The Husbands of River Song And the Road to Emmaus

In The Husbands of River Song, River has no idea that the Time Lord she loves and holds dear has regenerated. As a result she kept expecting the Doctor to look and behave a specific way. This of course leads to some amusing instances. For example, when the Doctor gets to pretend that he does not know that the TARDIS is bigger on the inside and he gets to give what he thinks is the proper reaction to being confronted with this fact.

And of course, it’s always amusing to see the Doctor’s reaction when River opens up a hidden cabinet of whiskey or when she explains that pressing a particular button would evacuate the waste on deck seven. Not to mention the sarcastic comment she makes as he watches River make out with Ramone.

DOCTOR: Urgh! Doesn’t it get dull after a while? As an activity, it’s not hugely varied, is it? 
RIVER: I’m so sorry. This is my husband, Ramone. 
DOCTOR: Another one? Are you going to kill him, too? 

In addition to making snog comments and witnessing how River acts  when she’s not aware of the Doctor’s presence, the Doctor also gets to learn not only how River feels about him (which I am sure he knew all along) but also how she believes the Doctor views her.

FLEMMING: You’re the woman he loves.
RIVER: No, I’m not.
FLEMMING: She’s lying.                                                                                                                                 RIVER: The Doctor does not and has never loved me. I’m not lying.
CYBORG: Confirmed. The life form is not lying.
FLEMMING: Impossible. This is a trick.
RIVER: No, it isn’t.
pizap-com14740729946411  And one of the funniest and poignant scenes is when the River finally realizes that the Doctor is standing right beside her:

RIVER: When you love the Doctor, it’s like loving the stars themselves. You don’t expect a sunset to admire you back. And if I happen to find myself in danger, let me tell you, the Doctor is not stupid enough, or sentimental enough, and he is certainly not in love enough to find himself standing in it with me! 
DOCTOR: Hello, sweetie. 
RIVER: You are so doing those roots. 
DOCTOR: What, the roots of the sunset

Watching River and the 12th Doctor interact, especially when River doesn’t realize she’s with the Doctor is pretty funny and amusing. For the most part. Then there are the scenes mentioned above. Where River essentially says that she doesn’t think the Doctor loves her. When she discovers that the Doctor is standing next to her and he starts lightly teasing her about her comments about the sunset and stars, she tries to play off her statements that she was just talking to keep them alive. But what we the audience knows, what River knows, and what the Doctor knows is that there is an sliver of truth in her statements. The Doctor isn’t particularly known for being apt at giving and receiving love. While one could argue that perhaps he shows love in a different way, it’s hard to argue with the fact that he can be incredibly selfish. And while he cares deeply about those he travels with, he is also known to use them; sometimes for a noble great purpose, sometimes just because he can be self-centered and selfish. He does care about River Song. But it is easy to see why she would have felt as if he didn’t love her back.  But I can imagine how it must have felt to be convinced that the Doctor was not by her side, only to look over and discover he was there all along. It’s not a conventional declaration of love, because well the Doctor doesn’t do that, but it does demonstrate that he does care for her and that he is there for her.

The thing is, when we get to know and love people, our familiarity can blind us. When we meet someone new, especially a potential friend, romantic partner, or even business partner or colleague, we are paying attention to every little detail. We might have preconceived notions of a person, it’s hard not to. But if we want to get to know a person we try not to hold on too tightly to those preconceived notions. But when we know someone or more accurately when we think we know all there is to know about a person, we stop trying to learn about them.

Christians, at least Christians in America, seem to think that we know all there is about Jesus and God. I know I fall into that trap. Maybe even more so since I got an M.Div., which to be honest, I have been mainly using to annoy evangelicals who pretend they are interested in having a conversation but really just want to convert me to their way of thinking. But there is this sense of, “I don’t need to learn anything else. I have a degree.” Or for Christians who don’t have an M.Div. it’s, “I go to church every Sunday.” Or “I read the Bible every day.” Sometimes these assumptions don’t cause too much harm. We go about our day, holding onto our ideas about Jesus and God and make it through life. Sometime however, what we think about God can cause harm. Because when we go around saying, “well this is God. Or this is Jesus” then we need to think about what or whom we are excluding. When we paint Jesus as a beautiful, blonde hair white man, what are we saying about women and people of color? When we envision Jesus as sinless and flawless and God as a punishing judge, how then do we view those in the prison system or even those who society projects as being dangerous and lawless (ie black men and women, Native Americans)? When we act as if Jesus is/was American and God is on our side, then what are we saying about the young kids, and the men and women who are being slaughtered by American bombs and guns? When we present God as police officer, judge, juror, and executioner, then how do we react when a police officer slaughters a young black boy, a mentally ill person, or an unarmed man or woman? Our ideas about God can have life and death consequences. Our ideas about God can expose how we view the “other,” whoever that “other” may be. Our ideas about God in fact prevent us from knowing God.

The Bible is filled with stories where the disciples are unable at least at first to recognize Jesus. One of the most popular is found in Luke 24:13-35. This story is often referred to as, “The Road to Emmaus.” Two disciples are asked by a strange man what they were discussing. And they talk about Jesus and the miracles that he did and they talk about the hope they had, that seemed to be dashed when Jesus was crucified:

“He was a man of God, a prophet, dynamic in work and word, blessed by both God and all the people. Then our high priests and leaders betrayed him, got him sentenced to death, and crucified him. And we had our hopes up that he was the One, the One about to deliver Israel. And it is now the third day since it happened. But now some of our women have completely confused us. Early this morning they were at the tomb and couldn’t find his body. They came back with the story that they had seen a vision of angels who said he was alive. Some of our friends went off to the tomb to check and found it empty just as the women said, but they didn’t see Jesus.” (The Message,  24:19-24)

The man responds, “So thick-headed! So slow-hearted! Why can’t you simply believe all that the prophets said? Don’t you see that these things had to happen, that the Messiah had to suffer and only then enter into his glory?” Then he started at the beginning, with the Books of Moses, and went on through all the Prophets, pointing out everything in the Scriptures that referred to him.” (The Message, 24: 25-27)

But it isn’t until the two disciples are about to eat and break bed with the strange man that they recognize that it was Jesus and like a ghost, he vanishes.

