Sunday, January 15, 2017

Eye of the Tiger

So much of who we are is revealed in casual ways.

During a vacation, I saw a row of cards on display in a person's home.

Most of them showed pictures of tigers. I took them down and read them. Each one praised a person who had just graduated from college for hard work and dedication. Each one urged this person to be the "eye of the tiger."



What does it mean, I wondered, to be the "eye of the tiger?"

The internet offered some answers. According to the "Gratitude Guy,"* the eye of the tiger is the black spot behind each of a tiger's ears. When a tiger is about to move in for the kill, he flattens his ears forward, exposing these two black spots. These "eye spots" can confuse other animals as the tiger is about to attack.

In popular culture, the term means:
someone who is focused, confident, and has the look of being intense, somewhat cold but very fierce with a never say die attitude. ("Gratitude Guy)
It's also the popular  song associated with Rocky movies. Rocky had to develop the "eye of the tiger," the hunger and motivation to win and become a champion.

So when the parents, grandparents and aunts and uncles urged this college grad to have the "eye of the tiger," they meant to be focused on goals. They also meant being fierce and never giving up ("never say die.")

Because it is associated with a predator, the phrase can't help but suggest "going in for the kill." After all, the second "eyes" don't show until the tiger is ready to attack (kill) its prey.

I wondered what kind of ethic this is to urge in a young person. On the other hand, it seems a very "normal" way to think in American culture. We want to "win."

But are we "tigers," solitary, predatory animals? Social science teaches that humans are, above all, communal creatures. We are built to live in groups, and we function best in groups. We are very alert to social cues and try to be liked by other people. Being alone is one of the biggest predictors of early death. We are not mighty tigers. Instead, we are a species that is weak while all alone. We are built to depend on each other.

I imagine that the relatives of the college graduate meant to encourage being hardworking and striving for success. But it is troubling that the phrase has such a "killer" aspect.



After all, tigers will soon be extinct in natural habitats, surviving only in zoos, where they are dependent on others to protect them.

Maybe being an aggressive predator is not the best path to success.

Maybe "kill or be killed" means you die.

 People will tell me the phrase on the graduation cards is meant only in the most positive, encouraging way. It is meant only to build confidence.

All the same, I can't shake the idea that phrases like "eye of the tiger" promote a self-centered, aggressive attitude that is not realistic or helpful to society or the people in it in the long run. I wonder how much this kind of "off-hand" thinking, or unexamined habit of mind leads, with the even the best of intentions, to the coarsening of society. I don't need to mention that it jars against the Quaker ethics of community and caring.

What do you think? How do we push back?

*(https://www.facebook.com/thegratitudeguypage/posts/837445546370387)





Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Man in the High Castle: Spoiler blog: feminist and peace series

The Man in the High Castle, based loosely on Phillip K Dick's novel of an alternate history in which the Axis wins World War II and occupies the United States, is extraordinary in look and feel, acting, complexity and theme. The plot can be murky in places, as it is complex--there were moments in the series I had no idea what was going on--and drags in places (this is to say it is an imperfect work of art.) But nonetheless, it is extraordinary and worth watching.

New York in Nazi hands.

I call it feminist because the plot hinges on the actions of a woman, Juliana Crain, who lives as an oppressed American in Japanese-controlled San Francisco. She is not a catalyst for a male hero to act and save the day: it is precisely her own actions and her humanity that are all important. How often do we see that? And while she loves and is loved, that isn't the pivot of her life or the plot. In fact, it is some of the men who are more obsessed with her than she is with them, again, an extraordinary, feminist stance that the series enacts quietly.

Juliana Crane. Her actions derive from her courage and compassion. Her moral center is not evil.

Juliana gets dragged into the action, into history so to speak, when her sister, a member of the anti-Japanese/Nazi resistance, is killed. Juliana decides to deliver a film (in place of her sister) to the neutral zone between the Japanese and Nazi territories. "The man in the high castle," as he is called, has a large cache of films showing an alternative history in which the Allies won the war. The Nazis are after these films--to destroy them.

Juliana is motivated throughout the series not by ideology but by personal relationship and basic human compassion and decency. She has a moral compass rare to see in a TV protagonist these days: she actually cares about other people because she is able to put herself in their shoes and empathize with them: she is not about using others as "tools" for achieving her own  agenda (as is valorized (while disingenuously disavowed) in Breaking Bad, the Sopranos, West World, Game of Thrones, etc.) Thus, from the start, the Man series questions and problematizes blind adherence to ideology or groupthink or self above all else.  The series is centrally not about selfish personal ambition but about the larger good. I can't tell you what a (moral/ethical) relief it was to watch this.

