Tag Archives: good and evil

The Dark is Rising

Complete Lunar Eclipse (NASA)

Complete Lunar Eclipse (NASA)

It may seem curious to entitle a blog, “The Dark is Rising,” just a day after the Winter Solstice, when I experienced a phenomenal lunar eclipse. Nevertheless, remembrances of the children’s book, bearing the same name, and written by Susan Cooper, keeps seeping into my conscious mind. It is a book that I read to my son Stephen, one Christmas long ago, when he was confined to my mother’s living room couch, while recovering from a nasty bout with pneumonia. My mother cooked and did her art work, while I read; no matter, we were both engrossed, almost as much as Steve. Given recent events, I realize that the story line of the second book in Cooper’s five part series–appropriately entitled The Dark is Rising–is very timely; there are, in fact, a number of eerie parallels.

the never ending battle between the forces of good and evil

Writing in the tradition of J. R.R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, Cooper employs mythical symbols and tropes to depict the never ending battle between the forces of good and evil. Time shifts and magic play important roles as well. In the story, the protagonist, young Will Stanton, discovers on the morning of his eleventh birthday, which occurs evocatively on Midwinter’s Eve, that he is the last of the Old Ones–people who, having been granted supernatural powers, have used them across the centuries, to push back the dark.

Will’s entry into this realm is full of foreboding. He is destined to be a seeker. To do his part, Will must collect six sacred, ornamental signs, which, when joined, will defy the Dark. A looming atmosphere accompanies Will throughout his journey: for the forces of the Dark make themselves ever present in the guise of a tremendous chill and snow storm that paralyzes the town; birds attacking from the sky; a wandering madman called the Walker, lurking behind every corner, and the Rider, who, appearing dressed in black and riding a large black stallion, personifies evil. Fortunately, Will is rescued from these encounters by a host of Old Ones–some from many centuries ago–who share his mission on behalf of the Light.

First New York snow of 2011: Nolita from Dan Nguyen NY

First New York snow of 2011: Nolita from Dan Nguyen NY

Now, let’s consider this Christmas season. As in the time of Will’s brush with the Dark, these past few weeks have yielded some unusually tempestuous weather, with torrential rains in California and Australia, causing life-threatening mudslides and floods, not to mention snowy blizzards carpeting most of the East Coast. We must take notice, too, of the birds falling from the sky, and the dead fish washed ashore? More troubling still is the political climate of hatred exacerbated by media pundits and right wing politicians, such as Sarah Palin, who seek private gain at the expense of humanity. As we have seen in Arizona, the consequences can be catastrophic. What accounts for all of this? If you look at the Homeland Security report Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment, you can only conclude that THE DARK IS RISING.

Today, there are no Old Ones, as in the myths bygone. But some of us are “old” in the sense that we have lived through more civic–even if stress ridden–times, times when people reached out with a hand, and not with a gun. Like the Old Ones of the past, perhaps we need to work together to hold back the Dark, reconstructing a narrative based on trust and caring. As the neurobiologist Dr. Douglas Fields has demonstrated in his research, our brains are the product of our environments. Hence, those of us who grew up in better times can play our parts by reconstructing and retelling the magic inherent in our memories.

Mumbai and Battling Bullies

 

Finger Pointing (Courtesy of Amarand's Photostream)

Finger Pointing (Courtesy of Amarand

When I was a young adolescent, my parents took me to the big city, across the Hudson River, to see my first Broadway play. While I do not remember the name of the play, nor even its plot, the moral of the tale has become a well established component of my super ego. It is summed up in one of the play’s most catchy tunes with words that go something like this: 

If you point your finger at your neighbor, there are three more pointing back at you. The first one says, go easy pard, you haven’t cleaned the rubbish in your own back yard. So if you point your finger at your neighbor, it just ain’t honesty. In your heart you feel that you first must deal with the three that are pointing back at me.

With this song in mind, I typically consider events–both large and small–not only in analytical terms, but also in personal ones.

With this song in mind, I typically consider events–both large and small–not only in analytical terms, but also in personal ones. So, before making any rash moral judgements, I think about what I might do under similar circumstances. The horrendous attack on Mumbai is a recent case in point.

Although unquestionably appalling, from both a moral and a global political standpoint, this event reminds me–as Sri Krishna revealed to Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gita–that the battle between good and evil is not only inherent in the human condition; we, humans, also have a moral duty to choose sides. As importantly, Krishna goes on to say that, in doing our duty, we should not be so arrogant with respect to our place in the universe as to mull over the consequences of our actions. Although I find this Hindu scripture overall spiritually appealing, I take exception to Krishna’s latter remark. His call to action sounds a little too much like George Bush’s appeal to fight the axis of evil. Just consider the consequences of his lack of forethought!

Herein is a moral dilemma: how does one effectively fight evil without taking it upon oneself, and thereby actually perpetuating it? 

Herein is a moral dilemma: how does one effectively fight evil without taking it upon oneself, and thereby actually perpetuating it?

Pointing my fingers back at myself, I reflect upon my own response when confronting a bully. Although by no means the moral equivalent to the perpetrators of the attacks in Mumbai, bullies share many of the terrorists’ character traits.

In dealing with the bullies I have encountered over the course of my life, I have pursued a number of strategies–some of which have been far more successful than others. Lashing back proved the least effective–a lesson that I learned early in life, on the grammar school playground, when I sought to punch out a boy that tormented me with names such as fatty, fattty. It was I who went home with a black eye, and remonstrations from my teachers that girls don’t fight! However, I must add that the alternative strategy is not vastly superior. While withdrawing from the fray may serve to avoid physical pain, the emotional pain associated with the ensuing anxiety, humiliation, not to mention a tarnished reputation, may not be worth it. Perhaps the best strategy I have found is analogous to the game of box lacrosse. Watching a game one evening, my husband and I were struck by how the players, when hit with the lacrosse stick by one of their opponents, did not get mired in a drawn out fight. Instead, they kept their eye on the main ball, so to speak. Without tarrying, they struck a return blow, and then quickly moved on.

Writing about The Evolution of Cooperation, Robert Axelrod makes a related point. Seeking an effective strategy to the game theoretic prisoner’s dilemma, Axelrod employs a computer simulation to determine the strategy that is most likely to lead to cooperation rather than defection. As he concludes, the optimum strategy is tit for tat. As in the case of box lacrosse, a tit for tat strategy calls upon players to respond in kind to their opponents, but to adjust their strategies in accordance with their opponents’ responses. That is to say, one should respond negatively to a negative response, but positively to a positive one. Over time, according to Axelrod, trust can be established and tensions reduced.

As I see it, India–notwithstanding a horrendous provocation–has responded to the Mumbai attacks according to the strategy of tit for tat. I only wish that the US had done the same in dealing with its concerns about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.