Race, Ethnicity, and Conflict sounds like a diabolical postgraduate subject choice for someone such as myself given to deep bouts of depressive pessimism, and trust me, it has been. Don’t get me wrong: Every lecture and text on the reading list has been enriching, and I feel that the entire process has benefitted me, but almost every moment has been a struggle – an intellectual and emotional challenge that has demanded my every reserve. Coming to see that the very best of intentions, of politicians, of charities, and NGOs, have led to the most unimaginable and despicable human suffering, and the depth of people’s sadism and vindictiveness meted out against other people have caused a dark and lonely sadness to fall over me.
It isn’t the case that any of this is new to me. Quite some time ago I gave up on the idea – or the hope – that people in positions of power had the best interests of the weak at heart. Through a number of personal experiences I have come to see how the weaker and more vulnerable people become, the more those in power prey upon them; abuse them, and exploit them. Human nature, for all its complexity and wonder, contains within it something cruel, merciless, and brutal. There is no depravity of which women and men are not capable, and this cannot come as a surprise to us.
At the beginning of the first term my student colleague John and I had a discussion in which we touched upon the underlying sense of hopelessness that pervades the world we live in. This anxiety is something in which we are all made complicit; the products we buy, the food we eat, the modes of living we cannot readily escape are all delivered to us by a global system that robs others of dignity, rights, and even life. Our modern parasitic colony systemically devours the voiceless and powerless to feed the lusts and greed of those at the top.
Now I am brought back to a reflection of a few years ago, that of the sadness of being – or as it is in Japanese philosophy 物の哀れ (Mono no awaré), ‘the pathos of things.’ Accepting the truth of this all-encompassing futility is so much like an ongoing low level depression, and as some of the harder realities of human violence filter through it I have found myself identifying with the words of William Kinderman, the character played by George C. Scott, at the dénouement of the film The Exorcist 3:
I believe in death. I believe in disease. I believe in injustice and inhumanity, and torture and anger and hate. I believe in murder. I believe in pain. I believe in cruelty and infidelity. I believe in slime and stink and every crawling, putrid thing, every possible ugliness and corruption, you son of a bitch. I believe… in you.
Is this my confession? Only sometimes, at my darkest, lowest moments – when I am in despair – is this close to my confession. I believe in a better world than this world of encircling gloom. I have no proof of its existence – I have neither seen it nor in any other way experienced it, save in fleeting ecstasies; in brief euphoria. I believe in justice, in life, peace, and truth. Yet our pilgrimage towards this perfection is in vain without a clear vision of what it is we seek, that is the faith that it exists, and as we approach Easter the image of suffering will again be at the forefront of my mind. Without proof, without any experience of any kind, without reason perhaps, I believe in the resurrection – I need him to rise with me – simply because I cannot bear it to be otherwise.