Juliana makes mistakes because this is a series not prone to black and white distinctions. A big error is to trust a young man called Joe Blake who she meets in the neutral zone. He is at heart a decent person and he does genuinely fall in love with her. She feels all this and decides to trust him. What she doesn't know is that he is working undercover for the Nazis to get films for them. Because she trusts him, he gets hold of  an all-important film. But to complicate matters, Joe too has his heart in the right place. He is doing this, if I remember correctly, to get out from under the thumb of a prominent Nazi, John Smith and rebels against turning the film over to his Nazi overload. He, in fact, turns the film over to a group of insurgents, but is himself being played: once the film is on their boat, the Nazis blow it up, killing people. Joe looks like the Nazi traitor he is not: his intention was not to betray the resistance. Juliana also never meant for people to die, but they do.

In any case, Juliana doesn't lose her compassion and humanity: they are core to who she is and core to the survival of the human race in this series. She ends up having to flee and ask for asylum from the Nazis in New York: John Smith, to serve his own agenda, takes her under his wing. She doesn't want to have anything to do with him, but the Resistance insists she infiltrate his home and make friends with his wife and wife's friends (all married to prominent Nazis) or they will kill her for having given the film to Joe.

Thomas, a devoted young Nazi, is condemned to death by Nazi ideology.

She does infiltrate and to make a long story short, learns an important secret about John Smith's family: the son has muscular dystrophy. A doctor has come to euthanize the son, Thomas, because Nazi ideology dictates death to somebody carrying a hereditary illness. However, John loves son and like Juliana, put relationship above ideology: he stabs the doctor who has come to euthanize Thomas with the very needle filled with poison meant to kill Thomas. John is not going to sacrifice his beloved son to an ideology: here we have another complicated character, both a loathsome Nazi who is capable of cold-bloodedly killing enemies but also a loving father and a man who in the end works to prevent World War III at considerable risk to himself. (It's also clear that prior to the Nazi victory John and his wife were good Americans, and later Nazis: this seems a very real depiction of how people react to circumstances, as with the many die-hard Nazis who quickly became communists in East Germany after WWII.)

John Smith, American turned Nazi. He is more evil than good, but complicated, not a stick figure.

So as not to go on endlessly: the Nazis have the atom bomb, which the Japanese do not. When Hitler dies, his Nazi successor decides to immediately launch an all-out nuclear war against Japan, on the theory that this will usher in peace for all times (so absurd the series doesn't even have to comment on that as ridiculous). However, a wise, high-ranking Japanese (I am cutting out his story) delivers a film (actually an alternative history film) that shows the explosion of the hydrogen bomb on Bikini Island, in this world an island utterly in Japanese hands. John Smith is able to deliver this film showing (though falsely) that the Japanese have a superior weapon, causing the Nazis to cancel their nuclear strike. Peace prevails through ingenuity and courageous action rather than violence.

In this ever problematizing series, however, violence does play a role in preserving peace: the course of history does depend on Juliana, as mentioned before. She finds out the Resistance has a film that shows Thomas confiding in her that he has a serious illness. The Resistance plans to give this film to the media, which would ensure that the loathed John Smith would be arrested and executed for protecting his son. Juliana protests this, saying a young teenaged boy (who of course would be euthanized) shouldn't be sacrificed. After she successfully defends herself against the Resistance's coldblooded and pre-planned attempt to kill her now that they don't need her anymore (she's no longer a useful tool), she makes the decision (which she hates) to kill the man who has the tape, and then she destroys the tape to protect Thomas. Unbeknownst to her, this act is what allows John Smith (who otherwise would be in prison) to fly to Berlin with the film of the hydrogen bomb that averts war.

