The Mistake Button Or . . .

“Religion, I have come to believe, is designed to be placed on others; relationship is designed to be placed on ourselves. When your religion makes others look like the circus midget cleaning out the monkey cages, but you look like Aundrea the Lion Tamer, then it is nothing more than a shallow understanding of the deeper ways of God. You are truly looking into a mirror darkly, seeing only what you want to see and never questioning the notion that you may be wrong. I wanted to be able to look into the mirror and see me, my face and the face of God looking back at me and through me. I wanted God to be happy at what he saw. I now know God is happy with what he sees in me, and I believe that every second of every day.”
Van Roberts, Rescue Me: Confessions of an Ex-evangelical

“To learn what we fear is to learn who we are. Horror defines our boundaries and illuminates our souls. . . Horror is made of such base material – so easily rejected or dismissed – that it may be hard to accept my postulate that within the genre lies one of the last refuges of spirituality in this, our materialistic world.

I have always been partial to the symbolists and Pre-Raphaelite artists, because they go against the avant-garde. To them, the past was a source of awe and mystery. But unlike the Pre-Raphaelites, the symbolists also cast their gaze inward to find the root of the stain on the human soul: lust, violence, corruption. They connect our human impulses – good and bad – with the mystical, mythical, and supernatural elements that represent them in art (for example, satyrs, skulls, centaurs, demons) and in that they are, in my opinion, truly modern and timeless.”
Guillermo del Toro, Cabinet of Curiosities, from essays Mainstays of Horror and Musings on Symbolist Art

 

In this cartoon implied nuclear war starts because the guy on Mars can’t see Venus because earth is in the way. Talk about the war between the sexes getting out of hand. In many popular cartoons some character hits the wrong button and its all over. Those buttons are everywhere just now: here, for example, and here. There really is no such button. These images are all lies, or more graciously, symbols. Now that we are living cartoon lives, pretending our consumerism can keep eating the earth for our immediate pleasure without dire consequences, this seems an appropriate introduction to this week’s essay.

There is, of course, a more serious set of ‘oops hit the wrong button’ fears that have haunted the dreams and intuitions of most people for quite some time now. I found David Bowie’s work again managed to capture the mood for me. Drifting into nuclear Armageddon on the back of a set of accidents and misunderstandings is exactly what has been most feared by people of goodwill for a very long time now. It is a very reasonable position to take after the revelations of the details of the Cuban Missile Crisis taught the world just how close we had come to starting a nuclear World War III. Documentation of the many, many close calls that those who deal with nuclear weapons systems have had, though mostly still highly classified and unavailable to the targeted citizens, is sufficient for those who can stomach reading about them to bring any number of sleepless nights. I would be remiss if I failed to mention the classic screen treatment of the subject Dr. Strangelove (from a time when we were brave enough to have anything on the screen talking about these satanic weapons at all). The dark comedy uses the spirit of simple-minded patriotism, racism’s fear of corrupting white folk’s purity of essence, and Nazi-like awe at the sadism inherit in such powerful weapons, to sketch a nightmare scenario in which there is a set of misunderstandings and accidents that start a nuclear Armageddon with the “Ruskies.” It is a film from the time of the maverick directors and leaves little doubt in the viewer that we could well be in a meaningless universe.

There have been a few times over the past three plus years of writing these essays that I have asked my readers to set aside some serious contemplative time to try and extend compassion to people traumatized by news events. This is another of those requests. This time the people we need to hold in our hearts are the citizens of Hawaii that, for a time, were sure the nuclear weapons were on their way.

It is a curious thing to see, this “accidental” experiment in sociological terror. One of my college professors had been involved in psychological operations during the Korean War. He taught me an abiding respect for psy-ops, the aimed manipulation of hearts and minds of a target population. These operations generally aim to instill a type of hyper-patriotism in their targets and will use disinformation campaigns to achieve it. During the Korean War saving the world from godless communism was considered an end worthy of a few lies, ambiguities, and downright deceptions. Today when we see an “accident” like the Hawaii event (and now Japan as well, the only country to suffer the nuclear flames) it would be wonderful to trust the official story. Yet we can be sure that only the most naive will accept it without some degree of doubt. People educated in political history will necessarily be wondering if just maybe something more was going on. Something more sinister. For example, if our government were planning on using such weapons soon, it might well need to examine their threat effect on a subject population. Even better if you could gather data on reactions from both those who have and have not suffered from them in the past. I certainly have no idea if this is the case but want to explore a few things.

The day before Hawaiian’s “jangled nerves” it was reported that Syria used chemical weapons again. Considering Syria has nothing to gain and everything to lose by doing so, it seems quite a coincidence of timing. When the news broke that this nuclear warning was a mistake the exact words used were ‘the wrong button’ had been ‘accidentally’ pushed. We already mentioned the role in our collective psychology that the ‘wrong button’ plays. It might take 20 minutes for missiles launched from North Korea to land on Hawaii as a target. It is interesting that the correction of the mistake took almost exactly that long. That is a long time to have the population of a whole state left stewing in their fears of imminent holocaust. One would think an immediate correction might have occurred to the folks responsible. As a software engineer I find it very hard to believe such correction capability was not built into the system, I’ve seen government technical requirements for software systems. But all of this could really just be coincidences. We are faced with one of those things where the best we can do using our reason is weigh the probabilities for ourselves and remain as comfortable with a serious degree of unknowing as we can. Maybe there is a 5% chance it was actually a planned psy-ops? 20%, 50-50%? Who knows?

It is equally interesting to consider that it was just another dark day filled with unlucky, unplanned goofs. Does that make you feel any better? If that is the fact then the event is even more dismally close to the meaninglessness Stanley Kubrick wove Dr. Strangelove around. In fact, that it really was just a goof is such a dismal possibility that it might be more comforting to weave conspiracy theories around the event, like a planned psy-op as I have alluded to.

