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.

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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 Magician’s Apprentice: For the Greater Good?

DOCTOR: If someone who knew the future pointed out a child to you, and told you that that child would grow up totally evil, to be a ruthless dictator who would destroy millions of lives, could you then kill that child? 

In Genesis of the Daleks, the Fourth Doctor struggles with whether or not to destroy Davros and the Daleks.  The Daleks have contributed to the deaths of millions of species and they are consumed by hate and the need to destroy. Why not avoid the whole mess by killing them before they have the opportunity to rise and become the murderous class that they were created to be?  While in general, mass genocide is rightfully condemned, surely an exception can be made for the Daleks. Likewise, in the real world, assassinations and torture are generally denounced, but surely they are permissible in the name of national security and in the hopes of avoiding another 9/11?

In The Magician’s Apprentice, the Doctor is forced to confront this ethical dilemma once again. At the beginning of the episode, we see the good ole’ Doctor,  who shows up just in time to help a child who is living in the midst of a long battle and risks being killed by “hand mines.”

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But then the boy mentions his name. And the atmosphere changes.

As the viewers, we are left wondering about the Doctor’s final choice. He couldn’t have just left Davros could he, not when he was just a helpless kid, traumatized by war? But then again, if the Doctor did leave him to his fate, who could blame him? Technically he didn’t actively kill the child, he just appears to not have intervened when the kid’s life was in danger. Throughout the episode the Doctor’s “shame” is mentioned quite a bit. And the question is, was the Doctor ashamed for having left Davros to possibly die or did he help the boy, knowing full well that he would go on to create a race of mass murderers? The thought of the Doctor leaving a helpless boy to his fate, makes one uncomfortable, since it seems to go against the values and the very core of the Doctor. Yet, on the other hand, such a choice would be understandable. At least it is a choice that I understand. I mean, to be quite honest, as I was watching the episode and trying to determine whether the Doctor actually left Davros to his fate or somehow came back to help him, I thought to myself that letting Davros save himself was the right choice. In fact, in that situation I wonder, if perhaps actively killing him would have been the more morally right choice. Leaving Davros to his fate still left a “one in a thousand chance of survival” and would have done nothing but fueled any hatred he had developed thorough the trauma of war. (I’m not sure such an action, in and of itself would have turned Davros into the diabolical murderer he would become as an adult, but certainly in combination with an ongoing war, would not have helped matters).

Killing Davros as a boy, would ensure that the Daleks would never be created. It would save the lives of millions of species, and it would prevent the time war from occurring, meaning the Doctor would never have to even be in a position of having to choose whether to massacre his own people in order to save the universe. So much future heartache and pain could be avoided if he just killed Davros.

YOUNG DAVROS: Who are you? I don’t get it. How did you get there?
DOCTOR: From the future.
YOUNG DAVROS: Are you going to save me?
DOCTOR: I’m going to save my friend the only way I can.
Exterminate!

I have to admit during that scene, in the spilt second before the “to be continued” sign flashed, I wanted the Doctor to kill Davros. Yes he was a child, but look who he grew up to be. When the fourth doctor asks about whether one would kill a child who one knew could grow up to be a dictator, my impulse is to answer yes. If I could stop Hitler’s genocide of millions of people, (which in turn led to a war which killed millions more and to later political actions that have led to the oppression of people in Palestine) I would do it. Even if it met killing a young Hitler.  Or the same could be said of other people guilty of horrible offenses, Osama bin laden, Syrian President Assad, etc. If one person, even a child has to die in order for millions to live, isn’t it worth it? It’s not like I would be killing a random child, no but rather the child that would go on to oppress and/kill thousands or even millions of other people.

And for the Doctor, the matter isn’t just about an abstract number of millions of lives that could be saved if Davros died young, but in this episode it ostensibly appears as if Missy and Clara have been killed. Clara, his companion, the one who convinced him not to destroy the Time Lords in the Time War and the one who comforted him as a child afraid of the dark. When a loved one is killed, how many times have people said, “I wish I could have prevented that from happening? If I could go back in time I would…” well the Doctor can go back in time. He could prevent his friends’ death from occurring, as well as the millions of other deaths that would take place over the centuries, if he only killed Davros.

