BBC: “The Truth About Climate Change”
Presented by David Attenborough
Documentary / 120 min
BBC: “The Truth About Climate Change”
Presented by David Attenborough
Documentary / 120 min
“…records the exciting intellectual friendship of three amazing minds pushing to the edge of history in search of new consciousness, blending scientific observation, mythic imagination and visionary speculation.” – Riane Eisler, The Chalice And The Blade
“Stimulating and often startling discussions between three friends, all highly original thinkers: Rupert Sheldrake, controversial biologist, Terence McKenna, psychedelic visionary, and Ralph Abraham, chaos mathematician. Their passion is to break out of paradigms that retard our evolution and to explore new possibilities. Through challenge and synergy they venture where few have gone before, leading their readers on an exciting journey of discovery.
Their discussions focus on the evolution of the mind, the role of psychedelics, skepticism, the psychic powers of animals, the structure of time, the life of the heavens, the nature of God, and transformations of consciousness. Three fine thinkers take us plunging into the universe of chaos, mind, and spirit. Instead of leaving us lost, they bring us back with startling insights and more wonder than we knew we had.” —Matthew Fox, Original Blessing and Sheer Joy
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BRIEF BIOGRAPHIES: Rupert Sheldrake is a biologist and author of many books including The Sense of Being Stared At and Other Aspects of the Extended Mind. Ralph Abraham is a mathematician, one of the pioneers of chaos theory and the author of several books including Chaos, Gaia, Eros: A Chaos Pioneer Uncovers the Three Great Streams of History. The late Terence McKenna was a scholar of shamanism, ethno-botanist, psychedelic researcher and author of many books including Food of the Gods and True Hallucinations.
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“Another world is possible” – that’s a catchword I’ve been hearing for more than a decade, and it still sounds catchy and urgent, broad enough for a huge diversity of people and movements to gather under its motherly umbrella. In 2003, in Porto Alegre, Brazil, the first World Social Forum was held, as the project of a global movement to create an alternative to the mainstream trend of globalization was gaining momentum. Rising up to confront the global dominance of corporate capitalism (always coupled with “shock and awe” politics), people all around the globe starting to voice their discontent with a system that generates vast accumulation of capital in few hands (the 1% denounced by the Occupy Movement), while causing massive empoverishment, debt and environmental destruction.
The Seattle No-WTO protests in 1999, and then Québec City’s demonstrations in 2001, and then Porto Alegre’s Forum in 2003 – this sequence of events, and the ones that followed, have shown that multitudes are willing to confront imperialism in its new encarnation as “neo-liberalism” – also known as “Free Market”, usually exported abroad by bombings and military coups (never forget: it took a Pinochet to enforce it in Chile, 1973). People are fed up of mercenary politicians, willing to sell all the public services to private interest. At the twilight of the 20th Century (an “Age of Extremes”, to quote Eric Hobsbawn’s excellent expression), and at the dawn of the 21st Century, we experienced some massive demonstrations against a world order ruled by the IMF, the World Bank, the OMC, and so on and so forth. It goes on. It’s going on right now.
The main difference I perceive between the mass demonstrations against the dominant model of capitalist globalization, on one side, and the social forums held by les altermondialistes, on the other, is this: in the first case, the focus is on protesting against the global elite (G8s and G20s, for example) and its un-democratic business decisions, made in military bunkers, surroundered by walls and riot police (we live in an age of epidemic tear-gas bombing of citizens); in the latter case, the focus is on a collective engagement to build a viable, effective alternative to our global elite’s mad ecocidal plans. That it is absolutely urgent to dethrone the New Emperor and its new clothes is nowhere stated better than in the global environmental crisis we are now confronting, and that menaces to wipe out entire ecosystems. If you are an apocalyptic freak or a nihilist, who wishes thousands of species to be extinct, all you need to do is this: nothing. Do nothing, and you’ll be siding with those who stabbing Gaia – and all living things within it, ourselves included – in her heart.