Like the disciples, we can be “so thick headed! So slow hearted.” We have these ideas about Jesus and God that we hold on so tightly that we allow them to blind us. Like the disciples, like River Song, we don’t recognize the person standing right next to us. Who is Jesus? Jesus is Tyre King, the young boy shot and killed by police for carrying a BB gun. A young boy that so many are condemning. But then again when we view Jesus and God as   police officers guarding the gates of heaven, keeping certain people out, then it is not surprising that we believe the words of police officers and will do anything to justify the death of someone who we consider to be unworthy of love and life.

Who is Jesus? Jesus is the children and women and men being killed in the Middle East because of the United States “War on Terror.” But when we view Jesus and God as synonymous with the American soldier and the military, then of course we don’t give a second thought to the people being forced to live through a 9/11 experience every day.

Who is Jesus? Jesus is the Palestinian child being shot dead by an Israeli soldier. No, this isn’t an anti-Semitic claim. Christianity has blamed Judaism for the death of Jesus and has used it as an excuse to bully, kill, and discriminate against Jewish people. And although some Christians stood up against Hitler, far too many were all too happy to go along with his “final solution.” But recognizing the horrors of the holocaust and how Christians have discriminated against and killed Jewish people, does not mean that one needs to blindly accept what the Israeli government does. Many Christians are using faith to blindly support the Israeli government because they believe that is what God wants and demands. But do we really want to believe in a God that is ok with shooting children in the head? Do we really want to believe in a God that endorses collective punishment? In the Bible, we have stories about a God that endorsed slaughtering people and taking over land. That was how one community/nation understood God a long time ago, and they weren’t the only ones. Ancient Babylonians, Persians,  etc also believed that their gods were telling them to take over land. Do we still want to hold onto that idea of God today?

Our preconceptions about people can blind us to who they are-even if they are standing right in front of us. To be fair, River didn’t know the Doctor had regenerated and most of us won’t have to deal with people who frequently change their body and face. Yet preconceived notions can be just as disorienting and blinding. We see that in the story of the two disciples on the way to Emmaus and we see that today when preconceived notions about God and Jesus get people killed.  And it is difficult having to do the hard work of periodically re-evaluating what we think we know about other people, about God, about ourselves. Bu it’s worth it if it saves lives. And it’s not something we do alone. There’s a lot about God I don’t know and won’t pretend to know. But there’s one idea I hold on tightly too: that God is with us as we navigate this complicated, unpredictable, beautiful, messy, tragic, life.

DOCTOR: Mmm. What do you think of the towers?
RIVER: I love them.
DOCTOR: Then why are you ignoring them?
RIVER: They’re ignoring me. But then you can’t expect a monolith to love you back.
DOCTOR: No, you can’t.

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Hell Bent: Facing the Consequences

OHILA: You have gone too far. You have broken every code you ever lived by.
DOCTOR: After all this time, after everything I’ve done, don’t you think the universe owes me this?
OHILA: Owes you what? All you’re doing is giving her hope.
DOCTOR: Since when is hope a bad thing?
OHILA: Hope is a terrible thing on the scaffold.

When Clara died, the Doctor suffered. The pain he felt was excruciating. So he does whatever he can in order to bring Clara back. But there are consequences to his actions. There are always consequences. What happened to the Doctor and Clara in Face the Raven, wasn’t fair. Especially after everything the Doctor and Clara had done for Gallifrey and the Time Lords. Although the High Council never intended Clara to die-it happened. It was an unintended consequence. But the Doctor wasn’t going to let Clara stay dead. Not if he had the power or the access to technology to do anything about it. And damn it, Gallifrey and the High Council owed it to him and to Clara. Clara and the Doctor rescued them numerous times and the Doctor was going to make sure that he got what he was owed.

The problem with this sense of entitlement is that it obscures the role that the Doctor’s and Clara’s played in Clara’s death, and it downplays the negative consequences that could have resulted from the Doctor’s actions. The reality is that Clara died not just because of the situation that the High Council placed her in, but the Doctor’s and Clara’s carelessness, combined with Clara’s compassion, also contributed to her death. Clara and the Doctor always assumed that death could never touch them. The Doctor always saves Clara and there are very little consequences, at least for them. They became sloppy and reckless.  And Clara of course, was going to head to her death with dignity. She wasn’t going to allow the Doctor to use her death as a means to go on a murderous rampage. But the Doctor (and Moffat) were not going to let Clara stay dead.  But there are consequences to the Doctor’s decision. Maybe in the scheme of things not as drastic or destructive as they could have been. The Doctor’s memory of their relationship is wiped out and while Clara is still technically dead, at the end of the episode she and Me/Ashildr are ostensibly traveling throughout the universe before she supposedly heads back to Gallifrey to be plucked back into her time stream. For Doctor Who, this is as close to a happy ending as the show sometimes get. In real life, the consequences for acting out a sense of entitlement and a disregard for the potential destruction that arise from said actions, can reverberate for years. And unlike in Doctor Who, going back in time, or plucking people out of their time streams before death snatches them away, is impossible.

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Fifteen years ago, four planes were hijacked by terrorists. Two hit the twin towers in NYC, one hit the Pentagon, and one crashed in a field in PA after the passengers managed to wrestle control away the hijackers. In total, nearly 3,000 people were murdered and thousands of other people continue to experience mental and physical anguish from losing loved ones, surviving the carnage, or even just being near ground zero and breathing in the toxic fumes.

After the attacks, people were hurting and angry. People wanted revenge. We wanted to get back at those who planned such horrific violence. We demanded to know who would do this to us. Even those who did not lose anyone, had a desire for revenge and war.  But if we are honest with ourselves, looking back at the collective grief and national mourning the country experienced as we grappled with the aftermath of the attack, we revealed our sense of entitlement.  We were angry not just that so many lives were lost in a horrific action, but that it was American lives that were killed. Innocent American civilians were slaughtered. And we couldn’t bring them back so we wanted to do the next best thing: get revenge.

