Normal Democracy.

                                  Picture courtesy of Reform

With elections in Australia pending, I was prompted to think about what it means to live in a country espousing national self-determination. Taking the American Declaration of Independence (Australia’s nearest facsimile on Rights) as an example one reads, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. This Declaration assumes that all men (and today, all women) are rational human beings, thus they can create any form of government they wish, be it Communist, Fascist, Christian, Islamic, theocratic, whatever.  This doctrine has set out the principles of normal democracy and political freedoms, but not all governments share the same meaning of normal democracy.  Thomas Jefferson, for example, understood the Declaration as containing certain norms that also enabled governments without consent, to govern over ethnic groups in a manner that denied self-determination.  This brings to mind the view held by John Stuart Mill in his work On Liberty, Mill writes:

“Despotism is a legitimate form of government in dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement and the means justified by actually effecting that end”. [1]

Few people would agree with this today and it follows that for some governments the right to self-determination is not absolute. A case in point being Israel, a nation that has been accused of preventing self-determination to the Palestinians and hence invoking an ensuing struggle over who has rights to the territory known as the West Bank. Once again, some clarity is needed since there is a significant Arab vote in Israel that keeps the system in play. Why? Because most Jews and Arabs want peace.

The West Bank is the Biblical land of Judea and Samaria. When the First World War ended, thus ending the Turkish Empire, the allied powers signed an international treaty known as the Mandate for Palestine.  In the context of the League of Nations (now the United Nations) this Mandate was recorded as international Law.  This document formalised in the Balfour Declaration,  acknowledged the Jewish people as the rightful descendants of Palestine, which in turn, provided grounds for establishing a Jewish homeland (Jewish State).  Civil and religious rights in Palestine were still guaranteed to non-Jews, but at no time were Arabs, Christians or any other non-Jews recognised as having rights to any part of Palestine. The Mandate for Palestine remains valid in International Law today.

Following John Stuart Mill’s definition of normal democracy and the International Mandate,  Israel’s  government is fully within  its rights  to govern over all of Palestine and it might have done so following Israel’s victory in the Six Day War.  However, this was not the case, Israel chose contemporary normless democracy leading everyone to believe that the democratic principle should allow Palestine the right to independent statehood. The problem is the Arab states do not believe in democracy.

Israel faces a double bind that harks back to the words of the prophets.  Isaiah prophesies that in “the end of days”, Israel will be ruled by fools, by a government so deranged that it calls evil good and good evil (3-4, 5-20, 44-25).  Both the Mishna and Talmud concur with this view. The Middle East is wrought with the clash of civilisations and a scenario that is not new.  We have seen the massive destruction of ancient buildings and cultures across the Arab world, to what avail?  What if Jerusalem was to be once again levelled to the ground?

For devout Jews, the news is not all bad.  According to Rabbi Akiva, the destruction of Temple Mount will lead to Redemption, (the three most important components of Judaism are Creation, Revelation and Redemption).  However, we as global citizens should view this as a serious dilemma.   This struggle is much more than a squabble between brothers.  The destruction of people and places is part of a much bigger picture pertaining to what, we as humans are doing to the planet and its treasures.   War is the greatest form of pollution and the ultimate form of global destruction. Before any kind of self-determination comes unity. Without unity there is little hope of survival, be we Jews, Gentiles or Arabs,

[1] John Stuart Mill  On Liberty


Pointless Protest.

Since Israel won the Eurovision Song contest anti-Israeli sentiment has escalated and as usual people have jumped on the band wagon with little or no comprehension of what they are supporting or fighting against. As I have said in previous posts, the biggest misunderstanding relates to the notion that Israel’s orthodox Judaism and in particular Zionism, are part and parcel of a rigid theocracy and therefore it follows that religion is to blame for a perceived extremist government and its poor treatment of Palestinians. In addition to the threatened boycotts of the song contest. I have encountered the view that Jews are fascists, which given the horrors of the Holocaust is the most insensitive, cruel and unwarranted insult to the Jewish people and those who share their interests.
To be clear, Israel is not a theocracy, indeed, had it been inaugurated as a theocratic state, there might not have been the ensuing problems we see today. As the Jewish philosopher Rabi Isaac Breuer suggested, Israel’s order is secular Jewish nationalism, which does not include the high standards and principles contained in Judaism. Take note of Theodor Herzl’s vision of the Jewish States in the passage that follows:
“Shall we end by having a theocracy? No, indeed. Faith unites us, knowledge gives us freedom. We shall therefore prevent any theocratic tendencies coming to the fore on the part of our priesthood. We shall keep our priests in the confines of their temples in the same way as we shall keep our professional army within the confines of their barracks. Army and priesthood shall receive honours high as their functions deserve. But they must not interfere with the administration of the state, else they will conjure up difficulties without and within”.
Herzl recommended that the priesthood be excluded from participating in the administration. However, you cannot really have a Jewish State without the priesthood. Religion is crucial to Jewish people, it is not just a doctrine, it is identity, ethnicity, morality, health and welfare, as well as altruism and much more. The Jewish character is religious in respect of a particular view of the world that is historical and spiritual and often overrides common theology. Herzl bans the priests from the administration so they can no longer act as advisors or the conscience of the people in any way that will interfere with the established state and in doing so he has removed an integral component in what constitutes the Jewish tradition and its people. As the philosopher Paul Eidelberg states, “Eretz Israel assimilated Jews would inevitably establish a state whose governing institutions would be based on gentile rather than Jewish principles”. The result seems to me to be a divided and weakened Israel. However,  Israel is not alone in this problem, there has been a world wide spread of monoculture.
  As Eidelberg goes on to say, Israel’s mode of governing is fraught with western interests and influences, which may not be in Israel’s interests.
While I do not agree with all of Eidelberg’s views, some things make sense. Had the priests had their way the state of Israel would function according to the Torah and its rabbinical interpretations. This is not to say the Jews would not have had enemies, but take one example of the ensuing problem; acts of revenge or the eye for an eye principle. This idea drives nations to take revenge equal to that of an injury that has been caused. Hence, if someone takes your eye in battle, you take the eye of your enemy to make things equal. This would have been treated differently in a Judaic Midrash as in  Rashi’s Talmudic commentary, on the eye for an eye issue. Rashi suggests, the eye for an eye principle does not mean blinding one’s enemy in order to equal the damage caused, but rather it means paying restitution of another kind equivalent to the damage caused. For example, in labour, a bond or the forfeiture of material assets. Rashi advocates restitution, not revenge. This idea takes belief and ingenuity.
In the same sentiments as Eidelberg, one is left wondering if the ruling elites in Israel lack the ingenuity and faith that Jews have historically gained from the Torah and its interpretations, if so the notion of Jewish State is a misnomer as are the struggles surrounding it.
Consider the most well-known aspect of the Arab-Israeli struggle, the 1967 Six Day War between Israel and its neighbouring states of Egypt (the United Arab Republic). There was already bad blood between the Egyptians and the Israelis, which can be traced back to the 1956 nationalization of the Suez Crisis by Egypt, which saw Israel’s participation in the European invasion of Egypt and the Arab nationalist government of President Nasser. Access to the Suez was vital to a number of countries for trade and security, but none received the backlash that Israel encountered. With Israel’s help, Europe got what it wanted, a short cut for trade across the globe. What did Israel get? Israel got ten years of border clashes with its neighbours. One might ask, whose interests were being served? Was this a misguided attempt on Israel’s’part to assimilate?
In 1967 the hostilities escalated and Egypt created a blockade of Israel’s access to the Red Sea, which constituted an act of war. Israel was not the first to take up arms. In April 1967, Syria shot at an Israeli tractor ploughing in the demilitarized zone. Added to this, Russia fed false information to the Arabs that Israel was going to strike and the threat to Israeli borders increased. A short time later, Israel launched a strike, which gave rise to the Six Day War. The War was a surprising and massive win for Israel and it might have settled the grievances, but it did not.
Allow me to put these events into context. The United States of America, Europe and Russia were in the middle of a Cold War. Israel had revealed itself a force to be reckoned with so America had Israel poised as a strategic base in the event of a potential Third World War. Subsequently, Americans aided the future development of Israel. Thousands of American Jews (and others) were encouraged to send money and clothes to Israel to support the people, while Israel would be expected to support the American government. Israel unwittingly became a strategic military out base for the United States, a positioning that was likely anticipated when the Jews were given a homeland in the first place.
After the Six Day War victory America then closed the Suez Canal to Russian ships, which saw closer alliances between Russia and the Arabs. Israel had failed to take sovereignty over the lands it had defeated, (which would have revived Holy Land). Instead, Israel’s government left itself open to continuing warring factions rendering Israel and the Arabs both as villains in the eyes of the world.
It is not hard to see who wins in this scenario and it is not Israel, nor is it the Palestinians.
In 2000, the fertility among the country’s Arab population stood at 4.3 children per woman, while the fertility rate of Jewish women was 2.6. If this expansion in birth rates continues the Jews are going to be significantly outnumbered and their existence in their homeland significantly threatened.
Israel is the only homeland Jews have had in 2000 years. For the most part the good and caring people of the west show great sympathy for refugees and the homeless. This is not the case, and never has been for the Jews. Even after the horrors of the Holocaust, surviving Jews trying to seek refuge in Israel had their ships turned around by the British. How heartless can people be? Today, Israeli’s living near the border face constant aggression and rocket attacks. Clearly, the destruction of Israel in any way possible is on someone’s agenda. Seemingly then those who condemn Israel are either ignorant of the facts or they believe Israel has no right to a homeland. Israel may have fighting power, but it faces constant humiliation.
Arabs throw stones at the Jews across the border and this is interpreted as a lack of resources (weapons) therefore poor people must resort to what they can pick up from the ground in order to defend themselves. Historically, across the east people were stoned as a means of ultimate degradation and humiliation. It was the worst possible insult that could be bestowed on a human being, one much greater than death. The practice has Biblical Origins. (David struck Goliath the Philistine with a stone). The roots of the Israeli-Arab struggle go deep.  Isaac gained favour over Ishmael.  Many of the grievances have religious origins and I believe the resolutions are beyond governments. It is more likely that through the meeting of faiths that these struggles will find common ground.
Given the facts then, how will boycotting the Eurovision contest help either side in this struggle? I have a firm belief in the right to protest, but know what it is you are protesting about. In wars there are victims on all sides. In culture there is a different and more creative opportunity for reconciliation than that found in politics.

