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The dance of delusion

Posted by tinako on April 7, 2010

Believe not on the faith of old manuscripts, your master’s teachings, or national belief.   Believe not on the faith of traditions, popularity, or your own dreamings, persuaded that God inspires you.

No, reason truth yourself.   Examine it, test it, and if you find it does good to one and all, live it, and believe.

– my paraphrase of the Buddha, responding to people asking him how to know which prophets were telling the truth

I was reading a chilling article in the NY Times Magazine recently, “How Baida Wanted to Die.”  It was a series of interviews with Baida, a foiled Iraqi female suicide bomber.  The Iraqi woman was in prison, and the American woman interviewer was told by a police director that she would like Baida.  “She’s honest.”

Of course, this was a very odd thing to say, but the interviewer came to agree with him.  I think they both missed the point.  This woman freely and calmly admitted what she had tried to do and said she couldn’t wait to get out and get the explosive vest waiting for her.  She said it was in revenge for a military raid (including Americans) killing her father and four brothers, all of whom she was helping make IEDs (bombs).  She was making the bombs in revenge for seeing the Americans shoot a neighbor.  She felt these IEDs were all being used against the military, and when the interviewer told her the vast majority killed ordinary Iraqis, she would only say that was forbidden.

This woman may have been honest with the police, and she may have been honest with the interviewer, but she was not honest with herself, and I did not like her.  I feel compassion, yes, for her being immersed in a patriarchal and religious extremist culture of violence, where revenge seems like a reasonable use of one’s life.

But what I found most interesting was a fascinating part of the NY Times article where Baida begs the interviewer to come visit her in prison.  The journalist is warned that Baida, who has a cell phone, may be setting her up for a kidnapping by relatives.  The interviewer is careful and does not tell when she’s coming and does not stay long.  She asks Baida if she wants to kill her, and the woman says, “Frankly, yes.  Not specifically you, because I know you.”  The interviewer pressed her, would she betray her to her family?  “I won’t sacrifice my friendship.  But if they insisted, yes, I would, yes.  As a foreigner it is halal (good) to kill you.  If they kill Americans, they will do a big huge banquet for dinner.”  And she smiled.  She went on to tell how her relatives had called to get information about the journalist, and promised to help Baida escape if she gave it to them.  She seemed excited.  “They do not want to kill you, but to torture you and make lunch of your flesh.  I could not do anything to help you.”  She described seeing an American tortured, his eyes gouged out, and added “God keep you safe.”  She smiled again and continued pleasantly, “If I had not seen you before and talked to you, I would kill you with my own hands.  Do not be deceived by my peaceful face.  I have a heart of stone.”  The journalist left hurriedly, knowing Baida had called her cousins when she arrived, and they were on their way for her.

Baida’s speech sounds psychotic, but it’s just torn.  She has a wall up in her mind between two things that she believes: “All Americans are evil and I want them to die.”  “Some Americans are friendly and helpful and I don’t want them to die.”  This wall is crucial to her daily functioning because obviously these two things are mutually exclusive.  In this fascinating speech, you can see her dancing back and forth from sentence to sentence, peeking first on one side and then the other side of this wall.  Baida has three choices.  Her first choice is to continue to wobble back and forth in this dissonant way, believing two incompatible things.  The alternative is to knock down the wall.  It will be painful to knock it down and see both sides at once, because she will see that her model doesn’t work, that she must give up one of these ideas.  So her second choice is to believe all Americans really are evil and must die; she will then have to convince herself that each American that she meets is evil, from the soldiers handing out candy bars, to the aid workers, and even friendly interviewers.  She will have to mock anyone who supports a more compassionate path.  Her third choice is to knock the wall the other way, to see Americans as they really are, the good and the bad, and to decide what is the best way to respond.

Think Baida is unusually deluded?  As a vegan, I see this dance all the time right here in America.  I used to do it myself.  On one side of the wall is loving animals, wishing them to be happy and free of suffering.  On the other side is eating them.  Those two things are incompatible.  For a long time, I did something like what Baida was doing in the prison.  I gave animals a hug, and then I sat down to eat them.  Oh, little piggy, you’re so cute and so yummy.  Ugh.

So if we recognize that this wall is keeping two incompatible beliefs in our mind, and we set out to be more consistent, what shall we do?  First we knock down the wall, and confront the painful contradiction that we love animals but we eat them.  It hurts too much to see this clearly, and something must change.  Some people knock the rubble down on the compassionate side, burying it, hardening their hearts, at least to food animals.  They are the ones who call pigs lazy and dirty and turkeys stupid.  They mock animal-supporters as sentimental “Bambi lovers.”  They may even work with animals, but they are blinded by the stereotype.  Or they feel they have no choice; there’s a part in Gail Eisnitz’ Slaughterhouse where she quotes a slaughterhouse worker.  I couldn’t find the text just now, but I think his job was to deal with the pigs who fall off the killing line, alive.  He went down into the pit they fall into, and one of the pigs nuzzled his leg and looked up at him.  He said he looked down and thought something like, “This was probably a really nice animal, but in another 30 seconds it would be my job to bash its head in with a pipe.  So I did it.”  Do you suppose that job takes a toll on a person?