But what we failed to realize then, and what many continue to realize now, is that the 9/11 attacks did not occur in a vacuum. 19 people didn’t randomly wake up one day and think, “I think I’m going to just attack and massacre thousands of people today.” The 9/11 attacks were responses to the horrific foreign policy designs that the government made in the previous decades, in the name of the American people. 9/11 resulted from policies that armed and trained the mujahedeen in Afghanistan against the Soviets. The mujahedeen used the language of jihad and militancy to defend their actions. Those ideas didn’t die just because we stopped supporting this faction.

Moreover, the US government’s  involvement in the Middle East, from our blind support of Israel at the expense of Palestinians,   to the sanctions that killed half a million Iraqi children,  helped foster a sense of hatred and resentment against America. While the US government’s foreign policy decisions do not justify or excuse the deaths of innocent American civilians, they do provide some historical and political context for the attacks.

In Hell Bent, the Doctor banished the president of Gallifrey and broke some rules but, the consequences appear to be pretty limited. His relationship with Clara has ended and his memories of her have disappeared. But in the real world, revenge and anger have deadly consequences. In a desire “to make things right,” and “defeat terrorism,” the US invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, and have used military force in Yemen, Libya, Pakistan, etc. The consequences have been catastrophic. At the very least, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been slaughtered, and millions more have been terrorized. While the US hasn’t suffered another major terrorist attack on such a large scale, our wars and bad decisions have led to the rise of even more brutal terrorist groups such as ISIS  that have killed thousands of innocent civilians. But because those deaths weren’t American, their lives are automatically deemed less valuable.

In this season of Doctor Who, the mythological “Hybrid” was a source of worry and fear for the Doctor and for those on Gallifrey.

ASHILDR: What if the Hybrid wasn’t one person, but two?
DOCTOR: Two?
ASHILDR: A dangerous combination of a passionate and powerful Time Lord and a young woman so very similar to him.

ASHILDR [on scanner]: Companions who are willing to push each other to extremes

The Hybrid that caused so much fear, wasn’t an offspring from the Daleks and the Time Lords, but it was the Doctor and Clara. They were the ones who apparently posed such a great threat to Gallifrey.

DOCTOR : She’s my friend. She’s just my friend.
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We waged wars and military operations throughout the world in the name of terrorism and to stop those that planned and executed the 9/11 attacks. But in the fifteen years since, has the US government gotten any closer to stopping terrorist groups from thriving? Have we truly saved lives? Some say that because al-Qaeda or other terrorists groups haven’t pulled off such a massive attack in the US that this proves that the US government’s military operations have been successful. But thinking about the broken and wounded military veterans and the children and civilians in the Middle East blown to bits, one has to ask, at what price have we achieved this illusion of security? We wanted to hunt down and eliminate terrorists, but in doing so, we ourselves became terrorists. I’m not asking us to forget what happened or to stop mourning. I am asking us to reflect on how our nation’s desire for revenge ensured that millions of people in the Middle East experienced a version of 9/11 over and over again.

Heaven Sent

“Heaven Sent” has a complicated story line involving grief, truth, persistence, and patience. The Doctor is still reeling over the death of Clara and he struggles with his own fears about death and the passage of time. While most articles written about this episode have justifiably and understandably focused on the Doctor’s grief or the Doctor’s fear of death, those ideas will be secondary to the themes  of telling the truth, especially in regards to what we tell ourselves and the importance of persistence and patience in the midst of difficult or even soul crushing times.

The Doctor is not only mourning the loss of a close friend, but he is also being forced to confront his own fears and lies that he has tried to keep hidden from other people-even from himself. He gives off the impression of being reckless and dangerous, and as part of a species that can regenerate, his recklessness is a bit understandable. Sometimes, if you think you are invincible, you begin to act like you are. But perhaps his recklessness also harbors a darker fear: that of dying, because Time Lords can still die.

DOCTOR: Well, that was another close one. Or it will have been, once I’ve been and gone and got myself out of it. So, how am I going to do that? Come on, teacher, ask me questions!
BLACKBOARD: Tell no lies.
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Not only did his hijinks  provide a way for him to distance himself from the thought of his own death, but Clara’s death, once again reminded him about the fragility of the people with whom he chooses to spend time with and this fragility reminds him of how alone he is. He is no longer the last Time Lord, but he is estranged from his people (for very good reason, we find out).

The organizers of this place created a giant trap to try and force the Doctor to reveal his darkest truths. But in order for the Doctor to figure out that this was the plan of whomever sent him here, he needs to be willing to confront some lies and truths that he has been hiding from himself. Sometimes the lies and truths we battle with aren’t ones that need to be told to others, but ones that we need to confront within ourselves.

I spent spring break in Cuba on a trip organized by two professors at the seminary I attend and while we did go see some touristy spots (remember, while it is difficult for US citizens to visit the island as tourists, other countries do not bar their citizens from doing so) the heart of the trip consisted of talking with various leaders of Historic churches (ie Mainline churches) and their struggles in Cuba. While the leaders talked frankly about the problems and weakness of their government which has caused pain and suffering to the inhabitants of Cuba, they were also frank about how the US embargo wreaked havoc on Cubans. This bought up two uncomfortable truths 1) that the Cuban government, the “evil communist party” was no better or worse, than the corrupt American government that proclaims freedom and liberty while systematically eroding both for its citizens. It is also a government that aligns itself with countries whose human rights records are much worse than Cuba’s (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Batista military dictatorship that was in power before the Cuban revolution etc). Don’t get me wrong, Cuba has had and continues to have human rights issues  but the point is, so does the United States and so do many of our allies.  2) That American foreign policies, which are justified on the basis of a respect for human life and dignity, in fact often disregard human life and cause civilians’ untold suffering.

Now I had an inkling of the first truth before I went on the trip to Cuba by virtue of preliminary research and the second truth is pretty evident for anyone with a thinking brain. Yet no matter how orientated towards social justice a person may be, it is still easy to get wrapped up in American propaganda and political excuses demonizing other countries while deflecting the hard questions that we as a nation need to think about. It is also easy to forget about the impact that our foreign policy can have on oppressing others, even “nonmilitary” options such as embargos and blockades cause a great amount of suffering.