Social movements.

                                                Extinction Rebellion Rally.

The Social Movements: A Slippery Path to Change.

Putting something called Nature on a pedestal and admiring it from afar does for the environment what patriarchy does for the figure of Woman.  [1]


Historically, direct action and political radicalism have been perceived as the major characteristic in social change. The common mantra has been no gain without pain, but how much pain should be endured?  And, is there anything is to be gained by public protest?

I have been involved in social movements since the 1960s. Today, I am a reformed activist, in this paper I will outline the reasons why I think social movements fail to create long term change and why I believe them to be dangerous in the current mood of nationalism and entrenched conservatism.

Social Movement Theory 

Social movements are generally understood through social movement theory where conflict flows from a general or particular grievance into a collective of like- minded people or those with shared experiences.   It is crucial to understand the differences between the current levels of protest and previous social movements; the temper is different and there are different aims and objectives. However, historical movements have a great impetus on current political and social activism.

First, I will outline social movement theory.  Social movement theory is represented by the various schools: Functionalism, Behaviourism, Political Process, Interactionalism, Collective Theory, Conflict Theory, Resource Mobilization and the New Social Movements.   Historically, the two key factors at the core of social movement theory are liberation and constraint. There are also moral and material implications in political activism.   In order to bring about an end to social constraints and to create the landscape for liberation one needs to understand the workings of these two key factors, or to put it crudely, how the master/leader/manager constrains   the subject/worker/slave.  It is the latter who must struggle constantly for liberation.

Importantly, not all social movements are dissenting, many social movements are designed to promote and maintain the status quo and many social movements hide behind a façade of false images and prefer obscurantism.   In addition, some social movements might simply be recreational, and some will combine culture with acts for creating social and political change.

The new social movements have changed the dynamics from mass social campaigns to single issue protests and the most furtive of the current movements is the environment movement, which is focused mainly on the degradation of the planet and climate change, but we must go back in time and examine social movement theory to fully understand this post-modern movement.

Social movement theory is a vast topic that has generally followed the historical lines of a sociological and psychological understanding of society’s perceived social misfits. We can separate these movements into three main categories:

  1. Macro-structural explanations of social movements.
  2. Class, culture and conflict theory.
  3. New movements, aesthetic and anti-capitalism; and/or anti-globalization.

Social movement theory is also implicated in the social and political changes that take place within normal (or acceptable) society.  Recent examples of this are wars, elections, political and policy changes, increased rationalism, institutionalization and the purported ‘end of ideology’ or what Fukuyama [1992] called the ‘end of history’.[2]  Against these changes there are mass mobilizations taking place across the world including the new forms of fundamentalist terrorism and the events of the 99% Occupation of Wall Street, which spread to cities elsewhere, also, the Arab Spring and the latest British movement, Extinction Rebellion whose activists climb  on top of vehicles, block traffic, glue themselves to buildings and attempt to bring normal city  mobility  to a standstill.  Most of the social movements aim for non-violent protests, but many end up in violence.  Each of these groups fall under the heading of the new social movements otherwise known as single-issue groups.

I will focus first on the latest group Extinction Rebellion. The purpose of this group is to draw attention to climate change.  Extinction Rebellion has had a meteoric rise in Britain as well as having has influenced protests elsewhere.   It has brought chaos to the streets of London and large numbers of people have been arrested.   Their primary formula for action is to break the law and to continue breaking the law until the group’s demands are met. These demands are to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2025, halt biodiversity loss and be led by “citizens” assemblies on climate and ecological justice”.[3] The movement is now present in 49 countries, and attracted high-profile supporters from US intellectual Noam Chomsky and actress Emma Thompson to young Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg.

On its British website, the Extinction Rebellion claims to receive “small donations” from individuals and “larger sums” from organizations like the Berlin-based Guerilla Foundation, which donated 18,000 euros ($20,000) for its launch.[4]  The movement follows the model used by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., which was non-violent direct action. However, the definition of non-violent is open to question and certain levels of violence seem to be justified, for example self-harm.

Mahatma Gandhi led the Salt March in protest against the colonial government’s monopoly on salt production. The salt laws taxed the production of Indian salt so that the country had to import British salt.   Gandhi’s defiance of British colonial laws over the empire’s salt monopoly began in March 1930 and it sparked a wave of civil disobedience that contributed to ending the British empire. Gandhi and his supporters began a long, expanding protest march in order to produce salt and transport it without paying tax.  It did not stop the practice: the British suppressed the march, arresting tens of thousands of people and refused to make any concessions. The march was not supported by Muslims and it failed to effect any immediate changes. [5]

What did people gain from the salt march?  First, it was inspiring for those taking part, since many had never been organized before. Second, it announced to the world that the Indian masses were a serious force to be reckoned with.   The British authorities were forced to negotiate with the campaign leader. Third, it stimulated further waves of civil disobedience. However, what started as a peaceful protest turned into a massacre. The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre which took place on April 13, 1919 saw British troops fire on a large crowd of unarmed Indians in the Amritsar, Punjab region, killing several hundred people and wounding many more. It marked a turning point in India’s modern history, [6]  but the cost to human life was horrendous.

The Salt March had a tremendous influence on the thinking and strategy of other insurgents, such as Martin Luther King, whose peace-oriented rallies also ended in extreme violence when the Ku Klux Klan upped the anti against America’s black population. There were long term legislative gains, but black people in America are still persecuted and treated as second class citizens. Seemingly, it is far easier to change laws than it is to change peoples’ attitudes.

The social movement literature reflects the various changes in groups and movements, but it is not without serious questions and controversies.  A number of theorists analysed the merging of multiple issues into single groups and some  have complained that blurring the boundaries of social movements is a way of indiscriminately ‘extending the meaning of concepts’, that is, offering only socio-historical contexts rather than focusing on the activities of the movements. [7]  Other writers insist that movements should be analysed in relation to culture and the inherent power relations.[8]   One thing is clear, most people join dissident social movements because they feel they are victims of social injustice not because they are altruists.  Many people join groups through feelings of disenchantment, but may have no concept of what is required for social change, they rely on leaders who often do not have a clear plan for the future because their focus is on becoming a leader.  Indeed historically, many leaders have been shown to be self-absorbed and narcissistic.  In times of difficulty people seek out empathy and like-mindedness, but neither are concrete formulas for appropriate social change.

The early studies into social movements follow Aristotle’s warning against the tyranny of mob rule.  Hobbes used this idea to suggest that ‘society is a war of group against group’ [9]  This has led to the view that social movements are generally pathological and contagious.  For over a century social movement research has been focused on investigating incidents of behavioural contagion because it so often leads to unpleasant consequences.  Contagion appears to occur at all levels of society, but it is believed to be more problematic within the political or dissident groups. [10] This should come as no surprise, but such a discovery is not neutral, the study of dissident behaviour coincided with the need to protect the Enlightenment’s bourgeoning capitalist system and the rising middle class.

Gustav Le Bon [1841-1931] took up the idea of behavioural contagion in two major studies, the ‘law of the mental unity of crowds’ and ‘the operation of the unconscious instinctual forces’. Le Bon based his ideas on the discoveries of physiological psychology.  He believed that conscious acts are the outcome of an unconscious sub-stratum and largely due to hereditary factors, he also suggested that the individual characteristics were absent in the group. [11] Later Wilfred Trotter created a law of ‘gregariousness’ in the Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War. [12]

Sigmund Freud was influenced by the work of Le Bon and used his investigations of ego-psychology to hypothesize the ‘super-ego’ and its roots in the individual’s object relations. The theme of this work is the ‘irremediable antagonism between the demands of instinct and the restrictions of civilization’.[13]  Freud believed that if we were not bound by convention the world would simply fall into barbarism and chaos.  He also saw convention as a process of evolution and a natural transitioning. [14]  Following Freud’s investigations, we know that change is never free of anxieties, which does not make social activism a stable ground for long term change.

Freud followed Le Bon’s ideas and further developed the notion of a group mind.  Freud argued that when the individual becomes a part of the group dynamics s/he is less aware of her or his behaviour.   Freud elaborated on this idea to suggest that ‘in a group the individual is brought under conditions, which would allow her or him to throw off the repression[s] of the unconscious, instinctual impulses. [15]  Freud’s work differs from that of Le Bon’s in that Le Bon’s unconscious was premised on the deeply buried features of the racial mind; also, the notion of the repressed is not present in Le Bon.

