“Peace Is a Resistance to the Terrible Satisfactions of War” – Judith Butler
On Sunday Morning the weekly CBC televsion newsmagazine, a Montreal actor and dubbing director, Michael Rudder, was interviewed from his hospital bed in Bombay. He’d been shot at least four times last week in the Mumbai attacks. He was shot in the arm, the leg, the buttocks and as of this writing, there is still a bullet lodged in his stomach. Eating in the Oberoi hotel restaurant, he had heard shots and asked about them. He was told by restaurant employees, that it was only gangsters. A strange remark indeed. (As strange as the remarks made during a Mexican murder aftermath in 2006. Then, Mexican officials publically declared that an Italian couple killed in a resort near Playa del Carmen was the work of Canadian mobster hit women from Thunder Bay. That murder is another act of violence that outrages me.) Rudder doesn’t understand why, but assumed he and his party were not in danger. Moments later he and the patrons found themselves in a hailstorm of bullets. He believes that extremism is on the rise. I think that this is nonsense. Extremism just is and sometimes it causes loss of life.
With innocence still and perhaps naivety Rudder continues in the interview, ” ...as long as people think that their hatred is more powerful than the wisdom that their mothers’ would have taught them…they will respond in such ways.” This sentiment, of course, assumes that their mothers have a wisdom that prevents hatred. In my skepticism, I am not so sure that is true. I could exercise a generosity of interpretation and suppose that “mothers’ wisdom” is a symbol for an attitude of peace, love and nuturance. In that case his statement is very much worth thinking about. But who is teaching the attitude? I am not sure that human nature has changed in all of recorded history and I fear that the chance of that happening is very slim. Every second a new baby on this planet is born, a stranger in a hostile land, a tabula rasa that his or her culture and economic position will imprint itself on, forever repeating the same patterns be they for good or ill.
Einstein said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. That’s humanity. That’s what we do generation after generation. We hate and fear the other and seeking vengence for real or perceived affronts is very human. The philosopher, Judith Butler, discusses revenge in a 2003 interview in The Believer Magazine. She says that when choosing non-retaliation: “Many people consider that refusing to strike back is a masochistic way of handling oneself when one is in a condition of injury, or that such a refusal is tantamount to political paralysis, but I actually think it is an adamant and vigilant stand, a difficult stand against violence itself.” She reminds us that:
“War begets war. It produces outraged and humiliated and furious people…it is precisely because we’re constituted with aggression, it’s precisely because we are capable of waging war, and of striking back, and of doing massive injury, that peace becomes a necessity…[Peace] is a commitment to living with a certain kind of vulnerability to others and susceptibility to being wounded that actually gives our individual lives meaning. And I think this way of viewing things is a much harder place to go, so to speak. One can’t just do it alone, either. I think it needs to be institutionalized. It needs to be part of a community ethos. I think in fact it needs to be part of an entire foreign policy.”
I think these are the things we should be teaching our children.