Various Cuban leaders talked about the devastating poverty in Cuba and the government’s inability to help all citizens because the blockade and the fall of the Soviet Union has hamstrung Cuba. Not many countries are willing able to trade with Cuba because they want to avoid the wrath of the United States.  There was mention about the “special period” which occurred in the 90s and bought widespread economic devastation on the populace. People were struggling to get food on the table, sometimes had to skip meals. While some members on the trip pointed out that other Latin American countries “had it worse” (an irony considering that these were spoken by Americans- not exactly the most oppressed group of people), the Cuban people experienced a lot of pain.  While it is important to acknowledge the role that the Cuban government played in the suffering of the Cuban people, the reality is American policy had a major role in the starvation and poverty suffered by the average Cuban. (Remember neo liberal capitalism is no more a guarantee of justice, wealth, and democracy than Communism.)

Even those of us who are critical of American government policy, don’t always get to hear first hand about the impact that our government has on the lives of the marginalized.

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When the Doctor finally begins to understand what is required of him to defeat this trap, he rebels. Why does he always have to “win?” why does he always have to do the “right thing.” Why not just give up and do the easy thing?

For those of us interested in social justice, this can be a tempting line of thought. At least I know it is for me. In fact, I can’t tell you how many people have told me that I needed to learn to compromise some of my most cherished principels. “Compromising is a part of being an adult,” I am told. And in many cases, compromises need to be made. But what principels am I holding onto that others say I should compromise on? American foreign policy and the slaughter of thousands of innocent people. I am supposed to support politicians who are ok with slaughtering others because another politician is “worse.” We live in a society where people make compromises all the time. Many times such compromises are needed in order to get things done and live in harmony, other times, people compromise because it is easier to do so. It is less painful. More people will like you if you learn to censor yourself and not point out how we all contribute to the exploitation and suffering of others.

In Cuba I met with church leaders that knew they needed to compromise on certain issues in order to bring about change, but they were also insistent on maintaining their core values even in the face of poverty and government harassment. Many continued to embrace their Christian identity even during periods when it would be easier to just down play it. Many refused to bow down to the false choice of Communism  and Christianity. It would have been so much easier for them to give up on either aspect of their identity. They could abandon Christianity or they could give up on trying to work with the government to help the poor. But they refused to do either. And as they look towards the normalization of relationships with the US, many church leaders state that regardless of what the two countries decide to do they will continue to uphold the principles of Christianity and their political belief in caring for all.

What many people, including Christians, seem to forget is that Jesus was a radical. Yes there were times Jesus changes his mind, but he also stuck to his principles. He believed that the political and religious systems of his time were corrupt and that he needed to speak out against it. Yes he was killed, but he also inspired countless others to fight for justice. Those who claim to be Christian and compromise, often ended up re-creating systems of death, destruction, and exploitation. The very systems Jesus wanted to abolish.

But standing on one’s principles is painful. We might expose ourselves to government harassment, we might lose friends and family members, we might despair.  In fact those who know me, know that suicide has often been something I grapple with. It would be so easy to just give up-on myself, on life, on humanity, on anything changing.

DOCTOR: But I can remember, Clara, You don’t understand, I can remember it all. Every time. And you’ll still be gone. Whatever I do, you still won’t be there..)
CLARA Doctor, you are not the only person who ever lost someone. It’s the story of everybody. Get over it. Beat it. Break free.  
CLARA: Doctor, it’s time. Get up, off your arse, and win!

Clara appears to the Doctor and tells him he has had more than enough time to mourn. He is in pain, she gets it, but he is not the only one to suffer loss. He can’t use her death as an excuse to give up. For many of us, such a message might not come through a vision or dream of a loved one, but this message will come to us. For me, it came during my trip in Cuba. I am not the only one advocating for justice in a society where change seems difficult and hopeless. I am not the only person who feels as if I am crying out and no one is listening to me. I am not the only one frustrated by a society where people, in a need to feel better about themselves and to sleep better at night, encourage others to compromise their most sacred values and then berates those who refuse to do so. In Cuba I saw that there were others going through much tougher circumstances who continued to advocate for the kingdom of God. And they sure had even more reasons than I do, to give up.  But they didn’t.

DOCTOR [room 12]: Every hundred years, a little bird comes and sharpens its beak on the diamond mountain.
(Faster still.)
DOCTOR [tower]: Nearly a billion years. 
DOCTOR [room 12]: Argh! And when the entire mountain is chiselled away, the first second of eternity will have passed!
(Faster still.)
DOCTOR [tower]: Well over a billion years.
DOCTOR [room 12]: Argh! You must think that’s a hell of a long time, 
(More and more.)
DOCTOR [tower]: Two billion years. 
DOCTOR [room 12]: Personally, I think that’s a hell of a 
(Again.)
DOCTOR: Aaargh! Personally, I think that’s a hell of a bird.

In “Heaven Sent” the Doctor spends billions of years punching away at the wall made of azbantium, which he describes as being four hundred times harder than diamond. So he has to go through a grueling cycle of dying and being reborn and experiencing the same thing over and over again. Like the bird in the Grimm’s tale he references, the Doctor slowly makes his way through the wall. Justice work often feels the same way. The Cuban Church had to have patience. I’m sure it felt as if they were not getting anywhere with the Cuban or American governments. Yet they continued pushing for normalization of relationships between the two countries and they kept advocating for a greater say in Cuban politics. Their work isn’t done and thy will face more problems and setbacks in the future. But this is the nature of social justice work. Sometimes all we can do, as individuals or as a group is keep punching against the azbantium wall hoping that one day there will be a breakthrough.

 

Let Me Be Brave

Face the Raven Part 2

DOCTOR: What’s the point of being a Doctor if I can’t cure you? 
CLARA: Heal yourself. You have to. You can’t let this turn you into a monster. So, I’m not asking you for a promise, I’m giving you an order. You will not insult my memory. There will be no revenge. I will die, and no one else, here or anywhere, will suffer. 
DOCTOR: What about me? 
CLARA: If there was something I could do about that, I would. I guess we’re both just going to have to be brave. 