Le Bon and Freud have had a profound effect on the study of groups and social movements, particularly in the attempted understanding of disaffection and dissidence. This has led to the tendency to reduce individual/group problems to some kind of personality defect, which, in the case of psychoanalysis is said to be brought about by ‘maternal deprivation’ (this view has been discredited in recent years).   It is an idea that was widely accepted in the 19th and 20th centuries and became the core factor in the processes of a ‘scientific education’. [16]  Freudian theories underscored a variety of tests said to measure ‘order’ and ‘control’ in the population. [17]  Post-Freudian theories are still used today in the ‘talking cure’ otherwise psychoanalytic therapies; as well as dynamic and narrative therapies. Modern narrative therapies have also been transformed into the cognitive behavioural therapies, mindfulness, linguistic programming and a host of other related methodologies for alleviating anxiety and disaffection (as well as more serious mental and behavioural conditions); all encumber the notion of changing the individual’s behaviour.  Ironically, this knowledge has also been used by the social movements, namely the Transition Towns Movement, whose focus has been grounded in changing social behaviour.[18]   Notably, the Transitions Towns Movement withdrew from all forms of political protest and focused of small pockets of social and behavioural change.

Controls and Constraints.

In the 1950s social movement theories developed as an outgrowth of Le Bon’s and Freud’s collective behaviour theories with the distinct aim at controlling hostile crowds.  They rested on the idea that when traditional order breaks down the shared experience manifests a shared excitement or anxiety and this leads to elementary forms of collective behaviour, these in turn, evolve into integrated structures and newly established norms; reforms or revolutions.

The idea that groups are formed around human anxieties still stands. Every transitioning comes from an internal narrative that aims to placate some form of   anxiety, as already mentioned the current fear is climate change, perceived as a coming apocalypse.

Some social movements have been viewed as the adaptive responses to societies already in transition. [19]  This can be said of the current environment movement, which has transitioned to become embedded into a general green economy.  This process usually develops around an individual social identity, which later becomes, in the context of the group, a collective identity (or as Freud might have put it, the introjection of the leader’s ego into that of the group).   In other words, social movements evolve out of the structural, cultural and social cleavages within society and while structure and culture do not overtly impinge on politics societal cleavages usually become politicized and become political cleavages. [20]      

In William Kornhauser’s [1959] work titled The Politics of Mass Society, the social conditions necessary for a democracy are explored by identifying those elements that create the opposite; that is large scale protest and totalitarianism.   Kornhauser made the distinction between the democratic movement and the mass movements, perceiving the latter to be considerably more dangerous to society.    Kornhauser suggested that mass movements mobilize people who are alienated from the mainstream system and who do not believe in the validity of the established order.[21]

For Kornhauser the working class had the weakest ties to the social order because they received the smallest benefits.    Kornhauser believed ‘the rise of the industrial order… held out a promise to the working class of full participation in society’ but this failed.   As a consequence of ‘the gap between the promise and fulfilment, members of the working-class flock to mass movements in greater proportions than do members of other social classes’.[22]

After analysing the conditions that favour mass movements Kornhauser moved to what it might take to maintain a liberal democracy.   He noted there are two camps. The aristocratic view stresses the independence of the elite. The democratic view stresses the independence of non-elites and is based on the premise that constitution of liberty above all requires safeguards against the accumulation of power by any one group, especially the elite.  The two groups are not incompatible for Kornhauser; in fact, he believed each was strengthened when it was combined with the other.     Kornhauser suggested that ‘civil liberty’ required considerable social autonomy of both the elite and non-elite and he believed liberal democracy was strongest in those societies possessing the highest per capita output of industrial energy and personal income.[23] This liberal view of the social movement is the foundation of most political action today. To this end, there is no longer the desire to eliminate the elites, rather to become equal to them.  Today’s buzzword is “equality”.

The question of dialectics.   

We live in a world of duality, which is self-perpetuating, to use a Hegelian term we live with the Master-slave relation.[24] The worker needs the boss and the boss needs the worker.  The circumstances of this can only be changed at a micro-level.  The mass movement will always leave some disenchanted folks behind who form the seeds of another mass movement. Society then falls into a culture of protest or revolution, not a culture of reform.

The research shows that demonstrations that are passive and attract over 5% of the population are likely to succeed in creating small, (but not necessarily permanent gains). This means the opposing forces must up-the-anti, whereby peaceful protests usually do not remain peaceful for long, they escalate.  Under 5% and movements fail so there is a constant demand to boost the protester numbers, which can get in the way of actually perfecting change at any level at all.[25]  The fact is this, the protest groups must corporatize and assimilate into the capitalist system in order to fight the capitalism system, they become in and against the state.  This methodology did lead to a number of reforms in the 1970s and 1980s, but the reforms were soon cut back or curtailed.

      The other reality is this, change, however it is brought into effect, often only lasts for one generation. The changes that have lasted, such as the vote for women, were brought about out of a need for bigger social changes, such as the use of women in the workforce to build the national economies.

In the 1960s the social movements reached their peak.  They had been highly influential in promulgating left wing politics and posed a significant risk to conservative elites.  Neil Smelser [1962] attempted to build on Kornhauser’s views to further understand the processes of how the social movements offset human anxieties. He identified a six-point system of conditions necessary for the development of social movements:

  • General structural conduciveness – organization of society can facilitate the emergence of conflicting interests.
  • Structural strain – conduciveness of social structure of potential conflict – gives way to a perception that conflicting interests do in fact exist.
  • Growth of a generalized belief system – ideology, a shared view of reality that redefines social action and serves to guide behaviour.
  • Precipitating events – triggering events found outside or within social structure.
  • Mobilization of participants.
  • Operation of social control, response of others in society, e.g. counter movement or government authorities. [26]

Smelser believed that not all social movements were the same, they differed in the economic status of members and in some cases in member values, which sometimes makes it hard to reach a consensus and produced a greater likelihood of anarchy and chaos.     

The Collective Behaviour Approach.

The collective behaviour approach to understanding social movements is embedded in the sociological traditions and represents the works of the Chicago School between 1920 and the 1940s in the writings of George Gissing, Robert Park, Ernest Burgess, Louis Wirth and others. They studied the urban conditions and mass disenchantment. Gissing was greatly influenced by his personal experiences of extreme poverty and domestic difficulties in London and Chicago in the 1870s. [27]

One concept used for social analysis was that of ecology.  Ecology is the term, which describes the symbiotic relationships of living organisms and their adaptation of living things to their environment. Nature has feed-back loops where the conditions of one event can impact on another. We also see this manifest in human behaviour.

The Chicago School formulated the idea that urbanization did not spring up at random, but as a consequence of changing environments and displacements.  What takes place afterwards is orchestrated on a kind of natural selection basis or the competition experienced between groups. Ralph Turner and Lewis Killian elaborated on this idea. They showed how the breakdown of traditional patterns of social ordering could create elementary forms of collective behaviour that led to social movements.

Talcott Parsons and Chalmers Johnson also took to the ecology view and thought societies were self-regulating systems that worked in much the same way as the human physiology. This enforced the idea that any breakdown was pathological.  Hence, Johnson’s ‘disequilibrium’ was the condition required for all revolutions.[28]

These structural functionalist responses were rooted in ideas of the ‘rational’, which was in opposition to the ‘irrational’.   Political action then, only took place amongst people who were perceived irrational.  It is a view still maintained by conservatives today, and of course rarely do conservatives see themselves as irrational. From a conservative point of view, if the individual is unhappy, unsuccessful or disenchanted there is something wrong with the individual, not the system. The very action of mass protest dances to this tune, which sees protesters responding to triggering factors.

Neil Smelser noted how ‘the anxieties and strains within society are addressed by charismatic leaders’, which may or may not lead to the mobilization of social movements depending on the appropriate ‘triggering factors’. [29]

In the 1960s Frank Parkin researched Middle Class Radicalism and the Social Basis of the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament [1968] and revealed the following insights:

CND is not to be understood wholly as an expression of protest against the Bomb, but as a somewhat complex affair… Much of the movement’s attraction derived from the fact that it also served as a rallying point for groups of individuals opposed to certain features of British society which were independent of the Bomb…Organisations which swelled the ranks of CND such as pacifists, the New Left and communists and anarchists, the Quakers, the Labour Left and so on, were generally less committed to unilateralism as such than to an array of quite distinct aims that were thought to be furthered by support for the campaign. [30]

Parkin goes on to say that alienation is the key characteristic of individuals recruited into the mass social movements, as well as the motivating force beyond the attraction to extremist politics (he cited the communist and Nazi movements as examples).  Whatever differentiates the supporters, they appeared to share a social estrangement from society.  (Parkin argued this was not the case for the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) which was led by members of the establishment).

Parkin noted that generally, the involvement in social movements provided a sense of purpose to life by creating a feeling that one was helping to change the course of history. He believed there were two distinct categories driving the participation in social movements, one was material need and the other was moral gratification, the first is inherent in the working class movement and the second in middle class radicalism.  Parkin believed that 83 percent of the 1960s CND supporters came from the professional and white-collar workers. [31] In this particular campaign, the focus on social cohesiveness was just as important as nuclear disarmament and more to the point, nuclear disarmament did not argue the case against conventional wars.

Doubtless the new social movements were aiming at mass democratization, but this was to favour the middle class. Hence, middle-class radicalism would not eliminate the poverty and hardships.  Rather, it would act as a buffer against the angry working class.


