America’s All-Too-Human Ignorance – and How Cute Kitten Videos Can Lead to War or Peace

Cute kittens - How could our delight let us ignore harms of war?

Cute kittens – How could our delight let us ignore harms of war?

Dear Readers,

The threat has been real to us, and more painfully to the Iranian people, that the US might follow paradigms leading to our waging war on that nation. Many have observed and deeply regretted that we waged war on Iraq for no just cause, and many observe us following a similar line of “talking ourselves into” war against Iran.

In this post, I share possible insights about our culture, our humanity, that I believe are important if we’re to be whom we have claimed to be, “a nation that prefers peace”.  First I explore the fondness in our national psyche for cute kitten videos. They serve a need, well, yes, we could say so.  But they also give hint to a deeper need we’ve not identified. 

Second, by posting a TalkingStickTV interview with Cathy Breen, I offer realities of war as lived then and now by our ‘ordinary citizen’ counterparts in Iraq. I do this to remind us of the immense, almost unspeakable, harm we’ve caused, and to encourage us to consider what harm we may presently deliver to others, and to consider also that we don’t have to deliver this harm if we are mindful. Sabre rattling against Iran ought to be a moment to “hear ourselves”.

Finally, below the Breen interview, I offer brief thoughts on why cute kitten videos appeal to us more deeply than we realize, and how – if we pay attention – this could turn out to be a good thing.

I say the underlying principle of observations made on this blog is “Everything is a model for everything else.” So when I post to draw attention to what we’ve delivered to the people of Iraq, by sharing the video below, I don’t speak only of Iraq. I speak of similar deep suffering our drone strikes have and do deliver to people in several countries. I speak of our own populations caught in extreme deprivation due to ‘rules of market forces’. I speak of our extreme high levels of imprisonment of our own citizens. And more.

I speak of a relentless cultural brutality that we scarce take time to identify because we’re busy.

Some of us are busy because we already have problems in our lives that bring daily struggle, (examples might be ourselves or family members with serious health or disability challenges; or flat out extreme poverty so that both home and food are insecure on a daily basis, or both.) Some of us are busy maintaining what material and economic security we have. Some of us are busy making every effort to increase the distance between existing comfortable circumstances (somewhere in the upper middle and above on a security ladder), and dreaded possibility of material or economic insecurity that we know is the fate of any on the low rungs.

(We say we climb a ladder to success, but for many it’s really a ladder of security. We don’t want to admit our dread of life on lower rungs.)

The ‘busy-ness’ of our lives is due to either present struggle and challenge, or nagging awareness that some lives have these and we don’t want to experience them. We don’t like to admit it but we are chronically anxious to avoid harsh brutal, struggle and challenge.  (Which causes us, in horrible irony, to be willing to deliver or allow harsh, brutal struggle and challenge to someone else.)

We are habitual in denying the possibility that generalized anxiety motivates us.

Our anxiety is ‘me’ focused, (‘me’ in this case includes ‘me and/or my immediate group’). If we were not strongly ‘me’ focused, I would not post on year 2013 realities faced by Iraqi people, as described in the video below. And if we were not so strategic in maintaining our ‘me’ focus while denying underlying anxiety, I’d not mention our ‘cute kitten’ habit..

We have a great many strategies to avoid noticing our anxiety. One of these is our very busy-ness. Another is cute kitten videos, and all other experiences that take our minds off this anxiety.

IF – we explain to ourselves – I can “just for a time feel there is nothing pressuring me”, if I can “just touch base with something tender and good”, (or wild and exciting, or novel and distracting), then I can re-enter my busy life feeling refreshed and encouraged.

Cute kitten videos aside, we often appreciate isolated stories and short video clips of someone somewhere interrupting a busy life by responding with compassion to unexpected need, as a banker did in this 2 min. video.  This is a variation that further proves our need to touch base with something tender and good.

The truth is, but we don’t like to talk about it,  there is much in human experience that is not at all that tender and good .

We say we already know this, and we explain this is why cute kitten videos are so valuable. We say, “humans are cruel, always have been, always will be, so these videos and other refreshing experiences are not escape, they soothe and are essential.”

I understand the reasoning, but I challenge the conclusion. If we take our understanding of what cute kitten videos ‘trigger’ in us no farther than ‘soothe in a cruel world’, we miss a deeper message available. See concluding thoughts below this 30 minute, March 2013, interview with Cathy Breen, American international peace worker, who was in Iraq at the start of ‘shock and awe’, and who has returned to visit and hear the Iraqi people since.

I believe the reason we need cute kitten videos is because we need to notice a deeper ‘hint’ they give us about ourselves.

I believe we want to touch base with something tender and good because it triggers a universal human urge to create societies that make ‘tender and good’ the rule rather than the exception.

Challenging ourselves to play our part in creating such societies is so outside the paradigms that drive our ‘busy-ness’ and unacknowledged anxiety – that it unsettles us at a very deep level to even think about such a goal. The last thing we want to experience is unsettling awareness – we’re already anxious enough!

If we admit to possibility that our urge to experience ‘something tender and good’ is rooted in ‘the seed of our potential as humans’, our back-of-mind logic tells us we might have to go back to square one.

… … … Poof! … … … 

Gone is the romance of marvelous America, and with it, many stories, beliefs, and paradigms we hold about our exceptional history. Gone are many competitive practices that go with the American way of life. Gone are comfortable understandings of why “some of us succeed and some of us don’t”. Gone are smooth explanations of why we must wage war against another people.

In my title I took care to describe us as ‘all-too-human’. That is a critical understanding we must develop about ourselves. For one thing, when we ‘excuse’ ourselves by saying “those guys are even worse”, there’s likely some truth in it, (depending on details), because we are indeed all human. But that others elsewhere might at times ‘be even worse’ does not justify our own brutality – ever.

