Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Ontogenic Battle

Ontogeny: "The development of an individual organism," Wiktionary.  "The origination and development of an organism," Wikipedia.  "The development of an individual," Online Etymology Dictionary.  "...The process through which each of us embodies the history of our own making," (Gingrich, Fox, et al, 2002)

Ontogeny.  An interesting subject, no?  I am especially struck by the last definition quoted, ontogeny as "the process through which each of us embodies the history of our own making."  Taken together, these definitions indicate that this history is a function of our development as individuals.  In other words, our development is meant to beget a certain kind of story.  Are there clues to the kind of story we are to embody, the intended goal of our development?

Before I give you my answer to this question, let me warn you in advance that this will be another blatantly spiritual post.  And now, let's look at a particular Scripture:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men,
instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires
and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age,
looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus,
who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed,
and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.
(Titus 2:11-14, NASB)

Breaking this down, we can make a few immediate observations.  First, the intention of our Creator is that we should be rescued from living useless lives, lives characterized by uncontrolled and degrading passions and addictions.  Second, our lives are to be disciplined and purposeful, with our wits and faculties fully engaged in serving that purpose.  Third, our lives are to be beautiful by virtue of being characterized by good works.  The word "good" in Greek is the word καλός ("kalos").  According to Strong's Concordance, this word καλός means, "beautiful [emphasis added], as an outward sign of the inward good, noble, honorable character; good, worthy, honorable, noble, and seen to be so."  So our lives are to be full of beautiful deeds, works whose beauty is a direct reflection of the goodness of these works.  And the letter to Titus is full of appeals to those who call themselves Christians to engage in these beautifully good works, whose purpose is, among other things, to meet the pressing (or urgent) needs of their fellow human beings  (Titus 3:14).  

The Scripture indicates that this purposeful life can only be fully experienced through the transformation that results from genuine faith in Christ.  And yet every human being has at times experienced a desire for this sort of life, a longing to fulfill this sort of ontogeny.  Proof of this can be obtained by asking any five or six year old kid what he or she wants to be when he or she grows up.  Unless a kid has been severely and/or persistently traumatized, you will never hear the kid answer that he or she wants to be trash or wants to be nothing.  Kids naturally tend to want to be something beautiful, something noble, something good when they grow up.

However, the human twisted-ness which is the result of original sin has resulted in people who are often confused as to how they may fulfill their ontogeny.  Such people frequently make the mistake of believing that they cannot rise unless they push other people down, that they cannot shine unless they make others dim, that they cannot fulfill their drive to be beautiful unless they trash and dehumanize their fellow human beings, that they cannot fulfill their ontogeny unless they deprive others of the right and ability to fulfill their ontogeny.  

This twisted-ness is seen in the role played by the nineteenth-century British government in protecting and expanding the flow of opium through China, to the enrichment of Britain and the detriment of Chinese society.  (It is interesting to note that the Chinese attempted to eradicate the opium trade when they saw the devastating effects of opium addiction on Chinese society, and these attempts provoked a military response from the British empire.  It is also interesting to note that before the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2002, the rulers of that country had eliminated the Afghan opium trade - yet that trade re-appeared after the invasion.)  Another example is the passing of laws in various states of the 18th and 19th century U.S. which made teaching African slaves to read or write a criminal offense.  In fact, many people may not know this, but slave states and slave owners tried to prevent their slaves from learning the Bible, from being evangelized, or becoming Christians, fearing that such enlightenment might help the slaves assert their humanity in the face of their white "owners."  These and other examples illustrate the perversity of people who try to fulfill their own ontogeny by breaking other people, who seek to achieve their highest purpose by turning their fellow humans into prey.

For the oppressed, then, the seeking of the fulfillment of their own ontogeny becomes a central aspect of their nonviolent resistance against their oppressors.  And because the oppressors are in the business of trying to prevent this fulfillment, the oppressed cannot expect any help from the oppressive society in which they live.  After all, the oppressors' self-interests are best served by keeping the oppressed in a condition of constant brokenness.  If, then, the oppressed are to fulfill their ontogeny, they must develop the sort of parallel institutions which, outside of the control of the oppressors, equip the oppressed in their full development as human beings.  Since a fulfilled ontogeny results in people who are characterized by beautifully good deeds, a key component of parallel-institution building must be centered on the building of parallel arrangements for the education of the oppressed.  This education must equip the oppressed with the skills and tools needed for beautiful deeds.  (Titus 3:14 - "And let our people also learn to engage in good deeds...")

Examples of parallel institutions for education include the illegal slave schools of the American antebellum South.  They also include the Polish "flying universities," which appeared during at least three periods of Polish history, corresponding to the 19th-century partition of Poland by Prussia, Austro-Hungary, and Imperial Russia; the occupation of Poland by Nazi Germany in World War Two; and the struggle against Soviet domination in the mid-to late 20th century.  In the first two cases, the occupiers of Poland sought to dehumanize the Polish population by denying Poles (especially women) access to higher education.  In both cases, these underground flying universities were instrumental in building and preserving a cadre of Polish intellectuals who could rebuild Polish society when the time was right.  (Many may not know this, but Marie Curie, the discoverer of radium, was a graduate of a Polish flying university.)  Present-day examples include the burgeoning homeschooling phenomenon among African-American parents.  

And I have a personal example, namely, the tutoring collective to which I belong, which visits a low-income apartment complex three times a month to teach math and basic science to the kids who live there.  I can see how badly our services are needed when I ask nine and ten year old kids what 8 times 7 is and I see many of them start drawing eight circles so that they can put seven dots in each circle and count the dots, and I can only think that the public schools to which these kids go are guilty of a fearful waste of these kids' time.

The education of which I speak is therefore not mere vocational training, but giving students a complete suite of tools to navigate this earthly life, and to provide in an honorable way to meet their own needs and the needs of others by means of beautifully good works in any situation they are likely to encounter.  It is the oppressed themselves who must take charge of providing themselves with this education.

When oppressed peoples make a coordinated effort to fulfill their ontogeny in the way I have described, they can expect a backlash from their oppressors, as was the case with the followers of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (also known as Bacha Khan).  During the early 20th century, Bacha Khan organized a large number of Pashtuns in the Northwest Province of Afghanistan.  He built a number of schools for his fellow Pashtuns in order to educate them in the improvement of their society.  The British held imperial control over that region, and they deeply resented his work.  Thus, they arrested him and his elderly father in 1919, which was the first of a series of arrests and imprisonments.  In spite of British police action, he was able to organize a large Pashtun "nonviolent army" devoted to the improvement of Afghan society.  For his troubles, the British army and police committed a massacre of hundreds of Pashtuns during a nonviolent Pashtun protest in 1930.  The British fired their guns at the unarmed resisters for over three hours.  (Information taken from Civilian Jihad: Nonviolent Struggle, Democratization and Governance In the Middle East, Chapter 8, by Maria Stephan, et al.)

That incident, while gruesome and tragic, illustrates a powerful point.  That is, that by this kind of pursuit of ontogeny - by the pursuit of the kind of self-education needed for living a life of beautifully good works - an oppressed people can mount a powerful nonviolent rebuke to their oppressors.  For the beautiful, skillful, purposeful, useful lives which result from this education have a powerful effect on the oppressors, namely the unwanted lessening of social distance between oppressor and oppressed, as the oppressor is forced against his will by the beautiful deeds he sees to recognize the humanity of those he wishes to oppress.

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