Arundhati Roy, speaking at the event held in Porto Alegre, stated that this “alter-world” wasn’t only a possibility, confined to the realm of potentialities, which may or may not come to life: “I can hear her breathing.” A Social Forum is a place where we gather to hear the Another World already breathing. And quite an interesting choice of worlds, Mrs Arundathi! To refer to the world-we-wish-to-build as a SHE sounds to my ears as an interesting concept, which suggests that too much testosterone and male-domineering-militarist culture is one of the most destructive trends in our world. This one that we need to subvert and revolutionize if Gaia, with the whole Web of Life in her bosom, is to survive this huge menace.
I believe in the fecundity of thinking about the alter-world as a she, which means a reawakening of respect for the Earth and its limites. And maybe mythology isn’t an innefective allie in our struggles if we regard our current crisis through the mythological lens of the goddess Gaia, symbol of interdependent and interelated Life, coexisting in a connected network of balanced, sustainable organisms that know themselves to be like instruments in the same symphony. She – alas! poor Gaia! – is currently ravaged by capitalism’s greedy extractivist & productivist húbris. So what we hear mostly, all around, is dissonance. A Social Forum is a place where we try, collectively, to bring back Melody and Harmony to our Civilization’s song.
Some may despise as corny and kitsch this sort of talk about “respecting Mother Nature”, but think about this: if we treat her like an exploitable whore, instead of a nurturing mother, we’ll pay a heavy price. We are already in the midst of a massive global crisis, and the prospect is that it will keep worsening as global warming produces brand-new draughts, floods, hurricanes, displacements, “climate refugees”, and so on and so forth. Here in Ottawa, 2014, the Social Forum provides its participants with hope that people coming together can join forces in order to save Gaia from this agony which she’s currently going through. Just regard her wounds and how much they’re bleeding!
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Naomi Klein’s lecture was one of the main attractions of the Social Forum’s first day, August 21. When I got at the University of Ottawa to listen to one of the contemporary journalists that I admire the most, the place was packed-full and there were no chairs left. I had to resign myself to listen to her standing on my tired legs, as if I was in a rock concert regarding a far-away stage.
In her home country, Naomi is certainly a very well-known and respected writer, pride and joy of Canada’s intellectual landscape. As the author of the quintessencial “The Shock Doctrine – The Rise of Disaster Capitalism” – it’s safe to say it’s one of the greatest non-fiction books published in our century so far – she has earned recognition as one of the world’s leading thinkers about neo-liberal capitalism and the way it really works. She can count as some of her attentive readers and interlocutors some highly significant figures such as Noam Chomsky, Slavoj Zizek and Arundhati Roy.
Even though she’s Canadian, Naomi Klein doesn’t deal in the cheap merchandise of demagogic patriotism. She’s clearly no fan of Mr. Stephen Harper’s policies and doesn’t fall for his jive (she’s too smart for that). “In this country, he are in the midst of an extraction frenzy”, she denounced, exposing Canada’s current practices of tar sands oil extraction, pipeline construction, high-scale fracking and mining.
She describes the “logic that sacrifices life in the altar of money” with two peculiar adjectives: “supremacist” and “psychotic”. When her new book comes out in September, “This Changes Everything – Capitalism vs. the Climate” – we’ll see to what extent Naomi Klein has ventured into the diagnosis of our collective neurosis. In her Social Forum talk, she showed no signs of optimism: if we don’t change this system, she suspects, our future will be one in which “serial climate disasters will be dealt with dystopian barbarism”.
To explain what she means by “dystopian barbarism”, she mentions one of the greatest sci-fi movies produced in the last few years, “Snowpiercer” (by Korean director Joon-ho Bong). The Apocalypse on Wheels that the film portrays is one of the most poignant representations of what our Earthship may look like if we let business as usual proceed with its Earth-wrecking practises. “What we do in the next 10 years will define the fate of generations to come”, said Klein, underlining unequivocally that the doctrine of economic growth, when it disregards environmental sustainability, is a “suicidal path”.
