What strikes us so clearly on this journey -- in the mind as well as the guts -- is that we cannot truly separate ourselves and our lives and the peace of this privileged life from war and exploitation.
Privilege of physical safety, of food, of comfort, of sensory excitement, of magical wagons that take us wherever we want to go.
Wars we are familiar with: against the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, against the people of Palestine. Against their governments and military forces, yes, but so much suffering is likewise visited upon the people. Stories trickle in around the mainstream media hype about the true on-the-ground situation for people in these places. In studying India, we have come across author and social activist Arundhati Roy's story of government police forces in central India, in the forests of Dandakaranya. The police are forcing villagers out, bringing them under armed guard to make way for absurdly profitable mining operations that ravage the land and destroy the lives of its people. The people are offered no alternative. When they resist, they are raped and killed. Now, a protracted war of destruction is raging. Harvesting crops for these forest people requires a prior patrol to look for police. They sleep hidden in the forest. Going to market becomes a military operation. These people in Dandakaranya are fighting back, and are holding onto an alternative life. Barely. Roy writes:
We're moving in single file now. Myself, and one hundred 'senslessly violent,' bloodthirsty insurgents. I looked around at the camp before we left. There are no signs that almost a hundred people had camped here, except for some ash where the fires had been. I cannot believe this army. As far as consumption goes, it's more Gandhian than any Gandhian, andhas a lighter carbon footprint than any climate change evangelist.
For Caitlin and I, our dream is to become farmers and teachers who nourish life and land in place in Maine with next to no fossil fuels or products based on exploitation supporting our daily lives. If "democratic" institutions in this world are killing people and forcibly removing them from land, are we next? I will go further and say that these oppressed people are us. We are not separate from them. How long until the minerals under our land, or the waters we drink and bathe in with the egret and the muskrat, are needed in the name of progress?
Were native New World people given more of a chance than the people in Dandakaranya, by Pizarro, by Columbus, by Andrew Jackson? What happened to the Seminoles in what is now Florida, and to the Cherokee of the Deep South? What happened to the treaties that white men signed? This legacy of white supremacy, rooted deeply in violence, continues today, and we cannot ignore the unbroken chains of exploitation that reach into the fields and cities of the global South, and into the ghettos of these United States. Our government's "War on Drugs" is a war against the poor here in this country, predominantly against our black and brown brothers and sisters. And our species' inability to reorganize and curb our own population and consumption amounts to a war against nature, while corporations vie for the lion's share of the profits. Most of our politicians, with good intentions, respond to power and end up selling their votes to the reigning ideology that has greed as its nature. Turn on the TV, and see it. Climate change is a wake up call, but only a symptom, one piece of this puzzle.
There are rays of hope. New York State bans fracking in December of 2014, the result of a movement driven by people who lobbied government, armed with the science by people like Sandra Steingraber and Tony Ingraffea. Everyday people stand and give voice together under the banner #BlackLivesMatter. Noam Chomsky speaks to the U.N. about opportunities for peaceful progress between Israel and Palestine, revealing that Israel and the U.S. are directly blocking the peace process. 350.org and others organize the greatest acts of global solidarity ever and civil disobedience since the 1960s. Organic, small scale farmers are working, hard.
But we cannot pretend that this peace we enjoy is not war. Or that our virtue somehow negates the daily rape and destruction carried out here and around the world in the name of America, in the name of capitalism, in the name of "progress." The Vietnamese Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh writes:
In the West you have been struggling for many years with the problem of evil. How is it possible that evil should be there? It seems that it is difficult for the Western mind tounderstand. But in the light of non-duality, there is no problem: As soon as the idea of good is there, the idea of evil is there. Buddha needs Mara in order to reveal himself, and vice versa. When you perceive reality in this way, you will not discriminate against the garbage for the sake of the rose. You will cherish both.
The feeling that has been growing in me for years is that there is no good life while we are still at war. We cannot be good while our lives are supported by war, buoyed at this peak of human wealth and poverty and civilization. But, we also cannot change it all in a day. So what are the ways we can change our support structures most effectively? This question is central to our search in this trip to Ladakh, and to our return.
Let us cherish the beauty of this time, the unprecedented power and opportunity and choice we are offered. And let us look deeply and understand the direct impacts of our consumption. The impacts are direct because they are today, right now. If not here, then there. Let us ask what we need, what we truly need, for life.
Citations, resources, stories drawn into these rivers of thought:
Walking with the Comrades, by Arundhati Roy
The Heart of Understanding, Thich Nhat Hanh
For information on the conquering of native New World populations and the economic and ideological drivers of these conquests, Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States is a start.