The stories trump the obvious truth.  People somehow convince themselves that cows are for eating but cats are not.  People may even tell themselves that we need meat, even though they know lots of people are healthy without it.   People picture animals having a good life on Old McDonald’s Farm, even though they suspect that their meat comes from factory farms.   There is a fine line between ignorance and indifference, and sometimes we nail that line down so it doesn’t get away from us.  We don’t want to know.  The truth isn’t the only victim of this choice.  When we bury our compassion or shackle it to certain species, a heavy price is paid – a part of us, I would say the best part, is dead.

There’s a third choice.  When we confront this inconsistency – love animals or eat them, one or the other, can’t do both – and decide to love them, we can open our eyes to the truth.  I think you will find that vegans and vegetarians can more easily discuss animal body parts and watch difficult movies about animal suffering.  Everyone knows, deep in their hearts, that the “food” on the table is a bowl of arms and the animals in the videos are suffering, but the vegetarians have already faced this truth.  We don’t have the pain of dissonance, of inconsistency, of complicity.  For us it is just raw compassion, mixed with an affirmation of our decision.

Two years ago I knocked down the last of this particular wall, and I embraced love and compassion instead of cheese.  As the Buddha suggested, I find that this truth does good to one and all.  I will live it, and believe.

Delusion

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/16/magazine/16suicide-t.html

I was reading a chilling article in the NY Times Magazine recently,

“How Baida Wanted to Die.”  It was a series of interviews with

Baida, a foiled Iraqi female suicide bomber.  The Iraqi woman was in

prison, and the American woman interviewer was told by a police

director that she would like the Iraqi, “She’s honest.”

Of course, this was a very odd thing to say, but the interviewer

came to agree with him.  I think they both missed the point.  This

woman freely admitted what she had tried to do and said she couldn’t

wait to get out and get the explosive vest waiting for her.  She

said it was in revenge for a military raid (including Americans)

killing her brothers and her husband, all of whom she was helping

make IEDs (bombs).  She was making the bombs in revenge for seeing

the Americans shoot a neighbor.  She felt these IEDs were all being

used against the military, and when the interviewer told her the

vast majority killed ordinary Iraqis, she would only say that was

forbidden.

This woman may have been honest with the police, and she may have

been honest with the interviewer, but she was not honest with

herself, and I did not like her.  I feel compassion, yes, for her

being immersed in a patriarchal and religious extermist culture of

violence, where revenge seems like a reasonable use of one’s life.

It may have been this article or another where the author was

matter-of-factly listing off some recent bombings and casualties,

and I had to stop and take a deep breath.  It was all so insane.  As

Doctor Phil, would say, “How’s that working for you?”  Who is helped

by killing and revenge?  The dark mind finds brief satisfaction in

the suffering of one’s enemy, but is it joy?  Is it happiness?  It

is tinged with hate and anger – it cannot be good.

There was a fascinating part of the article where the Iraqi begs the

interviewer to come visit her in prison.  The journalist is warned

that the prisoner, who has a cell phone, may be settin her up for a

kidnapping by relatives.  The interviewer is careful and does not

tell when she’s coming and does not stay long.  She asks the Iraqi

if she wants to kill her, and the woman says “Frankly, yes.  Not

specifically you, because I know you.”  The interviewer pressed her,

would she betray her to her family?  “I won’t sacrifice my

friendship.  But if they insisted, yes, I would, yes.  As a

foreigner it is halal (good) to kill you.  If they kill Americans,

they will do a big huge banquet for dinner.”  And she smiled.  She

went on to tell how her relatives had called to get information

about the journalist, and promised to help Baida escape if she gave

it to them.  She seemed excited.  “They do not want to kill you, but

to torture you and make lunch of your flesh.  I could not do

anything to help you.”  She described seeing an American tortured,

and added “God keep you safe.”  She smiled again and continued

pleasantly, “If I had not seen you before and talked to you, I would

kill you with my own hands.  Do not be deceived by my peaceful face.

I have a heart of stone.”  The journalist left hurriedly, knowing

Baida had called her cousins when she arrived, and they were on

their way for her.

Baida’s speech sounds psychotic, but it’s just torn.  She has a wall

up in her mind between two things that she believes: “Americans are

bad and I want them to die.”  “Americans are friendly and helpful

and I don’t want them to die.”  This wall is crucial to her daily

functioning because obviously these two things are mutually

exclusive.  In this fascinating speech, you can see her dancing back

and forth from sentence to sentence, peeking first on one side and

then the other side of this wall.  Baida has three choices.  Her

first choice is to continue to wobble back and forth in this

dissonant way, believing two incompatible things.  The alternative

is to knock down the wall.  It will be painful to knock it down and

see both sides at once, because she will see that her model doesn’t

work, that she must give up one of these ideas.  So her second

choice is to believe all Americans are evil and must die; she will

then have to convince herself that each American that she meets is

evil, from the soldiers handing out candy bars, to the aid workers,

and even friendly interviewers.  She will have to mock anyone who

supports a more compassionate path.  Her third choice is to knock

the wall the other way and turn to peace.