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I frame it as such an easy solution. Kill the kid who would grow up to be a murderer and everything will be ok. But in the real world, such calculations rarely work out so cleanly. For example, since 9/11, the United States has taken an aggressive “anti-terrorism” stance that involves “prevention” as well as eradication. Now, the US can’t go back in time and prevent 9/11 from occurring or go back in time and kill Osama bin laden in the 1990s, but what the US can do is erode civil liberties in the name of national security. I mean, it’s worth it if another 9/11 could be prevented right? Who cares if the FBI intentionally targets Muslim communities, looking for its most vulnerable members and essentially entraps them into making terroristic plans/and statements? Why should the average citizen worry about massive data collection by intelligence communities, if one is not doing anything wrong, then one has nothing to hide, right? Who cares if one could be put under government surveillance simply for being critical of governmental policies? The government is doing this in order to keep American citizens safe, and if some individuals are hounded and their lives destroyed by the FBI, so be it. If in order to avoid another 9/11 attack, we need to monitor and track our citizens phone calls, web purchases, political statements, what’s the loss of a few liberties in the grand scheme of national security? Who cares if our government tortures a few people or keeps some people indefinitely detained for decades, what’s the lives of a few dozen or hundreds of people when we could be protecting thousands of Americans from a future attack?

Or for a slightly closer analogy of government policy and The Magician’s Apprentice, let’s discuss the CIA’s kill list and targeted assassination program. Should American citizens really be bothered by the fact that our government routinely kills suspected terrorists in other nations, through drone strikes without as much as a trial? Yeah sure, civilians die, including young children, and that is a tragedy, but if we hadn’t killed (name of person) then more deaths would have occurred!

In Doctor Who, the payoff seems clear. Kill young Davros and future pain and suffering can be avoided. But even in the show, the future isn’t completely manipulable. Yes the universe could be made a better place without Davros and the Daleks, or some other destructive power could be unleashed. In that case, the Doctor would have betrayed his values only to have created something worse. In the years since 9/11, the United States government has defended torture, massive government surveillance, the targeting of Muslims and people of color has necessary for protecting America and ending terrorism. Yet are Americans really safer now than they were 14 years ago? And has terrorism in anyway been massively impacted by US counter terrorism policies?  Or in all these years, do all we have to show for compromising our values is an increase in the number of lives destroyed both domestically and abroad by our counter terrorism strategies? Millions of Afghans and Iraqis dead,  thousands of American service members dead or injured, hundreds of people tortured and detained without trial, and thousands of Americans who identify as Muslim or middle eastern (or who simply “look” Muslim or middle eastern, whatever that means) have been criminalized and denied their constitutional rights, for what? Davros believed that he had to create the Daleks for the good of the universe. Is he really anymore delusional then the advocates of current American domestic and foreign counter-terrorism policies?

Sometimes the only choices you have are bad ones, but you still have to choose.

The Doctor: Sometimes the only choices you have are bad ones, but you still have to choose.

Last week I wrote about my own personal struggles with hatred and the temptation to believe that violence might be a valid option. I believe that nonviolence can bring about vast changes-but only if both the oppressed and the oppressor are committed to it. When the oppressor refuses to listen to multiple nonviolent protests, when said protests are twisted and lied about and are blamed for the deaths of others, when those in power decide to create an us vs. them mentality, they are paving the way for violence. So this is a plea, a desperate cry, for those in positions of power to listen. Specifically this is a cry for those who work in law enforcement and their loved ones, as well as those in charge of crafting public policy, to listen to the Black Lives Matters Movement, which has predominately been peaceful. Even though some, who did not have ties to the movement or were in the periphery of the movement, have taken it upon themselves to react violently. And no, I don’t think destruction of property in anyway compares to the repeated murders of black and brown bodies at the hands of the state. Right now there is an opportunity for the state and for law enforcement to help turn a new chapter in the troubled history between the legal system, the government, and people of color. But if the peaceful protests are ignored, I believe that violence then becomes an inevitability.

In Mummy and the Orient Express, Clara and the Doctor have the following conversation:

CLARA: So, when you lied to Maisie, when you made me lie to Maisie
DOCTOR: I couldn’t risk Gus finding out my plan and stopping me.
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In this episode, the 12th Doctor seems particularly cruel. He witnesses he death of others and doesn’t even wince. And when it seemed as if the Doctor was going to allow Maisie to be murdered, one was left wondering whether this regeneration even had a conscious. The Doctor however, proves he still has a heart and a conscious, he till cares. But he admits that had she died, he would have simply kept on trying to defeat the mummy, even at the expense of the lives of the lives of others on board. He argues that he only had bad options. Now I’m sure some could debate that and argue that he had other options (for instance, perhaps he could have continued to ignore invitations to the orient express) but in this scenario the Doctor felt as if he was placed in a situation where the only options he felt he had were bad ones, but he couldn’t refrain from making decision. In fact refraining, would have in and of itself been a decision. He was placed in a position where he felt as if his only options were inaction or risking the lives of some individuals, in order to save a larger amount of people.

