Sowing the Seeds of Destruction

Season 10: Episode 10: The Eaters of Light

KAR: Let me tell you about the Romans. They are the robbers of this world. When they’ve thieved everything on land, they’ll rob the sea. If their enemies are rich, they’ll take all they have. If their enemies are poor, they’ll make slaves of them. Their work is robbery, slaughter, plunder. They do this work and they call it empire. They make deserts and they call it peace. 

It’s not hard to side with the disposed and the oppressed. In fact, I believe that is the imperative of all decent people. If, for one reason, one must choose between a powerful nation-state and an oppressed people-the marginalized should be chosen every time. But what happens when the oppressed not only become an oppressor, but their actions also sow the seeds of their own potential destruction?

It is not surprising that Kar and her people hate the Roman soldiers. Such a feeling of visceral hatred is understandable. The Roman soldiers were intent on destroying an essentially defenseless village.  But what is interesting about this episode is that it humanizes both the Romans and Kar’s people. And it does this through the notion that there is a much bigger and more dangerous enemy that needs to be feared and defeated. Fear is not always a good thing. In fact, fear is what led Kar to do the unthinkable: release the “Eater of Light” in an effort to defeat both the Roman Legion and the monster:

KAR: I have to stop it. This is my fault. I’m the Keeper of the Gate. I have to put this right. 
DOCTOR: So, you were supposed to guard the gate while everyone else went off to war. But you had strangers at the door, and a guard dog in the attic, so you let the beast come through. 
KAR: It was the only thing that could defeat them.

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The Doctor’s attitude in this episode, is in my opinion particularly off-putting. Especially because he spends the majority of the episode with the poor Scottish farmers and he essentially berates their fear and hatred of the Romans, though the Scottish farmers had good reason to be afraid and to despise the Romans. The Roman Army, like imperialist armies everywhere, were ruthless. Their wars easily turned into massacres. When they wanted land, they went and conquered it, damned whatever the original inhabitants of the land want to do. To the people in the path of a massive Roman Legion, they weren’t just protecting “a muddy little hillside,” but their own lives and independence. Contrast the Doctor’s attitude towards the farmers, with Billy’s attitude towards the Romans. Billy is compassionate, though she has no qualms calling them out on killing defenseless farmers:

LUCIUS: One man? You think one man can save us all? 
BILL: Come and meet him. He came here to meet you. He’s met loads of people like you. The terrified, the desperate. And he always helps. He always makes a difference. 
LUCIUS: There are painted barbarians up there. They outnumber us. There is a beast of darkness that laid waste to an entire legion in less than an hour. No one man can make a difference to that. 
BILL: Maybe that’s what you don’t learn when you think it takes five thousand highly trained soldiers to slaughter a bunch of Scottish farmers. Yes, one man can. And he’s here. 

But the Doctor is correct in pointing out that Kar, in trying to do anything to protect her village and her people from the twin dangers of the monster and the Roman Legion, instead created a situation where she placed millions of other people at risk. She felt that she and her people were backed into a corner and the only to win was to unleash a greater evil, in the hopes that the monster and the Roman Army would destroy each other. Instead she placed herself in the position of potentially destroying her own village along with millions of other lives, a good portion of those just as vulnerable and marginalized as she and her people. Her actions moved her from just being oppressed to being actively involved in the potential slaughter of others.

In my academic studies, I’ve realized that many things are not “black and white.” Even when it comes to horrendous actions that impact the marginalized and oppressed, the way the marginalized and oppressed react, especially if they ever gain a measure of power, often serves to perpetrate and expand the very violence they themselves once experienced.

My mind for the past few days has been on Israel’s horrendous treatment of Palestine. Yes, yes there are Palestinian terrorists that kill innocent Israeli civilians, but the amount of damage that they actually inflict is miniscule in comparison to the violence that the state of Israel inflicts on the Palestinians. Yet despite the fact that modern day Israel has one of the best, highly trained, and technologically advanced military in the world  the memory of the Holocaust and the disgusting rise anti-Semitic sentiment throughout the world, is used as evidence of their nation being under threat. The US gives Israel billions of dollars’ worth of aid, making the nation of Israel one of the top receivers of US aid.  And while Israel is in the midst of a hostile region, US aid, combined with Israel’s military prowess and the economic weight it has in the region, essentially assures that any attempts at militarily attacking Israeli sovereignty and existence is bound to fail.

