23 Oct

If only it was that easy. It ain’t easy. Being born isn’t easy. You don’t remember but ask your mother. She’ll never forget it. I don’t imagine dying is easy either but I’ve never had a conversation with anyone experienced in the matter. And in between, for some the living’s easy. But somewhere else, for someone else nothing but pain and fear. Some are born to sweet delight, some to endless night. And where the living’s easy I guarantee there’s a solid, well-funded defense policy.

I knew a Holocaust survivor once, name of Sophie. This Sophie didn’t have a choice. When I knew her she had some of the symptoms of early Altzheimer’s. She knew it was happening. On her wall above her bed many framed photos. Her parents in the mannered, Sunday-best, poses of old world people. Modern colour snaps of her three children; the children from her second family. Sometimes she’d look at her family photos and point to her mother and father. “Who is this”, she’d ask in her thick Polish accent. She’d smile at me and shrug, answering, “I don’t know.” She knew they had to be important somehow. They were up there with her children, them she remembered. But she couldn’t recall and she knew it would get worse. Life. It ain’t easy. Ask Sophie. Still, it didn’t worry her too much. After Auschwitz what’s left that can drive you to despair?

Last Autumn a Dutch lass tried to sign me up for a UN Sudan thing. Sudan. Another contender for the World Heavyweight Champion of fucked-up places. A place where guys with guns come riding over the hill to slaughter and rape. Where people live with the expectation that that will occur and at any minute. They can’t call to the government for assistance. These killers are with the government. I’m highly skeptical of any organization that says it can do anything to stop this bloodshed, particularly the United Nations. There are UN ‘peacekeepers’ but they’re famous for doing very little. The rules of engagement mostly require them to ‘stand by’. The UN is too tangled a conglomeration of interests, egos and red tape to be good for something as straight and to the purpose as going to war.

And this is what it would take. War is over if you want it, but how? What stops the Janjaweed from doing as they do? John Lennon? Methinks one would be better off referring to some other pop culture icon for inspiration if one seeks a practical approach to the problem. And that as they say, is the rub.


If you want peace you have to prepare for war, ancient political theory was built to last. But how could I tell this young girl that? She who was so eager to change the world into a halfway sane place? I don’t believe whatever UN sub-organization she was spruiking would for a minute stop the unsung holocaust of Darfur (tho’ it’s probable that some small good might come of it). Who am I to evaluate as useless her actions when the sum total of my activity has been to acquire enough knowledge so’s I no longer know what action, if any, I should take? The life of her better-world dreams is fragile. Expose them to enough inconvenient fact and they will die. First, do no harm, wrote Hippocrates. So I said nothing to burst her bubble, her faith in the United Nations. In progress. Instead I left her angry with me for not signing on to her band-aids for gunshots shin-dig. She thought I was uncaring finally. If I cared that these people were getting slaughtered by men on horseback with AK-47s I should sign on the dotted line, provide my bank details, committ X% of my monthly income, etc. Bit of a guilt-trip but a sincere one. She believed.

I believe too, in a world without war. Who doesn’t? Well the Nazis for one. The Janjaweed for another. Others too numerous to list and by no means all of them reducable simply to ‘bad guys’; some axis of evil or other. Usama bin Laden and George W Bush both believed they were fighting the good fight against Evil with a capital ‘E’. They can’t both be right can they? Can they? What happened to Sophie happens everyday on some parts of this planet. And no amount of persuasion can stop it. In certain circles to reason is to admit weakness, to invite attack. This is a fact.

There are quizes online. You take them and they tell you what your beliefs are; they classify you. They give you a label and by association, may provide you with opinions on matters you haven’t considered: as a social-democrat, I think… One of the questions asks you if you think accepting the world is an essential part of maturity. This is a conservative thing. Grown-ups understand. It’s like that and that’s the way it is. I suppose such maturity sparks arguments with one’s adolescent children who express outrage at a political establishment that creates the peace and freedom for them to learn just how outrageous their political establishment is when it does what’s (s’posedly) necessary to achieve this. To grow up means to accept the world. To persist in one’s teen angst outrage is to be immature. But what good are we if we simply accept the world? And what good does it do if we simply ‘do something’ regardless the good (or otherwise) it does?

Epictitus tells us that the first principle of moral action is to understand what it is in your power and what is not. He’d been a slave, and so had some considerable experience in matters relating to the understanding of one’s own limitations. He knew what a human being could be forced to do by another exercising calculated cruelty. What is in your power? What is not? I don’t know the ultimate answers to these questions? I seek them. Ancient political theory was built to last, yes. But the creatures it describes – their behaviour – were made to evolve to higher things. I have accepted that the world changes but slowly, that that which outraged me as a boy will persist and make my head shake as an old man, slow and sad . But I will not accept that it always will be. To do so is to fail.


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