From the October 2005 Idaho Observer:
The great western illness and the timeless world-peace riddle
Last year at the MZE conference in Feldkirch, Austria (see pages 11-14), the sharp, wit-tipped word-darts of New York City’s Professor John Rao stated that people only think they are accurately forming opinions and engaging in constructive dialogue on the "issues." He then eloquently described that they are really shadow boxing themselves and each other with lies and partial truths that have come into their minds through dualist filters (pro-life v. pro-death, liberal v. conservative and "you are either with us or against us"). In other words, Rao was stating in his captivating way, that it’s no wonder the world is so screwed up—everyone who has an opinion shares it as if it’s valid when they, in fact, haven’t the foggiest idea what they are talking about and their opinions were formed for them by social engineers who fix the parameters of public discussion.
Once again I was transfixed by the message presented by Rao. This year at MZE, he came forward through history to explain how the "modern western sickness" that rejects peace is merely the resurgent continuation of traditional strains of western sickness that insist upon wars and killing that seems endemic to western thought.
After highlighting the historical roots of our fake reverence and war-mongering, including a marvelously prophetic excerpt from the observations of French journalist, Louis Veuillot (1813-1883), Rao began focusing on the modern west—specifically the "American Empire":
"The West, with its brilliant theology, philosophy, science, and socio-political life, has indeed been handed over to the task of producing nothing other than a pitiful, biblical mess of pottage. What this has meant, in modern America, the model for the Empire of the World, is the creation of a nation of anti-social adolescents who disdain the collective wisdom of the ages and all serious communal guidance.
"These adolescents are gross materialists who either exploit the land for what it can yield and then move on to greener pastures, or acquiesce in such exploitation by those who are stronger, with the hope that they, too, will someday join their ranks. They are barbarians who devastate all institutions capable of supporting the permanent traditions and cultural sophistication underlying a lasting civilization. They are partisans of a parochial smugness which dismisses all profound criticisms of such ravages as worthless intellectual babbling, as a ball-and-chain on the vital, profitable looting to which all men of "common sense" must dedicate themselves.
"In short, they are the pluralist, capitalist men, ethically free as a bird, whose culture of nothingness the American neo-conservatives wish to export throughout the globe; equipped with the blessing of everyone, scientists, philosophers and theologians included. The extent of their success is visible to me every time I see the ease with which my long-indoctrinated New York students communicate with their counterparts in Europe and in Asia, and whenever I see the representatives of this mentality wined and dined by representatives of older and wiser institutions that really ought to know better."
The cycle appears to be eternally-driven by a trans-generational entity Rao refers to as "The Coalition of the Status Quo." It perpetually alienates the idealism of youth and forces it to grow up cynically and, ultimately, the youth reluctantly graduate into the same fake reverence of their elders, exorcising the betrayal of their idealism by waging wars of attrition against the world that murdered their innocence.
"Allow me to return back to my own students once more in order to complete my argument," the tenured history professor continued. "These poor souls have grown up in a nation whose population is dedicated to childish desires and games, and is perpetually exhausting itself, either by working to pay for them or by playing them, with no time left over for judging whether or not this huge expenditure of infantile energy is really worth it.
"My students are not, by nature, essentially ill-willed or uneducable. Nevertheless, they have been pressured, since childhood, to live the same unexamined life—an existence which amounts to the life-long euthanasia described by Veuillot—as that of their adolescent elders. They are frightened by what such a future requires, though calmed as they are trained for their living death by playing special games of their own, drug-taking among them, and, of course, dancing the thoughtless dance. Their only hope is to be shown that they are intellectually and spiritually diseased, and that they must use their university years as a ‘time out of time’ to fight their malady and regain contact with what is truly real and life-giving.
"There are a few of them who can be touched almost immediately by contact with higher things, and it is interesting to see how many waves their rejection of the global imperial system makes, even if only within the ivory tower of the university community. These students then need two further bits of assistance from men and women who would teach them to be peacemakers: First of all, help in educating their understandable bitterness against a society which has lied to them since their birth, and which they often then want totally to destroy in a nihilistic rage; and, secondly, life-long friendship, to reinforce their "conversion" in the busy, unthinking world which they will one day inevitably enter to make a living and survive. All this is very, very difficult indeed, and our spirits can so easily be crushed by the drudgery of the labor involved."
I had given up taking notes shortly after this brilliant oration began—partly because it was way too much fun to just listen, partly because it was impossible to take good notes during a barrage of machine-gun fire and, finally, because I knew I wanted a copy of Rao’s 5,000-word paper to read and keep forever as a momento. And now, after having had the opportunity to read it a few more times, my original impression of this ode to western philosophy was correct: He described exactly the American strain of western sickness. I suggest that you reread the sentences in italics until the pattern of America’s socio/political downfall appears.
And then, this magnificently witty, reverent, well-intended educator brought the entire dilemma into focus as the eternal riddle that can never be solved by mere men and women:
"That brings me to the final task that the man wishing to educate for peace must perform: Pray. This was the conclusion of the proponents of the Peace and Truce of God. This, in effect, was Plato’s ultimate conclusion to the problems of creating and maintaining a proper, peaceful social order as well. For he saw that there could be no good society without good individuals bringing it into being and supporting it, and yet no good individuals without the help of a good society to educate them. Therefore, unless "some god" came to save men from the dilemma, there was no possible way out of the tragic dilemma. The old Catholic formula for dealing with a bad situation was to work as if everything depended upon us, and to pray as if everything depended upon God. I think this formula has its value for all of us concerned about the cause of peace in our troubled global community today."
With thanks to Professor Rao for giving them to me, I leave these thoughts with you. ~DWH
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