When I graduated from Queens College in June ’66, I wanted to buy a good car. My worst vehicle up to that point was a used Renault Dauphine that I got when I was a senior at Jamaica High School. It actually had a hand crank that I used on numerous occasions. I decided a would get a Volkswagen, a great little car and it even had a Blaupunkt sound system, which was damn good. I’m pretty sure it was under two grand, if you can believe it. I wanted a little car because I was going to be stationed, yes stationed, at Fort Devens in Ayer, Mass. I went into the Army Reserves after college.
My mother got very angry with me because I, a Jew, was going to buy a German car, the handiwork of the same barbarians who perpetrated the Holocaust. I am not about to argue whether the Jews have a right to be terminally pissed off at the Germans. It was their behavior that seemed so unbelievable, cold-blooded murderers, killing children, old women and entire families, often keeping meticulous records of how much torture a body could withstand. The images of the liberated camps at the end of the war defy description.
I didn’t understand how an entire nation could be so ugly and then decades later, pretend to be civilized architects of progress, with the strongest economy in Europe.
I wondered how people could be made to do such awful things. Sure, you have your whacked-out serial killers, etc., but an entire country became a brutal killing machine. The percentage of national complicity in this nightmare was far too high to be considered anything less than a substantial majority of the populace.
You have to be an illiterate asshole to think the German people were the only society to behave very badly. The idea of killing others that aren’t like us is burned in our DNA. They could be more powerful or less powerful, protecting their dominance or raging against subjugation. Yes, they could even have a different religion and I draw your attention to the Crusades for starters.
Every conflict, whether between two people or entire countries has to begin somewhere. What is it that ignites these firestorms of brutality? We always focus on the results and never on the cause? It must come from some real or imagined imbalance, perpetrated by the powerful over the powerless. Look no further than the fight over climate change. The rich and powerful do not want to sacrifice their wealth in the name of climate justice and they resist any effort that will curtail their cash flow. Listen, the tobacco industry knew for years that smoking caused cancer and they buried the information. Exxon drew the connection between fossil fuel consumption and global warming years ago and put it in a grave shared with big money tobacco’s findings. The world’s poorest countries will bear the brunt of climate change’s devastating impact and how do you think that will go over?
Since 2000 there have been more than 60,000 terrorist attacks that have killed some 140,000 people. You don’t have to be a genius to understand that violence breeds violence and there are no winners. What would happen if we empowered our enemies, instead of punishing them? What would happen if a leading computer builder announced it was relocating an assembly plant to Gaza? The dominant societies have always sought out victims to serve their selfish needs and have never thought about the consequences that come from the deprivation of hope engendered by economic slavery.
Writing this seems like an exercise in futility. I am not sure if there are any other species on the planet that kill each other the way we do, or ones that hoard the way we do. It seems like a flaw in our nature that creates imbalance just for its own sake. There is a rhythm to the natural world that flows seamlessly, but we are the glaring exception. There is a perfect predictability in nature, governed by instinctive responses. The gift of mind sets us apart, making us capable of extraordinary achievements and the most heinous behavior imaginable. We are blessed and cursed with the ability to think.
We think we are special and we are not. We live and die like every single species in our world and that is our true connection to each other and everything. The cycle of life is universal, a destiny shared by all. Instead of being emancipated by this truth, we are imprisoned by it, doing all we can to deny it. On the most basic level, this is what we all have in common and this is where we have to look and where we find the flaw in our behavior toward each other. This is the one limitation we cannot overcome, no matter how hard we try and boy, do we try! Knowing that oil is a non-renewable resource and a contributor to global warming has not diminished our appetite for it one bit.
What is enough? There is a good question for you. How much wealth and power to countries and individuals need to have before they feel compassion for their brothers and sisters who have very little? What true value is served by having astronomical differences in the quality of life within the human family? No, I am not talking about politics, Socialism versus Capitalism. I am talking about what we have been doing to each other forever and looking for linkage somewhere in all this mess. I use linkage rather than solution because we have yet to find one. The Buddha referred to it as impermanence and its denial behind our eternal suffering.
I totaled my red Volkswagen in a one-car accident, but it was the best car I ever owned and I still think about it.
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