I’ll inaugurate this blog with a visit to the occupied territories of Israel-Palestine. I’ll be there as part of the Tamera Global Campus, to build some simple, off-grid solar technology on an organic farm in Tulkarm in the West Bank.
Right now I am in the Lisbon airport, after a night in a cheap hostel in Baixa-Chiado, on Praça Luis de Camões. Unlike anywhere else I have been in Lisbon, I didn’t really like it. It was crowded and noisy of course, but not crowded and noisy in an interesting way. It could have been anywhere… or at least, anywhere in Europe where bored, young people congregate when they have energy but no passion; when they have the means to travel and party, but no particular curiosity or aim.
One of Lisbon’s charms is that it looks and feels different–calmer, more peaceful and comfortable with itself–than any other big city I know. But Praça Camões at 2am could have been the coffee-shop district of Amsterdam, or central Prague, or somewhere along the Kurfürstendamm… any architecturally plausible Euro-backdrop sought out by revelers, to give an air of cool to public drunkenness and empty conversations. In the hostel itself, day and night an assortment of astonishingly beautiful young people from all over the western world flirted, with an affected banality and the unconscious but clear goal of having–literally–no culture. I mean no culture in the sense there was no way of knowing where these people were from; they spoke perfect English learned from sit-coms, wore the same globalized, branded fashion emerging from the same sweatshops of the developing world. They sought out the same cheap alcohol in the same nightclubs, playing the same derivative globalized pop-music under a house beat; and then hollered in the streets until at least dawn, in that inebriated mixture of exuberance, privilege, repressed rage, bonhomie, and primate aggression; which as far as I know was perfected by rapey American fratboys in the 80s, and then pitched to the world as some kind of virtue.
These were intelligent and interesting young people, with complex histories and old souls. They were probably quite well-informed and idealistic, to the extent their imaginations and self-interest allow. But what was sacred in them, they hid; what was false and without meaning, they promoted and nourished. The striking woman from Slovenia and the tall Portuguese university student, as they chatted in the kitchen, both radiated a general, anchorless ambition, expressed in the form of demeanor and CV, rather than any real vision. The studies they were in, the internships they dreamed of: European Law, “Business,” finance, international institutions. They are so ready to work so hard, to give their energies to processes and structures that tormented their parents, that are impoverishing their countries, and that will destroy their futures. And yet nothing else seems to occur to them.
Praça de Luis de Camões is not a conflict zone in the usual sense, but we do live in a globalized world: The violence in Israel-Palestine depends directly on political expediency, ignorance, and Christian apocalypticism in the western world. Exploitation of human beings and of the natural world depends on the kinds of consumerist choices these young people make every day. And I’m not really much less complicit than them, anyway. I don’t know where the most urgent work is: Tulkarm? Portugal? Schaerbeek? Wesley Heights?
That last question was a rhetorical one: The most important peacework is inner peacework, as a general rule and especially for an angry, judgmental, hypocritical, neurotic, consumerist basket-case like me. My job as a peaceworker right now is to not judge the Erasmus demographic of Praça Camões, and I’m not doing too well.
I’ll continue with this inner work. For the next few weeks, it just so happens I’ll be doing it in the Occupied Territories. I’ll be keeping my brain and hands busy building a solar dryer.
See you there.