Jay Michaelson
Constriction, p. 3

2.    Terror in New York

Right before Imagine, John Lennon recorded the Plastic Ono Band album, a work filled with searing personal revelations and examinations of pain. Under the influence of primal-scream therapist Arthur Janov, John and Yoko were confronting their childhood demons and the pain they had endured over three years of hyper-scrutinized celebrity. After seven years of being in the most famous pop group ever, Lennon said, in connection with the album, "I was never really wanted when I was a child. The only reason I am a star is because of my repressions. The only reason I went for that goal is that I wanted to say: 'Now, Mummy, Daddy, will you love me?'"

Lennon later said that Plastic Ono Band was as much a peace album as Imagine, because you've got to have inner peace in order to make outer peace. For a long time, I thought that idea was nonsense. What you need for outer peace isn't for everyone to love their inner child; you need structures in place to stop people from hurting each other, stop the most powerful from oppressing the least powerful. You need people to stop using violence - period.

But now, as America marches off to its likely brutal war, Lennon seems right. There is just no getting through to the warmongers and their cops mounted on horseback, just as there is no getting through to narrow-minded xenophobes or homophobes or, more mundanely, breaking the shell around Hope Reeves. These days, a large percentage of the American public, and even larger percentage of American leaders, simply cannot get out of their own boxes long enough to see that our enemy is neither evil nor irrational, but quite justifiably infuriated at the advance of the American empire. They seem absolutely immune to reasoned discussion of history since September 11, including whether the events of that date had any connection to our actions as opposed to the evildoers' moral insanity. And their only response to the threat of impending violence is to further curtail civil liberties.

Now, to be quite honest, I'm not really so opposed to the Iraq war -- at least, not enough to really count. I do think the war will be a horrible waste of time and money, and an even more horrible waste of human life. And I think its primary purpose is to keep Americans distracted from the economic chaos that has accompanied the Bush administration's outrageous and relentless enrichment of the richest and most powerful American elites. But having said that, Saddam Hussein is clearly an evil man, who has tortured and murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent people, and who might (maybe) have dangerous weapons in development. The world will be better off with him out of power. So, while I am ultimately against the war, it doesn't loom nearly as large on my personal catalog of injustices as does Tibet, or the destruction of the natural environment, or the massive enrichment of the criminal, wealthy elites of America.

My point, however, is that all of these evils come from tightness, from an inability to get away from one's own priorities long enough to see that they are arbitrary, that ultimately we all want the same things, that nothing but compassion matters. Our leaders seem so wrapped up in their own value systems that we seem to be beyond hope.

What is it, really, that motivates these actions of greed, violence, and deliberate indifference to the destruction of our planet? I think our leaders are reasonable men (though not women). I think that the cops who intimidated and brutalized the protesters in New York last week, lying to them, dividing up families and friends, charging them with riot shields, trampling them with horses, beating them with nightsticks, and treating them with contempt - these people are not "pigs." They are not "monsters." They are human beings, who have somehow worked themselves into a place where their hatred for what other people stand for is greater than their recognition of those people's humanity. What causes that?

Some might suggest that these people, if not animals, are at least dysfunctional human beings. They hate themselves, and they have learned to live with that self-hatred by projecting it onto anyone and anything that threatens to undo their myths of selfhood. I hate myself; you threaten the story I tell myself to avoid confronting my self-hatred; so I hate you. Like gay-bashers patrolling the illusory boundaries of their own sexuality, the cops beat up the hippies to reassure themselves that copness is real.

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Image of policeman at February 15 rally:

March 2003

Readings and Misreadings
Zeek live, March 20 at Makor

surrender monkeys
Michael Shurkin

the reason for
Hal Sirowitz

Jay Michaelson

war and not-peace
Dan Friedman

Only Shelter
Bryn Canner

Abraham Mezrich

josh goes to prague
Josh Ring

David Stromberg

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