Wednesday, August 8, 2012


As I was driving a few days ago, I heard part of a Bob Edwards program about rape and sexual assault being an "occupational hazard" for women in the military.  For some men, too.  The gist of the program was that that's just a price you may have to pay to serve your country.  This is according to the Pentagon. Be willing not only to give your life for your country, but also to be stripped of your dignity, of your piece of mind, of your sense of self, and, then most likely, to be silenced. Oh, and perhaps you'll be discharged, if you don't stay quiet.  Even typing it now, I am sickened.

A friend recently received death threats while she was doing relief work abroad, work she has committed her life to.  When I spoke to her a few days ago, there were no repercussions expected for the threatener, who was not a random stranger she came across, but someone belonging to a partner organization.  Neither her organization nor the partner organization had disciplined the threatener in any way.  She, on the other hand, must leave a work she otherwise loved to go work in another country. I guess death threats are just an occupational hazard of trying to help people.  More stomach turns.  I have a strong desire to scream, but being in a coffee shop right now, I'll refrain.  

Who is protected in the above cases?  The victimizers.  What continues to elude me is how this happens. If the above were isolated cases, I could overlook them as aberrations of "the system."  But they're not aberrations.  They're common.

I'm rereading Derrick Jensen's A Language Older Than Words.  After he gives example after example of situations similar to the two above, both on macro- and micro-levels, Jensen makes the following assertion:  "It should be clear by now that a central belief of our culture - if not the central belief - is that it is not only acceptable but desirable and necessary to bend others to our own will. This belief in the rightness of coercion motivates us not only collectively but individually, not only consciously, but subliminally."  Forcing one's will on others is not only not an aberration, it is the norm.

I'd like to believe that coercion is not a guiding principle of our culture.  But I look around the world and I know that it is.  It may not happen all the time everywhere, but it happens most of the time in most places all around the world. Our will is imposed on other people, on animals, on the rest of the natural world.  This principle doesn't seem to be effective in maintaining mental, emotional, spiritual, or ecological health, and yet we continue to act under its influence.

The principle doesn't seem to be effective when world-wide, 1/4 to 1/3 of all women have been victims of some type of sexual abuse.  It doesn't seem to be working out when human trafficking is the second most lucrative crime in the world. It doesn't seem to be working out when animals are going extinct, forests are disappearing, water is being polluted, when, in general, the world is becoming less biologically diverse.

I think about this and find myself falling into a pit of despair, but then I talk to a friend who listens to my frustrations and I feel a little better.  I think of the generosity of the people in my church community and I feel better.  I think of the good work of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth I met in India and the ones I've met here and I feel better.  I know the model of coercion is not the only one.  I think of my experience of Heaven on earth a few days ago and I feel better. I know that there are pockets in the world in which interdependence and cooperation are acknowledged and embraced, where they are the guiding principles.

I'm not sure how to reconcile the different visions of the world I see. Sometimes as I think about them, I feel bipolar, swinging from one extreme of emotion to another.  I guess it's the price to pay for being even marginally in tune with the world.  Maybe one reason for spending my last year as I did and applying to be part of the Christian Peacemaker Corps for the next few years is to because I want to reconcile the visions.  This doesn't mean I expect the world to convert quickly and magically from one guided by coercion to one of cooperation.  But if I can do something to aid in any sort of conversion, I must live in the bipolarity, maybe even in the extremes of it, and, do my part, whatever that means, to bring our world a little closer to a healthy equilibrium.  

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