Power and powerless

September 14-15, 2020, Delta flight 234 New York - Israel

Coffee is served, but on the domestic flights coffee cannot be served. It was explained to me that serving coffee involves contact which we must avoid due to the Virus. And yet before boarding the domestic flights a voice advises us that no coffee will be served on board but you may purchase coffee before boarding and bring it with you. And yet that coffee too was served by human hands.

Does the world make sense? Do we have the power to control our own destinies, our own fate? After all, the study of Self-Defense is about Control. We want control over our lives. We study and train in self-defense so as to gain control over our own destiny. I have met those who feel this field of study is unnecessary as Fate will determine whether or not you will be harmed, so why bother. 

Years ago I was informed that I was a Control Freak, I had been unaware of this. Control Freak? I don't think so, I just want to not be controlled by others, by outside events, by forces that I do not accept as having any rights over my soul, or body. I simply want to be free; free from tyranny, free from outside control. My mind is my own, my thoughts are my own, I will not allow them to be corrupted and distorted by outside influences. Perhaps that is why I was so profoundly touched by Henry David Thoreau's "Walden Pond". He went to the forest, to the pond, to live deliberately, to live free of society and its rules, to live naturally with nature. 

A man walks down a darkened hallway, he tries one door after another, but none will open! He begins to feel the pressure, the desperation. He feels trapped, he needs to meet someone, he must be there for his appointment but he does not know which door is his. His anxiety builds as soon he will be reprimanded for being late, but he has no control over these events.

It is now 2020, our government meets today, who shall work and who shall not work, who shall prosper and who shall see his business destroyed. Before our Divine Day of Judgment and the question of Who shall Live and Who shall die, our earthly government will decide our fate here. 

We feel powerless. 

Thoreau wrote of Civil Disobedience, he wrote of freedom. 

These past few months we have seen our world in a new light. Overnight our lives were turned upside down. We feel powerless. But there are those who behind the scenes control everything. We pay our dues and are taught to believe in The System but there are those who do not play by the rules, they pull the strings and make the puppets dance. We laugh but the joke is on us. We pay the taxes, the fees, the commissions, but our lives mean little to those with power. We are the great Powerless. And we face a world where the truth is hidden behind layers of bureaucracy. 

Enter Kafka, a man troubled and tormented enough to see the Truth. In "The Trial", "Der Prozess", our hero is played by Josef K. On his 30th birthday, without warning, he is arrested; "For without having done anything wrong Josef K was arrested". He is arrested by two unidentified agents, from an unspecified agency for an unspecified crime. Such is our lives. We do not know what we did wrong, or who is judging us. He is told by one of the agents that the higher authorities that arranged his arrest must be quite well informed about the reasons for your arrest. 

Josef K admits he does not know the law yet he claims that he is innocent. The men arresting him mock him; if he admits that he does not know the law, than how can he claim innocence?

Josef asks, The real question here is - Who accuses Me?

Even our hero is not fully identified, he is merely Josef K, like John Doe, an unmarked citizen, he could be any one of us. 

Small time bureaucrats cannot solve the problem for it is larger than them and they are just cogs in the system. Kafka points out the absurdity of it all, the mundane nature of life that we struggle with. In another of his works he writes of a man turned into a huge insect, the word he uses (in German) is Ungeziefer (vermin). Interestingly enough this is the same word used by the Nazis 13 years later, but Kafka was ahead of his time.

Josef K is a banker by profession. As such he is used to logic but this does not prepare him for the legal world he is entering. He is told to expect that the legal proceedings may last for months. We, the readers, see that the bureaucracy is a farce, there is no chance of a fair hearing, he, and all of us, are trapped in a nightmare. As Josef K tries to navigate through this nightmare he encounters several people who might be able to help him, if he is capable of understanding them, which ultimately he is not. There are three women. Some scholars see significance in Kafka's use of 3.  All three women present challenges and all try to seduce him, but all also offer hints of how he can survive this ordeal. As a banker he is not receptive to these hints and he misses them. 

