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Friday, March 28, 2014

Empathy In The Time Of Numbness

Empathy In The Time Of Numbness

"Nobody feels any pain, tonight, as I, stand inside the rain."
- Bob Dylan

By Mankh (Walter E. Harris III)
Axis of Logic
March 28, 2014

Aside from, or perhaps along with, the recent polar vortex
phenomenon there is a coldness at the heart of world affairs.

Upon reading the news day after day, is there such thing
as an appropriate response?

At one level one may react numbly (or with pseudo-Buddhist
detachment) so as to protect a sense of self, maintain
equilibrium.

Yet one might burst into tears, become depressed, or rant
angrily at the various atrocities and perpetrators, from drone
bomb killings to the devastating side-effects of wars and
the manipulated economic sanctions and neo-liberal policies
skewering various sectors of the globe.

Wait, that sounded like numb journalistic propaganda, not
“various sectors of the globe,” rather, actions affecting
human beings, various critters, and Mother Earth.

Professor, author, and activist Howard Zinn serves as a
fine example of someone who woke up from the numbness:

“Eager to fight fascism, Zinn joined the U.S. Army Air Force
during World War II and was assigned as a bombardier in the
490th Bombardment Group, bombing targets in Berlin,
Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. As bombardier, Zinn dropped
napalm bombs in April 1945 on Royan, a seaside resort in
southwestern France. The anti-war stance Zinn developed
later was informed, in part, by his experiences. . . . On
the ground, Zinn learned that the aerial bombing attacks
in which he participated had killed more than 1000 French
civilians as well as some German soldiers hiding near Royan
to await the war’s end, events that are described ‘in all
accounts’ he found as ‘une tragique erreur’...”1

One of the great dangers of the current booming techno-gadget
military complex is that the opportunities for long-distance,
video-gamesque death machines have increased.

“On July 6, 2010, Private Bradley Manning, a 22 year old
intelligence analyst with the United States Army in Baghdad,
was charged with disclosing this video (after allegedly
speaking to an unfaithful journalist). . . . The video, shot
from an Apache helicopter gun-sight, clearly shows the
unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters employee and his
rescuers. Two young children involved in the rescue were
also seriously wounded.”2

The imprisonment of Bradley, now called Chelsea Manning, is
a prime example of the macho numb-nuts’ attempt to keep the
doors of empathy closed so as to continue to perpetuate their
inhuman and profitable atrocities in cold blood.

"The vagabond who’s rapping at your door, is standing in
the clothes, that you once wore." - Bob Dylan

Various psychological studies depict sociopaths as lacking
any empathy, thus they continue on pathologically.

The military-politico-bankster elite is loaded with such types.

A subtler form of numbness has to do with so-called foreign
affairs.

If the war or the devastation is way over there in another
country, or on an Indian reservation, for examples, it is
easier to say, “Not my problem.”

Out of sight, out of mind . . . and emotion.

Yet becoming a world citizen and taking on a "One Earth"
perspective, can be a gateway drug to compassion, and
empathy.

On a personal level, one can learn a lot from pain.

Having learned a lot that way myself and then trying to
put it all in a non-sadistic framework, I came up with
this phrase:

Pain is a great teacher that wants the student to graduate
to a more pleasurable experience.

Whether experiencing pain directly or simply witnessing it,
also a form of experience, each individual has a reason for
a turning point.

The reasons may be many, yet at the core is a caring, a not
wanting to cause any more pain or harm, and a not wanting
to see any more pain or harm caused.

Recognizing another as a form of self can also flip the
switch.

Literature often provides an outlet of expression for the
author as well as a potential turning point for the reader.

Kurt Vonnegut is a prime example:

“Vonnegut was one of a group of American prisoners of war to
survive the attack in an underground slaughterhouse meat locker
used by the Germans as an ad hoc detention facility. The Germans
called the building Schlachthof Fünf (“Slaughterhouse Five”) which
the Allied POWs adopted as the name for their prison. Vonnegut
said that the aftermath of the attack was 'utter destruction' and
'carnage unfathomable.' This experience was the inspiration for
his famous novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, and is a central theme in
at least six of his other books. ”3

Other of Vonnegut’s firsthand experiences affected him deeply:

“Vonnegut made a damn good entertainer, but there should be
no mistake: Kurt Vonnegut wasn’t standing at all those podiums
talking just to earn his (sizable) fee. He had a purpose, and that
purpose was to testify about what he witnessed and what he
learned as an American soldier and prisoner of war in Germany
near the end of World War II."

