Sunday, December 25, 2011

Hope and courage overcome

So, we've been told that the war in Iraq is "over." While on my way home, I saw veterans, young men and women, in uniform, returning to the US--some maybe permanently, some who will possibly be deployed to Afghanistan (the active war engagement that seems forgotten) after the holidays. The US military presence in the world is overwhelming and unnerving; this year, the defense budget is on the order of $660 billion, a number that does not take into account the costs of active military engagements, and which I have a feeling does not take into account the cost of having around fifteen thousand military contractors still in Iraq in a "support" role.

Having grown up in India, and having been fortunate enough to visit different parts of the world, I have come to realise something very fundamental about the United States. For all of the hard work and kindness of its peoples, the country as a whole seems to be one that is fearful--there is a fear that seems to pervade people's day-to-day lives, a fear that if we do not do our best, that we will be left behind, a fear that there is always someone else to replace us (and given unemployment numbers, this is likely the case), and a fear that we are no longer the sole superpower (or hegemonic state) of the world. I see the same fear in the way the US conducts itself internationally (listen to the wonderful thoughts of Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC, below), one which equates the opposition to or disagreement with US policy as an affront. I see the same fear, fear that has been draped with protection, that is keeping our government from taking bold and decisive steps in a direction towards a more just and ecologically sustainable world. I believe it is this fear that makes people defensive about the ways of life that have been cherished so far in this country--lives of materialism, lives of credit and debt, lives of benefits for us and costs for the rest of the world. And this is the very fear that dictates the lobbying of those on Wall Street, for if people really knew what was going on between the banks and the government, people may, just may figure out that we live in a house of cards and a culture without resiliency. A resilient culture is dynamic yet stable. Ours is one of bubbles bursting every few years with no visionary approaches to the massive problems at our doorsteps.

Indeed, fear can be paralysing. We are unable to present ourselves as whole before the world because we are unable to admit defeat or apologise for our mistakes, mistakes that we can all agree have been made. This fear must be replaced by hope and courage--the hope that living in fear can be something of the past, that we do not need militaries to fight for what we believe in, but rather that our actions, deeds, and words are respectful of this Earth and its cultures, so much so that we cherish differences, rather than burn and obliterate them. We must have the courage to face up to the fact that our individual ways of life, when aggregated, are causing massive amounts of ecological strife in our backyards, close and far.

Fear is paralysing, but hope and courage are liberating; hope and courage are the opposite of fear. Hope and courage allow us to stand up and speak out to changing social norms, to have difficult conversations with friends and family, to protest the cutting down of trees for new "housing developments," to get in the way of the large corporations that will blow the top of a mountain off with the drop of a hat, to be civilly disobedient. Hope and courage allow us to envision fundamentally different worlds for our individuals and collective lives to exist and participate in. The paralysis of holding on to ways of life we have taken for granted when social structures and the biophysical world are shouting for help must be and can be overcome.

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