Many people are understandably afraid of physical death. It is hard to comprehend our nonexistence or the nonexistence of a loved one. Even those who believe in some sort of afterlife or in reincarnation acknowledge that death marks an end even if it also marks a beginning. We spend our lives at various times ignoring death as something that happens to other people or we obsesses over it, hoping to ward it off and protect ourselves and our loved ones. But death, will eventually come for all of us. We can try to prolong life by avoiding unnecessary risks, eating healthy, etc but at some point, whether one is reckless or extremely careful, death will mark our end in this life.

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However, there is another type of death that need not be permanent: spiritual death which I equate with despair.  I am not talking about “the blues” nor am I talking about clinical depression or other mental illnesses.* For those involved in any type of job or activism that requires constant exposure to the darker side of humanity and the world, despair can become a constant companion. Despair can take on different forms depending on the person, in my case, despair is tied with anger.  When I am overcome with despair, I want to lash out on everything and everyone. The world is cruel, filled with bloodshed and constant violence, so why not add to it somehow, whether through harsh words or physical actions? If the powers that be want to use violence, then why not beat them at their own game? Even one person dedicated to violence can wreak havoc on the larger system. Or conversely, my despair takes on the form of apathy, which I consider a more subtle form of violence: if exploitation and suffering is just going to continue, why even bother with trying to make the world a better place? Why not just give up? Let the state continue to oppress its own citizens (as long as it’s not me) or drop bombs on children in the Middle East. What can I do?

Clara knows that despair awaits the Doctor after her death. It happened after the Ponds left and it will happen again. And why not? Not giving a damn, either through violence or through apathy can feel freeing…for a moment.  And, many of us don’t want to admit it, but making others  experience even a fraction of our pain feels good, even if that feeling is fleeting.  Despair, is in many ways the easy way out. It is an abdication of our individual and collective responsibility to fight for a better world. This abdication provides a false promise: that if we stopped caring our suffering will end. It promises us a new lease on life, when in reality it gives us death. Only the dead don’t feel pain or suffering.

Clara knows that the Doctor will want to wallow in despair and regardless of how his despair manifests itself: in an extended withdrawal from the world, or in violence, it will mean pain and suffering for others. She rejects that notion: there will be no suffering committed in her name.

When we confront day after day the massive amount of suffering in the world, whether through our research, through hands-on interactions, through our lived experience, despair can blind us and have us believe that we are acting in ways to honor those who are suffering, especially if the despair manifests itself through violence. But in reality we are desecrating the memory or the lived experiences of those whom we feel called to help by contributing to the cycle of destruction and death. We dishonor those whom we claim to care about by ensuring that others experience suffering and exploitation, without contributing to a solution.

Clara asks the Doctor to be brave. What does that mean in this context? It means, being willing to embrace the suffering without lashing out or permanently withdrawing from the world. When despair hits, it is necessary to take a break. But taking a break or moving onto a different area of social justice work is not the same as permanently giving up. But suffering, especially emotional suffering is uncomfortable. Many (though not all) forms of physical pain can be eased by some form of medication and many mental illnesses can be managed (not necessarily cured) through medication, but in many cases despair can only be banished by working through it. This might mean taking a break but still remaining dedicated to one’s responsibility to work towards a more just and equitable society.

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Unlike the man/cyberman we see earlier in the episode, who attempts to run away from death, Clara faces it square on. She is both simultaneously alone and not alone when she faces it. The Doctor watches her die and is with her, even if he is at a distance. But at the same time it is something she must experience alone. No one else can experience it with her. Despair is similar. In the midst of despair we need to reach out to others and we need to articulate our pain with those who have also experienced it. But at the same time, no one’s experiences of despair is exactly like another person’s. And while others can provide much needed physical, mental, and spiritual support, it is also something that is unique to our own individual experiences. No one can take on our despair for us, and no one can work through it for us. Even if one believes in a deity who provides comfort and support, one still needs to be say, “yes I am in the midst of despair right now, but I trust and believe that it will get better.” One still needs to take small actions, not necessarily big ones that display a measure of hope. In some cases that step can be as small as getting up in the morning.

CLARA: Let me be brave. Let me be brave

The way to handle despair is as varied as its manifestations and causes. But I think it starts with the recognition that it is something we need to confront. Ignoring it or channeling it through violence won’t make it go away. It requires to be brave and face it.

 

 

*Though of course despair and depression can go together, and it is often hard to tell where one begins and the other ends. But I am not a mental health expert or doctor, so any questions about depression and despair should be addressed to someone trained to deal with such issues

 

Don’t be a Warrior. Be a Doctor.

Face the Raven Part One

CLARA: We can fix this, can’t we? We always fix it. 
DOCTOR: No. (to Ashildr) But you can. Fix this. Fix it now. 
ASHILDR: It, it’s not possible. I can’t. 
DOCTOR: Yes, it is, you can, and you will, or this street will be over. I’ll show you and all your funny little friends to the whole laughing world. I’ll bring UNIT, I’ll bring the Zygons. Give me a minute, I’ll bring the Daleks and the Cybermen. You will save Clara, and you will do it now, or I will rain hell on you for the rest of time. 
CLARA: Doctor, stop talking like that. 
ASHILDR: You can’t. 
DOCTOR: I can do whatever the hell I like. You’ve read the stories. You know who I am. And in all of that time, did you ever hear anything about anyone who stopped me? 
ASHILDR: I know the Doctor. The Doctor would never 
DOCTOR: The Doctor is no longer here! You are stuck with me. And I will end you, and everything you love. 

The thing about violence or the threat of violence, is that it gives the illusion of being able to bring about justice. With the ability to inflict violence comes power. Of course the State uses violence as a show of power, but for oppressed groups being able to use violence successfully against the State gives the impression that they are powerful. That they can’t just be killed and tortured without the State suffering consequences. The successful use of violence is not necessarily about the type of weapons one has-look at the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan where the US military was bought to its knees by a militarily inferior enemy. Insurgencies, are able to somewhat readdress  the power imbalance that occurs when a State goes against non-state actors.

