Some people rise to the occasion by offering a vision for a new world. They tend to die by the hand of other people. Here’s why…
People often cite the assassination of certain larger-than-life figures, such as Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, among others, as proof of how screwed up the human race is.
While the premise is true — the human species is maxed out on its ability to function and is in desperate need of an upgrade — the personas in question aren’t the saintly peacekeepers they were made out to be. They were ruthless politicians and activists whose actions stoked as many fires as they put out. Some of them did the world a lot of good on aggregate, some didn’t, but they all flirted with the conflagrational aspect of life at some point or other in their careers.
In fact, the reasons these people were assassinated because humans tend to seek out ways to incapacitate their rivals and get the upper hand.
A Frisky Bunch
Humanity is a frisky, volatile bunch, and justifiably so. It’s through competition and conflagration that civilization makes headway. Much can be achieved through peace and debate, as the world has demonstrated over the past seventy years, but when interests clash, which they often do, only so much can be achieved through a calm and collected approach. In the wake of disagreement and the available options on how to deal with any given situation, headstrong opinions invite headstrong opinions – force begets force and vehemence – and before you know it, the outcome is decided by those able to withstand the tests of the contest, whatever they may be.
Sometimes the contest turns violent and bloody. It would be wonderful if it didn’t, but it does, and when this happens, victory – and history – are won by the last opinion standing.
Sometimes those who enter the fight are individuals with lofty ideas. They sound awesome in theory, something to aspire to, but in practise these people aren’t saints and peacekeepers. They simply use the mantra of peace to promote their agenda. They challenge the status quo, in favor of a new way of doing things. They fight for reform, if not revolution. They’re scrapping, brawling, contesting, competing, challenging the norm. They neutralize those who oppose them, inviting a strong reaction from rival viewpoints/interests.
One shouldn’t be surprised when these individuals are targeted and taken out. Shocked, yes, stunned, saddened and angered, by all means, but not surprised, especially not in hindsight.
Here’s a list of nine people whose assassination was cited as a direct attack on the notion of peace and harmony, yet whose actions, when regarded closely, reveal something more substantial – and less pretentious – than ‘peacekeeping’ tendencies. This is about politics. These people were politicians, and they were taken out for taking on powerful adversaries, not because they were ‘saintly,’ ‘divine,’ etc. Let’s pay close attention to the facts when considering individuals like these, lest we be carried away by popular(-cum-populist) sentiment.
To the point:
Jesus Christ: an inspirational man possessed by a psychotic-like drive to declare himself the son of God. His claim was so outrageous it could have just as well been disregarded, but he had a charisma for attracting followers and spooking his detractors, coming across as a dangerous upstart. While preaching compassion and tolerance, Jesus also preached how he would bring the sword to the world to smite the thieves and tax collectors, the corrupt merchants and the abusers of God’s word. Phillip Pullman’s The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ makes an excellent case for the dual nature of the Messiah’s work.
Mahatma Gandhi: a supremely wise, educated, enlightened person, yet a very calculating and opportunistic one, too. He refused to let his wife, Kasturba, receive penicillin for what was a presumably treatable condition because he rejected the notion of Western medicine, or perhaps because he was loathe to receiving help from his British jailers. He instead surrendered to God’s will, watching his spouse wither away. Some time later, when he contracted malaria, he didn’t apply the same standards to himself. He was treated with quinine and made a full recovery.
Abraham Lincoln: the famous US president’s emancipation policies were driven by a combination of personal conviction, moral superiority, magnanimousness, and a savvy economic policy. Lincoln was a pragmatist, and he was assassinated because he had irrevocably damaged the South’s economy through his policies. It’s important to note that being the astute politician that he was, he hadn’t supported abolition (of slavery) from the get go. Nor did he authorize the emancipation of slaves in the defeated Confederate areas during the Civil War, at least not until it suited the course of the war and the cause of the Union. Finally, he was known to dabble in policies of colonization to make up for the changes brought about by his Emancipation policies.
John F. Kennedy: another politician whose motives were not borne out of sheer moral magnificence. Let me mention two words: Vietnam War. Or how about Kennedy ties to organized crime at large? JFK was the erudite leader of an administration whose policies were based on resounding oratory and astute advocacy, through which he appealed to the American people to yield their interests to their government. ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country’ — as in ‘abide by our lofty demands, and do so of your own volition.’ Sublime politics, by far. JFK wasn’t killed for his benevolence but for the interests he represented and the conflict of interests he had given rise to. For more, see Bobby Kennedy below.