Likewise, when the state and those who work for the state, insist on co-opting or dismantling peaceful movements-they are placing those who are at the receiving end of their actions in a potentially difficult spot. The “Blue lives matter” movement is not simply about or even primarily about affirming the worth of police officers, but it is about discrediting the Black Lives Matter Movement and accusing it of perpetrating violence. The movement is accused of fostering a “war on cops” When the statistics clearly demonstrate that there is no “war on cops.” In fact, if the rate of police deaths continue, 2015 is on track to be the second safest year on record for police officers.  Furthermore, The Guardian has counted over 800 civilians have been killed by law enforcement. Over 172 of those people confirmed to have been unarmed. Knowing how things have worked, how many of the other 700 may have been unarmed but because of lack of footage, we only have the officer’s account? This isn’t to accuse individual officers of being “bad people”, but it’s acknowledging the pull that the atmosphere of an institution can have on individuals, no matter how good they are. Martin Luther King Jr, himself could be a police officer and the institution would still have a profound effect on how he would treat the poor, people of color, etc and all those dismissed by the larger culture of being thugs. And of course this isn’t to say there are no justifiable shootings, there are. But the fact of the matter is that the institution, like most government institutions, is marred by injustice and racism. The individual cop can be the most upstanding person but if the institution upholds laws that target minorities and the poor, if accountability is considered to be a dirty word, if civilians are treated as enemy combats, all this will affect how the officer treats those that he/she comes into contact with.

The “Police/Blue Lives Matter” movement and its supporters have insisted that calls for accountability are the same as calls to murder individual police officers. They are equating protests for change with waging a war. As a result, they are precariously close to creating an atmosphere where nonviolent protests are ignored and discredited leaving those who care about justice two options: inaction or to bring change through violence. The state is potentially creating a situation where those who care about injustice are left with nothing but bad options, which leaves the door open for death and destruction.

The “Exodus story” in which God frees the Jewish people from the abuse and oppression of Pharaoh is often portrayed, rightly I think, as a story of liberation. It reminds those who are being exploited by the powers that be, that God is with them, and will never leave them. However, it is also a story of warning for those who find themselves in positions of power. In an individualized country, such as America, the exodus story has been reduced to a feel good story that if I am in trouble, God will help me. In reality, the message serves as a warning for those of us who participate in institutions that systematically oppresses others. In the story, ( specifically Exodus chapters 7-14) God, through Moses provides the Pharaoh with numerous opportunities to repent and gives warning after warning about the devastation that would occur should the pharaoh decide not to listen to God’s demand for the freedom of the Israelites. Finally, after the death of the firstborn in Egypt, the Pharaoh seems to have had enough. He lets the Israelites go. Yet at the last minute he changes his mind: Exodus 14:5-9

14:5-9: When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the minds of Pharaoh and his officials were changed toward the people, and they said, “What have we done, letting Israel leave our service?” So he had his chariot made ready, and took his army with him; he took six hundred picked chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt and he pursued the Israelites, who were going out boldly. 9

The story does not end happily for Pharaoh and his men, who are ultimately killed.

While I don’t believe in a God figure that manipulates people into doing what is good or what is bad, or that God “hardens” the hearts of people, (however one may interpret that) what I take away from the Exodus story is that those who exploit others and refuse to repent will ultimately be destroyed. And I believe that they end up destroying themselves-they create situations where the only way for justice to reign is by the end of a sword or gun.

I firmly believe that the lives of all people-black, white, native, men, women, police officers, government officials, etc matters. This is why I advocate for justice and why I stand with the Black Lives Matter movement, who are trying to peacefully bring about change. They aren’t saying only Black Lives Matter, but are pointing out a larger truth in America: that institutionalized racism continues to serve as the basis for many institutions including the legal system and law enforcement. And this is why I cry out to those in positions of power to be willing to accept calls for accountability, to make the necessary changes, and to not create an environment where peaceful protests are ridiculed and are accused of endorsing violence. Do not create a situation where people are forced to choose between inaction and justice, even if justice comes through violence. Violence can so easily get out of control and create a perpetual cycle of injustice. When peaceful cries for change and justice are ignored, death and destruction follow. If those in power and those in law enforcement truly care assert that “Police Lives Matter” and that “All Lives Matter” they will take seriously nonviolent calls for justice.

Note: I am not speaking on behalf of the Black Lives Matter, or any other social justice movement. These are simply my own thoughts and reflections.