The War on Terror
I dare say that the words in the title are ones that we have all seen too many times over the last fourteen years or so.
Apart from the obvious meaning that we are all supposed to think of one may suspect that there are other meanings hidden beneath the surface. The ‘War on Terra’ ~ i.e. War on the Planet is one of the more obvious, as well as the fact that it is clearly as much of a War of Terror as one against ‘Terror’ itself, and we needn’t get into who exactly it is who is responsible for these atrocities. I hope my readers will be sufficiently experienced with researching material on the net to have spent a little time on that.
But the latest interpretation upon which I have stumbled is a little more recherché than these, and was inspired by my recent encounter with a lecture collection by Joseph Campbell.
One of the many points which stuck in my mind was what he said about how the Universe is terrifying, and that is part of its nature. I also liked the reference to the Bhagavad Gita which he made, already one of my personal favourites, and in the translation he chose Krishna’s admonition to Arjuna comes out as ‘Whence [comes] this ignoble cowardice?’
Facing as he did his cousins the Kauravas who were preparing to fight Arjuna and the Pandavas to the death, Krishna is urging him to face up to reality and take responsibility for his action in the situation ~ even though it was terrifying.
I have always liked a story I heard a long time ago about how mediaeval magicians and alchemists believed that the best way to master a demon is to look it in the eye and name it, rather than to flee. Fleeing may be appropriate to some physical dangers, and often is, but fleeing from one’s own inner demons is an example of the ignoble cowardice that Arjuna is criticised for by Krishna.
An insight which grew on me over many years was the understanding that as we grow in wisdom and power we gain mastery over greater energies. But it is actually the case that the more beyond and outside our own limitations we stretch ourselves, the greater we grow, the more we understand, and the wiser we become. Within certain guidelines of practicality of course. But the more we deal with, the more we become.
I recall a key point which I picked up a few years ago when I was going through some upgrades in my skills. Successful people do the things that unsuccessful people are unwilling to do.
Facing terrifying things is difficult for most people, but magicians and shamans are willing to face terror because it leads them into places where others are not willing to go, and it teaches them things that others are not willing to earn, or learn.
One of the worst things about our modern world is that everything is supposed to be safe. Not only physical things, I am not against safe toys and machines and so forth, but an absolute unwillingness to engage in any form of risk, even at a level of social discourse. The pathetic psychological weaklings who need to have trauma counselling because they saw a Confederate flag are examples of this. People who cannot accept any form of challenge to their worldview and have extremely limited politically correct attitudes and expectations.
And what would they think of the terror of existence? They would probably consider it politically unacceptable.
So I come to my rather oblique interpretation of the ‘War on Terror’ meme which has been beaten into our psyches. The Terror of Existence is our friend, because the more we can face it, the greater the challenges and terror we can face and deal with in our daily lives. But the ‘War on Terror’ which tries to shut down any challenge or difficulty puts those who succumb to it in an utterly disempowered state.
The best way to overcome a phobia of say, spiders, is to have graduated exposure to them so that the fear is extinguished through the learning process that brings down the emotional response.
Now the kind of things which we have associated as ‘terror’ events are of course bad and dangerous, and I wouldn’t for a moment try to suggest that we shouldn’t be afraid of them, as I said above about physical danger. But it is the mental fear which needs to be overcome. One may flee from the danger, but one must not flee from one’s own consciousness, must not hide behind emotions that diminish us and turn us into cowering sheep.
So, face the Terror. This is what Frank Herbert meant in his Bene Gesserit ‘Litany Against Fear’. I will face my fear. I will allow it to pass over me and through me, and when it has passed I will turn to see its path. Where it has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
It is like that old adage ‘Death Walks Behind You’. Fear is both Enemy and Friend. Terror is a rite of passage after which one becomes a stronger and more powerful being. Campbell says that we participate in the Terror of the Universe, that human existence is Terrifying in itself, in its existential reality. To make ‘War on Terror’ makes no sense. One cannot make war on a fundamental aspect of the Universe, one can only manipulate perceptions so that we feel afraid to face that aspect, cower before it, and thus lose the strength and empowerment which it can imbue and endow us with since it is that which can give us self knowledge. It is a war on our ability to draw strength, to draw courage from that which challenges us, to make us afraid to be wild, to be ourselves. And so the War on Terror is a war upon the very nature of the human psyche itself.