29 January 2005

A living memorial to Auschwitz

By Jacqui McCarney

Thursday saw the first ever commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz 60 years ago. The calculated evil of the Nazi's, responsible for the deaths of 6 million Jews, along with Poles, homosexuals, Soviets and Gypsies, is a harrowing reminder of man's inhumanity to man.

This commemoration acknowledges respectfully those who suffered and died, and provides the living with an opportunity to express their grief, sadness and perhaps shame. Shame at what we are capable of doing to one another.

Is the human race destined to express itself, in violent acts of terror and war while praying for peace? History shows that this is indeed the case, and our time on this planet is punctuated by barbaric acts of war and violence.

While we pride ourselves on our superior intelligence, inventiveness and ability to solve problems, we are caveman age in human relations. We have used our superior intelligence to make very sophisticated clubs with which to batter one another - from machine guns to atomic weapons. As yet, we have not figured out how not to batter one another.

Indeed every discussion about conflict sees today's expensively educated leaders revert to a caveman speak of simplistic polarities - Good, Evil, Friend, Enemy, Civilized World, Axis of Evil. Then George Bush's memorable, "You're either with us, or against us" and Tony Blair's most recent, "A few bad apples".

Honestly! Most parents expect more emotional intelligence from their 5 year olds. "It's all his fault", gets little sympathy from parents who know that it's usually six of one and half a dozen of the other. So why do we accept such nonsense from politicians.

Seeing the world in black and white allows us to abdicate all responsibility. Whilst placing ourselves comfortably on a seat of righteousness, we can commit all kinds of barbarism to those we have demonised. Hitler's delusion was that he saw himself as the liberator of the German people. Those who commit acts of evil often fervently believe themselves to be acting out of honourable intentions against some outer evil.

What does human evolution amount to, when we fail miserably to live peacefully with our fellow man? Our failure amounts to our childish refusal to engage fully with the other.

Instead, we dishonour the sacredness of other's humanity and render them subhuman. The evil is out there, it is 100% their fault, whilst the halo of God's goodness is owned by us alone. Projecting the darker side of our human nature, our shadow, onto the world and others leaves us with a dark and frightening universe. No wonder, we now live in a "culture of fear".

To step beyond this primal level of relating, we must begin to take responsibility for some of the mess and be prepared to talk, but more important, listen. Listening carefully to others allows us to understand them.

The aim is not to get rid of conflict, this would probably be impossible, but to develop the techniques, skills, and wisdom for resolving it. Condoleeza Rice's promise of more US diplomacy are words in the right direction, but is she serious she can deliver it?

We really need leadership that favours diplomacy over war - a new approach that could permeate the whole of society. Studies such as that of Mel and Carl Ember conclude that continuous wars is a major cause of escalating violence in countries like the US, whose homicide rate of 7 or 8% per 100,000 is the highest in the world compared to non-combatant countries like Denmark, 0.2 per 100,000, the lowest.

The bullying in our institutions, wife beating, rape, mugging and assault that happen in our local community can not be divorced from each other or from our engagement in war. According to research carried out by Dane Archer and Rosemary Gartner, (Violence and Crime in Cross-National Perspective) all forms of aggression are strongly inter-related - the more aggression in one sphere, the more there will be in others.

This is true whether the aggression is verbal, symbolic or physical. Far from being a release valve, it becomes a template or formula for how to behave in other spheres in the world. Germaine Greer's refusal to play ball with the bullying in Big Brother is also a refusal to play the bigger game of our society, pretending it is all harmless fun.

A living memorial to the holocaust would be a genuine commitment to conflict resolution being practised at all levels from ordinary people to governments.