And why wouldn’t the oppressed be justified in using violence against their oppressors? I know that in moments of anger, I have had fantasies of Americans rising up against an unjust and corrupt government. The thing about America, is that its corruption and authoritarianism, is hidden underneath the veneer of democracy. Unlike completely totalitarian governments, the United States gives the illusion of free speech, freedom of the press, and we are made to believe that we elect our leaders. But the reality is, the game is rigged and has been from the start. The mainstream press does the bidding of the private corporations that own them, and the government often works in sync with said corporations. Free speech exists…but only if you are so unimportant that your opinions don’t matter, or if you follow and endorse the status quo. But if you exercise your freedom of speech to criticize the government, law enforcement, intelligence agencies, etc you can find yourselves on a government watch list.  Look at what happened to some prominent black lives matters activists: they used their constitutional rights to protest both in person and online the brutal murders of black and brown people at the hands of police, and the Feds responded by monitoring their activities. Well known animal and environmental activists have also been placed under government surveillance.

Meanwhile, anti-government right wingers are able to specifically challenge government authority, even to the point of taking over federal land, point guns at federal agents and avoid punishment as was the case during the Bundy standoff in 2014 and not face consequences. It waits to be seen whether the armed group in the current Oregon standoff will be charged with any crimes. Yet compare the response of the Feds to a standoff by armed white right wingers, and their response to black lives matter protests, many of which have been relatively peaceful. If the government is going to harass you, send law enforcement agents and the National Guard after you, when you are peacefully protesting, why not take up arms?  Why not give them a taste of what they have been dishing? If the government is going to treat you as a enemy combatant why not fight back?

In Face the Raven, the Doctor is powerless to help Clara. There is nothing he can personally do to save her, except to threaten Ashidir and those in her refuge with death and destruction. I can understand his anger. I can remember moments where such anger flowed through me as I read about another instance of the US government killing dozens of civilians in the Middle East, or when I read about another police officer getting away with what amounts to murder. It’s been over 50 years since the civil rights movement, and while much has improved, much hasn’t. Black and brown bodies are still viewed as expendable by the US government. War continues to gain the share of the budget that should be going to create a more just and equitable society. Those who advocate for justice are viewed as enemies of the State. It leaves one with a feeling of helplessness where violence seems like the only alternative. So I can empathize with the Doctor’s rage. His anger threatens to destroy anything and everyone.

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But as angry as I get. I remember how violence has the tendency to spread out of control. It might start out as targeting only those directly responsible for oppression, but soon the circle becomes larger, enveloping more and more people. The State responds with a disproportionate response, and revolutionaries up their game. More and more people end up dead. There are cases where violence has helped force the creation of a more just and equitable society, but it came with a heavy price paid in lives lost and bloodshed. And in a time period where conventional wars seem to be a thing of the past, violence can go on for years or even decades, with little progress being made. I would never condemn those who are utterly oppressed and who feel as if violence were their only alternative. But I don’t think I could join them. On tv and in books, even history books, revolutions are portrayed as just causes, with the forces of good vanquishing evil. Rarely are the atrocities mentioned. The rapes that occur on both sides, the targeting of children and civilians for death, torture, cruelty, etc. At some point, the original, noble cause that fueled the violent revolution gets lost. The oppressed in turn oppress others. The cycle of violence and exploitation continue. Deaths pile up for no discernible good reason. Lives are traumatized.

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But nonviolent activism doesn’t always work. In fact it is often met with strong resistance by the government. The government kills and imprisons people with no second thoughts. Why shouldn’t I encourage violence? Why not encourage the people to fight back? Why insist on an action that does not seem to work? I don’t have brilliant answers to these questions. And as I said before, I would never tell a group that has been oppressed for centuries how they should advocate for equality, but for me personally, I know that I’m not a warrior-at least not the violent kind.

In The Day of the Doctor, Clara once again reminded the Doctor of who he was:

CLARA: We’ve got enough warriors. Any old idiot can be a hero. 
DOCTOR: Then what do I do? 
CLARA: What you’ve always done. Be a doctor. You told me the name you chose was a promise. What was the promise? 
DOCTOR 10: Never cruel or cowardly. 
WARRIOR: Never give up, never give in

In a similar way, I believe that in the real world we have enough warriors; people willing to kill in order to create what they believe to be a more equitable society. But in the end, violence often creates even more violence, leaving massive amounts of death and suffering in its wake. I’m not denying there are instances where violence may be necessary, I’m just saying that for me, a different approach to creating a more just and equitable society is needed. Our worlds needs less warriors and more doctors.

 

Sleep No More: The Acceptance of State Sponsored Terrorism

PRESENTER: May the Gods look favourably upon us all. Friends. We live in a time of unparalleled prosperity. A golden age of peace, harmony and industry. But every shift must come to an end. Every working day must stop. Of course, we can take stimulants to make that deadline, to keep us propped up through that important meeting. But always, always, sleep claims us in the end. Until now The Morpheus machine concentrates the whole nocturnal experience into one five-minute burst. Now, you can go a whole month without sleep. 

…..
PRESENTER: All the chemical benefits of rest, but freeing up the nights to continue working, working, working. To get the edge on your competitor. To turn that extra profit.
CLARA: That’s insane. That’s horrible!
CHOPRA: Finally, someone who sees it for what it is.
PRESENTER: Leave the Rip Van Winkles behind and become one of a new generation of Wide-Awakes! The future is here. The future is now. Let yourself slip into the arms of Morpheus! 

Advances in technology often go hand in hand with government oppression and exploitation. No, I am not one of those people that condemns every new technological advance as evil and it is important to note that many technological advances and breakthroughs, especially in medicine, have had a positive impact on numerous people. (Though for those that that market and sell such technology, it is often in their best interest to narrow who can receive it based on income.) Other advances, such as social media, encryption, etc has helped those in authoritarian countries find way to bypass government censorship. Yet at the same time advances in technology has provided governments with the ability to spy and monitor millions of people within their own country, but also outside of it. Most technology, with the exception of military weapons, are morally neutral. What determines whether they are “good” or “bad” is the motivation behind their creation and the consequences of their use.

