Gazing Like Narcissus Into the Pool
Our reflection as our temple
I disabled my Twitter account again. I had to. There is rarely anything fun about it anymore, but these past few days it has been too much and brings out the worst parts of me. Nor am I capable of just not looking at it. As long as an account exists that I can pull up “just to see if I have any mentions or DMs to respond to” I can’t resist a peek. But if I disable it altogether, the extra steps to re-engage go a long way toward keeping my eyes off it. I’m trying that tactic again, a resolve I took after typing out an angry hateful response to some racist American prick oblivious to the blood our own soil is soaked in, then ultimately deleted it unsent but still felt shitty in the aftermath for the reminder of how awful so many of us are … myself included.
It’s possible I am engaging here today in the very thing that drove me off that garbage website again in the first place: just another loudmouth bloviating about something he knows only a fraction of what he thinks he knows about a subject. I’m speaking about the obvious here: the Russian invasion of Ukraine. That, and what our shock and disbelief to it says about us in general.
It is easy to wonder how the invasion is even possible. We are into the twenty-third year of a new millennium and soldiers are marching across someone else’s land to invade, and lay waste to, another person’s home, for reasons benefiting only a tiny cabal of wealthy knuckle-cracking villains. Haven’t we learned how foolish this is? Learned how the misery that ensues goes well beyond whatever supposed benefit may result? This isn’t supposed to happen here! This kind of thing only happens in those dusty over-theres, doesn’t it?
To wonder how this recent outrage is possible is to be oblivious to the reality that troops have never stopped marching. As long as there have been boots on the ground some have been applied to the necks of others. As long as there have been weapons the strong have employed them in the exploitation of the less-so. A civilian is a civilian. An innocent is an innocent. The powerful have not stopped reaching for more power regardless of body counts.
I have compassion for all of them. The bodies, that is. Wherever they fall. Compassion for the disruption to lives and for the loss of lives. Homes destroyed. Misery that doesn’t end just because a conflict does. Nor am I talking of only civilian casualties, but the soldiers too. How can I not? I am seeing people I know. Dead soldiers bring grief to families of American soldiers who have been killed overseas. I am seeing the veterans who are constantly mentioned every time a politician opens their mouth. We are a nation who exalts our veterans at every turn yet don’t do enough to protect them, neither before they are herded into conflict, where many die, nor after they leave the service, where far too many have permanent mental and physical injuries that impact what lives they have left to live. Too many end up raving on the street. Too many take their own lives.
Do we think the families of Russian soldiers feel any differently that we do? Do we think Russian soldiers joined the military for reasons any different than our young people do? For many it is the only option, just like here.
I admire the spirit of the Ukrainian people. I see reflected in their struggle every single person who ever hefted a makeshift weapon against an invader from somewhere else, regardless of the geopolitics surrounding the encounter. I don’t see Americans reflected in the efforts of the Ukrainians though, I see us in the Russians. Which is why I have compassion for those soldiers even as I recognize they are doing the wrong thing and, if I were Ukrainian, I’d be trying to kill them too. I don’t want the Russians to “win.” I want them to drop their weapons and go home.
We Americans are the Russians. Not just metaphorically but around the world, right now, everywhere there are American soldiers stationed in another country, there are American troops who cause fear and heartbreak among people who just want them to leave. That isn’t the fault of the soldiers either, for the most part. Few among them signed up to spread misery around the world. They bought into the same propaganda bullshit that millions upon millions of American citizens also have. We are rarely, if ever, the “good” guys.
I’ve never been much inclined to despair. I’m far from an eternal optimist, but I’m certainly a ‘cup half-full’ kind of person. In the face of most adversity, I can usually press some internal ‘reset’ button, adjust to the new reality, and chug on along. But like so many, this week I’ve struggled with what’s happening in Ukraine. It’s not just because of the brave but frightened Ukrainians on the radio, and the empathy that makes me understand exactly how I would feel in their place. I’m just in despair at the utter lack of integrity of the West. At all of the ways in which we turn a blind eye to anything that might threaten our creature comforts, cause us inconvenience. At all the ways in which we’re not prepared to give up anything important to make a stand. I’ve been listening to ‘business leaders’ on the radio talking about how we run the risk of ‘cutting our nose off to spite our face’ and warning that if we go ahead with serious sanctions against Russia, all of us might suffer a little bit in return. Apparently this is unthinkable. It seems to me that any moral authority the West ever had about anything very much is dead, and I really don’t know whether my dominant emotion is bewilderment, despair, or just plain rage.
