"Maybe there is still some hope. If man is indeed made in the image of God, as I believed in the pre-Auschwitz days, maybe there are still some godly sparks left in men and some humanity in God," Margaret thought to herself as the column slowly entered the gates of Bergen Belsen.
- Yaffa Eliach, "In the Image of God" from Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust
* * *
Modern barbarism began its journey in the trenches of WW1 and bloomed into its poisonous flower with the Holocaust. Since then the seeds of such acts have been sown far and wide: Liberia, Serbia, Albania, Myanmar, Northern Ireland, Syria, Libya, Zimbabwe, New York on September 11, 2001, London, Paris, Chicago...
Our capacity to perpetrate horrors upon the bodies of those considered other knows no limit. The strain and stain of tribalism haunts the blood and is evoked for political gain by inciting fear, by demonizing what ever opposes it. This is an ancient thing and will never be scrubbed from us. We simply have access to greater means of desolation, of stoking fear and reprisal and part and parcel of that is we also have the means to learn of these horrors almost immediately, which further cements our fear and creates a perfect feedback loop of anger, violence, fear and back round again.
You cannot read anything of the Holocaust that does not provide you with a sorrowing prospect for our survival. Everything we see being played out today, was played out once before and before that as well: demagogues, hollow patriotism that demands compliance, masses of people silent in the face of their civil society being torn apart because they are afraid to speak, violence erupting with such common occurrence it is no longer noticed, and a handful profiting off our fear and violence. (Gun manufacturers, the very source of our ills, see sales "go vertical" after a mass shooting. Death has always been good for business.)
We truly are fucked.
We have always been truly fucked.
It is inescapable: there has never been a time in human history when the bodies of whom ever was other were not considered cheap. Can you count the bodies from Nazi Germany, or Stalin's Russia, or the number of slaves dead in MississippiNorthCarolinaAlabamaGeorgia, what of the dead pushed like mortar into The Great Wall, Alexander's barbarians, or the victims in Ciudad Juarez?
It is unimaginable.
It has always been so.
Except we are called to imagine it. The blood-lakes we forever wade through are only ever stilled by the ones who refuse to look away, who refuse the narrative that there is no point in resisting these red tides, who reject the idea that whatever agency they might have is not enough. Fascists are defeated. Survivors hold their perpetrators accountable by being indefatigable in the face of the unreliability of the law. It is always up to the victim of crime to push our society forward, instead of retreating further into tribal retribution. It is the minority voice, the isolated voice, the one who has every justification to work for the obliteration of her enemies, who saves us from ourselves, who restores a quality of compassion and righteousness to the cause of resisting the crushing waves of compliance and fear.
Ghandi liberated his fractured home from the British empire through the rightness of his cause and more so, through the rightness of his being. I am not asking you to liberate a nation, only yourself.
* * *
It's a bit much, I know. The easiest trope is to drag out the Holocaust and parade it about in order to shame another, or make some obvious point. I get that. But my point here isn't obvious.
The truth is for every 28 people who entered the maw of the camps, only one exited. Among the dead were righteous people who resisted their circumstance with whatever resources of dignity they might have had. Cowards died, too. The dead are not sainted because they are dead, but how they lived. One who walked out was Viktor Frankl. He wrote: "You may of course ask whether we really need to refer to "saints". Wouldn't it suffice just to refer to decent people? It is true that they form a minority. More than that, they always will remain a minority. And yet I see therein the very challenge to join the minority. For the world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best.”
Are you doing your best? Are you here faithfully among us?
Desolation is met and overcome by those who have chosen to live out their days - however few, however many - from the center of their being, humanizing a distant God, a god-like spark of creation in their step.
I cannot bring Wayne Lapierre to heel (BTW, he earns $1 million a year). I have no power to bring about a sea-change in my dying society. I do, however, have the power to resist. I do have the power to choose my response to the world around me. I do have the power try and embolden others to resist their losses, to turn their suffering into meaning, to rise each day and be the example they wished existed in the world.
Power politics will play out in horrific ways. It always has. And there has always been a minority resisting it. Once in a while we break through and we change the larger society for the better, against its will, but it is changed.
Only the fucked can do this.
Welcome to the resistance.