JOAN BAEZ: “Arguably the world’s most famous female folk singer, known for her distinctive, sweeping soprano and her accomplished interpretive skills.”


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Joan sings The Beatles, “Let It Be”:

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Martin

1966: Martin Luther King and singer Joan Baez marching to the Grenada, Mississippi school that was being integrated. Baez supported the effort financially. ©1976 Bob Fitch/Take Stock / The Image Works.

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jOAN bAEZ

From Chris Strodder’s “The Encyclopedia of Sixties Cool”

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Joan and Bob, together,
(listen to her album of Dylan songs):
Dylan
Dylan2 Dylan3Dylan5

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OTHER FULL ALBUMS:


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FULL CONCERTS


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c2c48a3c8e26b46edd5d642e65d08e54 Joan sings some classic Marley ragga…

And why not trip on with caliente Cuban
“Guantanamera!”

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Poster
Artist Biography by William Ruhlmann

tumblr_nhk9fy01Yo1rzligdo1_500Joan Baez – The most accomplished interpretive folksinger of the 1960s, Joan Baez has influenced nearly every aspect of popular music in a career still going strong. Baez is possessed of a once-in-a-lifetime soprano, which, since the late ’50s, she has put in the service of folk and pop music as well as a variety of political causes. Starting out in Boston, Baez first gained recognition at the 1959 Newport Folk Festival, then cut her debut album, Joan Baez (October 1960), for Vanguard Records. It was made up of 13 traditional songs, some of them children’s ballads, given near-definitive treatment. A moderate success on release, the album took off after the breakthrough of Joan Baez, Vol. 2 (September 1961), and both albums became huge hits, as did Baez’s third album, Joan Baez in Concert, Pt. 1 (September 1962). Each album went gold and stayed in the bestseller charts more than two years.

Joan Baez in Concert, Pt. 2 From 1962 to 1964, Baez was the popular face of folk music, headlining festivals and concert tours and singing at political events, including the August 1963 March on Washington. During this period, she began to champion the work of folk songwriter Bob Dylan, and gradually her repertoire moved from traditional material toward the socially conscious work of the emerging generation of ’60s artists like him. Her albums of this period were Joan Baez in Concert, Pt. 2 (November 1963) and Joan Baez 5 (October 1964), which contained her cover of Phil Ochs’ “There But for Fortune,” a Top Ten hit in the U.K.

Farewell, Angelina Like other popular folk performers, Baez was affected by the changes in popular music wrought by the appearance of the Beatles in the U.S. in 1964 and Dylan’s introduction of folk-rock in 1965, and she began to augment her simple acoustic guitar backing with other instruments, initially on Farewell, Angelina (October 1965). It was followed by a Christmas album, Noël (October 1966), and Joan (August 1967), albums on which she was accompanied by an orchestra conducted by Peter Schickele. Baez continued to experiment in the late ’60s, releasing Baptism (June 1968), in which she recited poetry, and Any Day Now (December 1968), a double album of Dylan songs done with country backing, which went gold… READ ON AT AMG ALL MUSIC GUIDE

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RECOMMENDED FURTHER READING:

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“In his study, Markus Jaeger explores the coalescence of Joan Baez’s work as a singer and songwriter with her endeavors as a political activist throughout the last fifty years. He illustrates an American popular singer’s significance as a political activist–for her audiences and for her opponents as well as for those victims of politically organized violence who have profited from her work. Mingling popular culture with political activism can be a helpful means to achieve non-violent societal progress. Joan Baez’s work offers an excellent example for this hypothesis.” DOWNLOAD EBOOK IN PDF FROM LIBGEN.ORG (230 pgs, 2010)

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Gran Finale:
BBC’s Imagine // Joan Baez

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“Refusing to be Enemies”, an exclusive video interview with Maxine Kaufman-Lacusta at the Peoples Social Forum 2014