The trend has been to directly link the mass social movement to the analysis of totalitarianism.  First accounts were related to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics [USSR], also Maoist China and Nazi Germany. Hannah Arendt [1966] is perhaps one of the best-known commentators on the Nazi driven Holocaust.  In Arendt’s view the mobilizations of the 1920s to 1940s were a social pathology brought about by the breakdown of the status quo (the middle class).    This includes the destruction of the nation state, the collapse of class identities and racial/national identification as well as a socio-economic crisis.  To put it another way, mass politics occurs when people engage outside the normal political procedures that govern change.  People form identities in poverty, oppression, wealth and hardship.  Loss of identity causes panic and it serves to pushes people into groups in order to re-establish their sense of being.  There are a number of difficulties with this view, mostly because it contains its own authoritarian prescription aimed at maintaining the status quo and it invokes an identity politics.    Importantly, sociology assumes a grounded rationality in the status quo, which in today’s environment makes up the political spheres and the bureaucracies that social movements are challenging, while at the same time social movements are engaging in the bureaucracies.  Let it be clear, any protest against capitalism requires that one engages in capitalism.  This is part of the internal logic of capitalism and its totalizing structures.

Given the history of authoritarianism and violence one might contend that bureaucracy constitutes the strongest threat to social pluralism and liberal democracy, especially in highly industrialised countries. Notwithstanding, social movements create their own bureaucracies, which can be totalizing and they cannot avoid violence, which becomes predicated on the momentum of the groups and the perceived threat to opposing forces.

Totalitarianism is said to violate the boundaries between public and private spheres by politicizing all areas of daily life in the community including those which, according to liberalism, are regulated to the private sphere and regarded as the domain of individual freedom of choice.

Totalitarian regimes are both rational and irrational.  They are irrational in the sense that they appeal to quasi-religious sentiments to gather mass support for policies.   Regimes are also irrational because they act contrary to the interests of the individual as well as to the supposedly ‘rational’ community.  They are deeply rational in the sense that they are scientific. The community appears scientifically rational because on the one hand it appears natural and inevitable, and on the other because it gains authenticity through the authority of science.

The historian Hannah Arendt has suggested that totalitarianism is the consequence of ‘a loss of world’ brought about by the desire for emancipation.  This view is deeply implicated in the Enlightenment’s liberalism, which in turn creates a secularization of the life-world.   David Halberstam [1999] is an interpreter of Arendt and contends the ‘loss of world’ leaves human beings without a meaningful view, and therefore without an identity or place to belong. This is referred to as the politics of place. This is vivid in the social movements and like all forms of relativity it actually makes social movements authoritarian and potentially very dangerous.  The biggest danger comes in the challenge to the Rule of Law.

Halberstam strongly reiterates the view that totalitarian movements are a reaction to the loss of world and they seek to restore the meaning to the world artificially. In this sense, reality is distanced (transcended).

In social movements people reinvent meaning by providing new realities through sharing experiences, they construct a shared consciousness in support of the new social forms and transitioning. [32]  We like to assume that social movements and communities are homogenous, but they are not.  The tremendous moral failure of totalitarian movements gives expression to a lot of ambiguities in the social movements per se. We are faced with a double articulation.  On the one hand the modern loss of world threatens to provoke a response on the part of the oppressed and alienated often leading to paternalism.  On the other hand, meaning cannot be restored without reneging on the modern commitment to freedom of the individual and self-determination. [33] This is a double bind because the more rights people demand the more authoritarian the state must become in order to police them. Rights and demands then become the constraints of the future not the freedoms that were originally sought.

For a person to feel free there must be a meaningful relationship with the world as it appears in everyday experience.  Therefore, any politics of freedom cannot be reduced to economic or political factors, nor can it be reduced to a notion of simply being part of a localized community or group or a mass demonstration.   There is no freedom to be had in mass protest, one is bound to the implications and expectations of leaders and group rule.

Halberstam furthers his argument by suggesting that historical concrete community and its practices are understood as continuing the identity of the particular human subject, from which the individual cannot escape without a loss of world; this places the world as the trajectory of a mass human consciousness, not the world as an independent sphere upon which we humans must depend.  There are obvious dangers in this form of anthropocentricism.

When the cosmos (or order) in which things and persons have their proper place is a given, or it becomes a guiding force in the life of the particular historical community, the society lends itself to a transcendence or mass human consciousness discourse and this in turn leads to the possibility of nihilism.  The original notion for this stems from Schiller’s On the Aesthetic Education of Man.

The turn towards the aesthetic approach is a critique of the rational, Enlightenment formula and aims to replace it with a politics that focuses on the experience of the senses. Halberstam argues that aesthetic approaches to decisions can work where reason fails, but the senses are far more closely associated with the emotions, which must be harnessed appropriately.

What Halberstam posits can also be traced to the eighteenth-century Romantic Movement that opposed the modern Enlightenment project. This rightfully puts environmentalism into a position of challenge with respect to the modern Enlightenment, which created both socialism, capitalism and the social movements and which makes the mass protest movements an oxymoron.    Halberstam’s ideas side-stepped questions of identity politics, but Halberstam does raise some pertinent questions in relation to nature and change:

What is the nature of social and political reality?

How is it related to our conception of the world as an intelligible order and our conception of our place as human beings within it?

                           What kind of social and political order promotes human flourishing?

What is the relation between identity of the individual and his/her social situation?

How does this relationship figure in justifying in a given political ordering of society?   [34]

Halberstam has drawn on Karl Popper’s and Hannah Arendt’s turn towards Kant’s model of reflective aesthetic judgement that seeks to preserve a more moderate humane version of the Enlightenment ethos, but it also leaves the task to a civil society, which historically has failed to bring about anything but disparity and disenchantment to the masses.

The New Social Movements.

The new social movements emerged from the New Left, which has spanned eco-fascism to the new market environmentalism and where politics can appear to be an organized and harmonious business that blends social justice, greening and social activism. Historically, the social movements have contributed to a general decentring of mainstream polity, the Labour movement, the womens’ movement, the black power movement and gay rights are good examples of the challenges to institutionalism and unformed polity. These movements raised the visibility of disenfranchised groups, but the most obvious asset of these movements has been the caring factors that have led to personal growth. In terms of changing the political landscape they have failed miserably. Black people are still discriminated against, women are still abused and murdered, gay and lesbian people are still misunderstood and condemned by a large sector of the global population.  Why do groups fail?  In the womens’ movement for example, the personal was the political and the movement had a very grass roots basis, but it was largely middle class and it failed to encompass many of the women who needed it most.  The environment movement brought with it a different dynamic and a slightly different meta-narrative. It also brought tensions between the lay person and the environmental scientist. The Environment crises saw the need for scientists representing all sides of the debate to be pragmatic, so in polity it was pragmatism that prevailed.  This in turn created a cultural and political fragmentation that had not occurred in the previous social movements and it has become difficult to resolve.   

Radical political activism of the 1950s and 1960s was a revolutionary force with two targets, the ‘moral and the material’.  Its protagonists  called for peace and rational thinking , but this was mixed with irrational violence and cries of ‘burn the system down’. [35] Of paramount importance was the right to protest, this in turn led to the collective and the feeling of solidarity. What transpired was more than simply a series of angry protests, large numbers of people expressed previously stifled emotions and groups fulfilled a range of social needs.  Seemingly, for a brief moment in history the lid was lifted on the oppressed workers of the nineteenth and twentieth century industrialization, they were reborn into an understanding of the capitalist relations that exploited them and they found a voice of dissent. The awareness and activism was predicated on the dialects of orthodox Marxism and an overwhelming faith in revolution as a panacea for all the world’s social problems, it was messianic in character and a delusion.

The 1960s solidarity was akin that of the early Christians apostles whose chosen vocation was to save the world’s sinners from Jews, Muslims and pagans and install a new Christian God. The point of reference for the copy-cat socialist and/or communist improvements were those nations who had already stood their ground against the western imperialist domination; Russia, Cuba, China and the countries of the Eastern European block.   A significant portion of the world had stood hard against the foundations of capitalism and this was destined to spark paranoia in capitalist countries, especially the United States and minor governments like Australia who quickly invoked anti-communist campaigns of extreme repression and the erosion of basic civil liberties.  The anti-communist fever also gave impetus to the wars in Korea and Vietnam. The fear of socialism and communism experienced by the capitalists was equal of Biblical proportions.  This was not a new phenomenon. Karl Marx had his own messianic view, he predicted that the domination of nature by science would enable individuals to develop a totality of capabilities within their work that would be realized through the richness of the individual. Marx believed there would be a general reduction of labour within society and workers would be free to seek satisfaction outside work.  The predictions of Marx were calculated as a failure of modernism and the death of nature, which in turn was viewed as a discursive construct of historical and philosophical meanings that were blamed for bringing humanity to the point of near disaster.[36]  We have been near to disaster many times, but humanity continues on the path of mass destruction, which protest and revolution will not resolve.      

Bahro and Gorz revisited Marx from the economic perspective and Deleuze and Guattari linked capitalism to schizophrenia. [37]  The New Left was designed to rejuvenate the moribund Left by reviving the idealist, humanist, cultural and critical elements of socialism with policies that focused on decentralization and self-management. [38]

The cultural turn.   

In the 1970s, when Ronald Barthes offered an analysis of everyday language,  it inspired  Baudrillard to look for the gravitational centre of the political economy as an extension of culture and the focus of exchange value of the commodity rather than the exchange value of the labour.    Here historical materialism theory was no longer of use for understanding political structures. Scholars had to turn to post-structuralism.  Structuralists separated the terms of language into three components, the signified, the referent and the object to which the signifier directs the message to be conveyed. Baudrillard noted the abstraction between the signifier and the subject (the signified) and from the social world of objects.  He argued that the essence of the political economy operates in the same way, that is to say, there is precisely the same separation manifest in the increasing autonomy in the signifier, not simply in the realms of language, but also in all aspects of social change.  To this end, everything becomes an abstraction because the original signifier is lost.  Hence, we live in a world of lost reality.