I call this a peace series because instead of valorizing ruthless slaughter of the "enemy" and pursuit of one's own self-aggrandizing agenda, the series valorizes compassionate empathy and caring for other human beings, even if that particular human being is on the "enemy" side. This is what saves the world. I contrast this to, for instance, a scene (largely gratuitous except to communicate a toxic ideological message) in Game of Thrones where a group of peace advocate who refuse to fight are slaughtered: the message is fight or die, kill or be killed, peace is for hopelessly naive pussies. However, getting back to Man, the narrative is problematized: Juliana protects a Nazi teenager who sincerely, if naively, believes wholly in Nazi ideology. Yet this is what makes the series interesting: if Juliana had been a Nazi who protects a Jew, we would not stop and think "What???": we would simply approve. Here, we do have to stop and think and realize that we are just as bloodthirsty and stupid as the Nazis if we kill others simply on the basis of ideology, rather than extending compassion to innocent, if misguided, people.

This is a peace series as well because it shows the ugliness of killing: in another but connected storyline, Frank Frick, a problematic character too, a resistance fighter who is too abrasive, self-absorbed and too willing to sacrifice friends to ideology, becomes the central player in a plot to blow up a Japanese military installation that is developing atomic weapons. The plot succeeds, but the series unflinchingly shows us dead, dismembered, people: it shows us the brutality and ugliness of this action. It isn't just a scene of the enemy factory blowing up in a spectacular but distant and heroic (let's all cheer!) explosion of fire and smoke: it is a scene in which innocent humans getting horribly killed.

It is difficult finding oneself at times sympathizing with Nazis and condemning US resistance fighters, but that is what makes the series extraordinary: it actually evokes thought rather than a black and white narrative in which one unreflectively "cheers" on the "good guys" killing the "bad guys," for here, as in life, everything is more complicated.

The series thus far (there will be a season three) has accomplished the followings:

     A woman's actions and compassion are made central to the plot.

     Women do not simply function as sex objects but have life and being apart from men.

     Compassion, empathy and mercy are not denigrated, sneered at and spat upon as "weakness."

     Compassion, in fact, is more powerful than violence. It is a genuine alternative to violence. It can work. It is not inherently weak.

    Narrative is important: the existence of a counter-narrative in the form of the forbidden films gives people hope and changes the course of history. The Nazis understand the importance of narrative: do we?

    The series drives home the point that what matters is what we do, not what our outer shell says we are as a role. Nazis can behave compassionately and Resistance fighters can behave as ruthless barbarians. If we want to defeat barbarism, we can't become barbarians.

A quick read of some of the response to season two (which admittedly, does have some murky, draggy episodes in the middle) tells me that some people are not "getting" the central message of this series. All the more reason to highlight it.









Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Man in the High Castle: Extraordinary, feminist peace series

I had been despairing about popular media's complicity in the rise of an ultra-violent society now headed by misogynist authoritarian who believes in muscular solutions to most problems, when I saw the extraordinary final episode of the series The Man in the High Castle. I don't want to provide spoilers, as I hope people will watch this program, but I am buoyed with hope. Creating peace narratives has been very much on my mind lately, as that is a necessary precondition to creating the more peaceful society we desperately need: "Without imagination, the people perish." But where, I have wondered, are these narratives?

In Man in the High Castle, the Axis has conquered America.

 The Man in the High Castle, based on a novel by Philip K. Dick, imagines a world in which the Nazis and Japanese have won World War II and the United States has been divided between them. The Japanese run the Pacific Coast, the Nazis the eastern seaboard into the midwest, and a no-man's land exists in between. The story, which is complex, follows interactions between Americans who are members of a resistance movement fighting both the Nazi and Japanese occupations and their interactions with high ranking individuals in both regimes.

The action pivots on the decisions of Julianna, a compassionate character who exhibits strength and agency.

Without giving anything away, the series both shows the horrors (rather than the so-called glamor) of violence and refuses to draw sharp demarcations between good guys and bad guys, instead presenting complex characters. It teaches us not to judge by outward appearance, even if that outward appearance includes swastikas, iron crosses or emblems of a repressive Japanese regime: people are what they do, not the uniform they wear. No one--or any one nationality-- is purely good or purely evil--and a woman is the pivot of the action.

John Smith is a high ranking Nazi, but also a complex human being.

After sitting through so many highly popular and in most cases very good (high production values, superb acting, strong scripts) series that are predicated on the story arc of the "man with the biggest weapons willing to behave in the most ruthless way wins," it was a relief to watch an intelligent, well produced series that called into question that narrative, and in fact, portrayed that particular story line as Nazism, problematizing it (as it should be) from the start.

