the Soviet Union and died in Ukraine. And during that time, armies might have marched past it to defend the ‘borders’. Borders? What do these lines on a map represent, and what lies behind drawing them?

For me, boders represent that tense territory where I get patted down or sent into a separate room for questioning (USA) or waved through with hands in anjali (Thailand). They’re nature is fluid …. I expect if you're an asylum seeker, borders are not the same as if you're a billionaire. But in geopolitical terms, borders mean security. They mean that the central power has control and it can tax and reward and otherwise supervise those within its borders. And to a great extent, these fences are more than geographical. Much of global wealth is fenced off and controlled by a minority global elite. Much of the Earth that we inhabit and depend upon has been parcelled up and sold off to international corporations who can exploit and even destroy it while assuring us that this is good for 'the economy' (i.e. shareholders, CEOs and suitable political lever pullers). How and by whom did this contract get written?

One major author is economic interest. Left to their own devices, human collectives operate in terms of fluid boundaries of inclusivity. Check out your social network. Check out a monastic community. There's a social contract sustained by sharing, interests, loyalties and kinships – like the older social models which constellated around a strong centre and which extended out to a loosely defined periphery (maybe bounded by a geographical barrier). Rather like a galaxy. And there had to be negotiation between the chief and the subjects as to how the whole thing operated. Otherwise, the people abandoned the chief. As the Zulu have it: 'No chief, no tribe; no tribe, no chief.' Is it not natural then that the borderlands would have affiliations to people and cultures on both sides – that there is no hard boundary?

The major boundary-setter has been trade. When that gives rise to money and credit, it needs economic management. Management stands outside the goods and the trade, and is a business that needs to have a secure structure. To provide that is a major reason for the nation-state. Such management is also profitable, becomes a business in itself – banks, stock exchanges, currency trading: this and more make up the greater portion of the global economy.

Looked at in this light, it’s no wonder that most of the world outside the ring of the current opposing parties is stepping back from getting involved. Having experienced European mapmaking and domination, what African, South American or Asian wants to get into another European-based battle over much the same? Not that the management even has a geographical base anymore. Today's empires are of the multi-national corporations (whose reserves exceed that of many countries). Most of the resources of the country I live in, Britain, are owned and controlled by non-native parties. Well, I guess everyone's welcome ... within the social contract – and part of that is to make a proportionate contribution to this land, and to the welfare of the people you share it with. There has to be an ethical basis in this, otherwise financial value overrides human values. And if ethics are abandoned, greed sets in.

Ethics are an aspect of the truth of mutuality – 'to others as to myself' – a sense that balances the individual's behaviour in the light of being part of a whole. This sense is not based upon laws as constructed and written down (and that can always be nullified and changed) but comes from a directly felt acknowledgment and respect of others. From respect, mutuality, kindness, compassion and personal restraint come forth. Whereas the fiat of government doesn't work that well (crime persists and the prisons swell; smart lawyers manage tax evasion for their employees – and governments East, West, North and South break international laws with impunity), personally supervised ethics takes us deep into the heart. Here is the treasure of humanity, of dignity, warm-heartedness and joy. Because not only doesn't it leave any others out – it also doesn't fence off and sell the wealth of the heart it dwells in.

This heart-mind doesn’t have any boundaries – other than those its attention creates. Check it out: if you give full awareness to your mind, you'll notice a changeable flow of thoughts and emotions, some powerful upswells, some habitual vortices – and attempts to organize and direct them. It's the nation-state as an internal microcosm. But what you won't notice are any fixed boundaries to that continuum. Past, present and projected future can all arise in this inner territory, along with impressions of people ‘out there’ and distant places. Come to think of it, where is the mind located? We might say it's within us, but within what? That idea and any notions of where we are also arise within the mind. To be truthful, the mind doesn't have a location, a boundary or an identity. There's no-one there holding it; instead, the director is self-interest wishing, striving, criticizing and re-iterating the same old stuff. What I call 'myself' comes from this intensity of interest, along with a sense of familiarity: ‘This is me.' But these senses are not an entity, they amount to a tonal colouring, like a highlight; something that assists orientation and direction, for good or bad.

That tonal colouring, that sense of purpose and value, has to be connected to ethics. Otherwise, it creates delusions whereby the mind gets possessed by insecurity and selfishness. Then anxiety and clinging get established, and that can lead to full-blown paranoia and power mania. These are all forms of ignorance, because owning and controlling and dominating don't bring security and peace of mind. They're defective programs. Take some famous cases: by the time he died, Stalin had brought around the death of more than 30 million of his own people, including many of his loyal lieutenants, and was still paranoid. Mao did much the same in China. Power breeds mutual destruction.

It's notable that the most the most powerful nations, the ones with the biggest military budgets – the USA, Russia and China – are the most paranoid (as well as being internally conflicted). Belgium, on the other hand, has been ridden over and passed through by invading armies ever since (and before) it began – but it chose to loosen its boundaries and settle into being part of an alliance. At times it even manages to get by without a central government. Yet it is one of the safest and most peaceful countries in the world with a high standard of living, healthcare and education. Its only significant problem is around (you guessed it!) boundary issues between its Flemish and French-speaking communities.

One wonders to what extent we even need nation-states, but let's not indulge in Utopian visions. The main point is that if the heart-mind is understood, and valued as a source of happiness and stability, then its orientation has to be one of respectful interconnectedness. Because in that there is a firm and personally verifiable location – in ethical clarity and goodwill. On that basis – one that’s not hanging onto ungraspable qualities such as material possessions, territory, and dogma – the mind finds balance.

And it has to be developed, because one of the eerie things about ignorance is that you don't realize what you’re leaving out. Let’s not forget the fence we create between humans and non-humans. A boundary between humans and our fellow living creatures allows us to kill 70 billion land animals and over trillion marine animals every year without batting an eyelid. (And this doesn’t include innumerable insects whose activities in fertilizing the land we depend upon.) This same fence gives us the right to devastate the forests, oceans, and soils of this planet on which life depends. Our current social and economic models rely upon us doing this. No environmental contract has yet been negotiated wherein the life and rights of other creatures are given attention. They (along with the trash we create and throw ‘away’) are on the other side of the imaginary fence.

So we have an ignorant political model, an ignorant economic system and an ignorant environmental model. Such a scenario is dry tinder waiting for sparks. Because with the profound disconnectedness that these create, and when there is a loss of mutuality in the social structures, inequality, resentment, poverty, crime and violence arise. We're encouraged to lean on material objects, entertainment and political strongmen to give us some ground – but they can't do that, so we lose heart, and anxiety, depression and psychological disorders increase.

None of this is comfortable. But we’re not looking at comfortable anymore; we're looking at survival. What does not lead to survival is partisanship: them and us; holding on to positions. That leads to politics, and politics is about polarisation, polarisation is about division, and division breeds fear, conflict and war. So it’s not a matter of who’s right who’s the best and who’s wrong. It’s not a matter of being the wisest or the purest. It’s about disbanding the sense of them and the conceit of better and worse, because with that disbanding is the possibility for respect and compassion and integrity. And if we cultivate this individually, we don’t need the police with armour and tear gas or even the moral policing of religion. We become eager to enquire and cultivate whatever can establish wise and mutual supervision of this human nature. We can enjoy the richness of shared humanity where are cultures could cross-fertilize and expand our hearts and minds. If there is anything supreme it is not a nation, it is not a religion or a political ideology – it is the liberation of the heart from ignorance.

The real victory then is the victory over ignorance. Because with that comes the only chance for deep healing.