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Refusing to be Enemies: Palestinian and Israeli Nonviolent Resistance to the Israeli Occupation is an interview-based study that presents the voices of over 100 practitioners and theorists of nonviolence, the vast majority either Palestinian or Israeli. In their own words, these activists share examples of effective nonviolent campaigns and discuss obstacles encountered in their pursuit of a just peace. Attention is also devoted to the special challenges of joint struggle and to hopes and visions for a shared future in the region. OFFICIAL WORDPRESS BLOG

PATHS TO PEACE
by Eduardo Carli de Moraes / Awestruck Wanderer

2cxsnWlWhile the People’s Social Forum was taking place in Ottawa, between August 21 and 24, the bloodbath in Gaza was still raging. Even mass demonstrations and rallies, held in several cities all around the world (London, Cape Town, New York, Toronto, and many others), couldn’t stop Zionism’s genocidal machine, which once again bombed Palestine with total disregard for basic human rights. Many protests were voiced during the Forum against Israel’s regime, which  is backed-up in North America not only by the United States but also by Stephen Harper’s regime in Canada (watch Al Jazeera’s Fault Lines with Avi Lewis).

According to the latest report from UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees), dated September 11, 2014, at least “503 Palestinian children are confirmed killed” and  “the cumulative death toll among Palestinians is at least 2,150, including 260 women. It is reported that the cumulative Israeli fatality toll is 71, of whom 66 were soldiers and one civilian fatality was a child.”

The huge disparity between the two sides of this “conflict” makes it almost obscene to call it anything but genocide. Let’s drop the euphemisms: Israel has obviously attacked once again not only military targets or Hamas militants; it has engaged in mass killings of Palestine’s civil population. Gaza, once again, looks like Guernica, but with no Picasso to paint it. Its infrastructure has been blown to smithereens, including hospitals, schools, power plants, universities and thousands of houses. The excuse for all this is, of course, The War On Terror, which seems to permit acts of unspeakable terror as means to attain victory over terrorists…

Anyone who deems justifiable the murder of more than 500 children and 260 women is nothing but a dangerous psychopath, and the doctrine of “collateral damage” is but the lunacy of serial killers which unfortunately hold State power. To put it plainly: these were monstruous war crimes and repeated violations of Human Rights, which the state of Israel can only get away with because of its Western allies:

“Israel’s staunchest political and military ally is and always has been the US government. The US government has blocked, along with Israel, almost every UN resolution that sought a peaceful, equitable solution to the conflict. It has supported almost every war that Israel has fought. When Israel attacks Palestine, it is American missiles that smash through Palestinian homes. And every year Israel receives several billion dollars from the US.

What lessons should we draw from this tragic conflict? Is it really impossible for Jewish people who suffered so cruelly themselves — more cruelly perhaps than any other people in history — to understand the vulnerability and the yearning of those whom they have displaced? Does extreme suffering always kindle cruelty? What hope does this leave the human race with?” – ARUNDHATI ROY [Read the full post, including 3 documentaries]

During the Peoples Social Forum, I’ve listened carefully to a highly captivating lecture by Maxine Kaufman-Lacusta, author of Refusing to Be Enemies, and afterwards she was kind enough to grant this blog an exclusive interview (watch at the end of this post). She is “a Quaker Jew who lived in Jerusalem for seven years and has written widely on Palestinian and Israeli nonviolent activism and related topics”.

Israel's Vision for a Palestinian StateWhat’s fascinating about Maxine’s work is how devoted she is to the discovery of paths to peaceful coexistence among Palestinians and Israelis. More than one hundred people were interviewed by her about the whys and hows of their choice for nonviolent resistance. Veronica Cohen, for example, states: “Violence begets more violence. I’m morally and tactically opposed to violence.”