Israel often defends its use of violence by referencing the Holocaust. Despite the myths that some anti-Semites perpetrate, the Holocaust was a tragic, horrible, indefensible crime against humanity. Hitler was intent on exterminating the Jews in Germany and if possible, worldwide. While other groups were also the target of Hitler’s attacks: the disabled, gypsies, members of the LGBT community, the mentally ill, etc the Jewish people were the special focus of his genocidal regime, killing up to six million Jews. (For estimates of other groups killed in the Holocaust visit the Holocaust Museum webpage.) In Eastern Europe, in countries like Poland, the Jewish population fell from three million to 45,500 by 1950 as a result of forced explosion, refugees fleeing, imprisonment, and mass slaughter.  Moreover, while the US is praised for its involvement in World War II, the US also suffered from strong anti-Semitism and xenophobia and refused refugees. In the most infamous case, the German ocean liner St. Louis, carrying 937 Jewish refugees was denied port of entry in Miami, in 1939. Almost a quarter of the refugees on that ship went on to die during the Holocaust.

Be weary of anyone telling you that the Holocaust was not that bad.

The desire for a homeland, which had been something that Zionists organizations and groups had wanted for awhile, accelerated after the Holocaust. This desire is understandable after what had just occurred. Although help for persecuted Jewish people did arrive, it arrived too late to save six million people. Having their own country might prevent another such tragedy from occurring. But like Kar, in this episode of Doctor Who, in an attempt to save themselves from oppression and slaughter, the state of Israel and its government has ended up perpetrating injustice.

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Now the state of Israel’s reaction to perceived threats has differed significantly from the way the Roman Legion in this episode reacted: the Romans ran away. Instead, the government of Israel has reacted by increasing its military power, driving out millions of Palestinians, shooting and killing nonviolent protesters or protestors throwing rocks, killing peaceful activists, locking up children in military detention, making it virtually impossible for Palestinians to travel, limiting Palestinian access to water, electricity, and jobs, and by allowing Israeli settlers to take over private land. These actions are justified using the language of fear and protecting the homeland. But the problem is that this type of reaction and use of fear, fuels more violence. Israel’s plan, if it can be called that, to protect itself, seems to be based on the notion that if they eradicate the Palestinian people, then all their problems will be solved.

In this way, the Israeli government is acting similar to Kar. Jewish people were slaughtered by the German government and were let down by other Western powers until these powers entered World War II. And in a desperate bid to ensure that they will never again be at the mercy of the genocidal fantasies of an evil man, they created their own nation, with the blessing of the United Nations. But in doing so, they displaced 750,000 Palestinians from their home.  And they continue to kill and oppress Palestinians. To be sure, they do face a real threat, but their biggest threats are nation-states such as Iran and Syria. These nation states support non-state groups that feed on the Palestinian people’s oppression. The individuals who feel driven to participate in suicide attacks, are responding to a hopeless situation.

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Again, the Doctor is being a grade A jerk in this scene. Remembering the dead is essential in seeking to prevent other such deaths from reoccurring. In fact, the deaths of many Holocaust survivors, could arguably be contributing to the rise of Holocaust deniers. The tangible ties to such a horrific time period are being forgotten and the potential for horrific consequences to occur is great. So the Doctor’s flippant attitude towards Kar is a bit much.

On the other hand, Kar is using the deaths of her loved ones, and the role she played as a way to avoid her current responsibility.  In a similar way, the Israeli government is manipulating and using the very real pain, and the continued suffering of the Jewish people, to justify the violence and oppression of Palestinians. The Israeli government uses the horrific Nazi Germany crime against the Jewish people, as justification for their continued refusal to take seriously the peace process.

