Monday, 12 January 2009

Israeli/Palestinian? Rich/poor? Possession is 10/10ths of the problem..

Hell, said Jean-Paul Satre in his play 'Huis Clos', is other people.

Currently on this planet we occupy, we are systematically turning paradise into hell. Why? Because we are possessed, it seems, with this idea of property, of ownership. The root of all of our fears is the fear of loss. We fear to lose face, to lose control, to lose what we think we somehow own. The reality is we own nothing. And in that reality lies our freedom. But we have become so utterly possessed with the concept of owning our little piece of something - be it physical property or simply an idea - that we have become isolated from our being and our own brothers and sisters - from each other.

And this idea of ownership and control is so utterly endemic in the very structure of our society, that we believe its truth to be as concrete as existence itself. And the whole of our capitalist/consumerist system is predicated on this idea. We exchange tokens we call money, for objects or concepts which, protected by 'laws', become our 'property'.

Take this idea one step further, and you can see clearly how the determination to control and own ideas is at the root of all religious and political dogma: 'I'm right, you're wrong.' And we can see this borne out the world over in the terrible conflicts that continue to rage, over property, over ideas, over the sense that one group of us is different, better, more chosen, than another.

I was re-reading Ursula Le Guin's beautiful novel 'The Dispossessed' over New Year, and it reminded me how isolated I can become, not wishing to share the time of day or even acknowledge other people. The possession of our minds is the root of all misanthropy. Most of us walk along the street in some kind of mind-created bubble, believing ourselves separate from our fellow beings. But we're not, are we? Truly, we all share the same space and breathe the same air. Le Guin's incredible vision of a world without laws, without property, without money or ownership, brought this all back to me.

On the train from Stansted airport back into London last week, I watched the most incredible sunset. The vista from the train across the stark landscape of frozen lakes, gnarled oaks and still-lithe silver birches, suffused with the most sublime pinks, oranges, reds and blues raying through scrawled black clouds was breathtaking. Experiencing this sunset brought me a joy that I have never had while standing in an art gallery perusing these little objects that attempt in some way to capture this glory. I do not wish to denigrate art, but to challenge the idea that we can, in any way, own any of this. And yet, what joy to discover that ownership is unnecessary anyway, when the greatest joys are laid out for us all to share.

I have visited Israel several times over the last 25 years, and witnessed the terrible disintegration of what was once a relatively harmonious society (in terms of Arab and Jew), although it must be said that this fragile balance did depend largely on the fact that the Arabs were, to all intents and purposes, second-class citizens.

Partitioning Gaza and the West Bank was never the answer in my humble opinion; the answer would have been to try to integrate the two communities, especially economically. The failure to do this has only polarised the situation, and until it is rectified, it will only get worse.

To have one people walled off, both physically and economically, from the benefits that others enjoy, can only result in strife. And when you throw the Molotov cocktail of religious extremism into the mix, you've got the situation we see today.

Economic and social integration is the only answer. It means someone has to start sharing. The same goes the world over. It's only when we accept no one has any more right to live on this planet than anyone else, and that we all breathe the same air, and that religious and other equally spurious divides such as skin colour, are insane, will we progress.

Hell may appear to be other people, but we are also each other's salvation. No God, no belief, no religion, no political or economic idea can do it for us, while we still grasp fearfully to the idea of possession. It is only when we let go of this idea, that we can finally become free.