Right here is where we are – in a very large and powerful nation that has exceptional capacity to help or hinder the human reach for ‘something tender and good’. Right here is the situation that needs thought and correction.

Other benefits to ourselves and all humanity when we as Americans can allow our ‘all too humanness’ include these:

  • When we are able to recognize our human ordinariness – then we can see that dreams, potentials, and yearning for a world more ‘tender and good’ are shared by every other human born to this planet, both inside and outside our borders.
  • By allowing ourselves to feel humility, our own, natural, ‘tender and good’ characteristics begin to show up in our behavior beyond ‘me and my group’. (We become like the banker rescuing the ducklings, but on a much larger scale in our nation and in the world.)
  • By accepting our ordinariness, by allowing humility, we make room for others in our nation and in the world to develop and bring their gifts to the common table.
  • By becoming more attuned to our common humanity with all other people, we are better able to notice when our own society neglects this attunement – and can choose to correct ourselves.

As some of our policy makers continue to emphasize war against Iran, (see current news and links below my signature) – or as we in other ways stay on the path of brutality, we can notice the ‘old paradigm’ at play.  We can begin a shift toward ‘something tender and good’.  We can do so immediately – we can choose to correct the inclination to war against another people. (The posted TalkingStickTV interview with Cathy Breen is highly recommended, Please locate it at YouTube if it for any reason above presentation does not show up here).

My Best – MaggieAnn

Note: Recent news regarding US-Iranian relations: Recently policy makers have shown signs of remembering that ordinary citizens of both nations want nothing to do with war. The Dent-Price letter, co-written by Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA), and Rep. David Price (D-NC), signed by 131 representatives was sent July 19th to President Obama “encouraging (him) to reinvigorate diplomacy with Iran.”, and, “The Dent-Price letter follows on the heels of another letter (July 15th) to President Obama, signed by 29 former policymakers, diplomats, military officials, and experts, which calls Rouhani’s election “a major potential opportunity to reinvigorate diplomatic efforts to resolve the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program.”” At the same time, voices emphasizing war do speak: July 24, 2013 : …recent calls by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) for war against Iran. … plans to introduce an authorization for the use of military force in Iran in two months.

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About maggieannthoeni

A description once given of me was "rooted in the earth while roaming the stars" - and this has felt 'right'. I believe in something akin to this for each of us. I am a passionate supporter of discovering the autonomous self while serving the whole as primary intent. I believe in discovery of innate principles, clearing the overlay of socialization that obscures this from us. I believe it is our responsibility to leave no one behind - most particularly to respond to suffering as best we can whereever we find it, whenever we are made aware. I believe in this for the insect as well as the most magnificent form of humanity. I believe in brother/sisterhood without boundary. I believe in righteous indignation when it is appropriate, but do not believe in an enemy. I believe in consciousness, in intelligence, in logic, in rationality, in emotion, in transcendence - and am convinced until we generally practice explore and honor all this in ourselves, we remain profoundly immature. (I believe real maturity is known and practiced by many young children, and not enough adults!)
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2 Responses to America’s All-Too-Human Ignorance – and How Cute Kitten Videos Can Lead to War or Peace

  1. Vicki says:

    MaggieAnn says – “I believe the reason we need cute kitten videos is because we need to notice a deeper ‘hint’ they give us about ourselves.

    I believe we want to touch base with something tender and good because it triggers a universal human urge to create societies that make ‘tender and good’ the rule rather than the exception.

    Challenging ourselves to play our part in creating such societies is so outside the paradigms that drive our ‘busy-ness’ and unacknowledged anxiety – that it unsettles us at a very deep level to even think about such a goal. The last thing we want to experience is unsettling awareness – we’re already anxious enough!

    If we admit to possibility that our urge to experience ‘something tender and good’ is rooted in ‘the seed of our potential as humans’, our back-of-mind logic tells us we might have to go back to square one.”

    And i completely concur. This says so well what my rant the other day was trying to say – we need to accept that we have hearts and the potential for great compassion, great fairness, great tenderness…which is counter to current societal arrangements. But, then we are left saying – “but, what can i do? It’s always been this way.” I firmly believe that once we accept tenderness as a viable model, we will know precisely what to do and have the courage and the energy and the will to do it. I also think that most people are not aware that a great deal of effort goes into creating meanness and selfishness in people. It can exist in all of us and does, but, to have a hyper-competitive society such as Western society that is able to rationalize ongoing externalized aggression against other countries as “self protection” and to erroneously misperceive the aggressors as the victims and the true victims as the aggressors, to turn things so entirely upside down and believe it unquestioningly, you have to groom and cajole and push and reward people into choosing their aggression over their cooperation. One cute kitten video is enough to put a chink in the armor. Watch them on a regular basis, and a person risks becoming down right empathetic!

    • maggieannthoeni says:

      Thank you Vicki for such thoughtful expansion on my piece! I especially am pleased that you picked up on my use of ‘tender’, (“… we have hearts and the potential for great compassion, great fairness, great tenderness…”; and “…once we accept tenderness as a viable model,…”!

      “Tenderness as a viable model” is a striking phrase. How good for us if it were to become a meme. I believe the experience of tenderness is one of our dearest.

      Thank you too for identifying habitual practices in thought that block us from the very experience we seek, (“hyper-competitiveness, externalized aggression, mis-perceiving victim as aggressor,…”). Our language informs us – and if we can begin to speak of the need for tenderness, and identify and describe ways we block ourselves from finding it – then we will begin to develop the information we need to change what we’re doing. (IMO).

      Thanks again – so much! -MA

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