The three women give Josef K hints, that the law is false. He has to learn how to handle the court, but not in the way that he thinks. Josef K tries to fight the law but in the end fails. Kafka scholars see importance in the number three over here. The painter of the court, whom he is advised to see, also uses 3, as in there are 3 ways to go with this case, three possible outcomes of the trial; Definite acquittal, (almost never happens, so lets' forget about that one), ostensible acquittal, (basically they let you go but you may be called back at any moment), indefinite postponement. 

Josef is ordered to appear at the court the coming Sunday, so as not to interfere with this work at the bank, but he is not told what room, or time. After searching for a while and feeling frustrated he sees a young woman washing clothing, she points him in the right direction without even asking him what he is looking for and tells him to shut the door after he goes in, "nobody else must come in!". He finds the court in the attic. This is highly symbolic and suggestive of the unclear and unfair nature of the procedure, of our lives. Josef K is severely reproached for being late. "You should have been here an hour and five minutes ago, I am no longer obliged to hear you now....such a delay must not occur again, now step forward...Now then, you are a house painter". Josef is in fact a banker. 

Josef tries to argue that the entire trial is absurd, he is passionate in his plea but only angers the assembly and arouses further hostility. Josef climbs up the podium to face his accuser on equal footing. Josef states that what is happening to him is happening to many others, his is just  a single example of a policy that is being directed against many others as well. Josef takes control of the situation, he takes back the power and is about to leave on his own terms, rather than waiting to be dismissed. The judge stops him and gets the last word; you have now thrown away any chance you might have had, by refusing to be part of the process you have flung away all the advantages which an interrogation infers upon an accused man.

Again we are confronted with a world where one cannot argue for justice, where one cannot even understand the charges that life brings against us. Josef tries to meet the judge in person but only can find the attendant's wife. As he searches for someone who can help him he finds that the courts are all in attics, in a seedy part of town, inhabited by women who try to seduce him. Josef soon discovers that there is no way to get a fair hearing other than by going through non kosher methods;  he finds a world that makes no sense and is impervious to reason. 

Judges are not just, they are seduced by women, bribery. Our hero faces an Ambiguous unknown charge, he is arrested without justification, executed without proof. Predicting the totalitarian states of the USSR and Nazi Germany Kafka is calling into question the legitimacy of any political order to pass judgment over an individual. In fact the whole notion of judgement is being called into question.

Josef is told a parable by a priest, about a door, and a guard, a man waits for a very long time, a lifetime outside an open door, but he cannot enter. The door is open but he cannot enter. The doorkeeper tells him that he cannot go through at the present time, it is possible to go through but not now, "jetzt aber nicht". The man waits outside the door for years, bribing the doorkeeper with everything he has. The doorkeeper explains that the bribes are of no use but he keeps them anyway "So that you do not think you have left anything undone", again, a powerful message about our daily lives. The story continues, and soon the man is very old, on the verge of death, still waiting outside the open door. Just before the man's death he asks the doorkeeper why no-one else has ever gone through that door all these years. The doorkeeper answers, "No one else could ever be admitted here, as this gate was made only for you. I am now going to shut it". And so life ends in utter frustration as the opportunities were never seized, the open door was never entered even though that door was created only for us. There is a powerful message here. Have we done all we can to live life to the fullest?

Josef K 's ordeal teaches us that attempting to defend your innocence is not the best method.  The system itself is the problem and everything is a farce, thus logical defense is useless. The charges are artificial so the defense can only be artificial. The notion of justice is not going to help him. The entire court proceeding is a farce, so logic is useless. 

Professor George Steiner of Geneva University looks at the issue here as "Power relations" in which the individual is crushed, and always found guilty. He sees Kafka as having a disturbingly prescient vision of a future where the individual is powerless against the machine. Kafka died young and did not see his vision come true, but it did. Steiner's father had the vision to leave Europe just in time. Of Steiner's class, only he and one other Jew survived the war. 

Kafka suffered during his life and was tormented, he wanted his writings burned after his death. Fortunately his friend saw the value and did not honor this request. 

Life is a power struggle, and a balancing act, we certainly are at a disadvantage but we work hard to overcome and achieve personal freedom. Our training in Krav Maga is an act of personal empowerment, while there is so much we will never understand and never be able to control, this is one area when we can be our own masters and take a part in shaping our destiny. 

Kafkaesque Martial Arts

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