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After Naomi’s thought-provoking contribution had kick-started the Forum’s multiple discussions and dialogues, it was time for us to take the streets. At least a dozen yellow school buses, packed with noisy bands of joyful and excited activists, were deployed for the transportation of the people from the University of Ottawa to the Canadian Museum of War. While police officers riding bikes stood by, just witnessing this strange gathering of colourful flags and shouting-and-cheering humans, a series of speakers adressed the crowd before the start of the march (videos coming soon!). Mr. Harper was treated as a punchbag, and the audience loved it. Leaders of labour unions, civil rights activists, defenders of First Nations (indegenous populations), all had their chance to voice their perspectives and to spark in the crowd the fires of enthusiastic democratic participation.
I must confess that I’m a sort of march-junkie – it’s one of my favorite drugs. My feelings of powerlessness get crushed when I’m embarked in the flow of a marching human stream. It almost brings tears of excitement to my face when my senses immerge in such a sea of human collective effort. It was my first day in Canada’s capital and I was about to participate in a massive take-over of Parliament Hill. Wow! Trust me, my friends: there’s no Hollywood thriller that can be provide thrills such as these. The avant-garde of this massive river-of-people – I would estimate that 10.000 people were marching – was composed of drumming and chanting First Nations representatives. Several different organizations were there adding their voices to the choir – a rainbow of diversity ranging from moderate and kitschy Nature Loving hippie-talk, to more radical, punkish and anarchist “smash the State!” utterings.
I must also confess that Ottawa’s establishment, its status quo, its machinery of power, its main public spaces, gave me a distasteful impression of too-much-militarism. By that I mean that military deeds seem to be celebrated much more than I think it should. It leaves in my tongue a somewhat bitter flavour to see plazas filled with statues of colonels and generals. I have also a difficult relationship with Ottawa’s monuments devoted to those who died in the battlefields – World War II or Korea, for example. Quoting from Virgil’s Aeneid, these military heroes are celebrated in Ottawa’s streets as men (they are all male!) “whose names will never be erased from History”. Methinks we should oppose the culture of militarism with the same fierceness with which we fight and despise the culture of rape, racism, patriarchy or xenophobia.
The first thing I did in the morning, for instance, was to attend to a ritual considered to be a delightul spectacle for tourists: the changing of the Guard in Parliament. Quite a boring show, if you ask me, and I couldn’t help but secretly despise those tourists who were admiringly watching this display of traditional military ritualization. In exactly the same place, in the afternoon, I could experience something much sweeter to my taste: the Social Forum’s multitude claiming its right to occupy the Parliament. After a beautiful, noisy, exciting march through Ottawa’s streets, the people gathered there to exchange ideas, to make plans for action, to chant and drum – and even to sing protest songs against the very people who work in the surrounding buildings and who are supposed to represent the people.
“Whose streets? Our streets! Whose streets? Our streets!” This call-and-response massive outcry is still ringing in my ears, still fresh in my memory, and to have experienced this has a already become so dear to my heart that I’ll carry it through life until my dying day.
This, my friends, is what democracy looks like.
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TO BE CONTINUED…
Next chapter: my remarks on Cowspiracy, one of the greatest docs I ever saw.
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This was blogged by Awestruck Wanderer
from the Social Forum’s Media Center,
Ottawa, Ontario – 22/08/2014.
GAIA IN THE ANTHROPOCENE By Bruno Latour
“Geologists are beginning to use the term ANTHROPOCENE to designate the era of Earth’s history that extends from the scientific and industrial revolutions to the present day. These geologists see humanity as a force of the same amplitude as volcanoes or even plate tectonics. It is now before GAIA that we are summoned to appear: Gaia, the odd, doubly composite figure made up of science and mythology, used by certain specialists to designate the Earth that surrounds us and that we surround, the truly global Globe that threatens us even as we threaten it.
