I have a news monitoring app that’s customized to do what I want it to, and to be flexible so that I can change its behaviour as and when I like. It feeds me selected news, from selected sources, on selected topics (keywords, tags, metadata). I don’t watch television or read newspapers, except the local Bali papers, to see what’s up in the ‘hood, and to observe who’s spinning which stories in what way. That’s always interesting.
Even with my filtered news, the general global news does rear its ugly heads. And it has many heads, like the demon Azazel of Abrahamic Religions (Islam, Judaism, Christianity, and friends). This entity is known as עֲזָאזֵל in Hebrew, and عَزازِيل in Arabic, in case that interests you.
In the extra-canonical text, The Apocalypse of Abraham, Azazel is described as having seven heads, fourteen faces, “hands and feet like a man’s, and on his back six wings on the right and six on the left.” In Islam, Azazel is said to be the original name of Iblis (Satan), and this beast is described as looking like a leopard, with seven heads and feet like a bear. Whatever his zoologistic specifics may be, we see Azazel often in the annals of mythology, sometimes taking a bow with a grand flourish in popular culture and literature, notably in Bulgakov’s sublime novel, The Master and Margarita, which I can’t recommend highly enough. Read it if you haven’t yet.
In Bulgakov’s quintessentially Russian workaday fantasy-horror tale, Azazel struts across the stage as Azazello, “a short but extraordinarily broad-shouldered man, with a bowler hat on his head and a fang sticking out of his mouth, which made still uglier a physiognomy unprecedentedly loathsome without that. And with flaming red hair besides.” Then, during a cozy supper in a bourgeois apartment he performs an amazing act with an automatic weapon, a pillow, and a seven of spades. You need to read this book.
Now, what do I mean, exactly, by suggesting that the news has many ugly heads? Do I mean global events and the forces driving them are a many-headed beast? Or do I mean that the news itself, the reports, and the media are such a beast? I’m not sure myself, and I doubt that it matters, but there is implied disambiguation for me, when the images of Azazel in my memory bring to mind a piece of music which I like very much: “The Seven Heads of Propaganda” by Viragi. Propaganda, mind you. It quotes, not Abraham’s Apocalypse, but Revelation 13 from the New Testament.
“Then I saw a beast coming out of the sea.It had ten horns and seven heads. On each of its horns there was a crown, and on each of its heads there was a name that was insulting to God.”
I find it interesting, that the naturalized-Indian OSHOist musician who composed and performs this piece of music samples a voice reciting from the Good News Bible, a translation that is used mostly by enthusiastic Protestant proselytizers. You can hear the song here.
But I digress. I wanted to write tonight about profound thought that percolates to the surface in mundane social life, and even in mundane social media. And why not? Social media of the juggernautic scale of Facebook at some point cease to be media that actively or even passively interpolate anything anywhere, and so they become something that’s hardly a medium at all. They become more like flat open spaces where almost anything can stand, or pass by, and sometimes does. There is nothing trivial about flat open spaces, so perhaps it’s time to abandon the notion that Facebook is trivial, a game, a place only for idiots, sociophobes and narcissists to fritter away their worthless time while life happens elsewhere.
Two days ago, as I viewed my custom newsfeed, I was overwhelmed by despair and confusion. I typed, “stop it now. stop . . .” and posted this on my Facebook status line, followed by a string of links to the headlines that assaulted my mind from the first page of my custom newsview. An interesting discussion ensued, parceled off in comment boxes. That discussion appears below, edited judiciously. Please note that I’ve restrained myself (with great difficulty), from inserting comments here. Let the people’s voices do their own talking, below the headlines here, that prompted my despair. Read on, and keep reading. The best comes at the end, as it so often does.
Steven Sotloff ‘beheaded by Islamic State’ – latest – Telegraph
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) release video apparently showing beheading of US hostage, Steven Sotloff
2014 Russian military intervention in Ukraine
Reserves and parks not enough to protect nature – David Attenborough
Washington Watch: Winners and losers in Gaza
Grandfather caught speeding while smoking, with his grandson standing up on the passenger seat
Al Qaeda announces India wing, renews loyalty to Taliban chief
Social care cost for smokers reaches £18.5 million year
Tempers flare before Bali suitcase murder trial
CH: The world has indeed become a scary and evil place. And still, most people act like it’s none of their business, just because it’s not happening outside their door – yet.
