Hold It All

Category: Dissidents

Cultivating Attention and Animating Conscience: Reading Thoreau in Desperate Times

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

“Action from principle, the perception and the performance of right, changes things and relations; it is essentially revolutionary, and does not consist wholly with anything which was. It not only divides states and churches, it divides families; ay, it divides the individual, separating the diabolical in him from the divine.”

“On reading the words of Thoreau
I vow with all beings
to cherish our home-grown sages
who discern the perennial way.”
–Robert Aitken

Being a human being means benefiting from rich cultural traditions—not just our own traditions, but many others—and becoming not just skilled, but also wise. Somebody who can think—think creatively, think independently, explore, inquire—and contribute to society. If you don’t have that, you might as well be replaced by a robot.
–Noam Chomsky

In this course we will explore Henry David Thoreau’s prophetic and spiritual writings as a resource for living, in poet Marge Piercy’s words, “consciously, conscientiously, concretely, [and] constructively” in this time of domestic disparities and global crises.

We meet on eight consecutive Wednesdays from February 26 to April 15. We are hosted by Dianne Lee and Bill Quick at their home in Richmond Heights. We gather at 6:45 and go till 8:15. Sessions will have time for paired sharing, writing exercises, discussions of Thoreau’s works, announcements of the local scene, poetry recitations, viewing of documentaries, and more. A class blog will enable us to share our various responses in between classes.

Some Essentials—
An outgoingness of heart
“Pessimism of the intelligence, optimism of the will” [Antonio Gramsci]
A notebook, tablet, or laptop
These two books— Henry David Thoreau, The Higher Law: Thoreau on Civil Disobedience and Reform, with an introduction by Howard Zinn and Tim Flinders, ed., Henry David Thoreau: Spiritual and Prophetic Writings (Modern Spiritual Masters).

Tuition is $150, payable to me by check or Paypal.
Email me if you are interested —markjchmiel@gmail.com.

Perennially Good Advice

“Do what you love. Know your own bone; gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw it still. Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life so. Aim above morality. Be not simply good—-be good for something.”

–Henry David Thoreau

To Serve Suffering Humanity

Shekhar Ganguly, A Satyagrahi, a Revolutionary, a Communist
People’s Publishing House, New Delhi, 1995

I recently read Arundhati Roy’s moving essay, “Walking with the Comrades,” detailing her solidarity with the indigenous Maoists of India back in 2010.  Shekhar Ganguly is an ideological antecedent, in some respects, to those women, men, and kids Roy met in the jungles of India.  His book is a straightforward account for the  benefit of the next generation.  Here’s a most important fact: He spent 12 years in jail for his Communist compromismo. 

Ganguly  became a satyagrahi at 13.  He noted the influence of the Ramakrishna movement and Vivekananda and revolutionary politics: “I was torn between two ideas and two desires at that moment. To search out and join the ranks of the revolutionaries, fight the British rulers and die a hero’s death like Bhagat Singh and the other heroes or to join Ramakrishna Mission and spend my life serving the suffering humanity! In those days the first was much stronger than the second.” [9]

He moved away from “Gandhism” because he was “serious”: The British only understood force:  “Hence they will have to be thrown out by force.”  [11] He had to reckon with this question: “Are you ready to sacrifice everything for the freedom of Mother India?” [11] He sealed the deal with an offering of blood to the goddess Kali and “learnt in jail that many others had been tortured much more and for longer period than me.” [25] Read the rest of this entry »

Reading Václav Havel I Think of Gideon Levy

Glucksman says the role of the intellectual is to warn, to predict horrors, to be a Cassandra who tell us  what is going on outside the walls of the city.  I share this notion….I too think the intellectual should constantly disturb, should bear witness to the misery of the world, should be provocative by being independent, should rebel against all hidden and open pressure and manipulations, should be the chief doubter of systems, of power and its incantations, should be a witness to their mendacity.  For this very reason, an intellectual cannot fit into any role that might be assigned to him, nor can he ever be made to fit into any of the histories written by the victors.  An intellectual essentially doesn’t belong anywhere; he stands out as an irritant wherever he is; he does not fit into any pigeonhole completely. –Havel, Disturbing the Peace

 

 

The Goal Is Justice, the Method Is Transparency

For those who would like to know a little more about  the issues surrounding Julian Assange and Wikileaks, please take two minutes to read and ponder the following passages from Tariq Ali and Margaret Kunstler’s new book, In Defense of Julian Assange (OR Books, 2019).

