Willful Ignorance

Bethlehem, Palestine
The Church of the Nativity and the Omar Mosque, Bethlehem, Palestine.

Not many things make me angry, but some do. Working with conflict has, strangely, helped me come to peace over many things, mainly by forcing me to face facts.

And anger transforms. I’ve got a deeply smouldering Mars-in-Scorpio righteous kind of anger. I get steamed up over indifference, mindless groupthink-compliance and willful ignorance – sadly flourishing syndromes in our day. Mercifully, society’s covidisation process is seemingly beginning to change things.

Groupthink indifference gives rise to all sorts of situations. Here’s one. It’s the very British ‘perhaps you should…‘ hyper-suggestion syndrome. It appears helpful but actually it is obstructive, a discreet withholding strategy. I get roughly five requests for financial help every week, mainly from Asia and Africa but even from Britain. These sincere requests come from people who genuinely are hungry or destitute, right now, and feeling it. Many of them don’t deserve to be in this situation – they were caught on the hop.

In many countries the lockdown is weighing heavily on people lower down the pile who, in turn, battle with their self-esteem and dignity over asking for support. When you’re hungry, patience is not easy and the end of your life lurks before you like a stealthy ghost that’s coming to take you away.

I have cancer and sit in the needy and vulnerable group that everyone makes so much fuss about. And, in the default Western way, my friends, who do genuinely care for me, recommend me to pull back from helping people and to ‘look after number one’. Well, yes, I agree. This isn’t news to me!

But there’s a problem. If I step down, few step up to take over. The consequences are systemic. It means that a person like me unwittingly takes on a responsibility: the burden of consigning a person to possible death by saying ‘No’ to them. Because I’m busy ‘looking after number one’ and doing what most people do. The burden doesn’t go away by ignoring it.

And, a footnote. I’m not so hot at fixing money, but I do always try to assist a person magically, if I can. In many cases it’s a matter of helping them overcome fear, or fixing them a good contact, or helping them go through an inner change that unlocks solutions, or dropping them a quick tenner for some food. It’s necessary to do something – not just to turn away. I’m much better at magic solutions than fixing funds. But it does require sticking with people in spirit, praying for their souls, giving them full attention, standing in their flipflops. In some respects, such solidarity of the soul can be a greater boost than money.

Server syndrome has subtle ways of presenting itself. In Syria in 2013 I had one of my premonitions, waking up in the night with a feeling that a neighbouring village was in danger. I reported this and was told, “No chance – that village is safe – don’t worry“. I raised it again next evening, getting the same response. So I did my polite Englishman bit and went quiet. Next week, back in Jordan, I heard that around 100 people were killed in a regime attack on the village.

It was the biggest humanitarian failure of my life. Yes, I know, everyone will say, “It wasn’t your responsibility – don’t take it on yourself“. True. In a way.

But if I had made more noise and fuss, those people would probably be alive today. I landed up an inadvertent killer. We do this. We commit crimes against humanity through simple omission.

Even in the pursuit of good intention, things can fuck up. Here’s another issue that sets me smouldering. In Bethlehem, where I’ve spent a lot of time, the world’s Christian churches have been rescuing Palestinian Christians. I would not begrudge a Christian the right and need to move to USA, Sweden, Germany or Chile (their main destinations) and I completely understand their reasons for leaving. They want to get a life!

But this has consequences. Bethlehem is increasingly binary-polarised. A century ago it had three faiths and now it has two, Judaism and Islam, with a wall between them. This is fatal to basic peacebuilding. Bethlehem’s Muslims are lovely, hospitable people, and they don’t want the Christians to go either. The Muslims keep the Christmas Pilgrimage going, not only to swell Christians’ numbers and keep Bethlehem on the map, but also because Jesus is a prophet of Islam.

But in all their intended goodness in rescuing Christians, the churches are sabotaging Palestine and the multifaith, multi-ethnic nature of the Middle East. The Israelis exploit this as part of their longterm takeover strategy. Europeans and Americans aid and abet it, quietly supporting the Israelis partially out of WW2 guilt, partially to control the oil-soaked, geostrategic Middle East, partially to keep trouble and refugees at arm’s length, and partially to create a market for armaments.

I really think the Christian churches should look long and hard at their part in this. This said, I support and admire the brave and radical work of a small number of activist Christians – Italians, Irish, Basques and Greeks particularly – who go to Palestine to rebuild demolished houses, accompany women and children past aggressive settlers, minister to refugees, help on farms and run services for the needy.

This is not a blame game. It’s a serious collective issue that we all need to own up to and change. We avoid facing such moral dilemmas by ‘looking after number one’.

As it happens, I do reject most appeals for money support. It’s a fact of the game and the philanthropist’s nightmare – we have to say ‘No‘ 90% of the time. Why? Because money and energy are finite and everything always takes twice as much and twice as long as first reckoned. You can’t just scatter funding and support everywhichway. Aid is karmic and, to create positive outcomes, everything must be carefully engineered and monitored.

I learned this from Richard Branson in the early 1990s. I asked him for funding for the Hundredth Monkey Project. He wrote back, saying “Looks interesting. Do it. No time. Good luck“. Just like that. It said it all. And I did find a way forward, utilising an algorithm called going forward in faith.

But the main problem here is that giving, sharing and helping are done by insufficient people insufficiently. So it falls on those who have large dollops of the necessary empathic foolishness to carry the world’s load, sometimes at risk of criticism, jail, bullets or, at minimum, continual admonitions to ‘be sensible’.

The big paradox here is that the best way to pursue self-interest is to practice altruism. But for the energy to circulate, everyone must do it.

This is why we have extremes of wealth and poverty on our home planet. It’s societal, national and global, not just personal. It’s ‘one planet, different worlds’. In Britain, even benefits claimants are in the world’s wealthiest 30% (on GDP terms).

The power lies mainly with the affluent: a country like Britain needs to reduce its consumption by a whole 60% to achieve some sort of sustainability. But the drift of Covid events is suggesting that we relatively rich gits are likely to make this change more by necessity than by choice. Unwise, but that’s the way it goes here on Earth.

In the end, such a reduction of consumption will properly be achieved not by regulation and decree but by a psycho-emotional transformation across society. It’s a matter of the heart, and how to catalyse such a change has vexed progressives for centuries.

Reduction of the desperate need to consume. Reduction of the need to cushion our pain through avocados, ice creams and indifference. Discovery that a simpler life brings a smile to our faces and a dawning relief in our hearts. Revelation that things will work out okay.

To achieve this, we need to share. That’s what lies before us. The agenda concerns cooperation and sharing as a pragmatic response to evolving events.

Greetings and love from The Lookout.

Paldywan