Sunday, May 03, 2015

Blessed are the powerful, for they shall have movies made about them

So, there was this article at Salon, about how non-violence actually needs violence in order to subdue violence, because really the only power in the world is violence.

Which immediately made me think the only true power in the world is death; death isn't necessarily violent, but it is certainly the ultimate power over life; at least on a purely materialist plane.  And then there was this article at Slate, about a telescope on Mauna Kea, and how it is opposed by native Hawaiians who consider Mauna Kea sacred ground.  The article itself was fairly sensitive and thoughtful, focussed as it did on the astronomers amazed that not everybody sees science is good and virtuous and true and that astronomy especially never hurt anybody (hey, it's not like physics and those atomic bombs!).

And then the comments there are about as culturally sensitive and respectful of non-American popular culture as you'd expect Rush Limbaugh to be.

 Well, it's okay, because the internet is going to expose us to different cultures and we'll think different thoughts and everybody will learn from everybody else and then finally the millennia will come and all will live in peace and harmony.


Does anybody think that way anymore?

All the internet has really done is to confirm us in our prejudices and connect us with more likeminded people so we can all agree on everything and fling poo and screech at anyone who shows up who disagrees with us.  "Us" being the largest number of people typing comments who agree with each other and agree the "outside" must be driven away lest our purity be sullied.

On the internet we are all holier than thou, and we keep our houses holy; by making sure no one who is unfit to enter is allowed to stay.

I had a lovely parable from my morning walk to apply to this.  It was something about Jesus and giving your child a stone when they ask for bread, and an exegesis of that passage to point out that didn't mean what we think it means today.  We read that and think God=Father who will take care of everything for us so we never really have to grow up.  And who among us would think that was a good father?  We are taught that our children should go out into the world and "stand on their own two feet" and "be independent" and that being an adult means being your "own man" (or woman, at least occasionally).  Who would honor a father who was still providing for his child's every need?  Yet we want God to be that way, based in part on passages like that one about the child and the bread, and how much more God will give us if we ask.  But that's in the context of the 21st century and an adolescence that extends almost to the point of life expectancy in 1st century Palestine.  Jesus' audience was the ptochoi, the destitute, those with nothing; and his statement was a challenge to the status quo, the system that told them they were worthless and deserved nothing, that even the labor and sweat of their brow was not enough to feed themselves, then that was their fault and they deserved their suffering and their poverty.  To that Jesus said: No; you are children of God as surely as the rich and powerful are, and God will do what they won't but should: God will provide for you.  God is with you beyond the systems and the powers of this world; beyond even death itself.  Your life matters.

I was going to use it to elaborate on the idea of power and powerlessness, and the illusion of power.  But that kind of analysis is built on self-examination and self-criticism; it is rooted and grounded in humility, not in triumph.  The criticism of non-violence in the Salon article is based on the assumption that power is the only reality, that coercion is the only means to secure justice, and that triumph is all that matters.  But all that means is justice is the golden rule, where the golden rule is:  he who has the gold makes the rules.  Dr. King's direct action was aimed at securing justice, not securing power.  But if you can't understand that, if you think non-violence is just a form of violence, or depends on violence to leverage its type of coercion (because nothing in this world comes to those who do not coerce others), then you can't begin to grasp what Dr. King's program of non-violence was about (or Gandhi's, for that matter).

Just as when you don't understand that someone else may have a "use" for that mountaintop, other than to put an observatory on it, and that science can be as coercive a form of ignorance as superstition.

All of this requires self-examination as the corrective.  As Marilynne Robinson pointed out, that is a central trait of the Hebrew scriptures, and one of their most distinctive marks.  It is the people who cannot see that, who refuse to see that (and their name is legion; why name them again?) who are missing the point.

And at that point I just gave up on the sermon, and wondered if I could catch another showing of the new Avengers movie this afternoon, if only to see the first full length trailer of the Batman v. Superman movie coming (finally!) in 2016.  Which looks interesting if only because a giant, shadowed statute is, in slow reveal, shown to be Superman, across whose chest someone has graffitied:  '"FALSE GOD".

Which might make it an almost interesting story about superheroes in a vein completely different from the MCU effort.*

*It's not getting any attention, but I remember a few scenes in "Age of Ultron" that indicate the Avengers aren't seen as saviors when they engage in their usual acts of violence in foreign countries.  The film opens with an assault on a "fortress" in an Eastern European country, and by the time the fight is over, the people in the city nearby aren't all that pleased with what the Avengers have done (since the villains in the fortress weren't bothering anybody nearby, such as the people in the town).

When Iron Man dons the Hulkbuster armor to take on an enraged Hulk and they smash up a city in Africa, ending with the utter destruction of a skyscraper under construction (but, we are assured, empty of workers), in a follow-up scene Tony makes a quick aside to assure that a Stark charity is already on the scene in Africa to clean up and pay for the damage.  It's a step above James Bond tearing through Paris chasing Grace Jones and leaving mayhem in his unsuccessful wake, all topped off with a fairly casual shrug.  At that point James Bond was no less cartoonish than the Avengers, and apparently no less indestructible; and the violence was clearly meant to be movie violence.

It's not a major shift to note the attitude of this movie, or the next Superman movie; but it will be interesting to see what a turn of the kaleidoscope will bring.

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