LK: Right now is the time people have to wake up, become conscious. Thought sends out vibrations after all we are energy, everything around us is energy. Mother Theresa said.” If you have an Anti war demo, I will not attend, but if you have a demo on Peace I will attend happily”.
LL: The world has gone quite mad Susi Johnston
AB: It’s always been mad. I believe we need to focus more on the good things, the little joys in our own lives. Be kind to others, be flexible, don’t get demented by the mad, mad world.
LL: Spot on AB. If I focused only on what is wrong in this world I might as well move on to the next. Conversely, I don’t want to ignore the madness of others as by ignoring it I will be part of perpetuating it. Maybe what would help us all is to pick a few “dear to the heart” issues and work only on those while at the same time restrict ourselves to make two “Happy” postings for every “unhappy” posting.
AB: Yes LL, I like that idea. I personally do worry about the state of the world, but l love my simple pleasures — a random smile from a stranger, kindness of people, good words and actions. Love to you, LL.
LL: Sometimes the cruelty and stupidity and ignorance of much of mankind overwhelms me. It is then that I CONSCIOUSLY switch my focus to something positive. It works for me. I need to see the small simple niceties of life or I too would go mad, AB.
FR (an inveterate cynic who I adore): KEEP CALM. THERE ARE PINK FLUFFY UNICORNS DANCING ON THE RAINBOW.
SJ: Angie, that’s easy to say for people who HAVE “good things” and “little joys” in their lives. Not everyone does.
AB: I do realize that, and where I can in my own way I try to help. I just believe for me personally l need positive energy.
SJ: Shifting to a positive thought in the face of something unpleasant can be irresponsible, in some contexts. If someone is standing in front of you with, for example, a massive bullet wound to the chest, it’s probably not a very “nice” stance to look the other way and think about pink fluffy unicorns to make yourself feel better.
I often wonder about the bizarre habit people have of prioritizing their personal momentary comfort, ease, and “wellbeing” above everything else. It’s as if the achievement of personal comfort and “happiness” for a moment or an hour or a week, is considered to be an “accomplishment”. To the extent that there are millions of seminars and “intensives” and whole acres of “self-help” sections in bookstores the world over, for the sole purpose of chasing the “achievement” of feeling good, personally, at the very moment that others are feeling very bad indeed. This is the root of much of the madness of the world.
What the Buddha taught, as I understand it, is that the desire I describe above, is the root of suffering. And in falling victim to it, we beget more suffering, in ourselves and for others, so the vicious cycle spins on.
For that reason, and others, I suppose I consciously struggle to put that innate drive that’s part of our basic equipment as animals, in neutral. I was taught many years ago, to consider the guiding principle of a man who became an exceptional athlete and an inspiration to many. He used his guiding principle as the title of his autobiography. The title was, “I’m Third”.
And the principle was this: “God” is first. The other guy’s second. And I’m third.
Nice. I wish there was a way to turn that into a virus and infect the whole world in a mass pandemic.
Footnote: You can take the word “God” in this man’s OS, and substitute something else. Consider that he was raised a Christian. Then think what he might have meant using that word which is so important in theistic religions, and figure out what’s the analog for you. Substitute, and infect yourself with the virus.
SJ: Rinse. Repeat.
SJ: “The world is in greater peril from those who tolerate evil than from those who actually commit it.” – Albert Einstein (30 March 1953), part of a tribute to Pablo Casals.
SJ: “It is easier to denature plutonium than it is to denature the evil spirit of man.” – Albert Einstein, from “The Real Problem Is in the Hearts of Men”, The New York Times Magazine, June 23, 1946
FR: I’m the least ‘New Age’ person around, but you don’t have to be ‘New Age’ to know that positive is good. Fear, bigotry, hatred, now seem to pervade everyone. Perhaps, a case of “Wake Up and Smell the Roses,” might do just a tad of good. Man and humanity are fundamentally Good.
SJ: Prove it.
