Sunday, May 18

Way of the West - Race against time

The Way of the West -
Race against Time

Where are you making for? It takes
So many thousand years to wake.
But will you wake for pity’s sake?

[Christopher Fry: A sleep of prisoners]

The fundamental message of my book, Blackness & the Dreaming Soul, is a plea for the West to wake; a plea for a reconstruction of the way in which we make our reality. The way of the West, it seems to me, is not the Way of Nature, but a self- seeking, consumer-orientated global cultural juggernaut that spells disaster for our beautiful planet Earth and for all life on it. The question I’m forced to ask is why, with all the evidence before us, we remain trapped in cultural hubris; why we cannot mobilize to avert the ecological holocaust that threatens our very survival. Why don’t we make that shift in consciousness that would transform our degraded world? Why not avoid division and war against each other and against our very home, making that home a better place for all mankind?

We seem to be caught up in a race against time; caught in a dualism: instead of seeking balance in all things, competition and greed motivates and divides us. Whilst Racism has little to do with my brief, it has been the catalyst that has forced me to try to make sense of my worlds. I believe in the essential goodness and oneness of mankind, a belief that has been so little shared and explored that it seems almost impossible for us to see ourselves for what we truly are, as an integral part of the mystery of life, capable of viewing our home, our unique place in the Universe as sacred – the only Planet as far as we know, with a delicate and fragile life support system, floating in the incomprehensible magnitude of Space - a spherical garden of such beauty and wonder.

Despite our science, our burgeoning technologies, our welfare state, the accessibility of university education for all, our exploits into outer space and wonderful achievements in every field of endeavor, our very existence, it seems, is threatened. We have continual warfare with the collateral damage and human suffering that results; nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction; Star wars satellite surveillance systems. Nuclear waste debris orbits the fragile atmosphere of our planet; we hear talk of global warming - carbon and radiation footprints, depletion of natural resources - deforestation, pollution of our seas, fuel shortages, genocide, drug abuse, rape, child abuse, sex slavery, racism, …the list goes on and on….

And we still pride ourselves that our way of life is best. Carl Jung, a student of alchemy suggested “that the generally accepted Western world view based on rationalism is not ‘the only possible one and is not all embracing, but in many ways a prejudice and a bias that ought perhaps to be corrected.” He believed that modern man has not truly looked into the great divide within, which separates him from wilderness and nature. In a world view based on this reality, we strive for more and more technological advances that will prolong our lives but do not ensure the same for our children and future generations. How selfish can we be? The old patterns repeat themselves. In Medicine we produce more drugs with disastrous side effects. We put our trust in gene therapy and genetic engineering; genetically modified food instead of organic; agricultural seed patents and now bio-fuel. We ban cigarettes but have longer drinking hours, more gaming houses, more things to distract us; to fill the void, more bargains, more sex, more fame and are rewarded by more crime; we talk of zero tolerance but do not address the issues responsible for the disillusionment that feeds it; so opt for more prisons, more policemen. We know about the carbon footprint yet build more terminals (how appropriate) leading to more air miles, more pollution, spiraling debts, an unstable economy, celluloid violence, toys, play stations and other excesses. ‘More’ is the daily mantra which we materialise and export - globalisation, colonization of other cultures – monoculture and over-production to satisfy our every whim. In turn the newly colonised abandon their traditions and cater to our needs with their fakes, their quick fixes thus exacerbating the pollution and the degradation.

People of the African diaspora suffered tremendously from colonisation of the mind. They are still unable to disentangle themselves from the identity of ‘collective victim’, rooted in the memory of slavery, which falsely gives them a sense of solidarity – a position that engenders further rejection, one which I call the ‘black trap’. This reality can only be transmuted by the knowledge of who these people really are, thus making themselves able to contribute positively to the healing of society. Indeed, their mere presence is already doing just that - making Europe confront its racism. Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela have shown that they can influence and change entrenched attitudes. Mandela was once considered a terrorist. My particular hero has been Aime Cesaire, the great revolutionary politician, poet/philosopher from Martinique who recently died. His revolt against Europe is what worked on me in a subliminal yet positive way. It wasn’t just a revolt against racism, colonialism and the excesses of European culture but a call for a return to our native human values, to recognise that Nature is alive and bounteous and that we should not abuse her. If we do, we abuse ourselves our very Home. Black people still aspire to be accepted. They rightly revolt against injustice but still seek to integrate with the perpetrators of injustice and the gatekeepers of civilisation.

