Not that there was any shortage of things to rant about this week. The United States is in the stretch run to mid-term elections, a campaign dominated by polarities and focused on voter apathy and rabidity, depending on which way you look. Late charging Democrats trying to buck the trend of mid-term decline are thankful for ex-witches and blatant bigots and homophobes, but it’s a case of hoping that the other team is more effective at shooting themselves in the foot than it is of pushing for hope like we saw a couple years ago. It does not inspire.
The latter part of the week was dominated by Wikileaks latest offering, a dump of nearly 400,000 more Afghan war documents. And with that dump, in spite of all of its disturbing statistics and revelations, Julian Assange started tending again. Stories of the internal confusion and strife within Wikileaks seem to be more captivating in some ways than the people that have and are dying over there, or the apparently common blind eyes being turned away from the casual brutality of torture, or the masses of civilian deaths.
The torture aspect caught my eye, perhaps because it was a big story in Canada last winter heading into the Olympics when our Prime Minister prorogued to avoid the shitstorm of attention our government was receiving in regards to our own complicity in Afghan torture. Instead of doing the honorable thing, Harper called it quits and closed parliament then, essentially postponing democracy until the heat died down in an “I’m taking my toys and going home” display of fear and obfuscation.
NATO's complicity in torture was a story that swayed the UK media for a while in the spring as well, so the Wikileaks documents that detail American forces also glibly documenting and then ignoring case after case of Afghani forces abusing and torturing captives is hardly a surprise. This isn’t, after all, a problem typical of any one country on either side of the conflict – it’s systemic.
Which means it’s all of us.
It seems to me that half way through the last century we humans were reaching for the brass ring in some ways, heading into a period of conflict over social justice that would dominate much of the rest of the century, creating organizations like the U.N in an attempt to move past nationalism, away from the atrocities of the first half of the century, stretching towards, perhaps, a better version of ourselves. That’s a bit of romanticism, but there was a movement, a leaning.
Better minds than mine have observed that this might not have been so much an evolution as a reaction, however. Perhaps, they suggest, we weren’t so much leaning into the light and backing away from the abyss. Perhaps the horror of what we had done – twice in less that forty years – resulted in a global revulsion, and that it was our species’ defense mechanism reaction to pursue noble causes and ideals to prove we were not the monsters we appeared to be. “Look,” we were saying to ourselves according to this argument, “we are not so bad. We have learned our lessons and will now embrace those ‘better angels of our nature.’”
But in spite of all of those cenotaphs and the reminders, “lest we forget”, we do and have.
I find the simple fact of Wikileaks, it’s existence, to be a hopeful thing. In spite of the tendency of the main-stream to try to focus on Julian Assange, in spite of his apparent need to be what he calls a lightning rod, I prefer to focus on the organization itself and on what they are trying to accomplish. While the Pentagon and US Government are looking for ways to silence them, Daniel Ellsberg, famous leaker of the Pentagon Papers that so damaged the US campaign in Viet Nam, has applauded the latest dump. He said he’s been waiting for this for forty years.
We’ve all been waiting for this for forty years, and longer.
The Pentagon says these leaks are dangerous, that they undermine operations and put the lives of sources and assets at risk. (Aside: If the danger is so total and obvious, where are all of the stories confirming the assertion?) Assange argues that there is always a risk, but that Wikileaks has made every attempt to protect human lives, and that the cause of exposing military and government dishonesty, of forcing transparency, represents a goal that justifies what risk does exist. Is this a case of the ends actually justifying the means? Or is Assange simply making the same argument that our governments and military leaders do?
The Pentagon Papers revealed a level of government and military dishonesty in regards to Viet Nam that was massive enough to derail the American war effort there and end a useless war. The story here is the same. The dishonesty continues, and our governments strive to make heroes into villains in an effort to hide their own complicity and distract us from the truth.
This quote by Barry Lopez has confounded me in wonderful ways since I first stumbled upon it a year ago. I think it goes to the heart of the matter:
"How is one to live a moral and compassionate existence when one is fully aware of the blood, the horror inherent in life, when one finds darkness not only in one's culture but within oneself? If there is a stage at which an individual life becomes truly adult, it must be when one grasps the irony in its unfolding and accepts responsibility for a life lived in the midst of such paradox. One must live in the middle of contradiction, because if all contradiction were eliminated at once life would collapse. There are simply no answers to some of the great pressing questions. You continue to live them out, making your life a worthy expression of leaning into the light."
I find myself, in wistful fits like I’ve experienced this week, hoping like hell that we’ll reach a tipping point where more of us lean into the light than not, and where we’ll make choices proactively instead of reactively. Perhaps there will be collateral damage in that movement towards the light. Maybe it’s unavoidable that, in such a fucked up world, there’s no way to avoid breakage no matter how pure the intention, or how just the cause. Like Mr. Lopez says, it’s a paradox.
I remind myself that it’s the journey that counts, not the destination. It’s the leaning itself that is the goal. If we lean (I tell myself) then the light will come all on its own.
P.S. I know, not much of a rant. There was barely even any swearing. Sorry. I have more questions than answers (even more than usual) this week. But that’s not always a bad thing.
P.P.S. And this in late: One of the subjects of last week’s Rant, Alex Hundert, Canadian activist and dissident, was arrested again yesterday. The charges have not been made public.