(A talk delivered at Ness Wadia College, Pune, India)
I stand before you as a runaway slave of the American Empire, seeking freedom in exile from the land of my birth. I stand here wrapped in a cloak of mortal shame for the murderous acts of the culture of the gun. Mixed with the shame is a righteous anger at having once been duped by that government which has created the most destructive and dangerous weaponry in all of human history, an arsenal of nuclear bombs, that most cowardly of weapons. My inner work is to rotate anger into nonviolent compassionate resistance expressed outwardly as seeking peace by peaceful means.
The true names of what we face are Slavery, Corporate Warfare State, Murder, Wanton Waste, Corruption and Destruction. I am calling things bluntly by their true names in order to help awaken us to the reality of our collective moral degradation. A problem must be seen and understood before it can be solved. The human mind has become so brutalized by the gratuitous violence of TV, video games and cinema, together with the actual violence of endless war that only blunt words seem to penetrate the veil of denial. At a mass level we appear to have lost our capacity for sensitivity and the subtle feelings of the inner spirit.
Before you I stand inwardly ashamed of my government, knowing that if you were Iraqi rather than Indian, and were I still in America, my tax dollars would be financing the murder of your women and children, for oil and lucrative contracts for big corporations such as Halliburton, Bechtel and Carlyle, whose shareholders profit from war and among whom are the ruling families of America.
I stand before you, dear citizens of India, with a simple plea: watch carefully the path you tread. Do not march to the American drum, blindly down the trail of tears into the Valley of Death, surrounded on all sides by agents and slave-masters of the Corporate Warfare State, armed with nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert, ready on as little as eight minutes notice to scorch the earth on the command of one man.
If I had not abandoned everything I had built up, leaving my country in order to escape slavery, if I were still a hard-working American taxpayer, I would have on my hands the blood of innocent Iraqi children, infants murdered in cold calculation as part of the price of oil and corporate dividends for the likes of Halliburton, Bechtel and Carlyle. Recall former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, justifying the economic sanctions imposed prior to the present war by stating in effect that the lost lives of 500,000 Iraqi children is worth the price of preserving the American consumer lifestyle.
Sadly, because of mental conditioning, ignorance and the power of media deception, I did not wake up in time to avoid the shame of knowing that some of my earlier tax dollars financed the murder of women and children in places like Nicaragua, Guatemala, Panama, Vietnam and Cambodia, among the many others where the American Empire has laid waste to land and life. Thus, because of my own moral complacency in the drive to be successful in my former country, I cannot escape the shame nor the karma of having been a financial accomplice to murder through my failure to resist taxation.
I describe myself as a slave of the State, which remains true despite self-imposed exile.
This is because, like all Americans everywhere, caught in the Orwellian web of Big Brother surveillance, I am not a free man. To be labeled, watched, controlled, tracked by passports, visas, tax identification numbers, photos, biometrics, and coming soon radio-tracking skin implants, is to be a slave. Now under the Patriot Act, through which the great edifice of the American Bill of Rights has been trashed, they even check a person’s library records. In effect I need permission from Big Brother in Washington in order to move about, to work, to live and to express my being.
A greater atrocity is that this is not merely workman slavery. It is warmonger slavery because the product of my labor is coercively removed from me by taxation and placed in the hands of a group of politicians who have anointed themselves with the power to decide who shall live and who shall die. No child on this earth is exempt from nuclear destruction, and where economies are subject to direct intervention by the State, the decision of whether a hungry child may receive wheat, or rice, or milk, or nothing at all is in the hands of a remote bureaucrat or politician who typically acts in his own self-interest, either as a rent-seeking bribe-taker or in order to gain an institutional favor.
The forgoing introduces the first Big Question which I respectfully place before you: who owns my body? And since it is the condition of man to have to work for his survival, this question means by obvious extension, who owns my labor or its product? Am I a free man or slave of Nation-State? Do I have any say in why or who they kill with my finance? Am I a slave or even worse, have I simply appointed them as my hired killers?
Only an individual can be a moral agent, never an institution or State. In the exercise of my moral sovereignty, would I personally murder women and children in a distant land who pose no threat to me? If I finance this murder by my deliberate cooperation with a system of taxation, have I or have I not surrendered my moral sovereignty? Who am I then? Am I still a man?
The statistics of this abdication, this outsourcing of moral sovereignty and personal responsibility over the past century are tragically awesome. Nation-states have murdered about 200 million people in these hundred years, many of them their own citizens within their own borders. Two hundred million living, breathing, loving human beings crushed, snuffed out. The mind shuts down or disassociates: it cannot grasp the picture.
My working hypothesis of human nature is that there are few truly evil "others.” All of us, whether Iraqi, Pakistani, Taliban, Indian, Chinese, American, Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Jew, are suffering human beings who wish mostly to be happy. But we are subject to mental conditioning by local wielders of power and education so as to believe that the "other" is a threat. This is done by the State because war is its health.
Thus, our latent goodness notwithstanding, we are manipulated and controlled by the Corporate Warfare State. It is an evil system of destruction which fosters the worst aspects of our apparent duality by promoting greed rather than subduing desire.
