Sunday, October 15, 2006


There's something I can't quite get my mind around when it comes to North Korea: we never signed a peace treaty with them after the Korean War, which ended, I think, in 1952; we have enough nuclear weapons to blow the entire world up, and we're telling them they can't even have a bomb!

Imagine a school yard where one big kid is holding a club and he's telling a little kid that if he picks up a stone, he'll clobber him.

As Martha pointed out yesterday, Communism is passe, nobody worries about the red menace anymore, so why can't we sign a peace treaty with North Korea, give them some help with development (other than nuclear) and generally behave toward them like their brothers, the South Koreans, who've tried to follow a "sunshine policy"?

It's true that the more countries have nuclear weapons, the more difficult it will be to rid the world of them.  But while we're threatening North Korea and Iran, we're not doing anything about drawing down our own arsenal, and setting up a serious mechanism to get other countries to do the same.

Karen Armstrong's latest book  "The Great Transformation" tells how when things got bad enough, previous civilizations realized that to renew themselves they had to abandon violence.  During the Axial Age, which stretched roughly over the thousand years before Christ, but which also includes Islam, she tells us that:  "The sages were all living in  violent societies like our own.  What they created was a spiritual technology that utilized natural energies to counter this aggression."

She seems to be speaking to our "compassionate" President when she says: "The most gifted of them realized that if you wanted to outlaw brutal, tyrannical behavior, it was no good simply issuing external directives."

The Hindus, the Chinese, the Jews, Christians and Muslims each went about this in a different way, but the starting point Golden Rule : do unto others as you would have others do unto you.  It was not a question of discovering God, and then living a compassionate life.  By eradicating egotism they found "a different dimension of human experience", which "gave them "ekstasis", a stepping out from their habitual, self-bound consciousness that enabled them to apprehend a reality that they called God, nibbana, brahman, atman or the Way."

Armstrong is as much a studious observer of the contemporary scene as she is a scholar, and she notes: "Fundamentalist religion has absorbed the violence of our time and developed a polarized vision,so that, like the early Zoroastrians, fundamentalists sometimes divide humanity into two hostile camps, with the embattled faithful engaged in a deadly war against 'evildoers'".

It's always gratifying to see that a respected figure shares one's insights.  In "The Case for Sacredness" I wrote:

"For some time, there’s clearly been less and less a world consciousness of immorality, and increasingly, a world example that cautions it. In earlier times, the catastrophes that took place in various parts of the planet were circumscribed to that time and place. If they affected other areas, no one was aware of it. Now, thanks to the media,  everything that goes on in the world is seen by almost all its inhabitants. And what people the world over see in the media inspires them to commit the unthinkable - to consider it normal to blow up a skyscraper with human ammunition in retaliation for a far-off conflict over territory - knowing that the entire world will witness the event.
Since the end of the Cold War, intolerance has become a worldwide phenomenon. The congruence of atrocities committed in the four corners of the world, and the similarities in the tirades of politicians from very different cultures, has been striking. We knew we could transpose Bal Thakery's diatribes against India’s Muslim minority to Milosevic in Serbia, or Le Pen in France, changing only proper nouns. But we didn’t realize that intolerance, and the breakdown of what conservatives like to call law and order, are linked, among other things, to the enormous increase in the world's population. And that’s only one of the reasons why we couldn’t imagine where all this would lead."

One of the many encouraging things I learned reading Karen Armstrong's 400 plus page work, is that for many hundred of years, the Chinese dynasties practised "courtly warfare", in which "victory revealed the righteousness of the winning side, but only if the battle had been conducted according to the 'li'." These prescribed rituals  consisted in "bullying the enemy with acts of kindness", letting him off if he paid a ransom.   Courtesy took precedence of efficiency, and "a gentleman lost status if he killed too many people."

At a time when our real challenge lies not in the Korean peninsula, nor even in the Middle East, but in the Middle Kingdom,  I hope some of the contestants in the up-coming power struggle will read Armstrong rather than Clauswitz.

No comments:

Post a Comment