Now some people may say, “the Palestinians don’t want peace. If they did they wouldn’t be supporting terrorists and killing Israelis.”  I’m going to be blunt, I do not support acts of terrorism but let’s be real. The Palestinians have very little recourse. They protest peacefully they get shot by Israeli soldiers and demonized. Some use violence and whole towns and cities are placed under siege and denied access to basic essentials. Not to mention that acts of terrorism, disproportionately impact Palestinians rather than Israelis.

In this episode, Kar did what she thought she needed to do to prevent her people from being needlessly slaughtered by a much larger force. But by doing so she not only put her own people at risk but also the rest of the world. In a similar vein, the Israeli government, in seeking to provide a safe space for Jewish people to avoid a repeat of the horrific Holocaust, have decided that Palestinian lives are worth very little. Their claim to land, their rights for freedom, food, water, movement, and self defense are denied. But is the Israeli government really successfully protecting Jewish people by eradicating Palestinians? Or are they instead, potentially sowing the seeds of their own destruction?

 

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The Dangers of Seeking Security over Freedom

Season 10, Episode 8: The Lie of the Land

BILL: They’re doing something to us. The Monks. I can’t think straight.  It’s like they’re saying they’ve been here forever, and I know they haven’t, but part of me is starting to think that it’s real. Every day I have to, I have to remind myself that everything that you, me and the Doctor did actually happened, and it wasn’t just a dream. Why do it? That’s what I don’t get. They invade somewhere, take control. Why go to the trouble of changing the past? 
NARDOLE: However bad a situation is, if people think that’s how it’s always been, they’ll put up with it. That’s ninety percent of the job done.

In the episode, The Lie of the Land, we see the consequences of Bill’s decision to ask for the Monk’s help in order to save the Doctor. Not only have the monks turned the world into a dictatorship where freedom is limited and the monks are worshipped as heroes, but they have managed to change history to such an extent, that their presence is viewed as being a permanent part of the landscape. They have managed to trick humanity into believing that they saved humanity numerous times from disasters and that their dictatorship has been going on for decades, if not centuries. As Nardole points out, people will put up with a situation if they believe that the situation is just how things are. Bill, however, manages to hold on to the truth: the Monks are lying; they are ruthless  totalitarians who claim to have provided security and safety to humanity when in reality they only bought back widespread bondage and slavery.

The most shocking part for Bill, is the fact that the Doctor seems to have decided that the monks were correct after all:

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Bill, is rightly incredulous at such thinking, especially coming from the Doctor. And as viewers, we are supposed to side with Bill. We of course, just like Bill, have an inkling that either the Doctor is faking or something must have happened for him to spew Monk propaganda. No one in their right mind, if they had a choice, would believe that authoritarianism amid the violation of human rights would bring security and safety. Of course, history proves that people fall for that lie again and again.

Both Hitler and Stalin rose to power during periods of incredibly upheaval. Their respective countries had just been devastated by war: World War I (1914-1918) and the Bolshevik Revolution (1917). Hitler took power in a context where Germany suffered not only the loss of millions of its citizens, but their defeat was one of utter humiliation. The Treaty of Versailles created new boundaries for Germany while giving away some land to the victorious allies,  the Germany military was defanged: their numbers drastically reduced and limitations imposed on the types of weapons they were allowed to have, (though the allies, were also supposed to eventually disarm) and Germany lost all its colonies.   However, the most humiliating clause forced Germany to accept full responsibility for World War I, making them responsible for all material damages aka they were forced to pay reparations.  The economic situation worsened with the onset of the great depression.

The time period before the Russian Revolution was one of oppression.  In the 1890s Russians were suffering under exploitation and severe famine. The advancement of Nicholas II to the throne did nothing to initially appease the growing pains of industrialization that Russia was undergoing. The ill fated 1904-1905 war with Japan did not improve matters and the Russian intervention in World War I left an already exhausted citizenship even more on edge. However, the 1917 Revolution, which saw the overthrow of the tsar dynasty, did not lead to peace and prosperity. In the immediate aftermath, Russia pledged into a devastating civil war.

