I'm finding it harder and harder to be on Doomsday Watch. I absolutely dread the coming week, which will be filled with bitter and shrieky Congressional debates, collective delusional confabulations about the war, enacted even while knowing in advance that all the bombast happens now in a pit of quicksand, already tainted with a sense of fated inevitability. As one unnamed moderate Republican congressman who is trying to promote a change of course by Bush in the White House put it, while pointing to his black leather chair: "It's like talking to the chair and asking the leather to come off."
Meanwhile Senator and presidential contender Joe Biden's efforts to buck the tide by calling for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq on Sunday morning TV reduced me to tears. He could be our avenging angel, only nobody's listening. It's like asking the leather to come off the chair. Failure, that alarming possibility which, for all purposes, has already happened in this war, must now be avoided at all costs, so the argument goes. I feel like Sisyphus hiking ever closer to the hot-lava core of a volcano. My feet have started to burn.
Trying to investigate and demystify war with what lies buried and unexamined about the violence, perversity, and capacity for evil in human nature has all but done me in. And then there's the fact that some people believe preparing for disaster invites it in. "I don't want that slimy shit on me," they'll say, turning their eyes away from the emotional epicenter of the fallen world--the fishbowl that's turned into a shark tank. Whereas I'm of the school that needs to look reality in the face unflinchingly and know its truth. Writing gives me a mission as a balancer of the boat (the sinking ship). Writing gives me a job, a purpose, a small task. This has helped me consolidate something within myself to resist the descent into madness. Even so, I need to surrender into helplessness in face of the real truth: I can do nothing. I am like that young woman in the fairy tale who is lost at night in a deep woods. Full of fear and despair that she will not find her way home, she finally gives up searching for the right path and falls asleep on the back of her beautiful horse. But all night the horse doesn't falter; it moves slowly and assuredly through the woods, and in the morning, the woman finds herself back home.
"Once we sign on for war's crusade, once we see ourselves on the side of the angels, once we embrace a theological or ideological belief system that defines itself as the embodiment of goodness and light, it is only a matter of how we will carry out murder," writes Chris Hedges, author of "War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning." "Wars," he says, "turn human reality into a bizarre carnival that does not seem part of our experience. It knocks us off balance....We lose our grip."
I've not quite made my peace yet with the subject of war, that bizarre carnival, and my attempt to understand it, but I am close. Forays thus far have unearthed a number of possibilities: that violence is written into our molecular chemistry; that it is an expression of male "pack behavior;" a collective psychosis; obsessive-compulsive disorder on a massive social scale; a timeless and omnipresent archetype; a transhuman force with a dynamism of its own that breaks out everywhere and dominates human life. Each of these grim surmises seems a necessary piece of the puzzle that is war.
Hedges, who by his own account has survived many decades as a war correspondent in multiple combat zones, claims to have been shot at in the marshes of southern Iraq, imprisoned in the Sudan, beaten by Saudi military police, fired upon by Serb snipers, shelled for days by deafening rounds of heavy artillery in Sarajevo--the list goes on and on. His conclusion, from such long personal experience of brutality and death, is that the rush of battle acts on the human organism like a drug--one to which it is all too easy to become lethally addicted. So we can add one last piece here: war is an enticing elixir that offers meaning, resolve, and a commitment to something greater than the ordinariness of everyday life. But, Hedges warns, "We must guard against...the drug of war that can render us as blind and callous as those we battle." Indeed.
I ask for some spiritual blogging help from my darling alligator-horse, Virgil, who is back from making his first ascent of the 4,500-foot southwest face of the Siula Grande mountain in the Peruvian Andes. His knees are hurting.
"Focus on the sky," says Virgil, "and on the beauty there. Let's find a wall against which something eccentric can happen. Gargle and become hydraulic. Accept this smoking tide like tea going into a cup. Then hold the cup high up over your head, redistribute yourself through the crowd, and let the cynical and optimistic views that are causing you so much trouble collide, leaving several generations of readers to decide what is correct. Be of three minds, and once you have arranged them plausibly, continue to attend the bohemian picnic that is life. Now, how about some of that champagne?"