In the political economy the signified and the referent become obsolete to the sole benefit of the signifiers. With no point of reference back to the subjective of the objective reality it is motivated by its own form of logic. Hence, the signifier becomes its own referent and the use of value of the sign disappears to the value of the profit only of its commutation and exchange value [39]

      The mode of production has given way to the mode of commodification while the sign no longer designates anything at all, it is superfluous to the entire process. The disappearance of the material substratum means products become more and more abstract. They are engulfed in what H. M. Enzensberger calls The Mind Industry that sells moods, ideas and representations. What is on sale is not so much a product, but an existing order, which is impossible to dissect. [40]

Rejection of Marxism.

The rejection of Marxism was most strongly influenced by the works of Michel Foucault and themes of power and domination.  Foucault (1980) defines his studies of genealogies of discourse. ‘attempts to grasp in its power of affirmation…the power of constitution domains and objects.  [41] Foucault examines the ‘reason’ that gives shape to the discourse and practice in which the reciprocal interplay of reason and action is presumed, reason which Foucault insists is always present in history.  Whereas Marx maintained that reason is determined by class history, Foucault suggested that the dialectic of reason moves through history by way of a class struggle, it excludes the present perspective and is therefore a privileged agent of history. [42]

By the 1980s and into the 1990s there was a distinct shift weakening the labour movements that saw the strengthening of the New Social Movements.  The prototypical social movement had appeared in 1960 with the American Civil Rights Movement, then came Second Wave feminism and the movement against the Vietnam War.  By the 1970s there was the gay movement built on the 1969 Stonewall demonstrations, then came the green movement that also included the   ethnic rights.   Each group was organized around the social category of the other, rather than by class.  Implicit in these movements was the new idea of individualism, posited as post-modernity.

The new individualism was rejected by radical feminists because it failed to identify male domination as womens’ main adversary. Radical feminism became completely opposed to postmodernism and claimed it concealed the issues of rape, incest and domestic violence. [43] Black feminists also claimed that individualism was a continuation of white middle-class patriarchy.[44]  There was an exception called French feminism, which followed Derrida’s deconstruction and Lacan’s symbolic order, both of which, in light of post-colonialism, became useful tools for decoding the metaphysics of global social movements.   It was anticipated that the class and racial conflicts could be overcome by liberation from colonialism and a consumer cornucopia, but that failed because consumerism undermined itself with over consumption.      

Changing Social Categories.

The New Social Movements have been crucial for valorizing the changing social categories. What has occurred is the disbursement of more highly educated people across the social movements, especially in the green movement and this has created a new category of protester who makes nature the object of human gaze.        The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu has intimated that such groups function as part of the rate of exchange between economic and cultural capital within the dominant class.[45] Featherstone notes, as Baudrillard does, that the semiological development of commodity logic entails some idealist deflection to Marx’s theory of class by way of a ‘material’ emphasis to a ‘cultural’ emphasis.[46]  Fredric Jameson also argues that this is the reification of Utopia via a mass culture, which implies a strong metaphysics at work in the internal logic of capitalism. [47]

The theory of reification in Jameson’s view is an overlay to Max Weber’s rationalism, which describes the way in which, ‘under capitalism, the older traditional forms of activity are instrumentally recognized and analytically fragmented and reconstructed according to various models of efficiency, and essentially reconstructed along lines of differentiation between means and ends’.[48]  Jameson stated ‘this is a paradoxical idea that cannot be properly appreciated until it is understood to what degree means/ends split effectively brackets or suspends themselves – hence the term instrumentalization’.[49]

The significance of changes also lay in the way they are perceived. Perceptions are dependent of substrates.  The decentring of identity means domination through the sign.[50] This in turn sees identity contingent on material goods such as fashion and lifestyle, both significantly postmodern.  It only serves as a reminder that postmodernism is an extension of modernism not a replacement for it.

The same contradictions are rife in the green movement whereby desire is juxtaposed to the culture and the economics that are still contingent upon capitalist consumerism and the use of natural resources. As Ben Agger states

What is revealed is the heightening of a consumer culture. What is hidden is the continuum of the old version, the formulation of Mill, Lock, Coolidge and Frederick Taylor and their assertive anthropocentricism, fully inclusive of the western rationale. The only difference is the degree of affluence within capitalism.[51]

Liberalism has always argued for the disappearance of class, the argument is generally conveyed in the form of an ‘empirical observation’, but it can take other forms, for example a unique way of life, as in western culture.  As Jameson has argued, on closer inspection today’s demands are distinctly class based and subversive and all rights and social movements are inherent in the Enlightenment, which means nothing changes because the problems rests within the Enlightenment.

By implication the environment movement (or any other political movement for that matter), has not broken with its historical roots, which are inherent in liberalism and socialism.   Protest operates fully within the liberal capitalist principles. In Marxist terms any collective would simply be called a neo-bourgeois social group.  In other words, the New Social Movements are always already inscribed within the ideology of capitalism itself and are part of the internal logic of any perceived transition.  This is the constructivist model, which is predicated on the existing system, but which uses ways of redirecting it though a new kind of technical politics.  The key theoretical formation comes from Foucault’s critique of the social limits of rationality, where he suggested that ‘the imposition of a rational order gives rise to particular local standpoints from which the dominated perceive aspects of reality observed from a universalizing standpoint of hegemonic sciences’. These subjugated knowledges are said to offer the basis for progressive change.’ [52]

Where the Left has had influence in issues of race, gender and the environment, identifying them as ‘other’, today’s apolitical movements are dispersed across traditional boundaries of the political, social and the personal. Against the realities of capitalist growth and western materialist reforms, the political structures will make small interventions that modify the structure without directly confronting the state or the forces that drive capitalism.  This approach is what has been called ‘micropolitics’. To this end, technologies produce technical landscapes challenged by clients and consumers asserting their perceived consumer rights.  [53]


The social movements are significant in history, they teach us much about culture and human psychology and they serve many needs of humans. However, they have achieved very little in terms of improving the lives of the poorest of the poor.  Further, the changes are not guaranteed to last in the long term.

Humanity faces the same problems today as it has faced many times before in antiquity and beyond, there are just more of us and life is faster and perhaps a little more sophisticated.

Protest across the world is becoming more violent and far riskier in terms maintaining peace and social harmony. The likelihood of a collapse into civil wars is more prevalent.  In the west we tend to discard serious civil uprisings as a possibility. We put faith in our systems, especially in our law and order. However, law and order are breaking down.

In this work I have tried to outline the history of social movements in order to reveal their divisions as well as their attempts at unity and to show that modern movements are grounded in history while the modern landscape is changing.

Change does not require mass movements, it requires awareness, education and a commitment from each individual who wants to live in a better world.

I withdrew from protest in 2011, because I felt I could achieve more by helping individuals the cope with the changes that were happening, rather than trying to fight them.

[1] Timothy Morton (2009) Ecology Without Nature. New York, Harvard University Press.

[2] Francis Fukuyama [1992] The End of History and the Last Man NY. The Free Press. 

[3] The Guardian  Retrieved 1st May 2019.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Jallianwala Bagh Massacre | Causes, History, Death Toll … 2nd Mar, 2019.

   [7] Pakulski J [1991] Social Movements: The Politics of Moral Protest. Australia,  Longman Cheshire, pp iv. Melucci A [1983] Nomads of the Present London, Hutchinson p6 and 1989.   Sartori G (1970) Concept misformation in comparative politics in the American Political Science Review vol. LXI4 4 December, pp1033-53.

[8] P, Bourdieu (1998b) Acts of Resistance Cambridge, Polity Press.

[9] Ibid

[10] Tarde G [1903] in Nye R.A. [1974] The Origins of Crowd Psychology. London and Thousand Oaks Sage.

[10] Freud S [1916] Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis Harmondsworth, Penguin, pp182-325.

[11] Le Bon [1895, 1903] The Crowd. NY Viking Press.

[12]  Trotter W. [1916-1919] Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War Oxford, Oxford University Press.

[13] Freud S. [1916] Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, Harmondsworth, Penguin, pp182-325.

[14]  Ibid

[15] Ibid.

[16] Karier C.J. [1976] Testing for order and control in the corporal liberal state in Schooling and Capitalism: A Sociological Reader. Dale R, Esland G MacDonald M [Eds]. Milton Keynes, Open University p23.

[17] Freud S [1916] Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis Harmondsworth, Penguin, pp182-325.

[18] Hopkins R. Transition Towns. (1994) UK Green Press.

[19] [19] Kriesi H, Koopmans R, Dyvendak J.W.G. [1995] New Social Movements in Western Europe –A comparative Analysis, Social Movements, Protests and Contention Vol 5. Minnesota, University of Minnesota Press p3.

[20]  Ibid.

[21] Kornhauser W. [1959] The Politics of Mass Society. The Free Press NY, Collier McMillan Ltd., pp212-227.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Hegel G.W. [1977] Phenomenology of spirit. Oxford, Oxford University Press, p59.

[25] Peaceful protest is much more effective than violence for toppling dictators By Max Fisher November 5, 2013.…Retrieved 1st May 2019.

 [26] Smelser N. [1962] Theory of Collective Behaviour London, Routledge and Kegan Paul,   pp 8-22, 313.

[27] Giddens A. [1989] Sociology, Cambridge, Polity Press p153.

[28] Ibid

[29] Smelser N. [1962] Theory of Collective Behaviour London Routledge and Kegan Paul p 364.

[30] Frank Parkin [1968] Middle Class Radicalism. Manchester, Manchester University Press.  p5.

