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Systemic Violence: Poverty, Racism, Injustice, Corporate Greed, Permanent War, Environmental Destruction

First, a correction to my last post. I know that it was Building Seven and not Six that fell on 9/11. More proof I need a “proof reader.”

That said, I have to make a confession. This past weekend I filmed a workshop by Father John Dear on Living A Nonviolent Life. In the first session, Dear talked about being nonviolent to oneself, and it dawned on me that being “angry” was not only being violent outwardly, but also to oneself….Me! I even had a quote from Thomas Aquinas justifying my rightful anger, “He who is not angry when there is just cause for anger is immoral. Why? Because anger looks to the good of justice. And if you can live amid injustice without anger, you are immoral as well as unjust.” It was also Aquinas who laid out the conditions under which a war could be justified. This “just war theory” was and is antithetical to what his Lord and Savior, said, “You have heard it said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you,  whosoever shall strike you on the right cheek, turn to him the other cheek also.” Mathew 5:38-42 

I’ve made progress dealing with my anger about poverty, racism, injustice, corporate greed, permanent war, the destruction of the environment and all of the chaos surrounding #45 and the 24/7 echo chamber that is the media, alternative media, and social media. I have tried to rise above the din and not get sucked into fits of anger and rage that come at us in a never-ending torrent. I’m learning to “let go” thanks to reflection on my beliefs about life, what I believed Jesus was saying, and many experiences I had as a Catholic priest in the Carmelite Order. As a hospital chaplain, I’d been at the bedside of the dying, present in the ER anointing the corpses of shooting victims, heart attack victims, and the bodies of teenage girls who overdosed. It was there that  I came face to face with my own mortality. At countless funerals I uttered the words, “Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.”

An environmental scientist and friend, Guy McPherson, has been warning the world about “near-term extinction” due to the catastrophic failure of the planet. He says that when faced with extinction, the only thing that matters is love. By that I think he means to love others, love the earth and all it offers, and appreciate all of the beauty and wonder that life has offered. That’s basically the Jesus message and the message of John Dear who says we must be nonviolent towards ourselves and all others, including the animals and fishes, the plants and Mother Earth. And, that’s basically how I’ve tried to live my life.

In 2012, I travelled to Jeju Island, South Korea which resulted in an award-winning documentary. What I experienced on Jeju Island made me angry, very angry at what my government had done in Korea immediately after the war which resulted in the massacre of between 30,000 and 60,000 innocent peasants America called “Reds.” It was anger that motivated me to work 8-10 hours a day, 7 days a week for an entire year.

Many of you have seen my latest film, Thirty Seconds to Midnight – The Final Wake Up Call. In the three years of its making, I was filled with anger and motivated by anger at the imminent threat of a nuclear Armageddon; the threat that nuclear power presents in places like Fukushima, Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Maine Yankee; and near-term extinction from the catastrophic failure of our life support systems. Dr. Helen Caldicott sounded the alarm in the opening of the film when she said, “There are only three, existential and imminent threats to life on the planet. They are nuclear war, nuclear power, and climate change. Nothing else matters.”

So, here I was worried about America’s war making around the world; the bloated and ever-increasing war budget; another trillion dollars to upgrade nuclear weapons; school shootings; Ferguson and Standing Rock; the NSA, CIA, and FBI; the Patriot Act and the NDAA; corporations are people; the great disparity of wealth; the evils of Capitalism; racism; and violence in general throughout our culture. And, if that isn’t enough to cause many a sleepless night, there was Clinton-Trump and all of the chaos that has ensued. And, yes I was angry, admitted it, expressed it, and justified it with the words of Saint Thomas Aquinas no less. I finally realized that anger was eating me up.

For those who know, I have two sons serving in the Army. As an anti-war, peace activist, one can imagine my inner conflict. But, I have had to let that go as well. When the elder son was deployed to a war zone, I could not sleep at night worrying about his safety. It then occurred to me that I was not in charge of my sons’ lives and life choices. My responsibility is only to love them and to be there for them. As I delved further and further into war and the evils in our society, it became clear that they are all caused by systemic and structural violence. My kids have grown up in a culture that is saturated with violence. They joined because there were no jobs and, like their grandfather after Pearl Harbor, they responded to 9/11 out of a sense of patriotism. They believed the lie and wanted to defend their country, our freedoms and our Democracy.

Reflecting on what I have written above, I arrived at a state of mind where I let it all go. Well, mostly. The realization that I am powerless to do anything about any of it, including the near-term extinction of life on the planet, enabled me to focus on my only contribution to the nonviolent struggle against war, injustice and the destruction of the planet….my filmmaking and my blog. Guy McPherson quotes Edward Abbey as saying, “Action is the antidote to depression.” He’s right.

I wrote this in an earlier blog, “Why bother, one could ask, with no solution and nothing to do about it? Because I have to. Because to give up, become depressed, and paralyzed is not an option. Soon to be 73 years of age, I am fully aware that death is just around the corner. This awareness makes me look back over a life lived as well as I could, with many screw ups, downers but many more highs. It also makes me realize that with whatever time I have left, I will be the best person, father and friend that I can be. I will try to enjoy all of the beauty and wonder that has been part of the 200,000 year human experiment, and all of the mystery, wonder and beauty this planet still offers. I will continue to care deeply about these things and will not be distracted, crestfallen, overwhelmed, or depressed over all of the chaos and evil that is happening all around me. Because, the only thing that has ever mattered for every person born into this world, is to be the best person one could be.”

After all, we only get one try at this.

“Remember man that thou art dust and unto to dust thou shalt return.”

Does living with nonexistence in mind make a difference?

I made the following short video (8 minutes) to celebrate and honor my friends and millions of people around the world who are nonviolently and peacefully resisting the structural violence in our culture that is the cause of poverty, greed, racism, sexism, wars, nuclear weapons, and the destruction of our environment.



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Copyright © 2018 Regis Tremblay.