If I wanted to dramatize – perhaps overdramatize – the ambiance of my investigative project, I would say that it seeks to register the aftershocks of the MODERNIZATION FRONT just as the confrontation with Gaia appears imminent.
At all events, we shall not cure the Moderns of their attachment to their cherished theme, the modernization front, if we do not offer them an alternate narrative… After all, the Moderns have cities who are often quite beautiful; they are city-dwellers, citizens, they call themselves (and are sometimes called) “civilized”.
Why would we not have the right to propose to them a form of habitation that is more comfortable and convenient and that takes into account both their past and their future – a more sustainable habitat, in a way? Why would they not be at ease there? Why would they wander in the permanent utopia that has for so long made them beings without hearth or home – and has driven them for that very reason to inflict fire and bloodshed on the planet?
After all these years of wandering in the desert, do they have hope of reaching not the Promised Land but Earth itself, quite simply, the only one they have, at once underfoot and all around them, the aptly named Gaia?”
“An Inquiry into Modes of Existence: An Anthropology of the Moderns”
Harvard University Press, 2013. Translated by Catherine Porter.
Download e-book at Library Genesis.
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You might also enjoy:
The Affects of Capitalism (full lecture)
(If you wanna skip the intro, Latour actually starts speaking at 12 min and 45 seconds.)
“The true hero, the true subject, the center of the Iliad is force. Force employed by man, force that enslaves man, force before which man’s flesh shrinks away.
To define force – it is that X that turns anybody who is subjected to it into a thing. Exercised to the limit, it turns man into a thing in the most literal sense: it makes a corpse out of him. Somebody was there, and the next minute there is nobody here at all; this is a spectacle the Iliad never wearies of showing us.
Nearly all the Iliad takes place far from hot baths. Nearly all of human life, then and now, takes place far from hot baths…
Such is the empire of force, as extensive as the empire of nature.”
SIMONE WEIL (1909-1943),
Iliad: Poem of Force, pgs. 3-4-10.
Simone Weil reads the Iliad as if she is witnessing before her compassionate eyes those occurrences evoked by the poet’s verses: she doesn’t turn her face away, refusing to see, when the horrors of war are depicted in Homer’s blood-soaked pages. The war between Trojans and Greeks offers infinite occasions for us to reflect upon Force – especially in its deathly effects. What results from the battles is always men laying lifeless on the ground, “dearer to the vultures than to their wives”, and Simone Weil stresses that even the greatest heroes – Hector or Achilles – are frequently reduced to things by the enemy’s force. “The bitterness of such a spectacle is offered us absolutely undiluted. No comforting fiction intervenes; no consoling prospect of immortality; and on the hero’s head no washed-out halo of patriotism descends.” (WEIL: p. 4)
If there’s a lot of tragedy in the Iliad – and it surely has, even tough it was written centuries before the Greek tragedians (Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides) were born – it’s because force often is employed with tragic effects. It’s clear to me that Simone Weil uses the concept of “force” to denote something she morally condemns, and in such a manner that one might fell she has affinities with Eastern wisdom, especially Buddhist ethics. For example, D. T. Suzuki’s Zen Buddhist philosopy, in which he opposes Power and Love and describes them as hostile to one another. Force/power is imposed upon a subject in order to reduce him to a thing, either by killing him (and thus forcingly throwing him back into the inanimate world), either by violating, humiliating, opressing or harming him in such a way that the person is still alive and breathing, but is no longer an autonomous subject. “A man stands disarmed and naked with a weapon pointing at him; this person becomes a corpse before anybody or anything touches him… still breathing, he is simply matter.” (WEIL: pg. 5)
A difference or imbalance between the forces of two individuals are excellent evidence of the onthological presence of Simone Weil’s force or Suzuki’s power among all that’s human. Trivial examples abound. Someone with a bazooka overpowers someone with a knife. A knifed man forces an unarmed woman into carnal processes she wouldn’t unforcibly agree to. And there are hundreds of movie scenes, especially in westerns and action blockbusters, that tell stories about this battle of forces and powers. But for millenia before cinema was invented human history cointained in its bosom duels, rivalry, competion – and one of the most ancient of literary monuments of the world, Homer, has blood of battle soaked all over his pages. To speak like a Greek, human history is filled with ágon and húbris.