Both Hitler and Stalin solidified their support and their power by claiming that security for the people would come only under Hitler and Stalin’s authority and the implementation of their ideals. The two dictators became the physical manifestation of all the hopes and dreams that Germany and the Soviet Union hoped to achieve. Of course, there was pockets of opposition, however, those who opposed Hitler and Stalin had to reckon with an extremely powerful personality cult. While viewers look at the worship of the monks in The Lie of the Land as ridiculous, it parallels the cults that surround real life dictators.

Dictators promise to provide strength and security in response to total obedience. The Doctor, although, he is still pulling Bill’s leg in this scene, makes some very good points about the nature of free will and humanity’s inability or unwillingness to learn from history:

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The Doctor slams humanity’s ill use of free will while also regurgitating the argument made by the monks and totalitarians/state governments everywhere: “things were going downhill and a strong, authoritarian figure needed to take control.”

While this type of thinking is not as extreme in modern western countries, the reality is, that the notion that security comes at the cost of liberty is alive and well in so called democratic countries. The “War on Terror” and the domestic and foreign policies implemented in its name, are the direct result of this twisted belief that prioritize security over all else. We see this in the so called “material support for terrorism” cases that the FBI brings which, instead of catching high ranking, powerful terrorists, often nets the mentally ill, mentally disabled, and/or poor.   (For an in-depth look at this travesty of justice check out the series, Trial and Terror by the Intercept). The language of security is being used to go after undocumented immigrants,  those applying for asylum,  and now legal residents.

It is natural for humans to want a measure of safety and security. Especially in the light of terrorism, natural disasters, war, and other forms of violence. But the problem arises when people think that dehumanizing others, creating a false history, and slowly curtailing individual rights will lead to security. No, it only leads to even more death and destruction. We might not be worshiping powerful dictatorship like aliens-but the devastating consequences of believing in the myth that “national security” can be guaranteed is all too real. We see it in the shoddy FBI terror cases and the brutal Gestapo like tactics of ICE.

10:5 Our True Faces

Season 10, episode 5: Oxygen

ELLIE: Everything’s so messed up. The trivial stuff just falls away. You realise life can be so brief and so, I just want to tell you, if we do get through this, I want to have a baby! With you! And as soon as my radio’s fixed I’m going to tell you just that. 

I’m tired. Not so much physically tired as emotionally, mentally, and spiritually tired. I don’t know if I am burnt out or if I am just going through a phase. But being awake…is a chore. Communicating is difficult. I just…want out. I can’t imagine it getting any better-in fact, I only see it getting worse. Life has never been peaceful or tranquil-as long as life has existed and competition for resources was a requirement of survival we have had violence and bloodshed. And while some scholars argue that numerically speaking violence and death have decreased as a result of technological, societal, and medical advances, these improvements mean very little to the millions of people throughout the world who are dying from human greed and selfishness.

At earlier points in human history one could argue that we didn’t know better. The notion that there are universal human rights that should be applicable to every person regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion is relatively new and evidently isn’t universally practiced. But in theory, most countries, including some of the most vicious dictatorships often at least give enough lip service to the notion of human rights that they take great pains to hide, deny or minimize acts of torture and injustice. I can imagine that if we were to bring someone from the late 1400s or 1500s to see the modern world they would be confused, impressed and maybe even frightened by the medical and technological advancements we have made.  And perhaps they would find the large-scale discussion of human rights and democracy to be strange. Though of course once they scratch the surface they would find how for all of our talk about democracy, equality, and human rights and for our vast medical and technological resource that human cruelty continues unabated.

In this episode of Doctor Who, Bill, Nardole, and the Doctor come face to face with the outer limits of late stage capitalism. Initially, Bill is, of course, enthralled with being in space, especially when she is able to look out a window and see a section of the vast universe before her. But this awe is quickly forgotten as she, the Doctor and Nardole, become aware of the danger they are in; a danger not the result of a weird alien creature but a danger created by human greed.  In this stage of capitalism everything is commodified-including the very air that those on the ship need in order to survive let alone work their jobs. That’s what unchecked greed does-it zaps the wonder of life

SUIT: Oxygen is available for personal use only, at competitive prices. 
DOCTOR: It’s only in the suits. Personal use. They only have oxygen in the suits themselves. 
SUIT: Any unlicensed oxygen will be automatically expelled to protect market value. 