[31] Ibid p15

[32]  Halberstam M. [1999] Totalitarianism and the Modern Concept of Politics, New Haven, NY Yale University Press.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid

[35] Saul Alinksky [1972] Rules for Radicals. NY Vintage p xiii

[36]   Gorz A.[1994] in Thomas Docherty, (1994) Postmodernism NY London, Harvester Wheatsheaf.  p344.

[37]  Mark Poster [1984] Foucault Marxism and History. Cambridge, Polity Press, pp17-18.

[38]   Rainbow S. [1993], Green Politics; Critical Issues in New Zealand Society, Auckland and Oxford University Press, p4

[39]     Mark Poster [1975] in Introduction to Baudrillard (1975) Mirror of Production. Cambridge.  Polity Press, p7.

 [40]  Enzenberger H.M. [1974] The Consciousness Industry: Our Literature, Politics and Media. NY Continuum Books, Seabury Press, pp10-11.

[41]   Foucault M. [1980] Power and Knowledge, Select Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977. Ed. Colin Gordon NY Pantheon,  p181

[42] Ibid.

[43]  Bell D and Klein R. [1997] Eds. Radically speaking: Feminism Reclaimed.  Melbourne, Spinifex.

[44] Hooks B. [1994] Feminist Theory: From the Margins to Centre. Boston south End Press.

[45] Bourdieu P. [1977] Outline of a Theory of Practice, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press  pp183-179.

[46] Featherstone M. [1991] Consumer Culture and Postmodernism.  UK Sage Publication  p15.

[47] Frederic Jameson [1992] Signatures of the Visible. NY Routledge  p400

[48] Ibid

[49] Ibid.

[50] Lash S. and Urry J. [1987]  The End of Organized Capitalism Cambridge, Cambridge Polity Press p288.

[51] Ben Agger [1990] The Decline of Discourse:Reading Writing and Discourse n Modern Capitalism. Cambridge Polity Press, p5.

[52] Foucault M. [1980] Power and Knowledge, Select Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977. Ed. Colin Gordon NY Pantheon,  p181

[53] Feenberg A. (1995) Alternative Modernity. The Technical Turn in Philosophy and Social Theory. LA University of California   p26


Mass Shootings in Synagogues.

Ruth and Noami, By DuBrae,

I have been reluctant to speak out publicly on the topic of Zionism and the Jewish State.   However, in the wake of the Pittsburgh massacre and now another mass shooting in a synagogue in California, coupled with demonstrations against Israel, I am compelled to review my silence.  I am seeing a rise in anti-Semitism across the world, which concerns me. There are a lot of conspiracy theories going around and there is a lot of misunderstanding about Jews and Judaism.  I will therefore attempt some clarification on a few sensitive issues from a scholar’s point of view.

My commentary begins with the touchy topic of Zionism. It is a topic that gives rise to many “is” and “ought” questions.  I have met very few non-Jews who seriously understand Zionism, yet many are quick to condemn it.

Zionism is really just a signifier with multiple definitions, it has no fixed meaning.   In the works of Martin Buber, Zionism was never meant to be based on the divisions of ethnicity or religion. Israel was meant to be a haven for Jews following the Holocaust and diasporas, but not at the expense of others. In his work, The Way of Response (1966 p141), Buber writes,

“the neighbour is to be loved “as one like myself” (not as I love myself, in the last reality one does not love oneself, but rather should learn to love oneself through the love of one’s neighbour), to whom then I should show love as I wish it to be shown to me.”

Zionism has been twisted, bent and moulded to suit political whims and purposes, many of which have been oxymoronic and undesirable. Zionism can be left, right or centrist, but it has moved decidedly towards the extreme right, yet, that does not make the concept of Zionism a bad proposition.  Zionism should not be a word so disparaged that it is beyond the pale because for many Jews it equates with liberation, healing and homeland (Zion).   Zionism and homeland are impossible to separate.  However, real Zionism should include anti-racism, equality of religious status and citizenship and it should be against all forms of discrimination, persecution and patriarchy.  Zionism should be about love, not the Jewish State and that is how it was first conceived, as the love of the Jewish people manifest in the love of others.

Hitherto, the problem is not true Zionism, but nationalism.   Zionism has become a rigid regime beholden to nationalism in its most extreme form. This has happened because Israel was created in desperate circumstances and the Jews had to face a large non-Jewish population who were understandably far from welcoming. Individual Jews cannot be blamed for this, they had to defend themselves.  This has led to the myth that all Jews hate Arabs and all Arabs hate Jews. This is not the reality. Many Jews and Arabs live side by side quite peacefully.

Zionism was never designed to usurp the power of another nation.  The Jewish state was conceived as a homeland where Jews would not be a minority. This has led to the current fear that if borders are pulled down Jews will again become a minority in their homeland.  Thus, the Jewish mantra is, there will never be another Holocaust if there is a Jewish homeland. I think one has to be sympathetic to this view, especially given the constant attacks on Jewish people around the world. The principles of Zionism need not be lost because of external threats.  That said, Zionism has become outmoded. On the positive side, Zionism has been shown to be adaptable so it must now change for the betterment of all in the region.

On the topic of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflicts and a two-state solution my view is, it is unworkable.  Today, roughly half of the Jewish people live in Israel and 40% live in the United States. Fear of assimilation and becoming a minority group is the driving force behind Israel’s border solution.  Border conflicts between Israel and Palestine have been ongoing since 1948 and it has always been a struggle between minorities and the majority, a problem all states experience.  Nonetheless, Borders do not solve political and social problems, they create them.

Personally, I cannot see a two-state solution workable in the context of an Israeli government that does not allow non-Jewish Israelis full rights and citizenship in the current Jewish State. In my view Israel must concede to a one state solution where every religion and ethnicity is regarded as equal before the law.  No one would suggest this is an easy process, but nothing else has worked so far.  In addition, the current struggle has turned a lot of people away from giving their support to Israel. We are seeing more divisions not remedies to an ever-escalating scenario. Also, it needs to be noted that many Israelis disagree with their government, but like other right-wing authorities, once the right take power, their might is hard to shift.

Israel’s history, religion and symbolism continues to be important to Jews and non-Jews alike. Israel is not a theocracy; it has a large secular population.  However, there are fundamental laws in Orthodox Judaism that make it difficult for many to assimilate, including many born Jews.  It raises a further question:  Who is a Jew?

It would be impossible to count the number of people who would have Jewish ancestry given the diasporas and given that the Jews are among the oldest civilisations in the world, but rather than benefit from assimilation Israel’s right-wing government has given preference to racial purity or conversion.  One also has to acknowledge that it is this unity that has afforded the Jews their survival and while many Jews cling to this idea, many more welcome newcomers to the Jewish population.

Conversion is not easy, firstly because it is a scholarly system of belief in which most Jews have immersed themselves in decades of study. Secondly, Jews are very aware of the reality that being Jewish has its risks and once Jew, always a Jew. There is a common myth among some that non-Jews will have to ask the Rabi three times before being granted the passage to conversion.  I am not sure if this is true or not.

Devout Jews will generally revert to Torah for answers to difficult problems and the questions of identity and belonging remind me of the story of Ruth the Moab who takes the God of Israel as her own and travels to the Holy Land with her mother-in-law Naomi. (You can read about it in the Biblical Book of Ruth). The work is read in synagogues on the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, which should convey some kind of message about welcoming non-Jews into the homeland, be they Christians, Palestinians or others. 

To me, open borders have their pitfalls, but they also have profound ways of dealing with racial and religious problems in a non-threatening and inclusive manner. As things stand, we live in a global world where the policies of one nation can impact severely on another. Jews in America, or anywhere should not have to pay the price for what happens elsewhere.


Introduction to a History of Persecution.


What follows is the Introduction to my new book.  I have written a lot on trauma and its impacts. Here I want to look at historical trauma with a particular focus of the persecution of Jews.  It is a big project and this is only the beginning.


The world has a torrid history were wars, torture, massacres and genocides that have been a prevailing feature of humanity.  For many evolving societies aggressive enemies came and went, settlements were disrupted, people were slaughtered, then there was reprieve, a new social order was created and the struggle to exist started over again. Some societies lasted for centuries, while others barely got off the ground.  For the Jews the story is no different, there has been little peace throughout their recorded history. No sooner did the Jews find a settlement, there was always someone to push them out.  The Jews have found themselves perpetual wanderers and stateless. However, the notion of the Wandering Jew raises an important question. What does it take to survive in a hostile environment?  Unlike most other civilisations the Jews had survived historical and ongoing onslaughts, with many generations living in exile.

For Jews the quest for a homeland has been an historical struggle. Yet, despite their continuing exile the Jews have maintained a close unity and they have multiplied in their numbers.  One might suggest that for the Jews faith and patience has paid off.   Indeed, after being dispersed across the medieval and modern world for 2000 years, the Jews finally managed to acquire a homeland when in 1948 the separation of Palestine gave birth to the State of Israel.   Nonetheless, life in Israel appears tenuous. The Jews must continually fight surrounding enemies to maintain what they have. Or, to put it differently Jews are still dealing with daily persecution, only it is happening on their own territory.

Against this backdrop, the Jews are far from a homogeneous people, they occupy many different parts of the world and they hold profoundly different beliefs and practices. The variations in Jewish political and religious views often sees Jews divided among themselves. For example, what one might learn and practice in one synagogue might not be appropriate in another. Jewish politics are even more complex than Jewish religion.  Jews are generally well meaning, caring for others is inherent in the Jewish faith. Nonetheless, the nation of Israel is constantly at war with its neighbours.  Moreover, what is regarded as a homeland for Israelis is not a homeland for all.   Many non-Jewish Israelis are marginalised in what has become solely a Jewish State.  With this in mind, a history of persecution against the Jews must take account of the reflexive impact manifest on the wider social setting.