In Man, it is relationship, the humanizing of the Other, that averts lethal catastrophe. It illustrates Audre Lorde's theme in "The Uses of the Erotic" (and also the take-aways of both Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Thomas Kelly after their encounters with Nazi Germany) that political change comes from entering into genuine empathic relationship. Rather than the typical story line that depicts compassion as "weak," empathy in Man ends up to be the greatest strength.

I have to say I was dismayed when in West World, a prime example of a series valorizing "the most violent one wins," Delores, a gentle prairie woman in long dresses, has a pivotal moment in which she says (how cliched can we get?) having donned pants, "I'm not a damsel anymore" before blowing someone away to show her "empowerment." Aren't we tired of that yet? Really? Why do we continue to co-opt women as "tough grrls" into a male narrative of violence that never works, excepts to create ever more violence and dehumanization? It was heartening, almost exhilarating, to see here a story arc based on a different narrative (though with much violence along the way).

Audiences are expected to applaud when West World's Delores embraces violence and murder as if this represents "strength" and an "advance." We really need to progress beyond this kind of thinking. That this is the "masculine" solution is made clear by Delores's adoption of male clothes. 

Because Man in the High Castle has such a complicated story line and is predicated on moral complexity rather than black and white, good and evil characters, I fear that people won't "get" what the series is trying to convey. But hope springs eternal in the human breast.

I am writing this hoping that the series follows the novel, as that would make it a fine novel indeed, at least thematically, but I don't know. I also haven't yet read anything about the series, as I haven't wanted to inadvertently stumble across spoilers. I will try to find out more.



Friday, November 11, 2016

Wendell Berry: Solace

As I move from numbed to grieved, this poem offers solace. The photos show the nature around my home:

"Leavings"
  by Wendell Berry

"Yes, though hope is our duty,
let us live a while without it
to show ourselves we can.
Let us see that, without hope,
we still are well. Let hopelessness
shrink us to our proper size.
Without it we are half as large
as yesterday, and the world 
is twice as large. My small
place grows immense as I walk
upon it without hope.
Our springtime rue anemones
as I walk among them, hoping
not even to live, are beautiful
as Eden, and I their kinsman
am immortal in their moment.

"as beautiful as Eden, and I their kinsman am immortal in their moment."


Out of charity let us pray
for the great ones of politics
and war, the intellectuals,
scientists, and advisors,
the golden industrialists,
the CEOs, that they too
may wake to a day without hope
that in their smallness they
may know the greatness of Earth
and Heaven by which they so far
live, that they may see
themselves in their enemies,
and from their great wants fallen
know the small immortal
joys of beasts and birds."

HT: Elaine Pigeon

 "the small immortal joy of beasts"



Monday, November 7, 2016

Election tomorrow

Tomorrow is election day in the most stunning Presidential election in living memory and perhaps in the history of our country. The news of the first major-party nomination of a woman presidential candidate, remarkable in itself, has been utterly overshadowed by her opponent, the U.S.'s first brush with an unfettered demagogue contemptuous of U.S. democratic law and norms, mocker of the disabled, women, minorities, prisoners of war and fallen soldiers, coming within a hair's-breadth of power. Adding to the spectacle and the terror,  Brexit occurred in the midst of this, harbinger of the real possibility that the unthinkable could occur here too in a world where the average citizen has been effectively disenfranchised for far too long and may lash out with the wrecking ball at hand.

We face tomorrow hopeful but with the knowledge it could go either way. If the election goes the way I hope, in which a moderate, center-left lawyer, former senator and former Secretary of State wins the prize, I believe we should do the following:

First, take a moment to celebrate. Instead of living in constant dread, we ought to have at least moment of rest before we get back to work. Yes, Clinton will be ruthlessly opposed, but yet she will have power: the power of executive appointments, the power of the Presidential pulpit, the power to set the tone in the executive branch, the power in hundreds of subtle way to influence federal departments to head in directions that are pro-people. She will have the power to propose a budget and a legislative agenda.

Second, we need to push back against the rhetoric that government is fundamentally bad, fundamentally evil, inherently some hybrid of the "beast" in Revelation and Stalinist "socialism." Every time I go past the Young Republican bulletin board at a college where I teach, I feel a rise of anger at the poster that reads "Taxation is Theft," (a "gotcha" variation on the old socialist slogan "property is theft") not simply because I disagree (I do disagree, but can tolerate disagreement) but because it seems to me an unchallenged lie: in fact, not paying taxes is theft of the worst sort, theft from your country. We need to fight back against the notion that "government is the problem." In fact, to sober minds, sound government is a good and a gift.