In order to survive those on the ship need to have access to air-and in this case that means they need to buy it. The notion that air-a basic human need can be commodified and sold seems not only ridiculous but cruel and raises certain questions about the morality of such a society. What is it like back on the planet where the crew comes from? Is air sold there? What happens to the poor in such a society? Do they even get to exist? They would have to, since capitalism, as practiced seems to rely on a steady stream of poor bodies that can be used and discarded at will. But while the notion that air can be sold appears ridiculous and cruel-it is of course but an extreme version of what already occurs on a daily basis. In the US for instance, medical care, housing, and food are treated as privileges not rights. Both the poor and increasingly the “middle class” are finding themselves struggling to survive.  Medical bills not only devastate people economically-destroying credit and eating up any savings a person may have been able to put away-but it kills.  The medicine individuals need to live often costs hundreds or thousands of dollars. In one of the most technologically advanced nation in the world, who boosts of being the “oldest democracy” people are dying because insurance companies and the multi-billion dollar health industry, to say nothing of the government, have determined that the lives of individuals are not as important as profit.

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While Bill and Nardole initially want to leave and go back to the Tardis at the first hint of danger, the Doctor pushes back against such a sentiment. In this case, he doesn’t exactly lecture them on the virtues of helping others, but he provides a light rebuke. by running away and hiding from danger, knowing that there are four survivors somewhere on the ship, what would they be revealing about themselves? When as a society we allow people to die from lack of medical care, or when we demand that access to guns is more important than the lives of elementary and high school students, what are revealing about ourselves? When we turn a blind eye to the atrocities in Syria, which despite the near defeat of ISIS appears to be getting worse  what are we saying about ourselves? What are we saying about humanity? When we ignore the cries of black and brown bodies demanding that we hold the state accountable for their violence, what are we saying?

DOCTOR: There was no hacking, no malfunction. The suits are doing exactly what they were designed to do. What your employers are telling them to do. 
IVAN: And what would that be? 
DOCTOR: Save the oxygen that you are wasting. You’ve become inefficient. You even told me. Your conveyors were down. 
ABBY: So everyone had to die? 

We are saying that certain lives don’t matter. When we claim that healthcare is not a “right” we are saying that we don’t give a damn about those who struggle with physical or mental disabilities. We are saying that we don’t care if people who are sick-die. We are in essence practicing a form of survival of the fittest-where only the healthiest or wealthiest survive. When we demand action after a puppy dies after being placed into an overhead bin for a three hour flight but we ridicule children and adults who demand gun control measures after every mass shooting, we are saying that a puppy’s life is worth more than that of children gunned down in school or adults slaughtered at a concert. (Not saying what happened to the puppy was correct-it should not have happened. But neither should mass shootings.) We are saying that damn it MY GUN is more important than the lives of other people.  And I’m tired. I’m tired of living in a world where my life is worthless because of my lack of wealth, my skin color and sexual orientation. I’m tired of living in a world where I need to explain to people why we need to care about how state violence perpetrates non-state violence beyond issues such as “terrorism.”

DOCTOR: They’re not your rescuers. They’re your replacements. The end point of capitalism. A bottom line where human life has no value at all. We’re fighting an algorithm, a spreadsheet. Like every worker, everywhere, we’re fighting the suits.
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Towards the end of the episode the Doctor talks about a ‘good death”-which he and the others do manage to avoid-this time. But I find myself attracted to the notion of a “good” death, whatever that means. Can suicide ever be considered a “good death?” I don’t know-perhaps not-but at this point I just want to say, “fuck you” to a society that will continue to devalue life and put profit over compassion. To me, telling society, to go to hell, seems like a good death. It won’t change anything, but damn it, at least I won’t have to be so tired anymore.

