When I first ventured into the Beta version of Blogspot with The Hindenburg Effect, KD asked if it wasn’t time to change the caption beside “about me,” which is a quote from Walt Kelly’s cartoon character, Pogo – “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
I horde quotes like some kind of literary packrat but I still haven’t found anything that equals Pogo’s observation for brevity and wisdom. It applies, for me, when I’m blocked in my personal or creative life; it applies to politics; it applies to activism. It applies. Period. And I need to see the sentence.
So when the Scorpio casually asks me, “How do you deal with your enemies?” I look at him, dumbfounded, speechless. Enemies?
“Well,” he says, observing my expression and the long pause, “I suppose you have to see them that way.”
Don’t misunderstand. I can be one hell of a hot head. I am not known for my aura of calm, for loving all living beings or for my approval of governments, institutions and political systems. I can be a bitter little piece of work on many subjects. But it's not useful.
Ten years ago, beginning to correspond with someone on death row, I came to some pretty stunning realizations about our modern level of enlightenment. During three months, when the lessons were intense, I lost about 30 pounds and stopped sleeping.
I preached and raved to anyone who couldn’t escape fast enough. I don’t, these days, write about the things I learned, but let me put it this way – Guantánamo came as no surprise to me.
At one point, the Universe, in its infinite wisdom, sent me a mentor – a lawyer who has been an activist his entire life, now in his seventies, he still works 16 hour days on behalf of prisoners and the poor (nearly synonymous terms, by the way). I began to write around the time I met James. I began to publish a little here and there. As my horror grew, I didn’t spare details and finally my mentor stepped in.
“You won’t change anything with that kind of writing,” he said.
“People don’t want to read the gory details. They don’t want to know.”
Never let it be said that I’ll take wise advice laying down. I argued. Surely to God if people knew what went on inside prisons, surely it was just that they didn’t…
James held his ground calmly. The point was, according to him, that prison was just a microcosm of what prisoners and soldiers call, ‘the world.’
“Whatever goes on in there,” James said, “is the same thing that goes on out here, only concentrated.”
In other words, the “problem” was not prison staff and officials so much as it was society in general. The mindset of the world in general. The mindset of the people in the society that allowed for these institutions and this behavior. We have met those people and they are us.
Once in a while, I can’t contain my sadness and fury at the stupidity and cruelty of the world. The callous ignorance of politicians makes my hair stand on end. The injustices visited on people all over the world makes me furious. The treatment of women, the abuse of children, massive hunger, war, environmental suicide are crazy-making things. And moral outrage, the feeling that I am right and these others are wrong, that I would bloody-well like to hand out punishment or my own idea of justice, lands me directly in Pogo territory. Polarity, rage, self-righteousness, intolerance and the big fat ego they rode in on have yet to hand us peace or decency in the world. The very idea that the problem is always something outside of ourselves, is someone else, is our most fundamental and tragic mistake.
I get on my horse to slay the dragon. But when I get there, the dragon is me.
Difficult as it is for a hot-head, better to take Ghandi’s advice, “you have to be the change you want to see in the world.”
I’ll never get there, but Pogo stays to encourage me to try.