This is a common thread of non-violent activists: they refuse to add more fuel to the fire of violence both because they deem it morally wrong (killing people in order to reach peace: isn’t this a sick interpretation of the doctrine of “the end justifies the means”?) and because it doesn’t work pragmatically (it provides the enemy an excuse for violent retaliation). Nuri el-Okbi, a Bedouin Israeli activist, sums it up beautifully: “One who is right does not need to use violence. Every drop of blood that is spilt is a sad waste.” Similarly, Jean Zaru, Palestinian Quaker, argues: “Violence dehumanizes the powerful and the powerless. Nonviolent resistance is the only way to bring transformation.”

Nonviolent resistance has many faces: civil disobedience, boycotts, demonstrations, hunger strikes, and so on and so forth. Mass media in the West usually depicts Palestinian resistance as relying heavily on terrorism and violence, but Maxine argues that we shouldn’t believe that Hamas-way is the only way: the bulk of the resistance against the systemic Zionist violence and military occupation is a non-violent resistance, including simply refusing to leave. She mentions, for instance, the movements in Gaza and the West Bank who oppose Israel’s invasive policy which aims to grab Palestinian territories, demolish Palestinian homes and build Jewish settlements, in explicit violation of International Law.

During the Second Intifada, in 2000, Maxine jokes that she was “a little bit older to be blocking bulldozers”. She is not alone in feeling that throwing rocks and molotovs against the Israeli’s war tanks will hardly serve the purpose of building lasting peaceful relations in the area. Refusing to Be Enemies attempts to provide various nonviolent ways to fight against Israel’s policies, including non-cooperation with institutions of the occupation and attacks made not against the living bodies of Israelis, but on the separating walls and barbed-wire fences that stink like Apartheid.

While discussing the “rockets” fired by Hamas militants into Israeli territory, which serves as a justification for Israel’s war of aggression against Gaza, Maxine suggested quite a radical approach: “I like the idea of firing rockets at the wall instead of over the wall.” If I understood her well, she means that the walls of Apartheid needs to be brought down and that dialogue and co-existence are the way to go.

As long as Israel isolates itself behind the walls of a bunker state, and refuses to acknowledge the rights of Palestinians to lead normal lives, without being crushed by military occupation and genocidal aggression, the cycle of violence won’t stop. An attitude of openness is needed, then; an ability to respect otherness, to relate healthly with difference. My doubt is, however, if this is possible in a context of religious creeds dogmatically believed in. Perhaps the path to peace lies only in moving away from fundamentalism and fanaticism, and into the realm of a secular democracy which respects and protects multi-culturalism?

“Fears”

Huwaida Arraf (ISM), from the Free Gaza Movement, argues: “If you want to fight Mike Tyson, you’re not going to do it in the boxing ring.” The military power of Israel, with all the aid it receives both in cash and weaponry from the U.S., makes it a Mike Tyson, unbeatable on the boxing ring, and that’s one of the reasons why nonviolent resistance is the chosen path by many activists, who inspire themselves on the examples, practices and theories of Gandhi, Thoreau or Gene Sharp.

Among the Israelis, there are many who refuse to serve the Army, even though they can be jailed for that. Peretz Kidron, one of this refuseniks, explains his choice of refusing to follow the orders of the military authorities: “I will not obey a law who is part of a broader policy and exemplifies it in a nutshell. It’s like Gandhi going down to beach to make his own salt. It was illegal. It wasn’t violent but it was deliberately flouting the law and inviting prosecution.”

A significant number of both Israelis and Palestinians are involved in nonviolent resistance, argues Maxine, and they use their criativity to come up with innovative ways to act, including writing protest songs with satyrical lyrics, refusing to engage in battle (and accepting disagreements to be dealt with through dialogue discussion), or wearing the colors of the Palestinian flag as a sign of solidarity with the independence struggle. The international community can also join this struggle by boycotting corporations whose cumplicity with Israel’s war crimes are proved: a large movement calling for Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) has gained momentum in 2014 as Gaza was under attack, and mass demonstrations have erupted all around the world, as the streets screamed out their solidarity with the Palestinian people. Global civil society is also a player in this nonviolent resistance movement and we must voice our outrage with all global powers who have blood in their hands.