Nonetheless, the tale of Jewish survival in the face of historical and ongoing persecution is compelling and it needs to be accounted for in a discipline of its own. In terms of the post-World War Two Holocaust studies this has happened, but persecution has a long history that predates the modern European Holocaust. In addition, there are many sociological, psychological and historical texts that deal with violence against Jews, such as that which occurred in the pogroms. There are also individual examples like the Leo Frank Affair of 1915,[1] but generally speaking, Jewish people do not like to dwell on the painful past, rather they look to the future with hope and anticipation.

Violence is universal and racial violence, albeit insidious, has always taken a strong hold in historical and modern societies.  Before embarking on this work, I posted a number of comments of social media to suggest that violence is NEVER acceptable. To my dismay, the majority of people responded in disagreement. Some people argued that violence was inherent in humans because we are all animals. Others, approved of violence to create change.  While many more social media cohorts just put it down to frustration, whereby violence offered some kind of psychological recompense. It appears little has changed since the time of our ancestors.

I might have taken a broader view of persecution as my topic, but my work is both personal and political.  The work aims to be a concise account of the persecution against the Jewish people.  The Jews are significant in this context because the have  survived for more then four thousand years, against all the odds. My account is far from exhaustive, it is governed by time and space.  My objective is to bring the consequences of extensive persecution to mind and to argue that the impacts of persecution are not just long term, they are inter-generational and can last for centuries going forward. Further, we cannot hope for a peaceful future without acknowledging past mistakes.

My interest in this topic goes back to my own upbringing east of London after the Second World War where there was a wave of post-war anti-Semitism.  Persecution against Jews did not stop at the Nazi death camps.  There were those in Britain (and elsewhere) who had a misguided view of Jewish life and practices. They blamed the Jews for their own misfortunes. Indeed, they blamed the Jews for all the problems in the world. These views were underscored by numerous myths that circulated, not just in London, but around the world.  One such example was the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This fraudulent document has been the most notorious and widely distributed antisemitic publication of modern times. The aim has been to discredit Jews and to spread hatred towards the Jewish people. It has been repeatedly discredited, but continues to be circulated today, especially on the internet.[2]  The individuals and groups who have used the Protocols are all linked by a common purpose, to persecute and eliminate the Jews by spreading lies.  The document alleges that there is a conspiracy to bring about a global take-over by a group calling themselves the Elders of Zion. [3]

In 1903, portions of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion were serialized in a Russian newspaper, Znamya (The Banner). The version of the Protocols that has endured and has been translated into dozens of languages, however, was first published in Russia in 1905 as an appendix to The Great in the Small: The Coming of the Anti-Christ and the Rule of Satan on Earth, by Russian writer and mystic Sergei Nilus.  Following the Russian Revolution of 1917, anti-Bolshevik émigrés brought the Protocols to the West. Soon after, editions circulated across Europe, the United States, South America, and Japan. An Arabic translation first appeared in the 1920s. Beginning in 1920, auto magnate Henry Ford’s newspaper, The Dearborn Independent, published a series of articles based in part on the Protocols. The International Jew, the book that included this series, was translated into at least 16 languages. Both Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels, later head of the propaganda ministry, praised Ford and The International Jew.[4]

False accusations and untenable myths about Jews culminated in angst on the streets of London with extensive property damage and violence. Secular Jews were not excluded from this persecution and many families felt they had to hide their identity, especially if they had children in schools. I have documented my own story elsewhere, so I will not elaborate.[5]

In the period between the 1990s to 2000 violence against Jews appeared to escalate. There were direct attacks across Europe on Jews by Islamic extremists. These attacks reached a pivotal point on September 11 when a series of four coordinated terrorist attacks by the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda was carried out against the United States., the country know to have more Jews than anywhere else in the world.  The attacks occurred on the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, they killed 2,996 people, they injured over 6,000 others, and caused at least $10 billion in damages to infrastructure and property. [6] In the aftermath, many people died from related illness such as cancer and respiratory diseases. Many more suffered severe mental illness. As a result, numerous studies began on the impacts of trauma in the next generation beginning with women who were pregnant at the time of the attacks. [7]   Comparisons were made with the impacts of the Holocaust on the children of surviving Jews.[8]  In the months and years following the attacks, research on victims of organized violence and torture suggested that prolonged severe trauma produced long-term psychological effects that persisted even into old age. Further studies highlighted the inter-inter-generational consequences.[9]

Many comparative epidemiological studies have been conducted to investigate the long-term consequences of organised violence, including political persecution. Studies revealed a lack of appropriate information on the consequences, especially in relation to Eastern Europe and persecution in what were formally communist countries. Many of those persecuted were Jews.   The extensive review of empirical support for the co-occurrence of complex symptoms led to the conclusion that this was mainly the consequence of prolonged, repeated trauma that usually occurred during captivity, such as in prisons, concentration camps, or labour camps. Studies on Holocaust victims became crucial for understanding the broader incidents of political violence and the long-term effects. However, the inter-generational consequences stopped short of examining more than one or two generations when we know that knowledge, culture and in some cases, mental trauma can last much longer, while travelling through a chain of inter-generational signifiers.

Information about the persistence of post-traumatic sequelae into old age came mostly from investigations on Holocaust survivors and on POW-s in World War II.  Most studies found that survivors suffered from long-lasting trauma.   In addition, more recent studies that applied the diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) reported the persistence of post-traumatic symptoms and high rates of related co-morbid disorders in many victims who developed PTSD in the aftermath of the trauma, for 40–50 years after the end of World War II and up into old age. Prospective research also focused on the late effects of combat exposure, showing relatively few PTSD symptoms in survivors. [10]

It has been argued that traumatised individuals may suffer from various combinations of symptoms over time and that this pattern of symptoms reflects the adaptation to psychological trauma on the cognitive, affective and behavioral levels, particularly when this has occurred early in life. Clinical investigations of Holocaust consequences late in life revealed an increase in the severity of depressive and somatic symptoms as an outcome of the unsuccessful emotional processing of the trauma. Indeed, studies suggested that late life might be a period of increased vulnerability in the aftermath of severe trauma. [11]

There is still much to learn about inter-generational trauma and its historical consequences. The aim of my work is to draw attention to the historical events of persecution against Jews and its continuum from ancient and  medieval times to current forms of modern-day anti-Semitism.  In as far as possible I have attempted to keep to a chronological order, but since the data is voluminous, I have chosen to pinpoint the most significant incidents.   The work highlights key events that have given meaning to Jewish life and faith; for example, the meaning of exodus, diaspora, wandering, tabernacle (Synagogue) and Israel (homeland). The enduring hope and resilience of the Jewish people is to be applauded. Ancient and modern Jewish history has made hope a prominent feature of Jewish life and identity, which holds value for everyone,  but there is also a cautionary tale.   Jewish life is involved in an identity politics that is both emancipating and constraining. The tensions become self-evident in modern day Jewish life and worship and in some cases are  perceived as segregation.

The timing of my work is also important.  The mood against religious groups, especially in the wake of numerous global terrorist attacks from extremists, is strong.  One just has to consult the media to view a growing anti-Semitism across the world. In the United states journalist Isabel Fattal writes “American anti-Semitism is as old as America itself”. [12] The statement followed the 2018 shooting  at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, where eleven people were murdered and six more were injured. It was believed to be the deadliest attack against the American Jewish community in U.S. history. The massacre was an unprecedented act of violence against American Jews, but it was by no means the first time that anti-Semitism had manifested in deadly violence against Jews in the United States. Jews in America have a history of persecution. Fattal writes:

     For decades, American Jews have faced social discrimination, acts of vandalism against sacred spaces, and, in recent years, social-media harassment—and the number of reported anti-Semitic incidents has risen dramatically since 2016. Fatal attacks against American Jews have been far less common than these other forms of discrimination. And yet American history is full of episodes of physical violence against Jews and Jewish institutions. [13]

The story is the same the world over. I hope that by bringing together the history of persecution against the Jewish people, it will shed light on the notion of persecution as a psychological and physical continuum that we cannot ignore.  It is not correct to say that history repeats itself, but it is known that the past revisits us in numerous forms, often in aberrant behaviour which gets passed from one generation to another unless something breaks the cycle. I hope from my work  readers will have a better and more concise view of what Jews have endured and what they continue to face in their daily existence. There will undoubtedly be questions. How we bring an end to persecution is another matter; but without knowledge we cannot even begin to think about where to begin.

[1] In 1913, a 13-year-old child laborer at an Atlanta pencil factory named Mary Phagan was found dead in the factory’s basement. Leo Frank, the Jewish superintendent of the factory, was convicted of the crime and sentenced to death. In 1915, Georgia’s governor commuted Frank’s sentence to lifetime imprisonment due to a lack of sufficient evidence; Frank was abducted from prison and lynched. Despite the consensus among historians that Frank was innocent, as well as the corroborating claims of a witness, white-supremacist groups today continue to implicate Frank in Phagan’s murder. The controversial Frank case is credited with inspiring the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan movement; it also played a role in the creation of the Anti-Defamation League in 1913. Details can be found at United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.  Retrieved 28th April, 2019.

[2] United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.  Retrieved 28th April, 2019.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] C. A. James Waking up to a Dream (forthcoming).


[7] The Intergenerational Impact of Terror – Households in Conflict Network by R Brown – ‎2014. Retrieved 27th April 2019.

[8] Bar-Ilan University. “Intergenerational trauma evident in offspring caring for Holocaust survivor parents.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 April 2018. <>. Retried 27th April, 20019.

