No Man is an Island.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,……….

…….Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; 
It tolls for thee. 

                                                                                                                       John Donne

The gunman used semi-automatic weapons. Photo- Specna Arms.

The gunman used semi-automatic weapons. Photo- Specna Arms.

 In my home town Christchurch last week 50 humans’ deaths diminished me. Unbelievably, in New Zealand where even police do not carry arms, a right wing racist entered two mosques and murdered 50 people in cold blood, injuring many more. This was grotesque tribalism: “You are not like me, I kill you”   

A Guardian Newspaper headline on the day of the atrocity.

A Guardian Newspaper headline on the day of the atrocity.

My own tribal instincts told me that somehow 50 deaths in New Zealand, My New Zealand, matter more than 50 deaths in, say, Iraq. Those same tribal instincts told me that somehow it was less atrocious because the perpetrator is Australian. Both sentiments are false. If I am involved in humankind 50 deaths anywhere diminish me equally. Nor is charismatic New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s repudiation -”They [the victims] are us. you [the murderer] are not”- true.. He is. us too. No man is an island.

Another Guardian Headline

Another Guardian Headline

He grew up in a family in  a New South Wales community. He listened to news that commonly pairs “Muslim” and “Terrorist” or “extremist”. So commonly that “Muslim Terrorist” is a byword in our language  (but “white racist”, “ white consumerist”, “white carbon polluter” and “white ecoterrorist” are not). He enjoyed economic benefits from Australia joining USA’s “war of terror”,(aka young white men in camos illegally invading Iraq and killing muslims) he lives in a world where USA tortures uncharged Muslims in Guantanamo bay, he saw Barak Obama receive a Nobel peace prize for continuing this torture, he knew good white British soldiers in Iraq call muslims “towel heads” and shoot them, he lives on a planet where a global superpower can, without censure, murder non-aggressive Iraqis from a helicopter gunship (USA included children in those murders. The Christchurch shooter included children in his), he reads newspapers reporting Trump identifying Mexicans as rapists and investing in a wall as a ‘war strategy against “migrant invasions”, he watches Australia herd asylum seekers (often Muslim) into inhuman conditions in their offshore holding pen and listens to his own immigration minister defend this…. He is nested in layers of systemic racism.  Somehow all the anti-muslim rhetoric and hatred continuously rippling up and down through our world system became concentrated in him and crystallised into his horrific crime. We are all involved.

To this day the most intense, pared down and fulfilling year of my life was 1988 when I  volunteered at Mother Teresa’s Home for Dying in Calcutta. Back then, before she got her Nobel, there were only two volunteers: 70 year old Andy and me. For two weeks we bathed a man’s magotty leg stump in potassium permanganate. Its all we had. He was a poor Bihari trying to earn a living pulling a rickshaw,  working 12 hours a day just to pay the exorbitant daily rent. If he could not pay, the rikshaw- his one hope of livelihood, would be given to another desperate migrant. One day  pulling a man through a crowded bazaar a metal trunk was dropped on his foot cutting and crushing it. Desperate, poor and uneducated he just gritted his teeth and continued pulling his rickshaw through Calcutta’s oozy black mud streets day after day. Until his foot was gangrenous. When picked up by the Missionaries of Charity he was sans hope, sans rickshaw, sans foot,.. Just a stump of bone. Daily I listened to his story as I bathed his leg, knowing he’d never earn a living from a rickshaw,. He’d likely never earn a living from anything . In fact he did not have much more living left. He died after two weeks.  

That day I beseeched Andy to explain the inexplicable. “Why is it like this” I asked.

Softly, his lilting Irish accent gently unraveled my inner tangle: “Ya know, I think like this. All the badness, the evil in the world- what our leaders do, what soldiers raping women and businessmen evading taxes do, what school bullies do what you and I do- all of it mysteriously gets concentrated into a few poor souls. They take our evil to the grave with them. He just did that”   That’s Irish for  “No man is an Island”.

.An arrow of wisdom lodged in my heart, tears welled in my eyes, truth echoed in my head.

 it is the same with the Christchurch shooting. The killer was part of a whole. My tribalism, Donald Trump’s racism, Australia’s policy  until the middle of last century that legalised shooting aboriginals, Christchurch city’s ugly underbelly of white skinhead racism, the massacre of Bosnian muslims at Srebrenica, men in orange jumpsuits being tortured in Guantanamo Bay, maybe even the naked nationalistic tribalism of sports events- all of it and so much more was somehow jumbled together in his fevered brain, got scrambled, concentrated and crystallised out. Bullets and blood. But he did not create the elements of his atrocity, They were all there in his context. Our context.

A NZ Herald Headline. One man charged with murder, but what about the system that nurtured him?

A NZ Herald Headline. One man charged with murder, but what about the system that nurtured him?

And that’s it. In a globalised world we can’t disown him. We own him. His evil massacre is a fractal of a larger racist system. We have to own the racism in our world system and remove it from every level, local to global. If we allow individual racism to breed it will form racist nations that will coagulate into a racist planet. If we allow racist government policies and rhetoric, inevitably we will see individuals committing racist atrocities.  With all the things coursing through this power-driven, white dominated world system of ours some people will distil out the racism (there’s plenty), concentrate it and let it crystallise within them. This man is one such.  

In a globalised world its like that with all the development issues we care about. We can’t disown anything, It is all connected, networked. Local actions inform regional, national and global structures and global and regional effects fractalize into local structures, crystallise out in individuals. Deep development needs behaviour change. If behaviour is predicated on attitude deep development always needs  a systemic approach, working simultaneously at multiple levels of a system with strategies appropriate to each level.  If New Zealand works on racism at only one level undesirable attitudes will ‘fractalise’ back top-down or bottom- up. Nothing will be achieved. We have to work on family violence, school bullying and racism, workplace discrimination, government policy, the Treaty of Waitangi, the name of Christchurch’s iconic rugby team and more. Only when we have done all that can we repudiate a violent white supremacist  and truly say “this is not us”.

What do you think- must deep development necessarily be systemic? Does information ripple up and down through systems- people change structures, structures change people?  Are we fractals, self-similar at smaller scales to the larger structures in which we’re nested? Are our governments simply larger representations of who we really are? What about our innate tribalism- Is it biologically wired into our DNA? Can we over-ride it? Or does human DNA inevitably create a template that casts our leaders in our racist and tribal image? Is there hope for humans to work together as a species on our global challenges? Answers on a postcard to… .. Or try the comments box.

No human is an Island 

Entire of itself

Rather every one of us is a fractal, 

self similar at a small scale to parts of

the systems in which we’re nested

Jeph Mathias