In that vein, I like a wording, that could become a slogan, that I have been hearing more: whenever basic government spending is attacked, such as on education, roads, libraries, health care, as "socialism," people are saying: "It's civilization, not socialism."

Government spending long predates socialism.
"Government spending is civilization not socialism."
It is what civilized nations do.

After celebrating an election (I hope) and standing up for government as civilization, the third step will be keeping our eyes open and, of course, working for peace, especially as Clinton is feared to be a warmonger.

As we know, however, the crazed elements in this country will not stop their ruthless, relentless campaign to undermine all progress. Moreover, we know that probably about 40% of voters will vote for Trump. He may go away, but, sadly, we have to expect another demagogue to follow.  The election has laid bare to what extent Trump is nothing new: he is a type well-known to Europeans, well understood by great writers. There's a surfeit of parallels, a huge body of literature to describe a person like him. We have been fortunate so far in this country not to have let his likes grab ultimate power, but his type is out there. The next one is likely to learn from Trump's mistakes and successes and thus be even more dangerous.

Of course, although this is a secular blog, we need to keep our spiritual houses in order and lean into that "ocean of light."

Perhaps in two days we will wake up and this blog will be so much dust in the wind. In the meantime, I remain optimistic.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Le Carre: A Quaker writer? Bodies and violence

A friend mentioned John le Carre seeming to her to function as a woman's writer. I have been thinking about this while watching the mini-series The Night Manager, based on a le Carre novel of the same name. However, it was not until I watched the first episode in season four of the series Luther with my husband that I understood how le Carre reflects a woman's--and a Quaker's-- stance.

Luther, a British series, focuses on the angst-ridden policeman Luther (Idris Elba), who investigates violent crimes. The season's opening episode involves a serial killer/cannibal of the most gruesome sort, who eats pieces of his victims' bodies. Although officially not working as a police officer, Luther is soon on the trail of this man.

In The Night Manager, Jonathan Price (Tom Hiddleston), the British night manager of a Cairo hotel, fails to protect the life of an Egyptian woman he has fallen in love with, the mistress of a high-powered Egyptian criminal who murders her. Price is recruited by Angela Burr (Olivia Coleman), who runs a somewhat maverick British intelligence group, to infiltrate and bring down Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie), a powerful illegal arms dealer associated with the Egyptian woman's death. 



Jonathan and Jud, center, have bodies that are painfully vulnerable to abuse by alpha male Roper, on the left.


The Night Manager had me riveted with anxiety for the main character, Jonathan, because he is rubbing shoulders with a sociopath (Roper) who we know will brutally (and with torture) wipe him out if he suspects him of betrayal. To make matters worse, Jonathan falls in love with Jed (Elizabeth Debicki), Roper's highly off-limits American mistress, and she with him. They take what seem to be extreme risks to be with each other. We worry both that Roper will find out they are in love and that he will discover Jonathan is a government agent. Meanwhile we also know that corrupt intelligence officers high in the British secret service will protect Roper and throw Price under the bus if they find out about him. The strong, rather than protect the weak, side with the strong.

It may be The Night Manager is more riveting and anxiety provoking than Luther because it is better directed (Susanne Bier, the director, won an Emmy for the series.) However, I think there's more to the story than good direction, and that the tension the le Carre evokes come from fundamentally reflecting a female point of view.

As I watched Luther, not very anxious despite the machinations of a serial killer, I realized that I was comforted because of Luther's god-like (male) qualities. For all his various inner angsts, we know he is invincible. He is a crack cop, better than anyone: against him, what mere serial killer has a chance? He keeps London as safe as it can be kept.

Luther's body is protected, not vulnerable and is aggressive rather than aggressed upon. 


Jonathan, on the hand, exudes vulnerability. He's gentle, not tough, a hotel manager, not a trained, savvy police officer. He's sensitive, without (like Luther, who also is caring) being hardened. Watching his unprotected body as he walks beside Roper, one feels a primal fear for him: he has no real way to defend himself. He is in the position of the woman, his body at the mercy of a nearby male who claims aggressive ownership over it. Over and over we see him vulnerable. (This is problematized because he does kill a man, perhaps necessary to make him palatable, but the overall thrust of Jonathan is vulnerability.)