It’s possible that the World Wide Web is truly helping out in the job of re-shaping international solidarity: while people were been slaughtered in Gaza by the hundreds, the Internet was flooding with reactions. Quickly, protest movements have come to life whose efficacy and immediacy would be unthinkable without the use of social media as tools. Sadly, 2014 is another tragic year for Mankind (we still haven’t managed to give peace a chance), but maybe there’s reason to be hopeful that Marshall McLuhan prophecy about the Global Village is becoming flesh: Gaza doesn’t stand alone. Its suffering is not being ignored. War crimes and Human Rights violations won’t be forgotten. It’s our collective duty to struggle to find paths to peace amidst these endless turmoils of violence. However, the question remains: will those who refuse to be enemies one day outnumber or overpower those who refuse to be friends?

In the following video, Maxine Kaufman-Lacusta provides some of her insights about these matters and how could we built another world by refusing to be enemies:

Lennon: “Gimme Some Truth!”

John Lennon (1940 - 1980) and Yoko Ono pose on the steps of the Apple building in London, holding one of the posters that they distributed to the world's major cities as part of a peace campaign protesting against the Vietnam War. 'War Is Over, If You Want It'.   (Photo by Frank Barratt/Getty Images)

John Lennon (1940 – 1980) and Yoko Ono pose on the steps of the Apple building in London, holding one of the posters that they distributed to the world’s major cities as part of a peace campaign protesting against the Vietnam War. ‘War Is Over, If You Want It’. (Photo by Frank Barratt/Getty Images)

“I’m sick and tired of hearing things
From uptight, short-sighted, narrow-minded hypocritics.
All I want is the truth
Just gimme some truth!

I’ve had enough of reading things
By neurotic, psychotic, pig-headed politicians.
All I want is the truth
Just gimme some truth!

No short-haired, yellow-bellied, son of tricky dicky
Is gonna mother hubbard soft soap me
With just a pocketful of hope
Money for dope
Money for rope.

I’m sick to death of seeing things
From tight-lipped, condescending, mama’s little chauvinists.
All I want is the truth
Just gimme some truth now!

I’ve had enough of watching scenes
Of schizophrenic, ego-centric, paranoiac, prima-donnas.
All I want is the truth now
Just gimme some truth!

All I want is the truth
Just gimme some truth!”

Speaking Truth to Power & Other Worthwhile Civil Disobediences (#NousSommesTousPalestiniens)

London 09 08

London, UK. August 9th, 2014. An estimated multitude of 150.000 marches in solidarity with the Palestinian people. Israel’s war crimes in Gaza have sparked massive demonstrations in several cities worldwide. Read BBC’s article. Follow the Facebook page Palestine Solidarity Campaign UK.

Cheers, fellow earthlings!

alice walkerMrs. Alice Walker, author of the highly acclaimed novel The Color Purple (winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and filmed by Steven Spielberg), hits the nail on the head when she says: “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about that wonderful phrase lately, especially after “witnessing” the latest events in Gaza. From a distance, here in Toronto, I followed the news with an inner feeling of powerless outrage. “So many people are afraid to speak at all”, said Mrs. Walker to Amy Goodman in the WebTVshow Democracy Now, “and I think this is very dangerous. Wherever there’s oppresion, wherever you see people being humiliated, it’s our duty as human beings and citizens of the planet to speak. If that’s all you can do… speak, at least!” 

The streets of several cities, all around the world, are shouting out: “enough is enough!” Israel’s genocidal practices against the Palestinians must end, and those allies who sell weapons of mass destruction for the State’s politics of racist Sionism, murderous islamophobia and militarily-imposed Apartheid should be aware: thousands of us, citizens of global Civil Society, won’t take it anymore.

We can’t allow ourselves to believe in our own powerlessness, to feel beat -own and out-of-strenght to oppose high-collar criminals, or else we’re lost – and genocide will happen again. As Mrs. Rosi Brandotti says, we have to join our voices in a global chorus that states: “we organize, we don’t only agonize!” In apathy we’ll drown, in empathy we’ll rise!