In the English speaking world black people are generally unaware of the contribution of Cesaire. Frantz Fanon, author of the Wretched of the Earth - the bible of the Black power movement in 60s America- acknowledges Cesaire as his mentor. This movement knew about ‘Black is Beautiful’, but alas only on a superficial level. Cesaire’s plea was for a return to native values, to reconnect with Nature and a call for the emergence of a new man with new values. The Black press in Britain, I am told, did not even carry an obituary of the great man. That’s how ignorant we are - unaware of our roots in Mother Africa, home of the Mitochondrial Eve; and Egypt where Pythagoras, the presiding genius of European culture studied for 21 years; unaware that Pythagoras’ teachings were based on Egyptian (and so African) mathematical and religious pantheistic principles.

Despite the West’s great ‘civilization’ we live in fear fanned by those who seek control, or profit [without our consumer society our whole financial structure would collapse]; fear of one another, the outsider, the terrorist. We defend our ‘values’ at all costs - all others must conform. Each fear is symptomatic of the underlying degraded state of the present age.

Blackness and the Dreaming Soul
explores the causes of our current alienation from ourselves and the natural primordial world, unearthing the darkness of the human psyche. It is an attempt to understand how we’ve come to such an impasse. Out of concern for the direction we seem to be heading, it is written hopefully- to shed light on our mutual plight, on the dehumanised, self- destructing and violent world in which we find ourselves. It aims not to be bitter or recriminatory and is offered not just as criticism, for criticism only invites polarization.

Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”
laments the global crisis facing mankind but does not propose a solution. It is true that we have the know-how to deal with the problem but somehow we do not use it. The inconvenient truth is that the outer environment reflects the inner. There must be a change in the mindset. If we hope to bring about change we must first change within. This holds true for the individual as well as for society. What may appear to be essentially a critique of the prevailing Western social, political, economic and globalised Industrial system is rather a plea for a fundamental change in the way we make our reality and so, in human consciousness. The Western system of secular consumerism perpetuates itself through its greed, its multinational corporations, its educational institutions and the media. I was brought up in this system, an Insider/Outsider, a black man caught up in a white culture, the great grandson of a slave, indoctrinated by an English education, a volunteer in the Royal Air Force in World War II, commissioned as an Officer, shot down and a prisoner of war in Nazi Germany for two years. On discharge, I qualified as a Barrister only then to become fully aware that I was an indeed an outsider - no place for black lawyers in the 1950’s. My only choice, it seemed at the time, was to become an actor on the stage of life and also a singer, not without some success. But it was a fickle success. Enoch Powell saw to that. As a cultural activist I set up the first Black arts centre in London in the 70’s only to realise that this was creating even more separation. I was rescued by Aime Cesaire. I toured his epic redemptive poem Cahier d’un Retour au pays natal (Return to My Native Land) for two years in theatres around Britain. This led to me setting up Concord Multicultural arts Festivals in the 80’s, to promote the cultural diversity of present day Britain – a plea for unity in diversity – a plea largely ignored at the time and still not understood today. In my search for identity, meaning and a sense of belonging, I still found myself marginalized all along the way. So I was forced to explore what was wrong with this culture in which I was brought up and bred.

Blackness & the Dreaming Soul
began as an attempt to record my outer journey but as Fate would have it, it became my inner journey of self-discovery and healing. We inherit the systems of our forebears, our culture, so there is no blame here. My book is, I hope, an honest reappraisal of how we make our way in life and an appeal for healing of society and our fragmented and endangered world. We need to reverse the prevailing all-pervasive primacy of mind over Nature. Science and empiricism have been entrenched too long as the ruling principles – an existential reality, the creation of our minds and intellect, unaware of our deeper connection to the earth itself, to Mother Nature and to our true being, who and what we really are - the primordial wisdom of the mystery of Life. But first we have to make that descent into the darkness in order to transcend the dominance of the intellect.