The people we elect show who we are. The racists television networks employ to report to us show who we are, and they are coming out in force with this one. We have been making rubble of cities around the world for decades, for a couple centuries, and we let it happen. It happens inside our own borders. We see it in the beatings of water protectors. In the police murders of brown people. In our carceral system. In our continued acceptance of houselessness and poverty. It is all violence and it surrounds us and we let it happen. So I share Blackie’s bewilderment, despair, and rage.
But mostly rage. Rage that we spend so much of our attention on this conflict as a kind of theater and not an opportunity to look at how it reflects on ourselves and the world we’ve made. We are trying to view it as good vs. evil and it just isn’t that. We are part of it, whether we like it or not. It is something we do to ourselves and each other over and over again. Are we recognizing this? Will we be the ones to turn the tide? I’m not inclined to think so.
There are nuances to this Russia/Ukraine conflict I don’t pretend to understand. Of course there are. Probably the most difficult thing for me to deal with on a daily basis is the reality that I have to live in The World That Is as opposed to the world I would like to see, and the geopolitical maneuverings of the global ruling class is part of that. The weight and power of capital and those who control it and want more of it is overwhelming. There are plenty of people—mostly white dudes, universally racist enough (whether they know it or not) that none of them get the benefit of the doubt—who feel compelled to try and explain it to the rest of us. I’m not hearing them. I’m finished with listening to them. They joyfully feed ammunition to the problem.
It boils down to this: I see people killing other people and for no good reason. No. Good. Reason. There is no such thing as a “good reason” for killing people. People who just want to live the same way the rest of us do, with a good share of love and happiness and a full belly and shelter. Yet this killing is happening everywhere at the hands of every “civilized” government. Especially at the hands of this government that I pay taxes to. Recognizing this as The World That Is doesn’t mean I have to like it or even let it abide uncommented-on either. I think it sucks. I hope for a hell because there is a long list of people I hope will burn there. I’d like to see the oligarchs and politicians and their sycophants herded onto transports and shot into space. I’d like to liberate the person from every military uniform and cop uniform and anything remotely like it and see those uniforms and what they represent piled onto huge bonfires that the rest of us could dance around for a fortnight or two of riotous bacchanal celebration. Billions deserve that joy for all the sorrows they endure to keep us fat and warm and happy and willfully oblivious.
I’m not going to live to see any of this. Of course I’m not. If it were even possible I doubt, like Sharon Blackie, that most of my community has enough interest in a better world to sacrifice one bit of their own comfort to make things better for the greater good. I’m not talking necessarily to you, dear reader. If you have been around here long enough you feel this suffering as much as I do, and you wonder, “Well, what can I even do?” I don’t have that answer but I am constantly seeking it. Accepting these grim truths is part of accepting the world as it is and hoping there are enough beautiful people of good hearts to make living a while longer worth it. I remain hopeful of that much at least. I already know a few. A couple here. A handful over there. That one weird guy up yonder. We all do what we can and the more we reflect on it all then, hopefully, when the opportunity presents itself to actually do something, we do it.
Whilst I’m critical of all sorts of elements of religion, when functioning at its most efficacious it tells us how to live. It illustrates to us sacrifice, compassion and contact with a dynamic spiritual centre outside our own psyche. That moulds us in a certain way. We are naturally religious for the most part.
If we take away the gods we start to worship any old thing. I’m not arguing that the gods are all sweetness and light, or that they are all for the good. But here’s the secret: we don’t stop worshipping. We can’t. But in the absence of the profound we gaze like Narcissus into the pool and elect our reflection as our temple.
Our soul becomes a kind of comfort but not a compass.
In order to survive I am doing all I can to tend to my soul. To my spirit. To seek out and awaken and sit with the Old Gods and Goddesses. Chase the profound. Is this religion? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Whatever it is it’s older than people. I’m looking for comfort, yes; but I’m looking for a compass too, because this human world isn’t getting it done for me anymore. I don’t know that it ever did.
And I killed my Twitter account. For the last time? I sure hope so….
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