Category Archives: Man

The whip and the road

I would not read this BBC story (http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-33096971 ) about two men who survived Tuol Sleng prison, Phnom Penh, as warning against certain kinds of torture or evil government. I would read it instead as reminder of the tendency of human beings to burn all in the quest for their version of utopia. Western, Eastern, Northern, Southern, each and all will sacrifice the Other and then parts of their own peoples to install a better future. It used to be possible to overcome some empires, dictators and tyrants and plot and plan their overthrow or assassination; with each passing decade, with the refinement in technology and the sheer human and economic numbers involved, the calculations for throw and overthrow are not likely to be made by individuals or local groups.

And in all that neutralized (in tone and political statement) story this matter-of-fact sentence is what I would choose to highlight:

‘”If those guards hadn’t tortured a false confession out of me, they would have been executed – I can’t say I would have behaved any differently [in their position],” [Chum Mey] says.’

This is the truth, I think. The blunt everyday evidence to stand beside the Stanford Prison Experiments and William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies. We do not like to talk about these things. We prefer to believe in sweetness and light. Or prefer that when we will make our mini and major empires we shall do it better and more honorably than this. Our souls are surely not like this, not if we adhere to Law or Religion. Surely, if we believe in something higher, our actions will be better. Surely we learn, and progress and evolve.

And yet, I think we merely see what is in front of us, the part of the moral compass that presents itself to our field of sight.

I once quoted elsewhere from a frivolous book: “True pain is like black ink. Enough of it can blot out a man’s soul. If you’re willing to use it, you can write whatever you wish in its place.” In that book these lines were spoken by a character who had been tortured in such a way that he bore no outward marks, and who had ‘sold his soul’ to avoid further pain. Allow me to generalize. Many of us do as the character did. War or sport or the war of life: ’tis all the same. Cumulative trauma exists, and half this hopeful world reels between the black reality of their pain and the unreal reality of the world-machine.

I first quoted that because I was struck by the metaphorical similarity drawn between soul (after ‘intelligence,’ the next most ‘untouchable’ attribute of the ‘human’) and ink-n-paper (in a world where we have grown accustomed to insisting on writing/patenting/publishing/material proof). Allow me another moment to ask metaphysical and utterly visceral questions. Is pain a reflection of soul, i.e. that it is but an illusion? Maybe, but even a monk doing penance knows how the body hurts. And a child knows joy. As for the rest of us: you can wear a person down over the years such that you break their will to resist and fight, to stand tall or act fairly. I have not read or speculated enough to agree if ‘aatma’ is ‘void.’ I suspect every organized and folk religion in the world will give you a different version of the nature, form and characteristics of the soul. And thereby prove or disprove the co-existence of pain with soul. I am irreverent, so I believe none of them until experience tells me true. I do not know about ‘soul,’ but the human can definitely be broken. Just like a horse under rein and spurs.

I know men and women can be broken and redirected at least half against their will. And sometimes, if they are beaten enough, they will be like the horse that attacked whatever it saw on the road in front of it whenever it felt the whip on its back. It could not see behind it (what had trained it, what drove it) but it could see what was in front, and it began to associate pain with what it could see. We can be like that, too. Too easily. Therefore news like this is important, and voices and words such as Primo Levi’s and Wilfred Owen’s and all the rest unknown to my mainstream mind are important, because after training by trauma we need to relearn what it is exactly that hurt us and what we cannot see.


Blood Cry

http://www.ndtv.com/india-news/7-men-arrested-for-nirbhaya-like-gang-rape-and-murder-80-km-from-delhi-738154

As long as national and international laws treat the rape of women as less significant than the brutalization and torture of men, I refuse to call either the Delhi or the Rohtak cases rapes. They are cases of mutilation, torture, murder, dismemberment, cruel and pathological premeditated destruction. A woman is first a human being.

Define her any way you want. She is gone. I’m glad she is gone. I hope she went into shock very early, so that some part of the pain I cannot imagine will have been kept from her senses. Oh child, I wish I had had the power to ask for a quick death for you.

Morally, I feel violated. Warring subjective reactions, one almost feral, the other weary of everyday claims to a modern world. Nothing has changed, we still have poverty, disease, brutal and casual death, catastrophes that could have been easily averted, and a miserable existence for those outside the gates of the manor/gates of power.

They speak of arrests and fast-track courts. Nine men safe in cells. Thus speaks the red mist of pain and anger.

And the mist asks: why should we distrust a subjective response, or hand over our moral trials to slow, plodding courts? Justice can be serene only when it has transcended both pain and joy, of all peoples. But in the moments of every event, every time, the public must feel, must respond viscerally, affectively, subjectively, for such response is the surest condemnation of whatever threatens the human (cruelty, violence, inaction). By refusing to feel the pain of others we become less than fully human ourselves.

In the wake of such response it will be easy to hear the blood cry for justice. Inevitably, someone will ask for the death penalty, and most others will cry against it.

Let’s think for a moment — and separate the legal and the moral codes, and then again the archetypal ones.

I cannot comprehend the psychology of this much fear, rage and revenge, all for the chance occurrence of a female body. What sensations are such creatures after? Had they done it before? Who are the men and women who know them, shelter them? Such impotence, that it took many to hunt one, it took many to attack one mentally challenged female stranger, it took sharp and hard objects to invade her, it took violence to make her submit to what they had to say. They calculated–a stranger, a woman with difficulties, a place where her cries and struggles would not be heeded or her body found for days, a plan of ambush, tools for their task, the willing participation of each. They depersonalized her, dehumanized her, obliterated what remained. Nine men for one woman? But these are not men. Nor are they beasts. Animals have a primary motivation — survival. These perpetrators had no purpose other than gratification in the moment.

Cries against feeble manhood and an impotent nation could be taken in the context of increasing brutalization of women by men all over the world. A body perceived as weaker is still an easier and more horrifying target for the rage of man. Why? What causes a man to wish to rape whatever is ‘not like me’? What causes a human male to split off from the part of him that is common to the species? Shall we blame it partially on womanhood and the raising of wayward, entitled, sociopathic sons in societies enamored of ‘traditional ways of living’? Shall we say Delhi and Rohtak reveal the pathology of Indian society, and the psychopathology of several million specimens of the Indian male?

Do you see? I cannot reason this through. I cannot thrust this from my body, take pleasure in my body’s life when my cells twitch with an anguish they cannot remember.

Oh child, I wish I had had the power to ask for a quick death for you.


Change

You, Man, go on, tear up the script. I want to see the edges of that paper tear the light when you do it. Sharp edges. Make splinters when you scour wood. And raw, inflamed, cold skin. Scrape it out.

 
And you, Woman, cold as fury, you shall be ice shards in the wood fence. The bits that will pierce him when he reaches for the gate. Unable to burn, you will disappear and leave naught but the thought that if this is winter there must have been another season, too.


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