The primacy of mind assumes that Science will solve all our problems. A prominent scientist recently claimed on TV that as Master of the Universe, he hopes one day to discover that over-arching “Theory of Everything” that will answer all our questions about the nature of reality and so solve all our problems; this, whilst claiming that our destiny lies somewhere out there in Space! We are already out there in space! This misconception is typical of the delusion of yet another prominent scientist, that Science will confirm that selfishness is the norm of Nature [survival of the fittest] and that there is obviously no place for co-operation or symbiosis - no place for the existence of a higher intelligence, an absurd position for a University professor responsible for the education of future generations.

Science has replaced Wisdom. It has moved away from the beliefs of the founders of its own discipline - the philosopher/scientist, Aristotle, who saw Nature as one unified whole; Sir Isaac Newton, deeply religious and a practising alchemist. Today we demand empirical proof for everything but all we end up with is theories all of which can be disproved with the passage of time. Scientific theories follow each other in quick succession [see para 3 Holons & Holgrams BDS]. Yet Science still operates within clearly defined parameters of the orthodoxy of the moment; in other words a purely scientific paradigm resists paradigm change. Science only investigates the physical, material nature of the Universe and so only gets answers in mathematical terms – how many molecules, or genes there are in cells, for instance. It cannot explain how information jumps the synapses in the brain, or how something can be both a wave and a particle at the same time even when it can observe it.

Science cannot explain how the information stored in a single cell of DNA is of a magnitude comparable with that stored in a tiny acorn that grows into a massive oak tree; or the extensive abilities in art and in mathematics of children with autism or Savant syndrome like Stephen Wiltshire, despite obvious neurological abnormalities that are found in the left hemisphere of their brains. We surely should be able to deduce that our survival as a species does not depend on rationalism, on our minds alone, or on ruthless competition and control of nature but in living in harmony with Nature and one another.

Some of the most important scientific discoveries have been made when the mind is no longer focused purely on solving the problem. Suddenly the solution mysteriously surfaces. This was the case with Newton and the falling apple; Einstein day dreaming in a tram as it approached another (relativity); James Watson riding a bicycle having viewed- and then appropriated- Rosalind Franklin’s radio photographic work (the DNA double helix); and the dream of August Kekule which led to the development of organic chemistry. Kekule saw a snake dancing and biting its own tail, a vision which led to his discovery of the molecular structure of benzene. He interpreted his dream to mean that the structure was a closed carbon ring and fundamental to organic chemistry. [Textbook of Organic Chemistry 1861]

Scientific enquiry is the orthodoxy - the yard stick on which we base our reality, our sense of being, our future. This is the fundamental flaw. We do not know who or what we are, yet think that we can discover this by our minds alone, only a fraction of which we use in any case. Had the notion of the primacy of Nature prevailed we would not be in the mess we are today. We would fight with all our might to preserve our unique home, Mother Earth, which as we have seen depends on a very delicate atmospheric balance that supports all life; which provides us with everything we need for our survival. We defend our little homes, our countries or cultures, but miss the whole picture – our home is Mother Earth, Mother Nature.

The indigenous peoples of the Earth knew this by intuition. But modern man has abandoned this inner knowledge in favour of empirical proof, something that the New Physics so clearly demonstrates as impossible. The observer influences what he observes: there can be no empirical proof! Yet we ignore the philosophical and existential implications of quantum reality. The theoretical physicist, David Bohm [1], has provided us with a holographic model in which life and inanimate matter are not separate. For Max Planck one of the founders of Quantum Mechanics [2], ‘matter’ implied a bundle of energy which is given form by an intelligent spirit. The Fractal Geometry of the French mathematician, Benoit Mandelbrot [3] comes to the same conclusion – that every thing is enfolded in every thing else, similar to that of the French experimental physicist Alain Aspect [4], that there is an unbroken wholeness or interconnectedness in the Universe. Also there is the new worldview of the transpersonal psychologist, Stanislav Grof [5], that there are no absolute boundaries between body/ego and the totality of existence.

Despite the recent outstanding development in nano-technology, we are still stuck in outdated concepts. Our present explosion in technological knowledge clearly demonstrates that there was (and still is) so much out there of which we were (and still are) unaware by our reliance only the power of the intellect. If we see that what is out there is also our innermost being, we will then know who we truly are and so re-connect to that wisdom beyond description; beyond the duality that divides and bedevils us.