Roper, of course, does not exert sexual ownership over Jonathan, but he does openly exert alpha male control. He renames Jonathan without thinking to ask him what name he would like, insists he participate in corporate crimes that make him vulnerable to arrest, and demands that he be absorbed into Roper's plans and organizations and that he adjust to them without question. Jonathan is there for one reason: to serve Roper. He is expected to have no agency outside of Roper's desires. He does (or is expected to do) whatever Roper tells him. All of this makes him like a woman. Like a woman, he smiles often and makes himself pleasant, agreeable and non-threatening to Roper through words and body language. 

Price is supported by other vulnerable people who happen to be women: Angela Burr is visibly, heavily pregnant and also under attack by higher-ups in British intelligence for getting too close to Roper. Jed, Roper's girlfriend, is unhappy and has a body equally as vulnerable to assault as Jonathan's, as well as a young son her work as Roper's mistress supports.  I may have some issues with using motherhood to buttress the moral worth of female characters, but it underlines their bodily vulnerability. As we see during an attack on Roper's young son, children's bodies, like women's, are easily assaulted.

It's hard not to feel acute anxiety over the fate of these vulnerable people fighting Roper, especially Jonathan and Jed, who are so physically close so often to a ruthless man. We feel viscerally their bodily weakness, the risks they are taking and the courage they display.

I find it hard to feel as acutely over Luther, who blankets us in the sense that he is strong and invulnerable, that he will take care of the people in the series and hence of us, the viewer. This is the male stance, ultimately tough and impregnable. It argues, using an individual, that strong, violent males (and by extension groups of strong violent males, ie armies) are what keep us safe. 

Le Carre's argument, that the strong alpha male ultimately threatens, rather than protects us, seems to me more far more realistic than the protective capabilities of the alpha male. As Le Carre shows, violent men inside and outside of legitimate organizations work together to oppress the rest of us: they aren't enemies to evil, they are its friends. And as the protagonists in the The Night Manager illustrate, women (and most men), instead of trying to emulate the violent alpha male, should be using their brains to defeat violence, rather than trying to hide behind the faux protection violence offers. Feminism took a very wrong turn when it decided that its role model would be the ruthless female CEO in spiked heels who outdoes that most ruthless male CEO. Instead, and more realistically, we should, like Le Carre, try to show the inherent problems with the accumulation of power/violence into too few hands-- and insist on other solutions. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Quakers and literature, Game of Thrones and Virginia Woolf

Sadly, the recent shooting in Orlando makes an appropriate backdrop for my topic: the debut of new book on Quaker literature and the question of how we can move towards a more robust imagining of peace.


Quakers and Literature raises pertinent questions about the role of literature in society.

The anthology, Quakers in Literature, will be officially launched this month at the Friends Association for Higher Education Conference in Woodbrooke, England. I would like to praise this book and juxtapose it to my viewing of the series Game of Thrones.


A beheading on Game of Thrones. It's not uncommon: this beheader ends up beheaded, but the take-away isn't that violence is bad: the take-away is win at all costs. 

Game of Thrones, though not without its entertainment value, is characterized by cartoonish characters, cartoonish violence and cartoonish plots. Violence and ritual humiliation substitute the sensation of shock for genuine feeling. In this series, a viewer can get a faux emotional jolt or pay-off (of sorts) without a real emotional investment. 

The show is set is some other time period--it's fantasy--presumably very long ago. It's Roman European-esque in feel (and Middle-Eastern-esque)--pre-Christian certainly, but with a medieval overlay. The people are barbaric as a matter of course, and so are constantly chopping each other's heads off (or delving axes into people's brains) and perpetrating other acts of violence. 

The Hound learns that peacemaking is for losers. He goes out and kills a bunch of people to avenge the peacemakers.

Recently, a man named the Hound who was left for dead reemerged. He falls in with a wayward wandering group that has decided to renounce violence. Their leader even makes a strong statement about how more killing isn't going to stop they cycle of killing. Lest you think this might open an alternative path in the series, no ... all but the returned hero, who happens to be away when it happens, are slaughtered (not that there is the least question this will occur), and the man who made the speech about peace is found dangling, hanged. This is replayed in the next episode too, lest we missed the message: peacemaking leaves you dead. Peace is for losers. Losers, losers, losers. Kill or be killed. Strike first and hard or die. 

