Friday, July 22, 2005

Slavery Today in The Bateyes, and the Ego System

Clicking on the title of this post, will get you to the site for Samuel Augustin, Sam has an exhibition at The Lafayette Grill&Bar,, at 54-56 Franklin Street, in New York (3 blocks south of Canal, between Broadway and Lafayette Streets) from July 16th, 2005, till August 8th, 2005. The theme of the exhibition is "Life in the Bateyes," which are the sugar plantations in the Dominican Republic where upto one million Haitians reportedly work today, cutting the sugar cane, under conditions which are tantamount to slavery, except perhaps in the most narrow technical sense, since they're under contracts for upto 20 years, at below $1 per day, without any civil rights in the Dominican Republic, nor any right to return to Haiti until the "contract" is served out.
Sam's artwork is beautiful and it is worth seeing. His principal themes are "celebration," showing the performance of traditional Haitian (African) folklore and dances, and the power of the spirit expressed in that, and "conversation," which is either people in a circle talking about how to get out, how to get back home, or a pregnant mother in a quiet conversation with her unborn child, hoping for a better life. The background for all of it is the fields of sugar cane.

For me this exhibition was a good reminder of the powerful ways in which the Course speaks about slavery as an aspect of the ego system. In the Bible of course the stories of the Babylonian exile and the Egyptian exile are reminders of this theme, and implicitly so is the diaspora after the destruction of the Temple. In the New Testament there is the subtle aspect of the apostles dropping their line of work to "follow Jesus," which again implies something of a different order, and clearly Jesus is identified as Savior, and his Kingdom not of this World holds out an entirely different promise. Likewise the story of Exodus in the OT is as much a story of Salvation as are the Gospels. The Course merely puts it all in a modern form as a "self-study course," and removes many historical misinterpretations.

At the same time, like any other story of slavery in our modern world, this exhibition is an important reminder that the so-called abolition of slavery did not permanently solve the problem, though it did change the form for certain groups of people, and ultimately enable some improvements in circumstances. Fundamentally however the thought system of slavery is within, and is not changed by changing a specific form of it.

One of the most important teachings of the Course is to make us aware of the holographic nature of reality, and the illusory nature of the ego's thought system of sin, guilt and fear, which convinces us of a past cause(sin), which makes us fearful at present, (of the future, and therefore shifts our attention out of the present), and projecting a future which is bound to be a repetition of the past. The closest we can come to this is in meditation or in the holy instant, when we can let go of past and future, to be at rest in the eternal now, and be at peace, without any projection. We just can't stand that for too long. In regards of the Crucifixion Jesus offers a very poignant comment as follows, pertaining to our ability to change our mind (the NT Greek is Metanoia, which has generally been mistranslated as "repentance"):
The journey to the cross should be the last "useless journey." 2 Do not dwell upon it, but dismiss it as accomplished. 3 If you can accept it as your own last useless journey, you are also free to join my resurrection. 4 Until you do so your life is indeed wasted. 5 It merely re-enacts the separation, the loss of power, the futile attempts of the ego at reparation, and finally the crucifixion of the body, or death. 6 Such repetitions are endless until they are voluntarily given up. 7 Do not make the pathetic error of "clinging to the old rugged cross." 8 The only message of the crucifixion is that you can overcome the cross. 9 Until then you are free to crucify yourself as often as you choose. 10 This is not the gospel I intended to offer you. 11 We have another journey to undertake, and if you will read these lessons carefully they will help prepare you to undertake it.
" (
and later he says:
Each day, each hour and minute, even each second, you are deciding between the crucifixion and the resurrection; between the ego and the Holy Spirit. 2 The ego is the choice for guilt; the Holy Spirit the choice for guiltlessness. 3 The power of decision is all that is yours. 4 What you can decide between is fixed, because there are no alternatives except truth and illusion. 5 And there is no overlap between them, because they are opposites which cannot be reconciled and cannot both be true. 6 You are guilty or guiltless, bound or free, unhappy or happy.
" (ACIM:T-14.III.4)

Notice also the connection here to "guilty or guiltless, bound or free..." in other words a strong underlying theme of the Course, which decisively plays on these themes as they are present in various Biblical stories, is our slavery to the ego system. It is the ego system which really is the fierce taskmaster that keeps us beholden to it, and does not allow us to be free. This may manifest in our lives in a variety of ways, slavery, jail, and various addictive behaviors, from abusive relationships (often with our work, as well as with spouses!) to substance abuse, and first and foremost in the experience of diaspora - the realization that this world is not our home. In other words slavery is something we are doomed to keep acting out as long as we live our lives as children of the ego. And undertaking the way home, such as Jesus proposes in the Course does not even begin until we sincerely ask for "another way," as did Helen Schucman and Bill Thetford at the outset of the Course.