Throughout the ages we have witnessed the indomitable spirit of man, that we have produced great music and great art and are capable of the noblest deeds, the greatest compassion, bravery and achievement, all attributes that stem, not from the intellect, the rational, but from a deeper source, our true natures - the wisdom of our bodies – our autonomous systems and our breath, the umbilical chord that connects us all, all races and all life on our planet to our Mother - Primordial Nature.

1. David Bohm, Wholeness & the Implicate Order
2. Max Planck – the originator of wave/particle duality based on the overtone series in music - that notes jump from whole number to whole number deduced that “‘particle energy’ in the atom changes not gradually but in ‘jumps.’”
3. Benoit Mandelbrot; Fractal Geometry
4. Alain Aspect’s non-locality
5. Stanislav Grof: Holotrophic Breath

Cy Grant, May 2008

Monday, May 12

Failed to Return

Reunited Cy Grant & Joost Klootwijk

BBC London's Special Correspondent Kurt Barling travelled with former RAF Navigator Cy Grant to the town where two of his fellow crew members were killed in June 1943.

Night after night bomber command sent hundreds of bombers towards targets in Germany.

The strategy of saturation bombing to foreshorten the war was a controversial one, targeting as it did so many civilians in German cities, like Hamburg, Frankfurt, Cologne, Nuremberg and above all the infamous raids on Dresden.

Cy Grant ended his two years of officer training in early 1943. He was to join the crew of the Lancaster bomber W4827 as the attacks on Germany’s industrial heartland of the Ruhr mounted.

During this campaign Bomber Command lost around 19,000 airmen, approximately a third of the total losses during the war of 54,378.

The bombing raid on 25 June 1943 was as hazardous as any. Flying high enough to avoid the anti-aircraft defences meant bitter cold. The air gunner had to be constantly alert for German fighters.

Having reached the target of Gelsenkirchen and successfully dropped their bomb load, pilot Al Langille turned for the dangerous trip home. In the early hours of 26 June whilst over Holland the Lancaster was attacked by a German fighter and what seemed like a short hop home, turned into an instant order to bail out.

Unfortunately for the crew, the escape hatch was damaged and couldn’t be opened. But before they had a chance to contemplate what other action to take to get out of the stricken bomber a huge explosion blew the plane to pieces.

“Suddenly I was falling in space and it was like a dream world. I remember being buffeted by the wind and being jolted as the parachute opened. You could hear dogs barking and then the next sensation was a huge shadow looming up in front of you and that was the earth. I hit the ground and began to gather up my parachute as quickly as I could. I found a place in the soft earth of a canal to bury it in case the Germans found it”.

Cy Grant’s description captures the drama of the moment as he realised he was now in occupied Europe.

Two of his fellow crew members didn’t survive the descent. Another four landed at a distance from him. They were all to end up as prisoners of war. Cy Grant was sent to Stalag Luft III. He was in the camp when the famous tunnels of Tom, Dick and Harry were used to spring the so-called Great Escape.

Now 89, Cy Grant explained all this to me in the field outside the small Dutch town of Nieuw Vennep where he landed. By a miracle he’d missed the canal, and possible drowning, by a couple of feet.

Pointing in the southerly direction where he made a dash for cover in the crops nearly 65 years ago, the farmhouse he took refuge in is still clearly visible. Even more extraordinarily the current owner is the son of Mrs Bulk who tended Grant’s wounds in 1943. Mrs Bulk was seven months pregnant with the current owner back then.

Visiting the farmhouse for the first time in 65 years turned out to be an emotional experience. Mr Bulk recalled how his mother had repeated the story so often of the British serviceman who they had tended and then been taken by the Germans that he practically felt like he’d been there in person.

Grant eagerly sought out the spot where the local police officer had placed him on the back of a motorbike so he could be collected by German forces.

Cy Grant recalls this is the first time during the war where he felt being black was a liability. “I mean I was on the back of the motorbike and the Dutch policeman had a revolver in an open holster. I thought should I take it. He turned to me and said I wouldn’t do that if I were you or words to that effect. It was at that moment that it occurred to me that escape would be pretty futile. Here I was with my blue RAF uniform and a black man. You couldn’t stand out more obviously than that.”

Cy Grant, Joost Klootwijk & Dave Perella

In fact the German press made something of Grant’s colour. A newspaper headline described him as an airman of indeterminate race, as if to say look who the British are using to fight their battles.

