Not just a billboard, a story

On my rare visits to LA, I am always impressed (negatively) by the blatant violence of the billboards advertising films and TV. This past weekend was no exception. Apparently, there are fashions in violence. A while back it was crime, then a particularly sick one: the dead – zombies slouching toward you every other street. Now it’s hulks. I pay as little attention as possible, so it took me a while to realize there was something odd about one I had just passed. While it looked like hulks from a Jurassic swamp or foreign planet, it was actual people: Navy Seals, to be precise. A recruitment poster. But the men – it even said something like “incredible men” as part of the advert – were so encrusted with weapons and armor, huddled in their trenches, they looked thoroughly un-human. What an allegory.

All this led me to reflect that in our critical struggle to install a new image of humanity – a new story – we must differentiate between what we might call an “official” story and an “operational” story. The official story, publicized over and over by psychologists and spiritual teachers, is that taking care what goes into our mind is critically important. But the story that prevails in the minds of so very many is that basically, we do not have a mind. Or there’s no need to worry about what goes into it, and circulates around within it, prompting its owner eventually to action.

To fail to see the connection between the imagery in our minds today and the appalling violence we are going through is a disease so deep that one really wonders what it will take to cure it. Conditioned as we are to “like” excitement, no matter of what kind – conditioned to mistake chaotic disturbance with “fun,” peace remains far from our mental horizon, our cities, the world.

Of course, the glorification of war in that billboard and so many like it is destructive; but beneath that lies the glorification of violence and its attendant dehumanization.

I remain convinced that nonviolence will be the way to both complete the new story – which must come to rest on the question of human nature – and operate even on the “operational” level in our minds that’s beyond the reach of reason. Reason we must provide, but we must engage nonviolent action to back up that reason, to, as Gandhi put it, “move the heart also.”

Such, as I see it, is our challenge. Any ideas how to implement it? I’m all ears.