In Sleep No More, the Morpheus pod has two purposes: the first purpose, which is tied with how it is marketed, is to reduce the need for sleep and enable workers to use their extra hours to gain a completive edge over their co-workers or increase their profits. In this case, capitalism and greed are the motivating force for why many people and companies buy and use it. Of course, the pod is marketed as helping to continue the current, “golden age of peace, harmony and industry,” which in any modern, industrialized country is tied to the god of capitalism. May the gods of free market capitalism look favorably upon us indeed.

The other more sinister motive is tied to patient zero and thee creation of what Clara calls. “the Sandmen.”

RASSMUSSEN: I’ve been working on Morpheus for a very long time, Doctor.  I had to start somewhere. Morpheus’s first client. Patient Zero. The ultimate Wide-Awake. Inside there is a man who hasn’t slept in five years. 
DOCTOR: Or what’s left of him. 

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It becomes clear as the episode progresses that this second, even more sinister motive lies at the heart of the creation of the Morpheus pod. Of course the Morpheus pod, during its use could have achieved some good. I imagine the tired surgeon performing lifesaving surgery, for example. But the episode doesn’t even hint at such noble motives. As the viewer, even before we know that the sandmen are definitively connected to the Morpheus machine, we have a deep understanding that such a machine is wrong and is ripe for exploitation. Any good is vastly overshadowed by the evil the machine fosters. But that’s because this is a new, freakish machine that we can scarcely imagine. For the rescue team and others in the 38th century it is standard practice. Just like their cloning of grunts who are breed to fight, kill, and die.

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The people in the 38th century see such advances as improvements. And it is easy to imagine that most technological advances didn’t occur overnight. The population had years maybe centuries to get used to the idea of growing humans for war or forgoing sleep. Before the cloning of humans, there was probably mass successful cloning of animals. Before forgoing sleep entirely for a month, there were probably smaller advances that enabled people to forgo sleep for a few days. It is this small incremental change in what a society deems normal that can provide governments with the ability to harness to technology for exploitation and destruction. Of course there are good societal changes and uses of technology that should be celebrated, but it is the devious, sinister uses of technology that often go unnoticed.

For instance, the militarization of the American law enforcement has been  steadily increasing while the majority of Americans remained oblivious. Its seeds can be traced to the protests of the 1960s,  it gained traction during the “war on drugs” in the 80s and 90s, and received renewed power after the attacks on 9/11. The protests in Ferguson, in which the police used tanks, pointed assault rifles at protestors, and dressed up as an occupying force which lead the larger American public to wonder, “how the hell did this happen?”

 

 

This happened because the government, state, local, and federal police departments  harnessed fear and the majority’s desire for peace and security in order to convince the population and themselves that these tanks, assault rifles, etc were needed. In the 60s, protests rocked America, with some agencies, such as the FBI and local police department feeling as if a time of lawlessness had arrived. The very foundation of American stability and democracy was at stake or so they said. The FBI used this reasoning to justify their illegal use of the latest technology: advances in wiretapping, and recording, as well as infiltrating and entrapping activists. In the 80s and 90s, it was the war on drugs and the wave of crime that threatened to undermine America. We needed harsh sentences and punishment for those using and dealing drugs. Local law enforcement needed to protect themselves from evil, ruthless, drug dealers (and don’t get me wrong, there are some vicious drug dealers. Look at the cartels in Mexico, whose progress and spread can be traced in part, to the US governments, “war on drugs”). America was facing an evil, ruthless enemy and federal, state, and local police needed the latest military gear to protect themselves.

After 9/11 the separation between law enforcement, intelligence agencies, and the military became even more blurred. The NYPD’s war on terror is known for its attempts at gleaning intelligence from Muslims through surveillance and the use of informants, regardless of whether such actions are legal or not.  And of course the San Bernardino shooting, in which the shooters had thin ties to any official terrorist group, as lead to police departments, union leaders, etc defending increased militarization.  Yet these are the very same people who defend police officer involved shootings as always justified even though over 1,000

Yet these are the very same people who defend police officer involved shootings as always justified even though over 1,000 Americans have been killed by police in 2015 alone. . But the police expect us to fear one set of terrorists, mainly those perpetrated by those who claim to be Muslim, yet we are to ignore state sponsored terrorism in the form of police shootings.

Police militarization didn’t happen overnight. The State worked to ensure that citizens were not fully aware of what was going on in police departments and the state exploited Americans fear of drugs, crime, and terrorism. In a similar way, Rassmussen and patient zero exploited humanity’s greed and desire for more profits. By the 38th century, society had progressed to the point where sleep was viewed as a commodity to be reduced to short five minute spurts once a month and some people were grown for the use of becoming cannon fodder. We find such a thought abhorrent because that hasn’t been our lived experience. Yet many Americans seem to have no problem with American law enforcement turning into an occupying force.

 

The Zygon Inversion: Terrorism is Terrorism.

Doctor: So, let me ask you a question about this brave new world of yours. When you’ve killed all the bad guys, and when it’s all perfect and just and fair, when you have finally got it exactly the way you want it, what are you going to do with the people like you? The troublemakers. How are you going to protect your glorious revolution from the next one?

Why do people join “terrorist” groups? In particular why are so many people drawn to Daesh? Politicians, intelligence communities, law enforcement, and the media struggle with trying to come up with a cohesive answer to this question. A quick google search will reveal hundreds of articles examining this topic and providing various answers. The reality is that the answer is multi-layered, and complex, depending on the needs, wants, and personality of each recruit. Some do it for the power, others do it to find a larger purpose in their lives, some want the excitement, others do it because they are tired of watching Muslims being slaughtered and oppressed by Western imperialism, etc.

