The Wretched, Hopeful Lessons of Complicity

Let's start with a near certainty.  In most cases most people will do what it takes to stay alive.  It's called the survival instinct and it operates unconsciously.  Fight or flight is the most coarse, outward manifestation of the evolved instinct.  A social survival instinct, also largely unconsious, develops as well.  Many scientists believe pressures from the importance of social skill to survival created the large human brain.  If this is so, then much of our brain is likely devoted to sorting social relations, largely on an unconscious level.  Many of us will smile at a murderer before us if doing so will keep us alive.  This is human nature, we all have it, and it would be best if we tried not to deny it.

So, because in many circumstances for the vast majority of humans we will cooperate in order to survive, then we find ourselves participating in systems which feel completely out of our control.  And we are not fully conscious of our degree of cooperation, such as participation in certain emotional realities unconsciously and through instinct..  Sometimes we find ourselves cooperating with some pretty horrendous stuff.  We may think we are not participating, but we are living comfortably within the sysyem, taking care not to bring too many hassles upon ourselves.  Consider what we would be doing if it were our cousins whose lives were being ruined by drones, our friends' communities being destroyed.  It's the human way to be less identified the farther the distance.

The worst among us, when they see what we're williing to cooperate with, can reach extremes of evil, as we saw throughout the 20th century and continuing into this one.  I have been wondering if we are not a time when psychopaths are having unusually strong influence on the social reality.  Only a very few of us can stand unaffected by all these social currents--we criticize and complain, but we also participate. By virtue of having common humanity, common instincts, we are complicit.  The painful act of acknowledging one's complicity opens one's heart to the suffering being perpetrated.  For those with advanced understanding, human compassion extends to the worst perpetrators, victims of the imperfections in the human system.  I'm not there yet.  Even though the Daial Lama sees W as human, I do not fully.

This from Sam Keen is more in line with Arendt's thought than attempts to pin banal evil on Obama and Brennan. 

The major responsibility for war lies not with villains and evil men but with reasonably good citizens. Any depth understanding of the social function of war leads to the conclusion that it was the 'good' Germans who created the social ecology that nurtured the Nazis, just as it was the 'good' Americans, working through their warrior priests such as General Westmoreland, who sent Lieutenant Calley into MyLai. Lincoln said, 'War is much too important to be left to the generals.' But the psychological truth is much more disturbing. The generals are the (largely unconscious) agents of a (largely unconscious) civilian population. The good people send out armies as the symbolic representatives to act out their repressed shadows, denied hostilities, unspoken cruelties, unacceptable greed, unimagined lust for revenge against punitive parents and authorities, uncivil sexual sadism, denied animality, in a purifying blood ritual that confirms their claim to goodness before the approving eyes of history or God. Warfare is the political equivalent of the individual process of seeking 'vindictive triumph,' which Karen Horney described as the essence of neurosis.


The persistent efforts of liberals, peacemongers, and assorted groups of nice people to assign the blame for war to the Pentagon, the military-industrial complex, or some other surrogate for the devil, are no less a denial of responsibility than laying the blame on an external enemy. The sentimental cliche 'The people don't want war, only their leaders do,' is a pious way to avoid thinking seriously about the problem. And we will not make progress in severing the roots of war without reowning our consensual paranoia and the corporate responsibility for evil. The body politic will change only when there is a democratization of guilt, responsibility, power, and authority. We become politically potent by accepting responsibilty, for better or worse, for the conduct of our leaders. In the long view, nations have the leaders they deserve.


What is necessary is not an easy confession, but a political work, a path, a discipline of consciousness that must be undertaken by a community of solitary individuals. There is no way to repent en masse. The burden of corporate guilt can only be borne by individuals sensitive enough to examine their own consciousness and conscience. This is the way of metanoia, changing our minds, reversing our perspectives, making conscious the projections of our shadows onto the enemy....

If you are interested in reading more, please follow this link and read the entire short piece instead of the following excerpt, which does not set context and is just the ending:

"I suffer from the disease of concupiscence — endless desire. I am never satisfied with what I have, even though I am drowning in things I do not need. I buy. I consume. Therefore, I exist.


"I excuse myself from facing the fate of the downtrodden with the comforting theory that poverty is a structural problem that cannot be solved by the generosity of wealthy nations. I have turned my eyes aside so that I need not see the evil done by those who have acted in my name, who have used my tax dollars to keep me safe from the amorphous threat of terrorism. I have watched while the civil rights upon which my country was founded have been eroded and the international standards of the Geneva Conventions have been violated.


"Of these things I repent."

Important Qualifier:  None of this precludes either direct political engagement nor holding people accountable for their actions.  This is about taking personal responsibility for one's own tendencies toward blame and denial.  Without the inner work, without personal commitment to becoming a person who does not contribute to violence, attempts to eliminate violence by punishing or changing others are not only doomed to failure but are actually destined to contribute to the problem.




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