There is a third possibility, though not one modern people are likely to consider at all. It is the way most of our ancestors might have thought about what was happening when something like this occurs. They might have evoked the idea that there were demonic forces involved. It could all be accidental for all we can tell, yet unseen the faithful might have discerned the finger of evil entities that are bent on destroying human beings. Or, as Freud once remarked, “there are no accidents.” What a heyday for the demonic, to see so many people traumatized. What a nice way to seed the chances of a real breakthrough with the real weapons someday soon. These funny thoughts occurred to me as I remembered something Joanna Macy, long time Buddhist teacher and anti-nuclear activist, said the last time I saw her. She said that it seemed to her that there must be good spiritual beings watching over our weapons systems to have had as many close calls as we have and not to have had the searing fire unleashed – yet. An image of those compassionate one’s karma bending capacities being worn thin came to my mind when I heard the news about what had happened in Hawaii. Perhaps electing the poster boy for the seven deadly sins may just have my nerves jangled. Perhaps, dear reader, you can spare a thought to also Anchor Me?

I have not talked much about who I am or why I believe myself qualified to talk about this path of Mindful Ecology. I have wanted the value of what I am saying to stand or fall on its own merits. My intention has been to share my experience of truth around the child abuse – spiritual abuse – earth abuse spectrum that confronts us on every side in our times. Not everyone who needs psychological and spiritual healing can afford therapy, so I have given it all freely. I pray, honestly and humbly, that it has been of some benefit to others. I only have a few more things to share before wrapping up this project. The path of Mindful Ecology was never meant to be an end in itself. It is a path. Work the work by staying with the pain your ecological awareness causes you in your life and, I believe from my experience, that it will lead you to where you need to go. In my case this was back to my faith in stories with good endings, my Buddhist-Catholicism-Orthodoxy embrace of brothers and sisters of goodwill from both East and West. Your mileage may differ in its forms but my heart tells me we will share what is essential. I bring this up now because events are quickly moving beyond my pay grade. I mean spiritually. I am a spiritual pygmy among some spiritual giants. If things continue to proceed as I expect them to, it would be good for my readers to find some trustworthy shepherds, people who know something about the role suffering really plays in life and why even the non-theistic Buddhists have hells in their teachings.

Homo Colossus is crashing. What Mindful Ecology insists on is that this is mostly an inner phenomenon involving the modern psyche. That is what remains for us to discuss, this idea that there is a world-soul in which the good and evil we each commit has nowhere to hide because it is all around us everyday. It is in the birdsong, in the pure mountain stream, in the laughter of happy good times – and in the screams of those we torture.

Watch over your soul, or as we say it today, your psyche. The contemplative traditions understand something which I believe we ignore at our own peril in our headlong rush into next quarter’s profits. Just remember using “god” is not a good plan. We do not like to be used by one another, expect the same. Those temptations of the Christ are like soul mirrors showing us ourselves. We want to use “god” to get on Santa’s good list. We want to use “god” to give us what we lack in our vulnerable egos and bodies. It is just the normal way of being homo sapiens. We are tempted to use “god” to gain political power, or as a path to wealth, or, perhaps most insidiously, as a means of becoming workers of miracles filled with magical powers. All these things deeply misunderstand the nature of our nature as creatures. Come to “god” with a contrite heart and indeed miraculous healing can be yours. History testifies that this is true. The difficulty is that in coming to that light, you will necessarily also encounter in your heart your own hidden agendas. Turn the stones to bread, have the nations fall at your feet, or throw yourself off the heights and be sure angels will catch you; one or all of these will be hiding there, corrupting your search for true spirituality. That too is normal. The good news is that these things are not capable of diverting us from the truth if we are willing to discipline our unruly hearts in the school of love, charity, and compassion. That which is in us seeking our fulfillment is greater than that which seeks our destruction. Lead with your heart.

The joy we celebrate together and the tears we shed together, these are sacred. The persons and personalities we encounter are not to be used and abused.

Speaking of, in an earlier post I played with a crude mathematical model to try and shake us from our complacency. It looked at how many pounds of burnt human flesh each citizen in the United States might be karmically responsible for if this country were to again use our nuclear weapons. With this week’s event there is another opportunity to reach into some meaningful work of compassion. We need to imagine that we were one of the citizens that received the message that the bombs were coming. We need to place ourselves in their shoes, try and feel what they felt, think what they thought, smell, taste, touch, hear, and see what they did.

For roughly half an hour some people on our earth were sure nuclear holocaust was going to be the end fate of their lives and, for many, the lives of those they loved. What would you have done that Saturday morning? Would you have run to find your children or parents or beloved partner? Would you have entered the schools and workplaces where they were, and done so at any cost, to be with them? Would you have dropped to your knees? Cut your throat? Would you have dared to look at the Man in the Mirror? Breathe with them in their moments of terror. How many people, people just like you and I and our friends, have now been traumatized and will carry those scars of trauma until the day they die? Does this exercise strike you as silly, pointless, or stupid? Or does it strike you as too hard, without worth, meaningless? Do you understand a crime has been committed? A crime against humanity, our basic, shared human decency which should have the right to live without the constant and continual fear of nuclear war being unleashed by irresponsible leaders with profound psychological problems?

What questions come up in your own heart? This is not a time for filling ourselves with our certainties, our stories that make everything alright and let us get on with our hyper-consumerism unbothered. This is a time to sit with the darkness. Let’s do it before the mass graves are dug this time. The unknowing that brings fear and doubt and sorrow is the guide to trust. When a monkey looks in the mirror, no god looks back out.

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