The one reason that has caught my attention is the one where those lured into joining Daesh, claim they are doing so based on notions of social justice. On the surface such reasoning seems absurd. They claim to be working towards justice for Muslims while slaughtering and killing thousands of Muslims because they consider them to not be “Muslim enough?” They enslave and rape women, train child soldiers and suicide bombers, and have an almost insatiable thirst for violence, yet they claim that one of their motivating factors is justice?  Some rightly point out that for many in Daesh, especially in the leadership, power might be the main motivator. Yet such division forgets that with power comes political agency. And to simply write off those who join Daesh as evil, ignores the many atrocities that the West has committed in the Middle East in the name of democracy and freedom.

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What is the difference between a terrorist and a revolutionary? It depends on which side you are on. That sounds a bit glib, but the reality is that those in power and those who win, often decide how to frame certain wars. The American Revolution is framed as a fight against tyranny and a battle against British oppression. Yet the American Revolution was not free of atrocities, from either side. For example, the Pennsylvania militiamen attacked and killed a group pf peaceful Indians, who they believed were responsible for numerous raids on white settlements. .Numerous examples of massacres, tortures, and rape are documented in the French Revolution, done under the name of the “republic” which championed Enlightenment ideals such as freedom from tyranny and secularism.   Violence, regardless of its justification produces death, destruction and atrocities. Whether said death and destruction are minimized and justified or are lambasted and critiqued is a question of power politics. Those with the power, shape the telling of the story.

In the past decade the United States, along with various other Western countries have tried to depict the “War on Terror” as a just war against unmitigated evil. Terrorists/Daesh are completely different from the just and virtuous West. Daesh kills with impunity people of all ages: children, the elderly, the sick, etc. They rape and enslave women. And they install harsh penalties for the smallest infractions, such as smoking or wearing a niqab that is too tight, while committing larger transgressions that they assert are justifiable in their interpretation of Islam. Daesh engages in public executions, filming and disseminating beheadings, crucifixions, burnings, stonings etc through social media.  Their blood thirst seems to differentiate them from those of us who are civilized.

In the Zygon Inversion, even the Doctor seems to quantify the splinter group of radical Zygons has somehow different from regular Zygons and humans.

OSGOOD: Why do they want to destroy the ceasefire? 
DOCTOR: Don’t think of them as rational. They’re different. They don’t care about human beings, they don’t care about their own people. They think the rest of Zygon kind are traitors. 
It’s a splinter group. 

Yet, are they really that different from us, the so called good guys? Except for being sanctioned by the state and by the UN, what makes US use of torture, indiscriminate killings, and atrocities different from the horrendous acts that Daesh has done? Not to mention the fact that US history is filled with instances of the US supporting and funding authoritarian regimes throughout the world that end massacring their own people. Daesh publicly flaunts its atrocities, the US covers them up and buries them in the name of “national security.”

I think what scares many people in the West about Daesh, is not just the level of violence they use, but the fact that some of us have within ourselves the ability to commit violence and to do so under the banner of justice.

Kate, leader of Unit, representative of the Western response to radical groups such as Daesh, is blasé about the implications of wiping out all Zygons, even though the majority do not support the small splinter group.

KATE: What are we dealing with? 
DOCTOR: Twenty million Zygons about to be unmasked. You don’t know whether they are human or not. And you can’t fight them, not with soldiers. 
KATE: Which leads me to a very big question. 
DOCTOR: Oh, I was really hoping that it wouldn’t. 
KATE: The Zee-67, Sullivan’s gas, the gas that kills the Zygons. You took it. 
DOCTOR: Well, you know how it is. Daddy knows best.
KATE: That’s what’s in the red box, yes? Of course it is. If I remember rightly, it causes a chain reaction in the atmosphere. Turns every Zygon on Earth inside out. 
DOCTOR: Let me negotiate peace. You can’t commit mass murder.

How is Kate’s willingness to commit mass murder different from the splinter group’s? Both are reacting to instances of injustice.

BONNIE: We’ve been treated like cattle. 
DOCTOR: So what.
BONNIE: We’ve been left to fend for ourselves. 
DOCTOR: So’s everyone. 
BONNIE: It’s not fair. 
DOCTOR: Oh, it’s not fair! Oh, I didn’t realise that it was not fair! Well, you know what? My Tardis doesn’t work properly and I don’t have my own personal tailor. 
BONNIE: The things don’t equate. 
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At some point, the desire for freedom and liberation from oppression becomes a justification for further oppression. The splinter group of Zygons have a point. They were treated badly, they have to hide their true selves to avoid being slaughtered. Likewise, Kate has very good reason to want to kill the Zygons. A small splinter group threatens to create a war that will kill millions, and it is impossible to tell who the “good” Zygons apart from the evil ones. So they all must die. Daesh, is not wrong when they point out Western atrocities. To put it bluntly, we have helped fuck up the Middle East. In the 80s we encouraged the rise of radical Islamists and provided arms for them to fight against the Soviet Union. Then when the Soviet Union left, we left them high and dry. We made some allegiances with radicals in the first gulf war, and then left them to whatever fate awaited them after the war. We have bombed schools, hospitals, and destroyed whatever fragile stability had once existed. And to top it all off we refuse to accept large numbers of refugees because we fear they might be terrorists in disguise. We, like the Doctor, want to tell Daesh and others critical of American foreign policy to just “get over it.” We want to act like the Doctor and say that what happened as happened. But in real life, we don’t get to hold that position. In real life, our government is engaging in terrorism in the name of national secruity. We don’t get to condemn Daesh while continuing to kill innocent civilians.

 

Well you can’t reason with Daesh, some say. A fancy speech won’t change their minds. That’s a statement that could be said about the United States and our allies. 14 damn years fighting in the Middle East, and previous decades spent meddling through small military action via the CIA and Special Forces units in the affairs of other countries, and we still don’t get. We still don’t understand that whether children are killed by the hands of the American military and our allies or by the hands of guerillas or terrorists groups, terrorism is terrorism. We don’t get to call Daesh terrorists and then claim that our bombs that burn children to death are justified and they are just “collateral damage”. We don’t get to deny our role in creating and funding groups like Daesh. Daesh needs to be stopped. But so does the West.