Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Promised Land

Fred Vaughan headshot by Fred Vaughan

After the peaceful breakup of the Soviet Union and the Israeli - Palestinian resolution quite a few years ago now, I was reminded of the stupidity of concepts such as manifest destiny; fifty-four-forty-or-fight; the Little Big Horn; the Promised Land; the Bay of Pigs; the taking of Europe by Cromagnons from Neanderthals; Catholic Croatia, Serbian and Muslim Bosnian hatreds; Somalia; the genocidal war in Rwanda; the Sudan; now Afghanistan and Iraq, etc.. All involved an absurd but universal notion that "This land is my land!" and anyone else is an interloper. Having been (or supposing that it was their destiny to be!) in control of a particular hunk of land at a particular time since their racial memory began constituted in all such cases a perpetuated sacred responsibility to re-take the land whenever there was the slightest provocation or vulnerability of the current occupant at whatever cost is required in terms of human life. All these persistent grudges have guaranteed generations of genocide and poverty, especially in the "old world" where many still extent races of men have at one time or another been born into more or less legitimate control of some appreciable piece of soil. And why? Even as I propose to doubt the inevitability of such chaos it almost seems even to me to be the only reasonable conduct of history. But of course even the apparent reasonability of this insanity springs from my racial memory and the fact that we have not yet broken our umbilical with "Mother Earth," our linkage with "Land of Israel," "This land is my land from sea to shining sea," etc.. We limit our "ethnicity" to encompass only a limited group by our religion, color, political ties, etc. but then we glue this label onto the land even though the land may be shared by many groups. Ultimately (one might hope!) our vision could be improved to include all associated people and all indigenous species of the region. From religious protectorates associated with "The Land" sprang governments to control (optimistically for their own survival) the people that occupied the land.

Governments are born of a particular people but have always been instituted as being over all the people in a region and are, thereby, bounded artificially by that region rather than that people that is their legitimate bound, but the land does not obey laws, the requirement for all encompassing laws throughout a region can only be to assure the security of the government of the one people from internal attack at the hands of the disenfranchised peoples, not in any inclusive sense of wanting everyone to be equal sharers of the bounty of the region or to protect all from outside attack. Governments implicitly condone an ethnic "purging" of the land by occupation. Oh, yes, the disenfranchised whether they remain or flee as refugees still (and then to an even greater and much fantasized degree) "love" their homelands, only giving up control of them in desperation, hoping and scheming to someday "take" them back. Islam raises this to another level: Any region once occupied by Muslims must be secured and retaken if lost by the Mother of All Battles -- Jahad!

But individuals only inhabit the land for a generation and collectively such mortals constitute a people. So why can only one ethnic group peacefully occupy any hunk of land at any one time? Why do we so naturally focus on such narrow windows of geography and history? Why don't we squint our eyes temporally to blur our historic vision as we do our spatial vision when we look at a piece of art to perceive the layout independent of the details. Why is continuous sequential control over contiguous square miles throughout historically short periods so profoundly more glorious than contemporaneous control of non-contiguous (or even non-geometrical) areas throughout a much larger interval? (The Jews accomplished this feat amazingly well until it appeared obvious that real estate itself was also important. Did ownership itself distort that vision?) On large enough time scales interrupted control is simply contemporaneous control like timesharing in a multitasking computer system where the multitasking allows several jobs to share resources during the same appreciable interval on the same computer even though on a microscopic scale each was only individually in control of the machine (or "a" machine on an interconnected network) during separated short intervals of time. Why can human beings who have mastered such multitasking schemes not "get it"?.

Radio and TV signals and starlight all pass through every infinitesimal region of our atmosphere at the very same time without solely possessing it (although, of course, the property rights of waveband regions are being bitterly contested just as claim jumper grabbed at mining rights, but again, only by money grubbing interests and governments). In fact there are on the order of 10 billion times more quanta of light than matter in our universe and they crisscross every cubic centimeter of all space with none demanding ownership to pass.