Weil writes about the Iliad being a French woman in the industrial-commercial age, and surely her experience in Renault’s factory, where she went to work in order to experience in the flesh the fate of the proletariat, informs her reading of History as a whole. The factory’s of the 20nd century are a force that dehumanizes and turns subjects into things, Weil dennounced on her writings La Condition Ouvrière, and she can sense a similar process mirrored in The Iliad.
“There are unfortunate creatures who have become things for the rest of their lives. Their days hold no pastimes, no free spaces, no room in them for any impulse of their own. It is not that their life is harder than other men’s nor that they occupy a lower place in the social hierarchy; no, they are another human species, a compromise between a man and a corpse. The idea of a person’s being a thing is a logical contradiction. Yet what is impossible in logic becomes true in life, and the contradiction lodged in the soul tears it to shreds. This thing is constantly aspiring to be a man or a woman, and never achieving it – here, surely, is death but death strung out over a whole lifetime; here, surely is life, but life that death congeals before abolishing.” (WEIL: p. 8)
In the epoch of the Trojan War, it was destiny of a conquered enemy to become a slave, that is, to be turned into a thing, deprived of autonomy, and Homer describes in some occasions how people are forced into ships, taken away “to a land where they will work wretched tasks, laboring for a pitiless master” (HOMER. Iliad. Apud WEIL: p. 9).
A person enslaved is being treated like a beast, like a horse on reins. 12 Years A Slave, Scott McQueen’s film, is a fresh reminder of these horrors. Simone Weil denounces the inhumanity in human affairs wherever she sees it: be it on a Greek epic-poem or in the factories of the car industry. In this we can see how Simone Weil joins hands once again with Buddhist ethics: she denounces the ways in which misused force, or tyranny, disrespects sentient beings by treating them as if they were inert matter.
What Weil and Suzuki denounce in the workings of Force and Power is that lack of compassion which Buddhist ethics, by dissolving the ego, aims to cure ourselves of. Enlightnement or Nirvana, in Buddhism, can’t be achieved without compassion. It may also be argued that French philosophy in the 20nd century has few voices more compassionate than Simone Weil’s.
“Force is as pitiless to the man who possesses it, or thinks he does, as it is to its victims; the second it crushes, the first it intoxicates. The truth is, nobody really possesses it. In the Iliad there is not a single man who does not at one time or another have to bow his neck to force.” (WEIL: p. 11)
There’s no simplistic dualistic division between the forceful and the forceless in Weil’s philosophy – of course one can be a slave for a whole lifetime, and one can be a master and tyrant from birth to the grave, but force isn’t something a human being can only exert upon others. Nature itself overpowers tremendously each and every one of the sentient and living creatures in its bosom, in such a way that even the most powerful among humans is still a frail thing – and always mortal, transient.
