How to overthrow oppressive Governments – a guidebook for the Artist Part Two

by Geoff Hall on October 27, 2011

 Part Two – modes of transportation

Everything is fine, but the ship is still headed in the wrong direction’ – Edward De Bono.

Whilst we seem to be celebrating bigger ecclesiastical organisations with greater institutional control, I can’t help thinking of that little gem form Edward de Bono.

We can transfer this analogy of a ship to a train, with a quote from my friend Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.


The mode of transport may be adequate to carry us, but if our direction is wrong then what we create will simply add to the momentum; regress dressed up as progress is still misdirected movement and says something about the power of the illusion and the delusions at work in people.


Train or ship; two mediums, two delivery mechanisms, one a more rapid means of undertaking a journey, the other a leisurely means of travel. The other thing to note is that they travel on different terrains; one fluid the other solid. One is not better than the other, but if all they do is carry freight around the globe, then the mode of transport is limited to the industrial process and has no scope for carrying people, for the human journey or for carrying ideas.

People carry, embody ideas. Ideas have legs.


Freight is an object of commerce, an end in itself, it is its own justification. Somebody somewhere is interested in the price of raw materials or natural resources and hopes to create a fine profit from it, it is an abstract relationship to things and the investor is also distanced from the medium of the journey, the transaction. What if that relationship was to become more personal, that the investment was not in raw materials or natural resources, but in the people carried by those mediums, the ‘modes of transport’?


So, what has this to do with overthrowing oppressive Governments?

The human journey is not to a destination where, on arrival, we no longer have the desire to travel. It is a stopping-off place, not a terminus. The traveller awaits the next mode of transport, the next medium to carry them. Such journeys go undetected by the ‘authorities’, for they neither own the medium, the journey, nor the people travelling by them.


If we consider film as a slow medium and painting as a fast medium, because of how they act on the imagination, the necessity is of allowing as many people as possible to travel, you don’t want freight to overcrowd the lines of communication, whether by rail or sea. You don’t want to attract the train-spotters, whose sole interest is the train and not the journey, the mode of transport. (Is there a variation of this, a breed of ship-spotter, who goes from port to port?) Good art inspires the viewer not to look at the finger, but to where the finger is pointing.


The more people we can entice on the journey, the less influence the freight on the line or ship has. The big question is, in film or painting, are we providing our fellow travellers with enough vehicles to transport them on their journey? An additional question is when they are travelling are the stories of fellow travellers believable, or are they just trying to get you to check out the livery of the carriage and distract you from the view from the window? Yes, sadly there are people who feign the joy of travel, but are actually on a round trip; a circular argument about life, its meaning and their superior knowledge of the medium, the mode of transport.


Geoff at Union Station, LA

Stations are at the places we stay to restore our energy, take in the views, rest a while. Ports are places of transit. We find a hotel or watering hole nearby, a hospitable place replete with fellow travellers, eating, drinking and discussing other watering holes that should be visited. This is not relentless travel for its own sake, it is life, it is an analogy of life!


In the overthrow of oppressive Governments those who provide the means of transport and those who travel by them establish the infrastructure to undermine the grip of freight on our lives and relationships, on our imagination. Our primary concern is not what we can get out of people, but how we can help them on their journey. The journey speaks of freedom, it speaks of the development of wisdom for the journey and this aids others in theirs. Some who travel may be tempted to bring along a little freight, to carry out transactions and air proposals for fellow travellers to acquiesce, to become members of their cargo travel club. Such people stand out in the crowd because of their extra baggage. Their presence changes the environment from hospitable to confrontational (or propositional), for we are no longer equal; some have ‘superior’ knowledge and wish to (ex)change this relationship to Master and acolyte, or in terms of a capitalistic venture, they wish to expand their investment portfolio!


We are here speaking of terrestrial forms of transport, but this is just our starting point. The modes of transport, the means of communication, have been clogged with freight, with cargo; burdened to the point of atrophy. A stagnant population is a compliant population, it collaborates; it is consenting to its own slavery, its own demise, it locks itself up at night safe and sound from any disturbing voices outside.

The answer isn’t to make the freight system more efficient, but to eradicate freight.


As artists we are the oppressive regime’s worst nightmare, for freedom isn’t just talked about but lived under the noses of censors and security services. If your imagination is free to roam, then you will find a place free from oppression. Freedom is not as a license for self-obsession or infatuation, for that is no threat to such Governments – they will allow you to play whilst they tighten their grip – but freedom which declares non-cooperation with evil is like adding yeast to a batch of dough; it rises up, it is changed, it is never the same. Resurrecting spirituality in our day, resurrecting hope is our aim.


The way forward is to develop the artist as well as the network which allows people to travel. We need to understand that diverse delivery systems operate in different ways upon the imagination, some fast, some slow. We need to beware of freight in what we produce; the ‘cause’ isn’t ours after all. This development needs to be the inward journey of the heart in the context of community, for if we stand and work alone we tend towards self-infatuated art, when we need to die to find life, this is the process of spiritual formation.


As Nouwen has written:

Spiritual formation requires taking an inward journey to the heart. Although this journey takes place in community and leads to service, the first task is to look within, reflect on our daily life, and seek God and God’s activity right there…[1]


There’s more to come in the following weeks, as we develop thoughts on how to overthrow oppressive Governments. This is a different kind of investment; it is not abstract and distant, but embodied and personal. This is a call to investors to change the nature of their involvement to a more personal context, local leading to global investment. It is also a call to the artist to stop embracing their own egos and embrace community to create an art which serves others, rather than expresses their ego.


Peace and Love,


[1] Henri Nouwen, ‘Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit.’ Published by SPCK, 2011. p XIX

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