Looking West from the back porch on the house on "my" farm of 27 years, I "loved" the land, not just my farm land but the whole setting as far as the eye could see to the Olympic mountains. My neighbor to the North looked South and "loved" the land, not just his land, but my land as far as his eye can see to Mount Rainier. In a very real sense, we "own" our own perspectives -- all of it! -- and sometimes confuse that for all the land we see, like Lot in the Old testament. Clearly, Lot did not actually own the "well-watered plains of Jordan" he had claimed -- probably much to the chagrin of his wife!

We raised race horses on our farm until a few years back, controlling their destinies in the long haul, but on a day-to-day basis, they had their own hierarchy. We could not change it other than get rid of a horse if it became too destructive like God might have sent a lightning bolt or turned Lot's wife into a pillar of salt to effect a similar correction process in Old Testament days. Or we could banish them to a remote paddock or send them to the track as a God might have sent a man to war, or sell them as slave owners sold their slaves "down river".

Then there were the cats! A tom always ruled our farm with an iron clawed paw; he might originate as the most docile of kittens loved by our children, sleep for virtually three years like a curled up caterpillar as did "Patches The Horrible," but then one day his "destiny" would dawn upon him and the most feared force in the barn cat kingdom would begin a reign of terror without precedent. We could never do anything much about this carnage other than get rid of the aggressor when the carnage irritated us too badly! (Not a bad idea!) Then there were the pigeons, the mice, not to mention the flies, the frogs, and -- us! These stratified kingdoms co-inhabited the same twenty some odd acres for many years. There were disastrous interactions on occasion, as when a horse kicked a person or stepped on a cat, or a person started a vehicle with a cat hiding near the fan belt, or as when Patches bit through my rubber boot when I had attempted to break up a cat fight by stepping into a whirl of fur. But by most any accounting these were pretty minor events in the affairs of the respective kingdoms. But of course we fed the cats including those who couldn't or wouldn't eat the mice and rats (and pigeons!) that ate the oats that the horses should have eaten. And the horses won the races that provided the money to feed their dams and everybody else on the whole damn farm. And it all worked pretty well.

In the United States we have First, Second and even Third World nations. Why can't we acknowledge"..., [these many] nation[s], under God [sic.], indivisible, with liberty and justice for all..."? Let them all exist on the same soil with their own legitimate governments, even unique forms of governments. The United Nations or some hierarchy of nations should be able to accommodate the similarity of mailing addresses and monitor and control the interactions. But in this country at this time it is popular to hate welfare (even?) worse than foreign aid, but they are really the same thing, especially now in our age of the Small World where we search for bin Laden. The war in Iraq is costing the US $9 billion per month according to the nonpartisan government accounting office. In short, the cost of the senseless war in Iraq and paying the interest on the increasing national debt required to support it dwarfs welfare, but a "Christian Nation -- under God" cannot afford help the less fortunate?

I felt very congratulatory to the Israelis and Palestinians on their Peace Accord even though they were each no doubt as oblivious to the sense they were making as the cats and horses on our farm ...

... that we have now sold, after having dispersed the last of our horses, with one of the conditions of sale having been that we "get rid of the cats." That's commerce … and the price we pay for it.

Sadly, since the Palestinian Peace accord Rabin was assassinated by one of his own people for his role in bringing about a new order. Bus bombs and human bombs, and Israeli assassinations and increased occupation continue to appall us all in destroying the peace process. The Serbs and Croats wrecked havoc in the Balkans but were eventually stopped after the genocide. Genocide has killed millions in Africa in the last decade alone. Sunnis killed Shiites in Iraq under Saddam because it was "their land" even though they were out numbered. Now both Sunnis and Shiites slaughter each other in total civil war carnage because (no matter who gets the oil underneath it that is protected by US troops) each side believes Iraq to be "their land". Thousands die every moth in Iraq; just today the news is that 105 have died Baghdad alone.

And it will continue to happen. It has to happen. It will happen to us … unless we learn that "The Promised Land" is not dirt.

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