Throughout the Course images are used that are reflective of the idea that the victim/victimizer in the world are really two sides of the same coin, so that neither jailer nor prisoner can be free unless the thought system is let go of.
Who can be born again in Christ but him who has forgiven everyone he sees or thinks of or imagines? 2 Who could be set free while he imprisons anyone? 3 A jailer is not free, for he is bound together with his prisoner. 4 He must be sure that he does not escape, and so he spends his time in keeping watch on him. 5 The bars that limit him become the world in which his jailer lives, along with him. 6 And it is on his freedom that the way to liberty depends for both of them.
" (ACIM:W-192.7)

Throughout the Course then, there are reminders that forgiveness as a process, which does not mean grandiosely "forgiving" another because we are "bigger than that," (a process which the Course calls "forgiveness to destroy"), but does mean that we are letting go of the accusation of another which we hold against them, by projecting onto them what is really going on inside ourselves. This forgiveness process loosens the ball and chain with which we enslave our brothers and ourselves, because, as in the above cited paragraph, the jailer is inevitably tied to the prisoner. It is this forgiveness process then by which we free ourselves by freeing our brothers. This is the inner release from slavery.

The realization is that in the world, changing the form is always passed off as a material change, which it is not, unless it is a reflection of this inner change. Without the inner change, the process will merely continue under other guises, as the history of the Bateyes clearly shows. A million people in slavery only an armslength away from us.

In a different way we are also reminded of the same thing in connection with China, and the recent signs of new capitalist power to potentially take over major American corporations. Our capitalist model, which makes the mistake of thinking that the purpose of business is to make money (when it should be to create value for all stakeholders), inevitably creates conditions that favor slavery, and it's just a question who can get away with it, and they must win this game. I learnt this early on in my own business career in the shipping business, when I realized that one of our competitors, who had a seemingly permanent newbuilding program going, when we could not even build one ship profitably--but we could afford to charter ships from them. They were prominent Hong Kong shipowners at the time, Wah Kwong Shipping, headed by an Oxford educated magnate, Mr. Frank Chao. We found out the hard way that they were keeping a double set of books, and that while under their contract with us they were supposed to pay union wages, in fact they were not, and people were paid a rough equivalent in HK$ instead of US$, even while signing receipts for the union wages. That meant these people were paying their crew 20% of what we paid ours, and the difference explained the company's economic successes, and their huge newbuilding program.

We still ask today: "Am I my brother's keeper?" (Gen 4:9) and the logic of the ego system is that if we can make twenty-five cents, we will still sell our brother down the river, just as happily as ever. Various explicit forms of slavery in the modern world, like the example in the Bateyes, tend to take place in cross border forms, as it does in that case. Or in other socially more obscure forms, including dysfunctional people being emotionally abused in dysfuncitional companies. So instead of being deluded about 'progress," we can see how nothing really changes in the outside world, and the old latin saying: "nil novi sub sole," (nothing new under the sun) is as true as ever, as also the French saying: "l"Histoire se repète,"(history repeats itself). They are the sad refrains of the ego system.

But by looking in the mirror we can use these events to realize that the only change we can make is inside, whenever we are ready to ask from the bottom of our hearts: "there must be another way." And by following Jesus, (inside) we will increasingly let go of the ego's temptation of pretending change, by moving around the deck chairs on the Titanic. For we can only make a difference if we are different. The illusion of changing anyone else, keeps us firmly on the ego's chain gang, by avoiding change ourselves - which is the very purpose of the tactic. Through forgiveness we can let go of the ego's judgment and indictment, and it will come easier and easier as we realize that our indictment of another puts ourselves in chains. For we will join then with our brother in the present moment, in the Holy Instant. After all we cannot go home without taking our brother with us, and surely what our hands do then will be guided not by our guilty projections, but by the love that inspires us then.

I am resurrection and life. 2 You live in me because you live in God. 3 And everyone lives in you, as you live in everyone. 4 Can you, then, perceive unworthiness in a brother and not perceive it in yourself? 5 And can you perceive it in yourself and not perceive it in God? 6 Believe in the resurrection because it has been accomplished, and it has been accomplished in you. 7 This is as true now as it will ever be, for the resurrection is the Will of God, which knows no time and no exceptions. 8 But make no exceptions yourself, or you will not perceive what has been accomplished for you. 9 For we ascend unto the Father together, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, for such is the nature of God's Son as his Father created him.
" (ACIM:T-11.VI.4)
and one of the many places where the Course expresses that freedom is not exclusive, but inclusive of our brothers is the following:
You do not offer God your gratitude because your brother is more slave than you, nor could you sanely be enraged if he seems freer. 2 Love makes no comparisons. 3 And gratitude can only be sincere if it be joined to love. 4 We offer thanks to God our Father that in us all things will find their freedom. 5 It will never be that some are loosed while others still are bound. 6 For who can bargain in the name of love?
" (ACIM:W-195.4)

Copyright, (c) 2005, Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.
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