I was recently reminded of the “value of anger.” “How else can we motivate ourselves to fight injustice?”
How can anyone be against such a notion! And then to go on and actually question not just the role of anger, but fighting injustice itself? Inconceivable!
Yet, that’s exactly where I find myself.
I’ve written on the use and abuse of anger, perhaps focusing on it too much lately….
Let’s come at this from the more prickly end this time.
Injustice. We all know what that means! A situation in which there is an asymmetry of power and it is being used to take advantage of someone. It can also blur into a reaction against any perception of unfairness.
The key is that justice and injustice maintain an assumption that we are locked into power struggles and that the only response to abuse of power is countervailing force.
I don’t argue that we all come to that conclusion, especially when we’re not dealing in the abstract, but have been thrust into a situation in which we are the victims of an abuse of power. Fear, anger, all of the basic instincts surge and make such a view inevitable.
It’s customary within all respectable power wielding circles to understand that these responses may not be helpful and training is used to habituate us to stress and establish new patterns of response to counter those reactions so that we can be more effective. From Boot Camp to Hostage Negotiator Training, from Law School to Business School, there is a long tradition of not accepting our instinctive reactions and setting up another way of proceeding. So, there’s precedent for such a suggestion.
What none of these do however is question whether fighting against a perceived imbalance is effective. They all assume we have no choice and are happy to use our immediate, overwhelmed response to justify that assumption and overcome whatever sense of futility we may ultimately feel as the marching-off-to-war parades turn into a vigil over rows and rows of coffins. The whole panoply of “Us versus them!” is brought into play. Consent wavers and its appearance is manufactured, reactions to the “unintended” consequences build up. And soon, a new fight against injustice forms to oppose the last effort. And so it goes….
Hey! It’s human nature!
We’ve all heard that over and over again to justify just about anything that someone has managed to find profitable. And fighting injustice may just be the most profitable wheeze out there, if we combine “defense” budgets with all the “do-gooder” stuff on the other side of the political morass.
So we have arrived at a world where every “problem” has its “War,” and every war has its “winners,” and none of those are ever the victims of whatever injustice set the ball in motion.
But we have to try! Right!
Having spent most of my life “trying,” I don’t have much patience for that one. It’s a classic short-circuit leading us back into the cycle of perceived weakness and hunger after power to compensate.
How else can we look at this then?
If life is a trap in which we cannot avoid turning to power as our only resource against our enemies then there is no other way. Get used to it, and build up bonus points for the afterlife where all will be resolved.
If life is what we have, and if we understand the meaning of proprioception and the responsibility this gives us over how we spend our attention, there may be another way.
My emotional reaction to events is not set in stone. There are ways I can train myself to inhabit a sense that their inevitability is the result of something called Ego attempting to take me hostage and dominate me from within. Since Ego is by definition selfish, it is that part of “me” that sees itself as a self, I – and this gets tricky with the first person pronouns trying to thread the needle of the illusion of a self! – can train myself to disengage from that struggle. What happens next, as is true of any enemy we can successfully ignore,* the Ego collapses in on its blustering “self.” I can then get on with life.
*The key word here is “successfully.” There’s a big difference between those cases and the ones in which an enemy is breathing down your neck. While that is the ultimate test, for now I reserve judgment on how these lessons might apply.
I return to the basic point that everything begins with my standing somewhere. In Qi Gong we begin in the “home position.” Everything proceeds from there. This is where my study of phenomenology places us as well. As David Abram put it so well, we don’t live in a Copernican world where the Earth goes around the Sun. We are embedded in a perceptual world in which everything appears this side of our perceptual horizons or out from behind whatever obstructs our view. Time plays a part in how that field of perception changes and in how we respond to those changes. It can also create the problematic illusion that we are not “Here,” but somewhere out there in a projected future.
Taking these core insights as a starting point, whatever retains my ability to focus attention on what we are confronting: standing in front of in such a way that it appears to be opposing us; will keep us in a position: a stance rather than an assumed pose; from which we can be most effective.
Effectiveness versus efficiency. Efficiency is a short-circuit of effectiveness. It is the result of abdicating our responsibility to look into the holographic nature of reality. Instead we accept an arbitrary and narrow view of how to measure effectiveness. It boils down to claiming that “trying” is all that maters.
To be effective we cannot fall into that justification. We all have examples of situations we’ve been in where circumstances were stark enough to provide us with a moment of clarity. In those instances, we found no distinction between trying and doing. We did not have to quibble and find ways to explain away why we were ineffective. We just did what needed to be done and it worked. We might almost automatically be able to add, or else we wouldn’t sill be here! These moments tend to be life threatening, and not always directed at us, though they may have ended up putting us at risk.
There’s a lot we can learn from such cases. First off, the results are so striking, and in contrast to the everyday striving we are immersed in, it is hard not to try to manufacture such clarity by reproducing the cocktail of emotions surrounding it. From this leads the trail to those going-off-to-war parades! Sincerity is everything! We are conflicted when we attempt to manufacture clarity in this way. From there we all end up right back in the old patterns.
Sincerity, it’s a form of trust that really only comes into play when we are dealing with ourselves. Projecting sincerity, any looking after it as a means to an end outside of our own person is entering into the realm of the oxymoron. As strange as it has become in an era that has been traumatized into the pose of ironic detachment or faux naiveté, sincerity is an acquired taste. We’ve forgotten what it was for. Yet without exercising our sincerity we cannot open avenues of trust within us. We are trapped in internalized games of domination that the Ego is bound to “win.” Sincerity and the internal hygiene required to maintain it could be said to be the key to unlocking the strengths at our disposal and successfully denying the false bargains offered up by a will-to-control.
We’ve been going out on a series of limbs! It’s good practice! There are so many ways in which conventional usage has spoiled our vocabulary that without re-establishing where these branches attach to our trunk we are quite liable to fall!
Let’s try a short recap. Injustice may or may not be real. Even when it is, the current methods of dealing with it are bound to fail and have always failed. It’s only our willful blindness that keeps us “trying” to get a different result over and over again.