Nearly sixty years ago I was privileged (I suppose I was…) to undertake so-called ‘National Service’. One of its many personal beneficial outcomes, absolutely no doubt unintended, was to have me choose to be a convert to life-long pacifism.
For twenty-four months I lived in the Sergeants’ Mess of 9TRRE Camp, Farnborough, Hampshire (now a housing estate) and worked with salt-of-the-earth fellows who were in the army either because their fathers had been so engaged before them or because they could imagine doing nothing else with their lives. They had presumably been conned into thinking that at some stage in the rosiness of the future they would, in some unspecified way, be made heroes, saviours of those twin abstractions ‘freedom’ & ‘democracy’ by which we’re all conned. Without quite realising what was happening to me I found myself in what now seems the very strange position of ‘Teacher’ or ‘Sergeant Instructor’ both to the professional NCO’s and to raw National Service recruits from whose ranks I had but lately risen to such a giddy height myself.
I took my task very seriously. Entering into dedicated soldiers’ minds in order to be able to pace their learning effectively, I began to understand what made them tick and eventually I came to some provisional conclusions about how the rest of us have been dished by the pervasive narrative that persuades us that the ‘Armed Forces’ and ‘defence’ are necessary aspects of human life, that the gigantic ‘investment’ in organised destruction is worth it
The nightmare called ‘Suez’ occurred while I was notionally ‘being a soldier’ and the attitude of the regular soldiers was that we should immediately be up for bashing ‘the wogs’ as they charmingly called the Egyptians.
But long before all this happened to me various images had impinged themselves on my consciousness that prepared me to question the whole basis on which the two years of National Service (how the words grind themselves out!) was predicated. The sound of ‘buzz bombs’ (primitive cruise missiles that were directed randomly over Britain in the last days of WW2 – 1944/45) and the sight of smoking ruins of buildings in London that had been bombed by Hitler the night before I travelled through them on the way to Waterloo Station came to be a normal and more or less acceptable part of my early life. Amazing now that, after a night of explosions and flashing lights, in the light of day everything seemed so ordinary.
By the age of 16, I was conditioned into thinking that the only pattern of existence was SCHOOL ➔WORK➔NATIONAL SERVICE➔WORK. I could have challenged this but I didn’t; I did not then have Revolutionary Intelligence (one of many additions I’d make to Howard Gardner’s seven or eight ‘Intelligences’) lacking which at that time I did not question the pattern – it was simply ‘the way things are’.
At the end of National Service (May 1958) I discarded my absurd army uniform and sent all the things I was supposed to hold on to in case of an emergency back to what one of my first civilian work colleagues called the ‘Whore Office’, with a note to say that I was no longer willing to be considered suitable material for cannon fodder. There was no reply. By that time the discrepancies of the last few months slowly began to dawn on me: the beautiful Sergeant Hawkins with his rasping voice and polished boots was just an ordinary chap; the ramshackle organisation I was attached to was something other than a ‘fighting force’; at least weekly opportunities to cycle out into the Hampshire countryside presented me with a stark contrast – boots on a barrack square against peaceful country lanes. While I wheeled my way through the countryside, over the hills & down to the sea, I spent time contemplating the notion that somewhere, while I was looking at poppies and sniffing new-cut grass, professional men were blowing one another apart like a kind of reciprocal fox-hunt. And this was the new pattern that took hold of me: ‘Man in Nature’ v ‘Unnatural Bellicose Man’; it was the contrast between a human-being all senses alive, in a state of ecstatic simplicity, and a robot-figure carrying out the army formula ‘Your Weapon is Given You to Kill the Enemy’.
But Sergeant Hawkins was not a robot and I couldn’t imagine him ever being likely to kill anybody – he was a sensitive & thoughtful human-being with a keen sense of humour. Knowing nothing about the subjects in the syllabus till the night before a lesson, I taught him Military History which enabled him to pass an exam to get promotion. Amongst other things, I became an expert on the Peninsula War! Discrepancies! Discrepancies!
The World is Never Ever Just As It Is
We invent the world to suit ourselves and then go to sleep; each one of us constructs an image of it according to the way our experience dictates and then we squabble and fight over what we imagine might be the right way. Is it just a matter of different relative belief systems, every one just as valid as the others? Is there anything to discriminate between different systems? Might there be a way of defining a thoroughly objective belief system, some existential certainty about a particular way of seeing? Or is the playground argument based on ‘my belief’s better than your belief’ the only one there is?
What about scrutinising differences between one belief and another by reference to motives & hidden agendas? It’s surely the motivation behind a set of beliefs that gives them their subjectivity; an objective belief would be free from personal presentation, based on pure human well-being.