 Mrs. Walker and Mrs Roy, together:

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Children

UNICEF: The conflict in Gaza has killed more than 400 children and injured over 2,500. Thousands more suffered trauma and will need psychosocial support. Pernille Ironside, Chief of UNICEF’s Field Office in Gaza describes the “catastrophic and tragic impact” that this war is having on children: uni.cf/1pCl5NA via The New York Times.

From the United Nations "Gaza Crisis Appeal" - Download the full document. http://bit.ly/1spNBD7

From the United Nations’ “Gaza Crisis Appeal” – Download the full document. http://bit.ly/1spNBD7

Unfortunately, the most common discovery we make when genocide and ethnical cleansing are being commited is that we are unable to stop them. We lament after human lives have already been slaughtered, and during the slaughter we feel unable to create an effective obstacle in the way of the murderers. Methinks it’s a healthy symptom of empathy to experience sadness and grief for the thousands of victims of Israel’s heinous crimes – more than 400 hundred children killed; half a million people displaced; bombardments of hospitals, schools, universities, UN-shelters etc. But it would be unhealthy and unworthy to do only that. We may lament and cry over the spilt milk (or, rather, the spilt blood), but now action needs to be taken collectively in order that such horrors don’t happen again.

Hundreds of thousands of us spoke out in solidarity with Gaza. Thousands marched in the streets all around the world. Thousands more shared their indignation on social media and on the Blogosphere, made independent documentaries and photo essays. More than ever, I think we should as Jello Biafra likes to suggest: “don’t hate the media, become the media.” Considering the warmongers, profit-seeking sharks, ecocidal maniacs and trigger-hapy genocidal leaders who are currently in power, shouldn’t we speak out  as loud as we can? Will we let the powerful keep on getting away with the genocide of the powerless, with the murderous politics of Apartheid? Will the world accept silently the Guernica-like bombardment of the civil population of Gaza, for instance?

More than ever, I cherish these voices – such as Alice Waker’s or Arundathi Roy’s or Cornel West’s or Tariq Ali’s – who not only speak out for the powerless and for the crushed, defending the fundamental humanity of those treated by Power as subhumans or pests. It’s fundamental that we amplify and ressonate these voices who speak-out, shouting Truth into Power’s half-deaf ears, putting their words in the service of those who have been silenced. Simone Weil knew: it’s an optimistic lie to believe that love can’t be crushed by force, by violence, by mad strenght. It can. But we mustn’t let the hateful forces of bloody antagonism keep on winning over peace, love & empathy.

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Recommended further reading:

The Case

“Provides clear arguments for international sanctions against Israel because of its treatment of the Palestinians. This excellent collection of essays is an essential text for anyone interested in why they should support the movement to boycott Israel. The essays are not just good reading; they are also an eloquent call to the world to give a damn.” – Ron Jacobs, CounterPunch (official) – DOWNLOAD FREE EBOOK

“For decades, Israel has denied Palestinians their fundamental rights of freedom, equality, and self-determination through ethnic cleansing, colonization, racial discrimination, and military occupation. Despite abundant condemnation of Israeli policies by the UN, other international bodies, and preeminent human rights organisations, the world community has failed to hold Israel accountable and enforce compliance with basic principles of law. Israel’s crimes have continued with impunity.

In view of this continued failure, Palestinian civil society called for a global citizens’ response. On July 9 2005, a year after the International Court of Justice’s historic advisory opinion on the illegality of Israel’s Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), a clear majority of Palestinian civil society called upon their counterparts and people of conscience all over the world to launch broad boycotts, implement divestment initiatives, and to demand sanctions against Israel, until Palestinian rights are recognised in full compliance with international law.