Bobby Kennedy: a man who said no to racism, yes to racial equality, yes to justice, yes, yes, yes to a great many noble policies, yes to a more civilized state of being, at least in principle, and kudos to him. His public approach was brilliant. But the fact remains: he was brother to an assassinated JFK — a JFK killed for the interests he represented and the conflict of interests he had given rise to, and so was his brother, Bobby, who, in his quest for justice had confronted the labor unions in the Senate Rackets Committee, mano a mano, and later, from his office as Attorney General, during his brother’s presidency. The unions, many of which were corrupt, unaccountable and hard to infiltrate and break down, didn’t take kindly to Bobby Kennedy’s probing. The bosses at their helm and the mobsters with whom they were associated were part of an ilk of men with whom Bobby’s father, Joseph Kennedy, had ties to in previous decades, a relationship that made the situation all the more complex and bitter, casting a shadow over the Kennedy dynasty. Yes, one can hear people stutter mentally as they scramble to reconcile their veneration for the Kennedys with reality, their minds tossing and turning and shrieking with anxiety, unable to figure out how these two ordinarily beneficent forces managed to find themselves down such dire straits — how neither of them is as spotless as our propaganda makes them out to be.
Martin Luther King: an inspired and inspiring individual who represented the rise of a political force whose agenda was not to facilitate peace and harmony but to eradicate the injustice perpetrated unto its people by the ruling class. Call him a modern-day Jesus whose words carried forth the message of justice/love as well as the deliverance of those hitherto oppressed, all via seismic restructuring, a rearrangement of the social and political and cultural equation that would give power to the marginalized. He was assassinated because his influence was considerable and growing rapidly, not because he was going to turn the world into a chilled out, interracial ashram. No one would have cared if that had been the case.
Medgar Evers: in all practical purposes, Evers was a disciple of the civil rights movement, talking harmony and political/cultural rebalancing at the same time. Carrying both an olive branch and the proverbial sword, as did all civil rights activists to some extent at the time, he was singled out and assassinated. It was a tragedy, but not a surprise.
Malcolm X: the infamous firebrand. The supremacist for whom MLK had no room in his inspiring dream, whose notion of peace was lost amid a rhetoric of uprising, vengeance and cultural prevalence. Neither a Mahatma nor a dreamer capable of rousing millions with a speech of global pedigree (see MLK), Malcolm X became a nefarious and dubious presence, his approach associated with omen, violence and armed struggle. Was he justified in being so angry? Yes, he was, because America’s segregation policies were hypocritical and unjust. Was he justified in stoking the fires of armed rebellion? It depends where you stand and what you believe in. Was his assassination surprising, or an affront to pacifism? Hardly.
John Lennon: the only person on the list whose motives were driven by a vision of a better world without the complications arising from vested political interest. He was the prototypical artist, a man who sang his way round the world, spreading his ideas of peace and harmony with no political interests to satisfy, with no militia backing him, with no national economic interests to champion, with nothing but a bold vision of the world, a guitar, a pair of weird spectacles, and a bunch of fans who loved him for what he did. Sure, he, too, represented a tier of people that could be considered dangerous, whose rise could bring about political change, tension, strife — plus, he was married to Yoko Ono, whose presence cast a shadow on his charismatic persona, or so people say — but unlike the politicians and upstarts mentioned earlier, he didn’t actively represent anyone, not in the way they did. His assassination is perhaps the most unexpected of them all, the most representative of an irrational blow delivered against a man whose vision was as utopian as it was inspiring … By now, of course, you’ve probably figured out that I’m talking nonsense — that John Lennon was a full-blown activist during the late 60s and early 70s, stoking political unrest in the US and Britain. His pacifist ideas were honorable and inspiring, but his mode of delivering his messages was done by kicking several interests in the teeth (he returned his MBE to the Queen; supported the release of White Panther member John Sinclair; allowed himself to be influenced by ‘serious revolutionaries’ who maintained that killing was a necessary act for the cause of revolution) before losing all interest in radicalism. His assassination had nothing to do with his stint among the radicals — or maybe it did, indirectly — but the point is that John Lennon, like everyone else, wasn’t the saint that people made him out to be. He was a man prone to inflammatory behavior, representing vested interest and political bias, no matter how pacifist his underlying message was.
Looking Ahead In Retrospect
As time passes, humanity understands that the real tragedy is not the killing of those who ‘advocate peace’ but the enabling of those who can’t move forward — the empowerment of those who enjoy going round in circles, dragging the rest of life with them down their cultural and emotional drains.
Time doesn’t forgive those who go round in circles. It moves on, leaving them behind. And life progresses, looking back at its fossilised relics every once in a while, marveling at how entertained, self-satisfied and self-fulfilled they appeared to be during the calcification process that so aptly immortalized them — how this process was aided by emotionally manipulative stories that perpetuated empty myths, which put sentiment above outcome and ideology above practicality at the expense of life’s ability to move ahead in meaningful ways. The world loses a few visionaries and upstarts in the process, thinking ‘never again,’ till the next crisis, the next turn of events.
That’s where the eons come in handy. They roll in and out, one after the other, stoking the fires of those willing to make a lasting impact on life. They shave away the emotional noise that comes with, planting seeds for new upstarts and rebels, troublemakers and visionaries, and generally all kinds of people who are adept on acting first, worrying later, leaving the glorification and brouhaha to the easily swayed masses.
From the collection of writings EON: THE ANGRY COMING OF AGE