[9] Sandro Galea, MD, DrPH Dean and Robert A. Knox Professor Boston University School of Public Health Retrieved 27th April 2019.

[10] Long-term consequences of traumatic experiences: an assessment of former political detainees in Romania Dana Bichescu, Maggie Schauer, Evangelia Saleptsi, Adrian Neculau, Thomas Elbert, and Frank Neuner. Clinical Practice Epidemiolocal Mental Health v.1; 2005 PMC1266057. Retrieved 27th April, 2019.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Isabel Fattal. 2018.The Atlantic A Brief History of Anti-Semitic Violence in America. Retrieved 28th April 2019.

[13] Ibid.

Happy Passover.

In two weeks, or there abouts, Jews will celebrate he Passover (Pesach)  and Christians will celebrate Easter.   The Passover seder is a service, over an evening meal, that tells the story of the ancient Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. The meal consists of  a prescribed order of symbolic foods, stories, songs, and prayers, the Haggadah. The Hebrew word Haggadah means “telling,” and the whole ceremony  occurs  according to an ancient written script,  the Haggadah, which provides the order of the service with precise  instructions.

For Christians the occasion of the Crucifixion begins with the last supper, which to me,  appears to replicate the Haggadah.  This of course, should come as no surprise as Jesus was a Jew who carried out Jewish customs.   Whether one follows either of the religious beliefs, it seems clear that the celebration is one of freedom either in life or in death.  It can also be viewed as the opportunity to find freedom in personal change, to shed the burdens that have been weighing us down for the past year or so.

I must confess that I have never been personally attracted to the Christian form of celebration. Indeed, I recall as a child I was quite fearful of the man that was seen  hanging, bleeding from a cross.  The crucifixion, albeit a matter of great reverence to many,  was to me,  a small semblance of brutality that men were capable of doing to each other.  It goes without saying,  the historiography of all religions has been brutal, but it is a history not to be ignored.

Passover is a part of the Jewish history of liberation, both bodily and spiritually,  which is not forgotten.   It tells us a lot about human nature. Once liberated from Egypt the Jews turned away from their new God and built a Golden Calf as an idol of worship.    The Christians had their leader condemned to death.  Today, we have not stopped turning to idols for worship.  Nor have we ceased to turn on our leaders, sometimes for good reason, but also because they just seem to be the focal point of everything that might be going wrong in our lives, things we do not want to address.

The Passover seder is a joyful occasion.  The Jewish way is generally towards joy and celebration, but sometimes it can also seem flippant to outsiders.   The essence of these celebrations, however is to view them is an opportunity for understanding the Other and to work towards a (w)holistic and inclusive faith.

How effective is protest?

                                        Image from the Conversation 11th April 2019.

I am a vegan and I have generally given my support to protests over the cruelty to animals, but an article that appeared in the Conversation raised  questions about the effectiveness of direct action.  I have a long history of political action that includes street protests. There is no doubt that protests today have attracted hostile and often violent responses.   The police carry guns and tasers and their tactics are generally rough, to say the least and of course protesters are going to react.  Here is the gist of my response to the Vegan protest in Melbourne posted on Facebook on the 11th of April 2019.

I have, for a long time now, advocated positive methods of protest.  The article in the Conversation this week demonstrates the need to understand the emotive public responses to direct action and in particular where issues of veganism and animal cruelty are concerned.    The writer questions whether such direct actions actually stop cruelty to animals. The article argues that showing images of humane treatment to animals, rather than images of cruelty,  might bring about a better outcome.

I think there is a middle ground here. People need to have the information on cruelty, but at the same time, they need positive pathways to change that are not perceived as threatening.  Australians are big animal consumers and they are already disturbed by rising prices, whereby demonstrators add to their insecurities.  The fact is, market forces are having a dramatic impact on meat eaters and more people are turning to non-animal products.   This does not not solve the problem of cruelty, but boosting attention to alternatives does go a long way to creating change.  

I think we still need to be vigilant and carry out protests in less threatening ways, such as using social media, especially for personal testimonies on the health benefits of being vegan.   The British sociologist Stuart Hall noted that to create any kind of change it first has to be embedded into the culture. Veganism is fast becoming the trendy way to live, especially among the younger consumers.  The culture is already undergoing change, perhaps not quick enough for some, but social change is always a slow process.  In the long term the market forces will determine the change, while in the interim we must care for the animals in the best and most benign ways possible.

Who are we?



Sea Goddess.

    There are two pathways that determine who we. The first road, we might call the lower neural pathway goes straight to the amygdala via the sensory thalamus and it allows information to be process at very high speed without diversion to other parts. Hence the information has very little processes and results in immediate action, sometimes described as fight or flight.  The second road, takes information first to the cortex the area for rational thinking and analysis where the information is processed much more slowly, but also more accurately and creatively.

When asking the question “who am I” most people will answer, not with who they are, but what they do. For example; I am an artist, writer, environmentalist, psychotherapist. I am also a philosopher, meditation and mindfulness teacher. This is what I do. Who am I? This is a bigger question. I am a small speck in a greater universe. I am a part of nature and all other living things.     I am part of a greater force who is my maker.

Consider for a moment how difficult it is to describe your being? You might feel a sense of being, but what words will you use to describe it and will they be the same words for everyone else. Ask yourself, what is being beyond a sense of presence?  What holds everything together beyond the flesh and that which illusive to the mind?

What is real and what is imagined?    How can we truly know ourselves when all we are conscious of is constructed by our unconscious. When we try to describe consciousness and we stumble over the many metaphors that present as real life.  Who we are is not who we thing we are. Then there is the other question, does it matter who we are?

The self is said to be who we are, but it is the most troublesome of metaphors for explaining human existence. No one has been able to say with any certainty what the self is or where in the body it is located or how it occurs. There are many suppositions arising from two camps.  The scientific materialist belief states that the self is constructed by the human brain and it is born and dies with us. The second belief is a metaphysical one, which states the self is constructed by consciousness, which is a universal phenomenon existing outside of the body and brain and only makes a connection with life at birth (or in some cases conception). This latter connected level of consciousness is referred to as spirit (or being spiritual). There is also the common notion that spirit and brain have an interrelationship, or a correlate, which is another way of saying that where there is life it will always attract its duplicate or appropriate spirit.    The metaphysical belief is that all life exists in the form of consciousness before and after bodily death.  I am going with the theory of correlates. When I look up at the stars at night in awe I am know I will be leaving the planet and travelling back in time to where I came from.  This is my destiny, this is my course, my comfort, my belief.



Pain is many things. The world we know has been built upon pain. Pain can be felt as excruciating agony or it can be dormant causing a loss of balance and motivation. Pain can elude us.  Yet, pain is normal.  Pain is not our enemy, without pain we would never know pleasure.   However, the way we treat painful experiences will profoundly  influence our moods and how we cope in the everyday events of life. All pain has links to the emotions. Latent stress, anxiety, depression, unhappiness, failure and despair, these are all common states of pain  generated by the emotions.  Pain can be like a bad dream that has us transfixed in a pattern of thoughts and feelings with no conceivable way out. or we can wake up from the dream.

Pain can be traumatic. Pain, whether rooted in physical or psychic causes, pain is a crisis, it alters our consciousness and changes our body chemistry.   Pain also makes for great art.  The lessons of survival were turned into art on the walls of caves.  Our ancestors treated pain as a warning of danger or possible death. Pain was an aid to victory over adversity. Today, pain is couched in purely negative terms, which causes the induction of more pain. We can overcome pain.  In art we distance myself from pain. Through writing we turn pain into creativity. In life we embrace pain as a necessary experience that can be overcome by shifting attention to less invasive experiences. Meditation helps to ease pain.

In the modern world we probably have a lower threshold for pain than our ancestors as life is considerably different.  We are no long hunters and gathers scratching for food or safe shelter.  We like to think we are civilized so when pain strikes we try to treat it as ephemeral, we try to push it away.  Hence, when pain does happen we never truly welcome or confront it.  Instead, pain comes as a difficulty, not as a journey to better times.

Pain is a pathway that forces us to find a way out of a bad situation.  We must sit with the pain, learn about its momentum and how to ease it.   Pain should be a pathway to learning.    By viewing pain as a friend, not an enemy serves to ease the pressure of pain.  Our brains respond differently to a friend than to an enemy. Pain should never be our enemy.

In the art of mindfulness meditation, we can learn to experience pain as something far less troubling than one imagines. Indeed, when we use the experience of pain creatively, we can grow in strength and enhance the capacity for well-being.

Science has revealed how art can undermine pain and redirect the experience of trauma to create alternatives. Creativity touches the pleasure centres in the brain.  Creative rituals, painting, drawing, movement and meditation have been used as methods of healing for tens of thousands of years and as a society we are only now rediscovering their effectiveness.

Pain has many sources, but the ongoing propagation of pain resides in the constant preoccupation with the self. We can also inherit pain.

When in pain it is easy to become totally self-absorbed. Being completely self-absorbed generates fears and longings that cause us to become trapped in a world of inner obsessions, desires and anxieties.  A person in pain looks at a failing world and desires to make changes not knowing that one can only change oneself.    The self may change, but the self is never satisfied, we must overcome the subjective desires.   The self is always grounded in the constant struggle to get more of the good life.  However, the good life is not in the external world, it comes from within.   The self needs more attention, more goods, more time, more emotions, more affirmation of its existence. We must restrain the self.  The self must give way to the inner spirit that is contentment and giving to others, rather than taking for ourselves.   Belief in goodness will always prevail over pain.