The campaign for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) is shaped by a rights-based approach and highlights the three broad sections of the Palestinian people: the refugees, those under military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Palestinians in Israel. The call urges various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets its obligations under international law by:

  • Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantling the Wall;
  • Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
  • Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 19

The BDS call was endorsed by over 170 Palestinian political parties, organizations, trade unions and movements. The signatories represent the refugees, Palestinians in the OPT, and Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Boycotts target products and companies (Israeli and international) that profit from the violation of Palestinian rights, as well as Israeli sporting, cultural and academic institutions. Anyone can boycott Israeli goods, simply by making sure that they don’t buy produce made in Israel or by Israeli companies. Campaigners and groups call on consumers not to buy Israeli goods and on businesses not to buy or sell them.

Israeli cultural and academic institutions directly contribute to maintaining, defending or whitewashing the oppression of Palestinians, as Israel deliberately tries to boost its image internationally through academic and cultural collaborations. As part of the boycott, academics, artists and consumers are campaigning against such collaboration and ‘rebranding’. A growing number of artists have refused to exhibit or play in Israel.

Divestment means targeting corporations complicit in the violation of Palestinian rights and ensuring that the likes of university investment portfolios and pension funds are not used to finance such companies. These efforts raise awareness about the reality of Israel’s policies and encourage companies to use their economic influence to pressure Israel to end its systematic denial of Palestinian rights.

Sanctions are an essential part of demonstrating disapproval for a country’s actions. Israel’s membership of various diplomatic and economic forums provides both an unmerited veneer of respectability and material support for its crimes. By calling for sanctions against Israel, campaigners educate society about violations of international law and seek to end the complicity of other nations in these violations.”

Source: The BDS National Committee
http://www.bdsmovement.net/bdsintro

 

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From the streets of Montréal, Québec:
“Nous Sommes Tous Palestiniens”  (subtitles in English)

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The Case for Cultural & Academic Boycott of Israel with intro by Ken Loach

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See also the statements made by Noam Chomsky, Brian Eno, Cornel West, Tariq Ali.

TO BE CONTINUED…

“You can bomb the world to pieces but you can’t bomb it into peace.” Michael Franti

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“Since his days as a member of the Beatnigs while in his early twenties, Michael Franti grew from an angry young hip-hopper with a political, socially conscious bent (the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy,Spearhead) to a man who channeled his seriousness, social unease, and desire for change and merged them with his love for music, particularly old-school R&B, soul, and hip-hop. What he left behind in brash, make-some-noise aesthetic, he gained in compassion. And through his use of his own raw power — charisma, sex appeal, sense of social injustice — he carried out in his music a community-generated passion in much the same way as Gil Scott-Heron or Marvin Gaye.” Keep on reading the artist’s biography at AMG All Music Guide

Download 4 albums by Michael Franti & Spearhead

Excellent interview with Arundhati Roy about the reality in India (@ Al Jazeera)

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In 1997, Arundhati Roy’s first novel “The God of Small Things” made her the first Indian woman to win the prestigious Booker Prize. More than six million copies of the book were sold worldwide.

Since then, she has turned her pen to politics. During the Bush years, she was a fierce critic, calling the invasion of Afghanistan “an act of terror on the people of the world”.

In India, she has campaigned against mega dams projects, denounced the rise of Hindu nationalism, and has been imprisoned by the Supreme Court of India for “corrupting public morality”.

Her latest essay describes her trip into the heart of India’s Maoist insurgency, the movement that India’s government has launched a major military campaign to crush…

You might also enjoy:

TRUTHOUT: “Arundhati Roy: Another World Is Not Only Possible, She Is on Her Way

“Life Far From Hot Baths” – Simone Weil’s philosophy in connection with Zen Buddhist ethics

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“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.

 

6Simone 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.

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)

4

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)

1Certainly 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”:

Nemesis

Greek godess Nemesis

“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.

Encounter-with-Simone_Weil-Filmstill-06.

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.

Suzuki 2

“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)

REFERENCES

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.

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(Article by Eduardo Carli de Moraes, at Awestruck Wanderer,
Toronto, Canada. March 2014.)