Think Baida is unusually deluded?  As a vegan, I recognize this

dance all the time right here in America.  I used to do it myself.

On one side of the wall is loving animals, wishing them to be happy

and free of suffering.  On the other side is eating them.  Think

about it.  Those two things are incompatible.  For a long time, I

did exactly what Baida was doing.  I gave animals a hug, and then I

sat down to eat them.  Dick King-Smith is a chldren’s author (think

“Babe” who is a master at expressing people’s discomfort with this

dissonance, often showing the switch within two sentences.  In this

excerpt, from Ace, the Very Important Pig, Farmer Tubbs is delighted

his piglet is communicating with him, and remembers he’s the

grandson of Babe: “‘So you never know, young Ace – you might be an

extraordinary pig when you’m full grown.’  Except you never will be

full grown, thought the farmer.  I shall sell you…when you’m eight

weeks old, and a few months after that you’ll…be pork.  He was

careful…not to say this out loud…  The piglet might understand

what he was saying.”

So if we recognize that this wall is keeping two incompatible

beliefs in our mind, and we set out to be more consistent, what

shall we do?  First we knock down the wall, and confront the painful

contradiction that we love animals but we eat them.  It hurts too

much to see this clearly, and we must change.  Some people knock the

rubble down on the compassionate side, burying it.  They are the

ones who call pigs lazy and dirty and turkeys stupid.  They mock

animal-supporters as sentimental “Bambi’lovers.”  They may even work

with animals, but they only see the stereotype, not the honest

animal.  They have to willfully enforce their delusions.

There is another children’s story that I recently read to my

daughter that I found illuminating in its simplicity.  “The Three

Erics” is in the wacky book Wayside School, by Louis Sachar. There

are three boys named Eric in the class.  Wikipedia puts it well:

“Each one is given an inapproriate, stereotyped, and just plain

wrong nickname.”  Two of them are fat, and everyone thinks that all

three Erics are fat, so they call the skinny one Fatso.  The kids in

the class make judgements about the Erics based on some of them,

instead of directly seeing and understanding.  They see two mean

Erics so they tell themselves a story that Erics are mean, and when

they come to nickname the third Eric, instead of seeing how nice he

is, they are blinded by their story, and they call him Crabapple.

Similarly, two of the Erics are bad at sports, so the one who is

good at sports is nicknamed Butterfingers.  At first listen, this

just seems silly, but it isn’t hard to think of real-life

situations.  You’re walking down a dark street in a bad part of town

and a group of African Americans is approaching you.  All the

stereotypes pop into your head and you become afraid, but these guys

may turn out to be a pastor and his boys choir leaving evening

services.  Remember the police who killed an innocent immigrant in

his doorway?  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amadou_Diallo)  The

police just saw the whole scene differently, and missed all the cues

that this wasn’t a thug.

So when someone says “Pigs are stupid,” they aren’t basing this on

any direct experience.  Pigs are actually probably smarter than

dogs.  Turkeys can be very affectionate.  At least the Erics’

classmates based their stereotypes on direct experiences with some

Erics – what experience do we have with turkeys?  All these kinds of

statements are an attempt to keep the wall pushed over that way.

Because it if falls on the other side, we have to change, not only

our minds, but our behavior.

Two years ago I knocked down the last of that particular wall, but I

embraced love and compassion instead of cheese.

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4 Responses to “The dance of delusion”

  1. wolfshowl said

    A beautiful post.

    I too can’t understand how people can go from “oo, look at the cute kitty!” to eating meat the very next second. It can’t be easy to live with, in their hearts.

  2. […] said, “There’s always a choice.”  That line has stuck with me, and I have tried it out in various situations that seem impossible, and I have found it to be true so far.  The thing is, […]

  3. Rob said

    Excellent analogy drawn. Our own families, friends, and neighbors claim to love animals while eating them. The veil of ignorance has been drawn over our eyes and most of us stubbornly refuse to remove it; we will not allow ourselves to acknowledge the painful truth because that would mean changing our comfortably blissful lives. A life without animal products / byproducts can be just as comfortable – in fact more so, because a vegan is not a part of the abuse.

    There are many veils in our complex modern lives. Some of those veils may be difficult to remove, but choosing knowledge, compassion, health, and sustainability over deception, cruelty, disease, and pollution seems an easy and logical choice.

  4. […] words?  His writings are filled with compassion for those whose psyche’s are torn, a wall between their values and their actions so that impossible simultaneity is avoided.  Surely we can […]

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