JoB: We’re in a unique global situation, in my opinion. Every day there is a new shock. Or two. We just watched, like it or not, an Israeli snuff movie. I don’t know about others, but I already have PTSD. I cannot watch animal cruelty, human inflictions upon each other, violent porn, many things. But I want to know what’s happening; to be an ostrich right now feels irresponsible. So to be positive? This is extremely difficult, but for my sanity I need to find a place within where I am not destroyed. My feeling ? Perhaps we’re just not there yet. On top of that, many people I know have recently left their bodies. And the place I’ve called home for 20 years [Bali] no longer feels like home. I don’t want to be a harbinger of bad news and negativity but this is a wild ride. I don’t think I’m alone in not knowing how to deal, to adjust, to everything, to keep my heart open in the midst of personal and global surrealism. I don’t even know how to express all of this. I feel fucking powerless. I appreciate that most of my loved ones are safe. But I am part of this crazy world. It makes me cry to see so much greed and destruction. I am correcting myself as well, sometimes incorrectly. Honestly, I think to myself: Either the people running the show right now are aliens. Or I am. We don’t seem to be cut from the same cloth at all.
CG: The history of violence on this planet is mind boggling and ongoing. It has always been so. Only today it is beamed into our pockets via smart phones, and it is overwhelming us. This is compounded by the fact that commercial media highlight violence and gives it a greater voice. The reasons behind this are complex but reduce to a desire for power, for survival. What is it in us, their consumers, that allows them to do this? Because at the end of the day power always rests in the hand of the people: us. Power does not lie in a weapon, whether it be economic, social, economic or militaristic. It lies in the hands of people, and their willingness to use it.
On a day to day basis each of us is subjected to violence, from both commercial and social media, from our government at all levels, from bugs that invade our bodies, from food we know we shouldn’t be eating, in social discourse, in driving down the road, from our own thoughts. From how we perceive the very real and limiting factors of health and food, from our collusion in the increase in the temperature of our planet. From how we perceive the death of relationships, the death of family and friends, to our own encroaching death. Violence is everywhere and always has been.
The human race would not be here if we had not been able to survive, and to do that we had to be violent. More violent than any other species. It is in our DNA, our nature and we need to be both aware of, and to accept this.
Now I have used the word violence, or a derivative thereof, six times so far (seems like more, doesn’t it?), and that is because this post has been in the context of violence, and it is this context I wish to discuss with you, as it is in this context we increasingly find ourselves.
The World Health Organization defines violence as “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation,”
Now the key word here is “intentional”. That intentional violence exists is undeniable, yet how many of you or your friends are intentionally violent on a day-to-day basis? How many people in your neighbourhood, village, state, country or tribe are intentionally violent? The vast majority of the human race is not intentionally violent, other than to themselves. Violence most certainly lies within us and yet we resist it’s ancient call and in fact abhor and abjure it. Or do we? What is the Velcro™ within us that experiencing violence sticks to?
One of the definitions (Aside: He or she who holds the power of definitions defines the way we think. Choose your dictionary wisely.) of context is, “the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed.” Until we accept that violence is a part of us we will not be able to deal with it. Until we accept violent events in terms of self we will not be able to understand and assess them. And in not accepting them we feel powerless, we become powerless. If we continue to resist the idea that violence lies only outside ourselves, we will not be able to overcome it. You become what you resist.
To quench violence, look within. Find the violence, the anger, that lies within you. See it, live it, breath it. Bring it to life. Give it a shape, a colour, a size, and when you have it before you in all it’s fury, ask it these questions: Where do you come from? What do want of me? Why are you doing this?
If you do this, your Self will give you very detailed answers, and you will find that once you have those answers, the anger and violence will have lost their power over you. And you will find also, that you have become empowered, as all the energy that was wrapped up in these violent thoughts is released, and is yours to use in a more constructive and positive way, of your choosing.
This will not make violence disappear overnight, but there will be one less person actioning violence in the world. You will be able to think with greater clarity, have a greater understanding of what factors make people violent, and be able to address those factors, if you so wish. Above all you will be more able to deal effectively with all of life, and be a bridge to peace.