The message dunned into the audience week after week --as was done in The Sopranos and Breaking Bad and who knows how many other series--demonstrates that the most violent man wins. All religion is a scam or evil, so don't look to that for help. Strong woman are routinely humiliated--for example,  a queen,  Cersei, is subjected to one of the most intense scenes of ritual humiliation I have ever witnessed --as a penance imposed by a priest of some cult, she must walk naked through the streets of her city while being pelted with rotten vegetables and jeered at. 

Cersei dared to be strong: men get to see her naked and humiliate her. Rape and threat of rape are common tools used to control women on his show.


As a Quaker and also as a sane person, I find this constant messaging advocating ultra violence disturbing. Of course, as with all these programs, the producers can coyly say they are depicting something outside of the societal norms of our world.  Naturally, they say they don't condone this behavior. But, as with  he Sopranos and Breaking Bad, everything about the rhetoric of these programs DOES condone it. Real men are validated for being ruthlessly violent. Ruthless violence wins. Compassionate morality is baggage for weaklings and nonentities. Who needs the Nuremburg rallies to whip up the base when you have Game of Thrones?

Therefore, it was refreshing to read an essay by J. Ashley Foster on Virginia Woolf's peace stance and the Spanish Civil War from the Quakers and Literature book--it's long but well worth reading. 

Woolf looking pensive in 1939, the year World War II began.

According to this essay, Virginia Woolf was involved with Quakers, such as Kathleen Innes, who published through Hogarth Press, (Innes published four books on the League of Nations with Hogarth) and they all advocated for peace. This article cites, of course, Woolf's Three Guineas as a feminist peace essay, but argues that, more fundamentally, "pacifism is one of modernism's idioms." This pacifism is internationalist in nature (rejecting fascist nationalisms). Woolf herself envisioned a fictional "Outsider's Society" in  Three Guineas made up of the daughters of educated men who would work for peace. Foster sees the corollary of this in peace efforts that emerged during the Spanish Civil War.

We remember there was a time when many non-Quaker women, and I think of Eleanor Roosevelt,  believed that women had a particular role in promoting constructive peacemaking--building the conditions that would lead to peace that lasted through "justice and the rights of all."  Woolf's aunt, Caroline Stephens, was a feminist Quaker whose pacifism informed Woolf's feminism, and Roger Fry's sister Margery was a Quaker. Quakers published through the same presses and belonged to many of the same political organizations as the Woolfs and other modernists, and the Woolfs sold manuscript pages of Three Guineas to raise money to  aid Spanish Civil War refugees.

The Spanish Civil War

It was comforting to me to remember that Woolf, who I often think of primarily as a stylist, engaged in serious peace work and political work during the Spanish Civil War and to review her strong commitment to pacifism and her strong belief in the connection between peace and feminism. I remember too during this period (late 1933-early 1935) Dietrich Bonhoeffer was also in England, dedicated to pacifism and trying to build international coalitions to fight National Socialism, most notably at the Fano conference in 1934. I wonder if the Woolfs and Bonhoeffer ever brushed shoulders, but that's an aside--what I care about is that  intelligent women speak out for peace--and I can't help but wish for our own Outsiders group to push back against shows like Games of Thrones. 

I also can't help but think that the male producers of Game of Thrones (I looked up their bios and saw no sign of military experience) are advocating a warrior mentality and articulating a position that validates ruthless slaughter without having an actual experience of war themselves, which makes this program all the more dangerous. 

This brings me back to Quakers and Literature. It's no wonder that a culture that leans relentlessly on violence as the only authentic form of power would produce a constant stream of individuals who try to express power through slaughter or that they would be attracted to ISIS as the most ruthless group of all. A question I raise in my essay in Quakers and Literature, called "Quaker Literature: Is there such a thing?" is why Quakers have been sidelined into homespun, nostalgic domesticating fictions when so many serious issues confront us. Is this really a time for escapism? Or do we need to be concentrating more effort on a literature--fiction and non-fictional--that imagines solutions to our problems through a Quaker lens? After all, without an imagination, the people perish. I would argue that a culture that pornographically repeats violent images over and over again has lost its imagination and its mooring. We who look at it outside a perspective of violence--we the Outsiders--perhaps have a responsibility to pick up the work Woolf started and advocate more imaginatively for peace. Where can we start?