Let’s remember that the Iliad begins when a heated controversy is dividing two very powerful Greeks, Agamemnon and Achilles. This fight for supremacy is all around Homer’s poem, everyone wants to increase his power, and this can’t be done by any other way than at the expense of others. The result of this mad rivalry is huge bloodshed. “He that takes the sword, will perish by the sword. The Iliad formulated the principle long before the Gospels did, and in almost the same terms: Ares is just, and kills those who kill.” (p. 14)
Certainly inspired and influenced by the philosophy of one of her dearest teachers, Alain (Émile-Auguste Chartier, 1858-1961, author of Mars ou La Guerre Jugée), Simone Weil is a passionate apologist for philosophy’s powers against inhumanity – because “where there is no room for reflection, there is none either for justice or prudence.” (p. 14) And, she argues, the horrors and tragedies that Homer depicts can also be understood as results of lack-of-reflection, of hastiness to act, of an incapacity to refrain from agression. “Hence we see men in arms behaving harshly and madly. We see their sword bury itself in the breast of a disarmed enemy who is in the very act of pleading at their knees. We see them triumph over a dying man by describing to him the outrages his corpse will endure. We see Achilles cut the throats of twelve Trojan boys on the funeral pyre of Patroclus as naturally as we cut flowers for a grave. These men, wielding power, have no suspicion of the fact that the consequences of their deeds will at lenght come home to them – they too will bow the neck in their turn.” (WEIL: p. 14)
What’s astonishing about these last words is how closely Weil gets to the Buddhist idea of karma. And what’s also touching is how compassionate Simone Weil truly is when she describes those numerous occasions when we fail to treat ourselves as “brothers in humanity” (WEIL: p. 15). But Weil is no Buddhist, and in the text we are following she’s interested mainly in the Greeks and how they also had a concept similar to karma, some sort of “retribution which operates automatically to penalize the abuse of force”. She claims this is the “the main subject of Greek thought”:
“It is the soul of the epic. Under the name of Nemesis, it functions as the mainspring of Aeschylus’s tragedies. (…) Wherever Hellenism has penetrated, we find the idea of it familiar. In Oriental countries which are steeped in Buddhism, it is perhaps this Greek idea that has lived on under the name of Karma. The Occident, however, has lost it, and no longer even has a word to express it in any of its languages: conceptions of limit, measure, equilibrium, which ought to determine the conduct of life are, in the West, restricted to a servile function in the vocabulary of technics.” (WEIL: p. 16)
In André Comte-Sponville’s philosophy, especially in his Short Treatise Of Great Virtues, Simone Weil’s ethical legacy lives on, and it’s enough to read his wise chapters on “temperance”, “prudence” or “love” to get convinced that France is keeping alive the flame of these virtues, or at least hoping to spread them by inviting more humans to practise them. “A moderate use of force, which alone would enable man to escape being enmeshed in its machinery, would require superhuman virtue, which is as rare as dignity in weakness.” (WEIL: p. 20)
In Simone Weil’s ethics, moderation of force, care for the feelings of others, awareness of alterity, are virtues to be practised by those who see themselves as brothers and sisters in humanity. But when we look back at History we have few reasons to be optimistic. And besides, as Simone Weil points out with irony, we still live in times where “there is always a god handy to advise someone to be unreasonable.” (21)
Simone Weil’s writings frequently denounces inhumanities commited by humans. She spreads awareness of our common humanity by showing how frequently we treated ourselves in a subhuman fashion. And it’s not true that only the slaves are turned into subhumans when they are forced into slavery: the master also loses his humanity when he enslaves. And war and slavery are dehumanizing forces because they work towards destruction and death, “yet the idea of man’s having death for a future is abhorrent to nature. Once the experience of war makes visible the possibility of death that lies locked up in each moment, our thoughts cannot travel from one day to the next without meeting death’s face.” (WEIL: p. 22)
Is Weil, then, simply a pacifist, a Gandhian? Or did she approve armed uprisings against the Nazi occupation of Paris, for example? Her condemnation of war, and not only on “moral” grounds, but in a much broader sense, in an existential level, would necessarily lead her to a practice of non-resistance? The answer is hard to give, considering that Simone Weil, during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), enlisted to fight against the fascists, and can be seen in a famous photograph with a shotgun in her hand, quite willing to add a little bit of force to the Anti-Franco militias. But Simone Weil was no brute – on the contrary, she was gentleness incarnate, and her personal favorite in the Iliad is “Patroclus, who knew how to be sweet to everybody, and who throughout the Iliad commits no cruel or brutal act.” (WEIL: p. 26)
The possession of a fire arm does not imply the right to brutality or cruelty. Being armed isn’t a license to act with mad húbris. When I think of Simone Weil armed with a shotgun in Spain, willing to fight against Fascism when she saw it dangerously spreading through Europe, I can’t be simplistic about pacifism, as if it was some kind of ethical absolute. I don’t believe it is – and neither did Simone Weil back in the 1930s or the Zapatistas under the guidance of Marcos in Chiapas, Mexico, nowadays.