So, for instance, the sole motivation of a Seeker after Truth is contained in the seeking itself. There is no intention to take over the world, no drift towards world-domination, or even leadership of a small group, no taking up arms, a lack of concern for profit at anybody else’s expense. You may follow the seeker’s journey or not – just as you choose. The Seeker passes through empires & kingships, wars & divinations, observing all and then moving on with a notebook full of scraps & jottings. On the other hand the Empire Builder tarries overlong, insistently accumulating fortunes, regarding the Seeker’s efforts with amusement, regarding the simple person’s squabbles with absolute psychopathic disdain.
So What Have We Got?
On the one hand, Man of Nature and, on the other, Unnatural Bellicose Man; or Seeker versus Empire Builder, movement & seasonal rhythm contrasted with stasis. Those who are fixed in their metaphors & categories can well afford to regard philosophers of process & fluidity as laughable, as having consigned themselves to cohabiting with crackpots.
Empire Builders observe their rivals arming themselves against attack and therefore require us to go along with a trillion dollar tax donations to ensure a ready supply of ever more sophisticated weaponry. They have persistent Requirements. Beware anybody who has Requirements – like Keats said in a slightly different context ‘…we distrust poetry that has a palpable design upon us…’ Empire builders require you to go along with their one and only way of constructing the world, with their unexamined conventional wisdoms.
Empire Builders live in gated estates and castles where they can store their riches while the Seeker is content with a simple roof against the elements and wonders about how to spend surplus pennies on furthering the endless quest.
In order to strengthen their position, Empire Builders contrive to focus our minds on supposed external threats so as to suggest that the enemy is some outside force – a whole string of them in historical sequence, the Yellow Peril, the Red Menace, Bin Laden, Al Qaeda, ISIS – when in fact the Enemy is right here, daily on the telly, wearing a smarmy face of deception and using honeyed tones. The Enemy Without is a very convenient fiction. It suits the Empire Builder for us ordinary folk to takes sides and squabble amongst ourselves: divide & rule is the principle weapon of those with Requirements.
They claw at our being; they invade our brain, to convert it to their way of unthink; they proselytise, they send out missionaries to pervert the truth by omission & distortion and
the public falls prey to the hate traps
politically set to divide it against itself
Behold a Proper President
Compare any empire builder you choose with President José ‘Pepe’ Mujica of Uruguay who says that ‘…as soon as politicians start climbing up the ladder, they suddenly become kings. I don’t know how it works, but what I do know is that republics came to the world to make sure that no one is more than anyone else… The pomp of office is like something left over from a feudal past: you need a palace, red carpet, a lot of yes-people behind you…’
He says, ‘Businesses just want to increase their profits; it’s up to the government to make sure they distribute enough of those profits so workers have the money to buy the goods they produce… If we lived within our means, by being prudent, the 7 billion people in the world could have everything they needed. Global politics should be moving in that direction. But we think as people and countries, not as a species…’
President Mujica gives 90% of his salary to charity and lives in a very ordinary domicile but denies that he’s ‘…the poorest president…’ On the contrary, ‘…the poorest is the one who needs a lot to live. My lifestyle is a consequence of my wounds. I’m the son of my history. There have been years when I would have been happy just to have a mattress…’
‘I have a way of life that I don’t change just because I am a president. I earn more than I need…’ The important thing is ‘…to live in accordance with how one thinks. Be yourself and don’t try to impose your criteria on the rest. I don’t expect others to live like me. I want to respect people’s freedom, but I defend my freedom. And that comes with the courage to say what you think, even if sometimes others don’t share those views…’
The important distinction which I have arrived at is between those who are constantly wondering what life is about, constantly seeking, and those who imagine that they know for sure what it’s all about, and must invent ways of bamboozling others into thinking their way without realising that they have themselves chosen to be bamboozled into what Beelzebub/Gurdjieff called sinkrpoosarams – ‘belief in any old twaddle’…
Of course, a Seeker after Truth is a human-being and cannot fail to be distressed at the unspeakable crimes committed against humanity by the Empire Builders and the Power Possessors. The Seeker after Truth is always in danger of appearing to be being diverted from the true quest from time to time by taking up sides.
It is of course a pendulum thing (qv) : on the one hand there’s disgust for the Blair and the Bush and the Thatcher and the Nettleyahoo, for instance – playing out the role of loathsome psychopaths, intolerable specimens to many observers of the human charade; on the other hand there’s the attitude of the seemingly saintly person, swooning for the beauty of the world, who says that such characters are but human-beings worthy of respect & trying to do the best they can for the world, mirrors of our own inadequate selves.
Put these two vantage points on a pendulum and discrepancies can be worked at:-
While it’s essential to continue to entertain the existence of discrepancies and contra-dictions, always acknowledging that identifying exclusively with either side of the pendulum swing is a distortion of the way things are, at the bottom of the pendulum swing emerges the idea of determining to use one’s personal energy to persist with seeking in spite of…
I will both write haiku and complain vociferously about the Power Possessors, energy intact.