But there were others on the ground, and who still live close by to the crash site, who remember Lancaster W4827 coming down. Joost Klootwijk was just 11 when parts from the aricraft rained down on his small town. One engine fell through the roof of the Groenveld’s farmhouse, killing Mrs Groenveld outright.

Racing round on his bicycle in the early hours after the crash happened, left a huge impression on the young Dutch boy. “Night after night you would hear the sound in the distance getting closer and closer. Then it was overhead for between 15 minutes and half an hour. Hundreds and hundreds of bombers, all with four engines, it was so loud. Sometimes in the darkness you laid there in fear. But you knew that these men were liberators. I decided years later that I had to find out what happened to those men and I started with Cy Grant’s Lancaster.”

Indeed, we know so much about what happened to Cy Grant’s Lancaster and hundreds of other downed aircraft because so many Dutch people have made it their business to find out. For the team at the Air Crash museum in Aalsmeer the volunteers search for answers because they believe they owe a debt of gratitude to those aircrews.

Piecing together the stories of the 6,500 aircraft that were lost over the Netherlands is just part of the repayment. It’s believed there are still over 2000 aircraft buried in Dutch soil. This museum, which flies the RAF Ensign, is almost exclusively devoted to the air war over the Netherlands and the allied casualties and lost craft that landed on Dutch territory.

Joost Klootwijk is one of these volunteers. He made contact with Cy Grant last year after writing a book about the story of the last flight of Lancaster W4827. Klootwijk, who is a retired airline worker himself from the Dutch airline KLM, has researched dozens of crash sites close to the Schiphol international airport outside Amsterdam.

During WWII it was an important base for the Luftwaffe and the fighter jet that down Cy Grant’s Lancaster probably came from there. The details of all the crashes are extraordinarily still being sought out by family members of the lost crews all these years after the end of the Second World War.

The war may be long over but many questions still remain for the relatives of those still missing in action.

Headstone of crew member Joseph Addison

I asked Joost Klootwijk during our conversation what it meant to finally meet Cy the airman who fell on his village 65 years earlier. The reaction was unexpected.

The 76-year-old Dutchman broke down in floods of tears. Comforted by his wife the only words he could utter were “very emotional”. Like many of his generation he believes that the liberation and peace these men fought and died for should be remembered. There was something of the small boy finally expressing his gratitude with tears.

British Bomber Command crew veterans and their families are now asking that a permanent memorial be raised in London to accord the same respect for these men as given by the likes of the Dutch.

John and Mike Lewis were six and seven respectively when their father was killed aboard a Lancaster shortly after Cy Grant’s plane came down.

I met them at the Air Crash museum which is close by their father’s grave. There is a sense of bitterness from these families that they have to come to the Netherlands to pay their respects to their father annually rather than at a memorial where they might see his name in London.

Robin Gibb speaks passionately about the need for such a token of appreciation and remembrance. I met him at the church of St Clement Danes which is the RAF memorial church. “It’s about support and recognition for what is morally right. We need to be loud and proud for those young lads who laid down their lives to give us the peace that has endured all these years.”

St Clement Danes actually holds all the names of airman who have died in the service of the RAF and this year celebrates its 50th year as the RAF’s “home” church.

Outside, the statue of Air Marshall Sir Arthur “Bomber” Harris is a reminder of the role he played in developing a strategy which was to leave a legacy of controversy. It is this which has perhaps blighted the efforts to remember the sacrifices of these men in the same way as other servicemen and women who lost their lives.

It is ironic that in this week’s Liberation Day commemorations in the Netherlands so much emphasis is put on aircrews as liberators.

Cy Grant was genuinely moved by the reception he received in the Netherlands. He feels it contrasts with the usual treatment he gets in Britain.

Firstly, there are usually raised eyebrows when he says he was an RAF officer during the war. It is often overlooked just how many Commonwealth serviceman, Cy is originally from Guyana in the Caribbean, volunteered for active service on the battlefields of Europe.

He also feels that most people in Britain are now dismissive of the generation who fought against Nazi tyranny and a memorial is long overdue:

“These young men fought for peace not for the perpetuation of war. So any memorial should be seen not as a war memorial but as a peace memorial. These men lost their lives and we fought for Peace.”