War turns us into subhumans beasts killing themselves in mad rivalry, but how on Earth are we to build a planetary community in which war has been banned, and ample dialogue and mutual enlightnement between cultures reigns? For thousands of years, war seems to follow humanity, always on its trail. That ideal sung by John Lennon in “Imagine”, the Brotherhood of Man, remains to be futurely made flesh. In Homer’s Iliad Simone Weil sees nothing to be optismistic about, just “a picture of uniform horror, of which force is the sole hero.” (p. 27) But what’s sublime about Homer’s art, the lasting artistic value of ancient epic poetry, lies in the poet’s capacity to portray suffering befalling all – both Greeks and Trojans. Thus it points out to the fact that we’re all brothers in sorrow, and that’s an excellent reason for peace and compassion, as a Buddhist could put it.
“However, such a heaping-up of violent deeds would have a frigid effect, were it not for the note of incurable bitterness that continually makes itself heard. It is in this that the Iliad is absolutely unique, in this bitterness that proceeds from tenderness and that spreads over the whole human race, impartial as sunlight. Never does the tone lose its coloring of bitterness; yet never does the bitterness drop into lamentation. Justice and love, which have hardly any place in this study of extremes and of unjust acts of violence, nevertheless bathe the work in their light without ever becoming noticeable themselves, except as a kind of accent. Everyone’s unhappiness is laid bare without dissimulation or disdain; no man is set above or below the condition common to all men; whatever is destroyed is regretted. (…) Whatever is not war, whatever war destroys or threatens, the Iliad wraps in poetry; the realities of war, never. (…) The cold brutality of the deeds of war is left undisguised; neither victors nor vanquished are admired, scroned, or hated. An extraordinary sense of equity breathes through the Iliad. One is barely aware that the poet is a Greek and not a Trojan.” (WEIL: p. 30 – 32)
For Simone Weil, the poet who wrote the Iliad acted with marvelous impartiality, and sang about the misfortunes and losses, about the victories and triumphs, of both sides of the conflict, in such a way that Greeks and Trojans are shown as co-participants of a common process. “Attic tragedy, or at any rate the tragedy of Aeschylus and Sophocles, is the true continuation of the epic. The conception of justice enlightens it, without ever directly intervening in it; here force appears in its coldness and hardness; (…) here more than one spirit bruised and degraded by misfortune is offered for our admiration.” (p. 34) The enduring existential value of such art lies in this: to be aware of human misery is “a precondition of justice and love”, claims Weil. (p. 35)
When Simone Weil affirms that “misery is the common human lot” (p. 35), she’s once again approaching a landscape familiar to Buddhists: one of the Four Noble Truths enounced by the enlightened Sidharta Gautama is “all is suffering”. From this awareness springs compassion. Love, justice, compassion, can’t arise without the clear perception of our brotherhood in suffering. However, it’s clear as water that, even tough she was born in a Jewish family, Simone Weil is deeply suspicious of the doctrines and dogmas of Judaism:
“With the Hebrews, misfortune was a sure indication of sin and hence a legitimate object of contempt; to them a vanquished enemy was abhorrent to God himself and condemned to expiate all sorts of crimes – this is a view that makes cruelty permissible and indeed indispensable. And no text of the Old Testament strikes a note comparable to the note heard in the Greek epic, unless it be certain parts of the book of Job. Throughout 20 centuries of Christianity, the Romans and the Hebrews have been admired, read, imitated, both in deed and word; their masterpieces have yielded an appropriate quotation every time anybody had a crime he wanted to justify.” (p. 36)
Belief in gods is seen as highly problematic in Simone Weil’s philosophy, even tough it would be an exageration to call her an atheist, considering the intense mystical impulses that she manifests so vividly in her ouevre. What Weil can’t stand is the arrogance of those who use religion to falsely believe they are superior to the rest, that they are immune from evils that will only befall others. When religion leads to the denial of our common humanity, Weil rejects it: “the only people who can give the impression of having risen to a higher plane, who seem superior to ordinary human misery, are the people who resort to the aids of illusion, exaltation, fanaticism, to conceal the harshness of destiny from their own eyes.” (p. 36)
We still have a lot to learn from the Greeks, including its great epic poet, and Simone Weil admires Homer’s Iliad so much that she claims that
“in spite of the brief intoxication induced at the time of the Renaissance by the discovery of Greek literature, there has been, during the course of 20 centuries, no revival of the Greek genius. Something of it was seen in Villon, in Shakespeare, Cervantes, Molière, and – just once – in Racine. To this list of writers a few other names might be added. But nothing the peoples of Europe have produced is worth the first known poem that appeared among them. Perhaps they will yet rediscover the epic genius, when they learn that there is no refuge from fate, learn not to admire force, not to hate the enemy, nor to scorn the unfortunate. How soon this will happen is another question.” (WEIL: p. 37).
