2016 was not one of the Almighty's better efforts. Disquieting political developments dominated the news on both sides of the Atlantic, and the arts' world lost too many of its luminaries. But at this moment the impacts of the US presidential election and the UK's EU referendum remain hypothetical, and many of those that we lost from the creative community had led long and productive lives.
Absolute evil is the evil inflicted by man on man, and the real tragedy of 2016 was the continuing violence in the Middle East and elsewhere, and in particular the Syrian civil war which claimed the lives of tens of thousands of civilians, many of them young people who had their lives in front of them. The selfless bravery of Mohammad Alaa Al Jaleel in his work with both children and cats in Aleppo - seen above and below - showed our mealy-mouthed politicians how actions speak so much louder than words. Of course human lives matter most. But thank you Alaa for reminding us in a year when soul food was in very short supply, that, to quote Anatole France, until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened.
Violence is the ultimate expression of absolute evil, and the precursor of violence is divisive speech. One of the most disturbing developments of 2016 was the adoption of divisive and inflammatory language as the lingua franca of Twitter and other social media platforms. When sentencing a neo-Nazi troll to jail at the Old Bailey Judge Justice Spencer pointed out that hate "doesn't stay online". Britain and America are currently in the grip of an insidious online violence that could very easily morph into physical violence in 2017, particularly in America where there are 112 guns per 100 residents. Syria has descended into physical violence, and the shooting and killing of British politician Joe Cox weeks before the EU referendum showed how verbal and physical violence are never far apart. As world music maven Joshua Cheek noted recently: "If we need a mirror of our ugliness as a people, as a nation, we need only random sample a single day's tweets".
Laying all the blame for our accelerating descent into Kali Yuga on Donald Trump, Brexiteers, ISIS, Marine Le Pen, the Russians, Nigel Farage and the usual suspects is divisive and delusional. We are one humanity - waḥdat al-wujūd - and each and every one of us must take responsibility for the tragedies in Syria, Berlin, Turkey, Belgium, Pakistan, Orlando and elsewhere during 2016. Trump, Farage and Le Pen are just extreme examples of the 'I, me, mine' ego-driven virus that has infected the whole of our society. Until personal, corporate and national egos are subdued, the descent into the dark age of Kali will continue apace. When formulating new year's resolutions I urge everyone to heed this teaching by Zen practitioner Lin Jensen:
Impression management is an effort to control what others think of you. It consists of persuading others to acknowledge you in the same terms as you acknowledge yourself. If you're caught up in impression management, you're forever at pains to secure a favorable public 'image' of yourself. And when others see you in less favorable terms, it becomes an offense and a threat to your person. Impression management never works, but nonetheless individuals will exhaust themselves in the effort to make it work, and nations will readily go to war in the vain effort of forcing the world to submit to their self-admiring prejudice. Since you can't control how others choose to see you, it should be easy to understand how marketing your personal identity forfeits self-regard and puts you at the disposal of others.Best wishes for what I suspect will be a very challenging new year go to all readers, and an update on Mohammad Alaa Al Jaleel via this link.
Because of the very serious security risks in the region donations and further updates on Mohammad Alaa Al Jaleel's humanitarian work are being handled via the closed Facebook group, Il Gattaro d'Aleppo.. Quotation is from Lin Jensen's book Together Under One Roof. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Reluctantly, also on Facebook and Twitter.