10:3 Thin Ice

Doctor:… if your future is built on the suffering of that creature, what’s your future worth?

Current US President Donald Trump ran on the platform, “Make America Great Again.” His campaign attracted swaths of the population that felt as if the global economy had left them to behind. However, instead of blaming those with power, these voters blamed the vulnerable: people of color, immigrants, children, and refugees. In the minds of some voters, making America great again apparently meant making America white again. And instead of ushering in a new economic utopia where the heyday of industrialization reaps benefits on factor workers, coal miners, etc and other blue-collar workers, the beneficiaries have been the economic and political elite-from both parties. Republicans leaders get to try and shove their racist, poverty hating political agenda through and Democrats have the opportunity to reinvent themselves as heroes of the vulnerable and marginalized, although in reality Democrats have been all to happy to use marginalized groups for votes and then ignore them when in power. Both Republican and Democrats claim to want to create a more prosperous country, but what does this country look like and is it a country worth serving let alone fighting for?

Which lives matter?

In the episode, “Thin Ice” the Doctor berates Bill for being upset about that a child is killed.  I, for one, do believe rage has a time and place, and I view Bill’s rage as justified, it must also be acknowledged that rage instead of being an impassioned cry for justice can be used to mask hypocrisy and a thirst for power.

BILL: Save him. 
DOCTOR: I can’t. He’s gone. 
BILL: Do something and save him. 

Bill watches helplessly as a child is killed right before her eyes. The fact that the death is bloodless one does nothing to eliminate the fact that the child’s life is snuffed out.  Bill begs the Doctor to do something and is angry when he nonchalantly responds that he is unable too. If I am not mistaken, every companion, at least in Nuwho has expressed some sort of disgust and shock at the amount of lives lost during the Doctor’s journeys. They often serve as the Doctor’s conscious, reminding him that the people and/or creates slaughtered often had hopes, dreams, etc. In other words, the companions, at least at the start of their adventures with the Doctor, serve to remind him that those killed shouldn’t just be another number added to a long list of those killed. I empathize with Bill in this scene. I believe that her outrage at the child’s death and the Doctor’s seemingly uncaring attitude is genuine. I do think that the Doctor dismisses her anger all to quickly. However, the Doctor also provides numerous thought provoking arguments when he tries to counter Bill’s rage. His arguments can be applied to those who are relatively privileged and hold a measure of power.

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Understandably, a good portion of Americans find themselves angry and powerless in the face of the Trump administration. As a result, many people, particularly those who may have been politically indifferent now find themselves politically engaged. I am not trying to knock those people or their new-found activism. I am however positing a question that I think needs to be taken seriously: is this new-found activism based on a passion for justice or simply on a fear that the current administration’s policies will negatively impact their lives and their families? In other words, will this sense of rage continue whenever President Trump is no longer in office?

Let’s be honest, it is human nature means to care predominately about issues that directly impact our lives. Moreover, there are so many cases of injustice that it would be impossible for any one individual to adequately deal with them all. It is ok to hold some causes dearer to the heart then others. But the reality is, that many issues are intersectional-meaning they do not just stand alone. And my fear is that the focus only on events that impact our own personal lives means that the marginalized who are often screwed over regardless of who is in power are overlooked. For example, the women’s march in which women of all races, ethnicity, etc participated is great. But where were the white women when black and brown lives were protesting the deaths of unarmed and mentally ill people at the hands of the state? Where were the protests against the Obama administration’s increased use of drone strikes, which murdered numerous innocent civilians? Yes, some argue that the Trump administration presents a much direr existential threat than previous administrations. I am not here to debate whether or not that is true. But I argue that his administration didn’t simply come out of thin air. His election was the result of numerous political, social, and economic factors conflating. In other words, ignoring the plight of others because their pain does not directly impact us-eventually comes back to bite us in the ass. Injustice builds upon injustice.  It is easy to look at the suffering of others and believe, “that will never happen to me.” History demonstrates again and again that such an attitude is fool hardy. The distinction between oppression that directly impacts us and oppression that does not, is a useless and arbitrary one.