These words also sound, to my ears, in tune with Buddhist ethics, especially for the praise of compassion for the suffering of others. And of course that within the realm of The Other we should include Life-As-A-Whole, and not only human life. The Buddhist notion of “sentient beings” is such a great idea, methinks, because it describes something much vaster than Mankind, something that, without being a god, certainly transcends the individual self. Dogs and cats, lions and owls, sunflowers and worms, they all belong to the great family of the living, they are all sentient beings, even tough the degree of self-cousciousness greatly varies.
If both Simone Weil’s philosophy and Buddhist ethics are worthy of our attention, study and discussions, methinks it’s mainly because of the imminent ecological catastrophes that will quake our future and will shatter the current “Western Way” of dealing with Nature. Or, to put it in another words, it won’t be possible for the West to continue in its industrial-commercial path, on its productivist húbris, in its crazy consumerism meddled with egotisticall individualism, simply because the Earth’s biosphere won’t stand for it – and if we keep on going in the same direction, we can only expect mass-scale tragic consequences arising from so much atmospherical pollution, fossil-fuel burnings, deforestations, oil spills… A wiser relationship with Nature urgently needs to emerge from the cultural slumber of destructive capitalism – or else we’re damned.
“Westerners talk about conquering Nature and never about befriending her. They climb a high mountain and they declare the mountain is conquered. They suceed in shooting a certain type of projectile heavenwards and then claim that they have conquered the air. (…) Those who are power-intoxicated fail to see that power is blinding and keeps them within an ever-narrowing horizon. Love, however, transcends power because, in its penetration into the core of reality, far beyond the finiteness of the intellect, it is infinity itself. Without love one cannot see the infinely expanding network of relationships which is reality. Or, we may reverse this and say that without the infinite network of reality we can never experience love in its true light.
To conclude: Let us first realize the fact that we thrive only when we are co-operative by being alive to the truth of interrelationship of all things in existence. Let us then die to the notion of power and conquest and be resurrected to the eternal creativity of love which is all-embracing and all-forgiving. As love flows out of rightly seeing reality as it is, it is also love that makes us feel that we – each of us individually and all of us collectively – are responsible for whatever things, good or evil, go on in our human community, and we must therefore strive to ameliorate or remove whatever conditions are inimical to the universal advancement of human welfare and wisdom.”
(D. T. Suzuki, The Awakening of Zen, “Love and Power”, pg. 70)
WEIL, Simone; BESPALOFF, Rachel. War and Iliad. Preface by Christopher Benfley. New York Review Books Classics, 2005.
SUZUKI, Daisetz Teitaro. The Awakening of Zen. Edited by Christmas Humphreys. Boston: Shambhala, 1980.
* * * * *
(Article by Eduardo Carli de Moraes, at Awestruck Wanderer,
Toronto, Canada. March 2014.)
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