When Abel took his brother’s life
He took away God’s gift
The breath that dwells
in you and me.
When Abel died,
His mother cried,
my son, he cannot breathe.
And people held their breath
and put flowers on his grave.
Flowers do not bring back a life.
So, people rallied on the streets.
A black man cried, I cannot breathe
And others shouted.
No more deaths
The Black Lives Matter rallies around the world are just the latest in mass protests against a cruel and unequal capitalist system. Over the years I have been involved in many rallies and protests so my friends have asked me, why am I not out on the streets now protesting? Here is why!
I began protesting in the 1960s in England against nuclear weapons. We won a Treaty to ban nuclear weapons. Now every war is fought with nuclear warheads. We are back to where we started.
The historical reality is this; battles are won and lost in a continuum of political struggles, which are not unlike the struggles before them. Nothing really changes! There have always been wars, conflicts and disagreements. The confrontations are based on a duality that pitches the strongest against the weak and as much as we protest, nothing is going to change these dynamics because, in reality; all we are doing is participating in the dynamics of for and against battles.
So, what must change before we can stop the violence?
A few years ago I wrote a biography called Mythology and Meaning in the Chinese Brush and Ink Drawings of Geraldine Wogan-Brown. Geraldine was the wife of Australia’s Naval Attache to the Philippines during the Vietnam War. She passed away in 2012. Her husband was responsible for sending ships into ports and soldiers into battle and for Geraldine this was her spiritual battle, because she was a pacifist. In order to deal with the contradictions of war and peace Geraldine learned Chinese brush and ink drawing from a highly renowned Chinese Master. The art of brush and ink drawing forms part of the meditational philosophy associated with Taoism.
Two philosophies dominated China, Confucianism and Taoism. The symbol of the Tao is the ying-yang circle, where the black side of the circle has a white dot and the white side has a black dot. Each side represents the meaning of the other, in other words, the symbol is one of unity. The symbol represents the passive and receptive aspects of human behaviour, this too is a metaphor for unity.
Taoism encompasses the belief that there is no separation between the material and the spirit world. In the west this is seen akin to a pessimistic philosophy like that of Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Albert Camus and Michel Foucault, and more recently John Grey and Peter Singer.
In philosophy pessimism sees the aspirations towards history and progress as being a major cause of human suffering. Pessimists argue that the fore-knowledge of our eventual fate causes us to live with terror that is present in every day and events. Taoism (and Buddhism) both accept the fate of death and both seek to detach from the terror though discipline and mediation.
Taoists believe that when a system is turbulent and disruptive, it is lacking in balanced Yin energy. This in turn causes unbalanced and unsustainable activities upon nature and its inhabitants. The solution is not to participate in the negative energy, but to step back. There are many ways of stepping back and Chinese brush and ink drawing is just one way of releasing the negative energy. In terms of protests, stepping back means not attending.
At the core of Taoism is the ethical philosophy of non-doing. We need to get out of, or transcend, the binary system of conflict, as in, the establishment versus the protesters. By protesting we are merely giving more energy to the system we hope to change. By non-doing we leave the disruptive system to disintegrate organically. However, it takes everyone, or at least a large percentage of people to step back for anything to change.
Nonetheless, Taoism teaches that we are all responsible for our own actions and non-doing and in order to maintain our own good Chi energy we need to consider non-doing for our own sake. It takes healthy people to create societal change and bad Chi energy is not considered healthy.
As a matter of interest, in the 1960s and beyond, Social Movement Theory has supported the view that almost all protesters have personal issues associated with their desire to protest and these issues are not always directly related to the protester’s cause. These issues may be conscious or unconscious, but the ultimate aim is one of a shared experience. Through protest personal issues can be expressed or repressed while the mind is turned towards the event at hand. Protest can have a transcendent effect.
Taoism is not a simple philosophy and it is a form of transcendence. It is nature based and contains elements of animism. It also delves into the intricacies of control versus sympathy and other forms of human behaviour that support non-action.
As I worked my way through Geraldine’s history and her drawings, I could see the benefits of transferring difficult situations (and their energies) into forms of occupational therapy and mediation. Creativity is the most effective form of healing.