“Vonnegut spent ten painful days in a packed boxcar with his
fellow prisoners before finally arriving in the grand old German
city of Dresden, and he was there on February 14, 1945, when
an experimental new type of incendiary bombing created a
firestorm that destroyed the entire city in a single day, claiming
more lives than the first atomic bomb would six months later in
Hiroshima. Vonnegut and his fellow prisoners remained in Dresden
for the aftermath, dragging corpses (mostly women and children,
since the German men were all fighting) from the ruins.

“No 20th-century American writer—not Ernest Hemingway in
Europe, not Norman Mailer in the Pacific, not Matthew Eck in
Somalia—can tell a war horror story like this one. (Though Beat
poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti is close, having landed in Nagasaki
with a U.S. Navy force a month after the atom bombing. It’s
worth noting that Ferlinghetti also became an extreme pacifist.

From an interview:

Christopher Bollen: You served in World War II and you actually
visited Nagasaki right after the bomb was dropped there.

Ferlinghetti: I was there seven weeks after the bomb was dropped.
It was just like walking around in some landscape that wasn’t on
Earth. It was an unearthly feeling. The site had been cleaned
up—somewhat—or they wouldn’t have let us in. I was just off my
Navy ship down in southern Kyushu, and we had a day off and went
up by train to Nagasaki. It was pretty horrible to see. And that was
just a toy bomb compared to the ones that are available today.

Bollen: Did that experience have anything to do with your deciding
to become a poet? I imagine those images burned into your brain.

Ferlinghetti: No, I was a poet long before. But I wasn’t political
before that. Besides, I was a good American boy. I was a Boy
Scout in the suburbs of New York—trustworthy, loyal, friendly,
courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and
reverent.

Bollen: And have you stuck to all of those principles?

Ferlinghetti: Of course.

"Time is an ocean, but it ends at the shore, you may
not see me tomorrow." – Bob Dylan

It would take a larger scope to determine the origins of the
penchants for tragedy but one historical clue can be derived
from the following, from James W. Loewen's book Lies My
Teacher Told Me:

“Britain exterminated the Tasmanian aborigines; Germany pursued
total war against the Herrero of Namibia. Most western nations
have to face history. We also have to admit that Adolf Hitler
displayed more knowledge of how we treated Native Americans
than American high schoolers who rely on their textbooks.
Hitler admired our concentration camps for Indians in the west
‘and often praised to his inner circle the efficiency of
America’s extermination by starvation and uneven combat’ as
the model for his extermination of Jews and Gypsies. ”6 . . . .
And others.

In 2009, David Swallow, Jr., a Traditional Lakota Spiritual Leader,
wrote:

“In 1876, the Indian Appropriations Act demanded the Sioux give
back the Black Hills or starve under siege. Then they ordered
the destruction of all the buffalo herds. By 1889, the Federal
Government had forced the Lakota into prisoner of war camps
which they now call Reservations. According to government
documents, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is prisoner of war
camp #344. . . . We are the longest prisoners of war in the
world’s history. It must change. We need to be set free so
we can deal with our own people and our children and their
children. ”7

Another angle for un-numbing comes from Ehren K. Watada:

“a former First Lieutenant of the United States Army, best known
as the first commissioned officer in the US armed forces to refuse
to deploy to Iraq, in June, 2006. Watada refused to deploy for his
unit's assigned rotation to Operation Iraqi Freedom, saying he
believed the war to be illegal and that, under the doctrine of
command responsibility, it would make him party to war crimes. . .
On October 2, 2009, the Army discharged Ehren Watada. Watada’s
defense attorney stated that in his opinion, ‘the Army came to
the conclusion that it was not going to be able to prevail in a
prosecution, and when the new solicitor general came in, her
office had a fresh look at it, and as it was not bound by any of
the decisions that had been made previously, they saw fit to put
a stop to the appellate process.’ ”8

People tell me it’s a crime, to feel too much at any one time."
- Bob Dylan

For some whistleblowers it has become an Orwellian crime to feel
and reveal various information and truths. Manning, Snowden, and
Assange, are some of the high-profile cases.

It is left to each reader of daily news to determine what levels of
empathy, action, and/or compassionate witnessing serve the best
purpose.

"When I was deep in poverty, you taught me how to give."
- Bob Dylan

As the proverbial sun shines on both the good and evil,
it is perhaps when one is standing "inside the rain" and
wondering why "nobody feels any pain" that a turn-around,
or transformation, is ripe for the happening.

While the bringing down of the walls of un-empathetic fascist
empires may be left to the masses or when a chunk of time
has run its weary course, each human being has the ability to
experience redemption, to display forgiveness amidst pain,
to feel the cold rain on the skin and instead of taking revenge,
know that the sun will shine again.



Mankh (Walter E. Harris III) is an essayist and resident poet on
Axis of Logic. In addition to his work as a writer, he is a small
press publisher and Turtle Islander.

http://axisoflogic.com/artman/publish/Article_66365.shtml

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