DOCTOR: You know what happens if I don’t move on? More people die. There are kids living rough near here. They may well be next on the menu. Do you want to help me? Do you want to stand here stamping your foot? Because let me tell you something. I’m two thousand years old, and I have never had the time for the luxury of outrage. 

Like I said before, I believe outrage has a vital place in social justice movements. I especially believe that those who are part of groups that have historically been the victims of state oppression deserve to have their outrage acknowledged. Far too often, their outrage is suppressed in the name of “peace.” But it is important to acknowledge that outrage, especially on the part of those with privilege, can serve as a way to avoid taking concrete action and making difficult decisions. Outrage that doesn’t lead to action is useless. I mean, many Americans are outraged at the horrific treatment Native Americans underwent during European colonialism and the beginnings of the American empire, yet these very same people ignore or downplay the continued suffering of native Americans. Or, many Americans condemn the slave trade and express anger that many of America’s founding fathers supported such a horrific system yet they show a shocking apathy towards state sanctioned murder of people of color at the hands of police.

A worthy future?

DOCTOR:… What makes you so sure that your life is worth more than those people out there on the ice? Is it the money? The accident of birth that puts you inside the big, fancy house? 
SUTCLIFFE: I help move this country forward. I move this Empire forward. 

There is no denying that Trump and the current Republican Party express a blatant disregard for the well being of those who do not look like them or have their vast resources. In this context it is easy to want to view the established Democratic Party as saviors. But rhetoric needs to be matched by actions. The Republican Party has made it clear that they do not value the lives of immigrants, children, or the poor. They are willing to hold hostage or completely cut the already inadequate American safety net. Democrats have capitalized on this by giving the appearance of standing up for justice. No, they claim, they won’t give up on DACA recipients. They will fight for healthcare for children. Yet their actions have been less than stellar. I would argue that the Republican Party represents the Sutecliffe that the Doctor and Billy see-openly arrogant and racist. While the Democrats represent the popular image of Sutecliffe and the one he holds of himself: charming, advocating progress, etc. But the empire that both parties endorse is one that views certain lives as expendable. The current Republican Party-especially the far-right branch openly admit their disdain for people of color, women, LGBTQ, people from “shithole countries” (aka non-western ones). While the Democrats are subtler: they will stand up for DACA recipients until it no longer benefits them. They will listen to Black Lives Matter advocates, at least until the election season is over.

I think it’s time that Americans-regardless of their political leanings really consider the type of country they want to be a part of. What values should we hold dear? How do we define progress? Because right now, the United sates views the suffering and deaths of the “nobodies” as a necessary price to pay for progress.  And the result is a country not worth boasting about, much less fighting for.

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Season 10:2 SMILE

GOODTHING: No, it’s not a joke. Mum is dead. Mum is dead. And Hopeful, she’s dead too. And her friend Sunshine, she’s dead. And Eliza. And quite a few other people are dead.
KEZZIA: Why are you saying this? You can’t say things like that, grinning like an idiot.

I sat down with my new therapist. The topic of the conversation: emotional avoidance and emotional regulation. Apparently emotional avoidance makes emotional regulation difficult, if not impossible.

Therapist: In order to control your negative emotions, you need to face and process them. You can’t just ignore them and focus on the good emotions.

Me: Why not?

Therapist: That’s just not how humans generally work. You can’t just push down your negative emotions and hope they disappear. They won’t. Paradoxically, if you want to be able to control your emotions, you have to be able to deal with them.

I have no problem expressing anger. In fact, if I shut down my other emotions (such as sadness, nervousness, fear, etc) long enough, the emotions eventually convert into anger. This anger, even if it is directed outwardly (for example, at the current American political landscape), often gets redirected inwardly. So even if an outside source makes me angry, I am more likely to want to harm myself than anyone else. This inability to deal with emotions combined with my tendency to want to harm myself is what drove me to therapy in the first place.