Providing information to the citizens of this world has become a dangerous act, but it cannot be stopped, as every authoritarian regime understands. The courageous people who provide this information must be protected.  —Tariq Ali and Margaret Kunstler, xxvii 

I posed the question of what the most positive trajectory for the future would look like. Self-knowledge, diversity, and networks of self-determination.  A highly educated global population—I do not mean formal education, but highly educated in their understanding of how human civilization works at the political, industrial, scientific and psychological levels—as a result of the free exchange of communication, also stimulating vibrant new cultures and the maximal diversification of individual thought, increased regional self-determination, and the self-determination of interest groups that are able to network quickly and exchange value rapidly over geographic boundaries. —Julian Assange,  212

[Julian] Assange’s agenda is infinitely more noble and infinitely more reviled by the servants of power: to upset the status quo that demands war, corruption, and oppression in order to exist.—Caitlin Johnstone, 195 

As founder and editor of WikiLeaks, [Assange’s] crime has been to make sense of dark times. WikiLeaks has an impeccable record of accuracy and authenticity which no newspaper, no TV channel, no radio station, no BBC, no New York Times, no Washington Post, no Guardian can equal. Indeed, it shames them. That explains why he is being punished.—John Pilger  151 Read the rest of this entry »

For So They Treated the Prophets…

Here’s Noam Chomsky–True prophets like Amos — “dissident intellectuals,” in modern terminology — offered both elevated moral lessons, which the people in power weren’t fond of, and geopolitical analyses that usually turned out to be pretty accurate, which the people in power were even less fond of. Naturally, the true prophets were despised, imprisoned, driven into the desert. The public also hated the true prophets — they didn’t want to hear the truth either. Not because they were bad people, but for all the usual reasons — short-term interest, manipulation, dependence on power.

Julian Assange has been despised, imprisoned, driven into extreme isolation; according to Nils Melzer, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment: ‘we all came to the conclusion that he showed all the symptoms that are typical for a person that has been exposed to psychological torture over an extended period of time.’

One of the reasons he and Wikileaks are so hated by the devotees of the war-making state is the release of such material as this on Collateral Murder.

 

 

Share the Wealth with Andrew Wimmer and Mark Chmiel: Making Use of Wikileaks

According to Geoffroy de Lagasnerie, “[Wikileaks] functions almost like a group of historians of the present. Its institutional mission is to reveal the secret activities of political leaders and, in the process, show the public how states actually function and what they actually do.”

In this Share the Wealth, we will examine one example of what the U.S. government wanted to remain secret but which Wikileaks made available. In so doing, we will consider the nature of civic responsibility and its costs.

Join us
Sunday 24 November
Potluck begins at 6:00
Andrew and I begin sharing at 6:45
At the home of Andrew 4400 Arco Avenue
Forest Park Southeast
Point your GPS to 1077 S. Newstead, 63110
Park on Newstead
House is on SW corner of Newstead and Arco
Enter front door at 4400 Arco

This Weekend in Saint Louis: Colin McLaughlin’s “Jailbird”!

My friend Colin wrote the play! Spread the word.

The Missouri History Museum and Bread and Roses Missouri
presents the premiere of Jailbird, a new play.

In 1920, Eugene Victor Debs ran a campaign for the US presidency- from a federal prison cell. He was imprisoned for his outspoken objection to the violence and chaos of WWI. Debs ended up receiving a million votes, and 100 years later, his revelations on our society, economy, prison system, and the nature of war, are strikingly relevant.

November 15th and 16th at 7pm, and November 17th at 3 pm.

The Sunday performance will be followed by a talk back, “Then and Now,” featuring representatives from The Eugene Debs Foundation and Missouri Jobs With Justice.

Directed by Kathryn Bentley and written by St Louis playwright Colin McLaughlin.

Part of the Bread and Roses Missouri Workers’ Theater Project.

Featuring Shaun Sheley, Hassie Davis, Noah Laster, Summer Baer, Thomasina Clarke, Michael Paplanus, Kenya Hitchens, and Ryan Lawson-Maeske.

This play is presented with support from The Regional Arts Commission, The Missouri Humanities Council, The Missouri History Museum, The Puffin Foundation, and The Eugene Debs Foundation.

What a Joy to Run the World!

When corporate-endowed foundations first made their appearance in the United States, there was a fierce debate about their provenance, legality, and lack of accountability. People suggested that if companies had so much surplus money, they should raise the wages of their workers. (People made these outrageous suggestions in those days, even in America.) The idea of these foundations, so ordinary now, was in fact a leap of the business imagination. Non-tax-paying legal entities with massive resources and an almost unlimited brief—wholly unaccountable, wholly nontransparent— what better way to parlay economic wealth into political, social, and cultural capital, to turn money into power? What better way for usurers to use a minuscule percentage of their profits to run the world? How else would Bill Gates, who admittedly knows a thing or two about computers, find himself designing education, health, and agriculture policies, not just for the US government but for governments all over the world?

Arundhati Roy, Capitalism: A Ghost Story

Mumbai

Human Rights Doesn’t Go Far Enough

Armed with their billions, these NGOs have waded into the world, turning potential revolutionaries into salaried activists, funding artists, intellectuals and filmmakers, gently luring them away from radical confrontation, ushering them in the direction of multi-culturalism, gender, community development— the discourse couched in the language of identity politics and human rights.

The transformation of the idea of justice into the industry of human rights has been a conceptual coup in which NGOs and foundations have played a crucial part. The narrow focus of human rights enables an atrocity-based analysis in which the larger picture can be blocked out and both parties in a conflict—say for example the Maoists and the Indian Government, or the Israeli Army and Hamas—can both be admonished as Human Rights Violators. The land-grab by mining corporations or the history of the annexation of Palestinian land by the State of Israel then become footnotes with very little bearing on the discourse. This is not to suggest that human rights don’t matter. They do, but they are not a good enough prism through which to view or remotely understand the great injustices in the world we live in.
–Arundhati Roy, Capitalism: A Ghost Story