By: Harold Jaffe
The holiday season is on us. Xmas muzak everywhere.
Terrorism is in the air, as it has been to one degree or another since the devolution of the Soviet Union to a polluted version of Russia.
Capitalism needed a demon to replace Communism.
Is there something that can be called benign terrorism?
Such as compassion, not just felt, but expressed for oppressed humans, such as the innocent and impoverished Iraqis and Afghans killed or maimed during the US's assault on those sovereign nations.
Compassion, not just felt, but expressed for the Bangladeshis, a made-invisible country of about 150 million souls, its crucial rice paddy industry largely overrun by the ice melt in the Antarctic which has transformed the Bay of Bengal into a maddened ocean.
Compassion, not just expressed, but enacted, on behalf of stock animals like cattle, pigs, chickens, whose lives consist of extreme torment crowned by slaughter.
Schweitzer put it this way: Extend your feelings, try to recognize the suffering of those animals that are slaughtered and eaten.
The suffering is greater than before. Stock animals shot with chemicals and hormones, in many instances spending their entire doomed lives in tight pens where they can scarcely move.
I call compassion benign terrorism because official culture excludes it from its criteria for happiness and unhappiness.
One is not permitted to become unhappy at the suffering of a stock animal, at the suffering of a brown-skinned family whose modest house is bulldozed because the adolescent son is suspected of throwing rocks at an armored vehicle.
What about plain speech, such as attributing oil as the leading if not sole reason for the invasions of Iraq and Libya?
Attributing Congress’s overwhelming majority in support of the homeland security bill and bank bailout to moral cowardice and cynical opportunism.
Global leaders denying climate change while proceeding full throttle with toxic chemical industries along with the reckless overuse of nuclear power plants and fossil fuels.
If referring to these perceptions as benign terrorism seems inapt, call them deviations.
But to deviate in this time of moral fervor, xenophobia, and the exponentially growing, manipulated disparity between rich and poor is about as reprehensible as terrorism.
In the eyes of official culture and most Americans.
Deviation, then, on the occasion of the holiday season.
Gift-giving comes to mind.
Gift-giving is deviant because it tends to be an impulsive action from the heart which has nothing to do with repayment, opportunism, or calculation, and is solely designed to benefit another.
"Tends to be" because there is a species of gift-giving which is calculated and opportunistic, such as political campaign contributions, and even ostensible gifts from the heart like wedding bands or communion dresses or Christmas presents.
That isn't the kind of gift-giving I have in mind.
Why would Georges Bataille say that strong art must always include the immoral subversion of the existing order?
Morality is possessed by the white gloves of the existing order.
Bataille's gift to us were his formulations and his mania.
I will risk sounding sentimental:
Examples of uncalculated gift-giving might include rescuing a stray cat or a wounded bird; giving alms to a homeless person; paying the toll for the car behind you on a toll road.
True, you can perform even these acts of mercy with one eye on divine compensation, but they are not commonly done that way.
Less tangible forms of gift-giving might include paying serious, unpatronizing attention to a child, animal, plant.
Attending to a human not used to be taken seriously, such as a so-called mentally ill or imprisoned human.
Less tangible still would be to spread goodwill like a gentle virus to everyone human, animal, vegetable with whom you come in contact.
But that is generally the province of spiritually elevated souls.
I recall an instance in NYC. A bus driver in one of the problematic parts of Manhattan sang rather than talked to his passengers, singing out the next stop, singing while he drove.
The Manhattan passengers, habitually stressed and suspicious, especially while en route to work in the AM, praised the driver for being so relaxed, so balanced, so -- as it seemed -- contented, thereby broadcasting this contentment.
Broadcasting contentment is good.
What about broadcasting righteous anger or anguish, as a conscience-bound German might have done during the Nazi period?
Or John Brown enunciating his "No! in Thunder."
"No, I refuse to stand by and watch my black and brown sisters and brothers be enslaved by the same professed moralists who aspire to imitate Christ."
Do those instances of righteous anger qualify as gift-giving?
Yes, they do.
In any case, you can see how a disinterested (not uninterested) gift-giving counters in principle the niggardly dictates of capitalism.
The difference between disinterest and uninterest is that disinterest implies a passionate, caring separation from the object in question, whereas uninterest implies a dispassionate, uncaring separation.
Potlatch, practiced by northwest Indian groups, is a complex prototype of ritualized gift-giving, part disinterested, part competitive.
Let's leave potlatch to the Native Americans; they have suffered more than most of the rest of us.
Their cultures are deep.
Their hearts and minds are integrated.