In September 2017, I found myself at the top of an eight-story mall parking garage. I was looking down trying to decide whether I wanted to jump or not. I had been on a downward slide for months.  The triggering event however, was literally a five second clip from a documentary in which a former CIA director justified killing children in order to wipe out a terrorist target. The way the former director talked about it, and the nonchalant look on the faces of my professors and peers sent me over the edge. I was in class with people who either directed or responded to situations that often directly or indirectly result in the deaths of innocent people. Some of the younger students were hoping to find themselves in such a position one day. But instead of getting angry at the documentary, at my classmates or at my professors, I turned that anger inward. I told myself, “fuck a world where this happens” but my actions said, “fuck me for not being able to do anything about it.” Clearly, I didn’t jump. An eight story building is pretty high. My therapist pointed out that if I had jumped, chances are I would be dead. But for some reason I didn’t jump. I decided to try and get help one more time. What stopped me? I’m not sure, a mixture of fear that I would survive the jump and be gravely injured, a fear that it would hurt if I died, and a bit of a naïve hope that maybe I could make a positive difference in the issues I care about if I only stayed alive long enough to do so.

For the past few weeks, my therapist has been trying to discuss the importance of me being able to process my emotions in the moment without shutting them down. In fact, the reason I am blogging again is because I admitted that this blog was the only healthy outlet for expressing my emotions. So of course, I do find it a bit funny that the first episode I am writing about now that I am back to blogging is one about emotions. In this episode, humans programmed the vardies to make sure that humans were always happy. But the problem is, that despite how much we try to delude ourselves into believing otherwise, life hurts. We feel pain, grief, depression, jealousy, anger. We hurt ourselves and we hurt other people. We live in a world where those in power have no qualms about benefiting the rich, neglecting the poor, and droning children. Relationships suffer and end. People die.

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DOCTOR: No one had ever died here before this lady. The Vardies, they’d never heard of grief before. This place is all about hope and the future, and happiness. No one ever thought about the opposite. The Vardies didn’t know what to do with it. They identified grief as the enemy of happiness and everyone who was experiencing grief as a problem, as
BILL: Compost.

My inability to face my emotions, far from making me happy or giving me strength, has created a cycle of destruction that is difficult to break free from. I am acting like my own damn internal Vardy. Any emotion that I perceive to be a sign of weakness or that is uncomfortable (except in my case, for anger), I try to eliminate or at least ignore. The problem is, that trying to narrow my range of emotions to those that I think are acceptable is slowing destroying me.  Even as I write this blog post, there is a resistance within myself; trying to prevent me from fully experiencing and acknowledging the emotions that writing this stirs within me.

Emotions hurt. They can be unpleasant. Acknowledging them means dealing with the underlying issues that give rise to them and that in and of itself is a difficult process. I don’t want to deal with my chronic feelings of loneliness and emptiness. I don’t want to deal with how growing up in an emotionally abusive home impacts me. I don’t want to acknowledge how my research, which I love so much, also inspires feelings of helplessness and sorrow.  I don’t want to acknowledge that I’m scared about the future. I am scared that everything I’ve worked so hard for will be destroyed. I’m scared that more people will die because of the policies of politicians drunk on power.

DOCTOR: Once, long ago, a fisherman caught a magic haddock. The haddock offered the fisherman three wishes in return for its life. The fisherman said, “I’d like my son to come home from the war, and a hundred pieces of gold.” The problem is magic haddock, like robots, don’t think like people. The fisherman’s son came home from the war in a coffin and the King sent a hundred gold pieces in recognition of his heroic death. The fisherman had one wish left. What do you think he wished for? Some people say he should have wished for an infinite series of wishes, but if your city proves anything, it is that granting all your wishes is not a good idea.

I wish I didn’t feel as deeply as I do. I wish I could handpick which emotions I get to experience and discard the other ones. But I can’t. whether I like it or not, part of being a healthy human is being able to experience a range of human emotions and properly process them. Those who are unable too are often diagnosed with serious mental illnesses.  I don’t know what the answer is or how to get better. I do know that there isn’t a magic haddock who can grant my wish of limiting or even eliminating my emotions. That’s probably a good thing.

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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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