We in democracies must understand that the enemy is us. We are responsible for our own fate and that of the Earth. No government, even the totalitarian dictatorship, can stand without some level of cooperation from the people. Power is held by only a few. If the mass of people refuse to cooperate, the system collapses.
The next Big Question I submit to you is how do we lose our sense of what is Good, Beautiful and True? How do we lose touch with the core of love deep within each of us? Could it be through conditioning since childhood that the State is God, the final source of security and survival? Can we not see that the State holds us in thrall through fear only, that fear is the obverse of greed, and that greed arises because of ignorance: a mistaken metaphysic that we are the body only?
How is it that we do not call the State by its true name of organized violence and perpetrator of mass murder? Is it because we live in a sea of lies, deceit, manipulation, secrecy and hidden agendas, such that even language is corrupted so far beyond recognition that we are expected to believe heads of State who tell us brazenly that war is peace, that murder is liberation? Or is it that we live in a mental condition of denial, benumbed by TV and media as by an injection of moral anesthetic?
People of conscience are called to respond. Great thinkers and spiritual leaders, the wisest counsel available to us, are saying that this time the very survival of humanity is in jeopardy.
My final question today is what is the way forward, the upward path to harmony with Nature and each other? Each one must answer this question himself or herself. The answer will be made manifest through the day-to-day actions of those who are now the youth.
Gandhiji has provided us with many ideas as well as a personal example. In terms of our relationship to power and the State, the writings of Gene Sharp based on Gandhi provide many practical methods of regaining our sovereignty, particularly his title The Politics of Nonviolent Action. Also recommended is The Power of Nonviolence, an anthology including Howard Zinn and others (Beacon 2002).
I suggest re-awakening to the Sanathana Dharma (eternal wisdom) of ancient India: human beings must gain control of the mind and reduce their desires to the level of "simple living with high thinking." The Western cultural value system of creating insatiable desire in order to fan the flames of endless economic growth and wantonly wasteful consumerism leads inexorably to destruction, conflict and violence. This way of living does not seem sustainable for a population advancing toward the nine billion mark.
The happiness and welfare of humanity, and perhaps by now even the mere survival of the human species, requires us to create a community of love and reason. The American experience, now bordering on martial law, is showing us that democracy is no proof against despotism and that democracy is not a sufficient condition for peace. Peace requires liberty. Liberty demands a self-disciplined people of strong moral fiber adhering to the highest values of ethics and reverence for life. The first step is to vow to do no harm.
I suggest that peace-loving people withdraw as much as possible from interaction with and dependence upon the State. Begin building an independent nonviolent culture of self-reliance as taught by Gandhiji. This is now coming to life here and there among India’s villages. Let the State die peacefully of its own internal rot and corruption. Let us build our own wholesome lives. The foundation of morality is respect for all living beings. Let us free ourselves simply by refusing to cooperate with what we know is wrong.
We must build a community of love and reason ourselves, with our own bare hands, working together in peace and nonviolence. The entrenched political class will not do it for us because they would lose their fiefdoms of power. Their self-interest is to keep in place the corrupt system with all its emoluments and privileges. Politicians are not known to act against their own self-interest.
Modern terrorism plays directly into the hands of the political class as an excuse to abrogate civil liberties in order to increase their power in the name of security. History shows that this robs the people of both liberty and security. Widely dispersed terrorism can only be healed by widely dispersed liberty through which local self-governance gives people a voice in their own destiny. Maximum decentralization creates maximum self-determination. Maximum liberty fosters maximum security.
Nobody likes to be controlled by another, particularly when the controller is far away, ignorant of local conditions, concerned only with his own power, and known to be corrupt. A free man is not bound by a contract at birth which he neither co-authored nor signed. One generation cannot contract the next to indentured servitude. We are meant to be born free, our only debt being one of gratitude to our parents, our benefactors, and Creation itself. We repay that debt by passing to the next generation a vibrant and healthy planet supporting a free and ethical human society.
Herewith submitted is the idea that one potentially powerful way to begin is to be totally, transparently honest in word and deed with all others at all times. Shine the light of Truth as exemplified by Gandhiji’s Satyagraha (strong adherence to truth). Honesty means in part to call things by their true name directly, straight away.
Through this honest reporting, we might see what we are really doing, rather than being helplessly immobilized by the sheer horror of it all, or simply unable to find the pole star of truth to guide us on the sea of lies.
As Gandhiji said, we must be the change we wish to see. In the autumn of life, one sees clearly how fast the wick burns. We have so little time together here on this earth. We will not pass this way again. Let us try to recover a true and natural sweetness of life. Let us look upon each other with eyes of good will and affection.
I would like to close with brief quotations of three leaders I have studied. These quotes form a connecting link among fact, faith, and wisdom as enunciated by a Hindu, a Christian monk, and a Buddhist monk.
"The individual has a soul, but as the State is a soulless machine, it can never be weaned from the violence to which it owes its very existence."
~ Mahatma Gandhi
"Someday, after mastering the wind, waves, tides and gravity, we shall harness the energies of love, and then, for the second time in the history of the world, man will discover fire."
~ Fr. Teilhard de Chardin
"One thing cannot be doubted, the possibility of a quality is within us.
It is called pragya, wisdom. We can deny everything, except that we have the possibility of being better. Simply reflect on that."
~ H.H. Dalai Lama
September 7, 2005