Thumos, Fire In The Belly And A Taste Of Salt – OpEd


Frequently articulated expressions derive from the Greek terms logos and eros, but who has heard of thumos?  Why are the root words of logical reasoning and erotic love so familiar while one that drives us to principled action is virtually unknown?

In her introductory remarks to the first annual David Ray Griffin lecture on 3 December, 2023, writer and researcher Elizabeth Woodworth highlighted the concept of thumos, which she defined as the inability to tolerate injustice without taking action.  She ascribed the term to the late David Ray Griffin, one of the premier intellectuals and courageous truth seekers of our time, whose death a year ago went wholly ignored by major media.  She suggested that those who exert imperial control would prefer we not pay too much attention to thumos or those who exhibit it.

The machinations of empire were put on display by that day’s featured lecturer: Swiss historian and peace researcher Daniele Ganser, author of USA: The Ruthless Empire.  Ganser asserted that wars and deception go hand in hand, that it’s not enough for the peace movement to be anti-war, it must also confront the lies that trigger wars, so that underlying root causes can be addressed nonviolently.  He gave several examples, including the lies of the official 9/11 story that set the United States’ deadly war on terror in motion with merciless attacks on Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria.

For publicly pointing out in 2006 that World Trade Center building 7 must have been brought down by controlled demolition that fateful day, thus indicating a major cover-up at minimum, Ganser had to either muzzle himself or leave his fledgling career in establishment academia.  He resolutely chose the latter and to this day has not shied away from controversy in the pursuit of peace and justice.  Ganser’s expression of thumos is evident in the three core values he strives to live by:  courage, truth and love.

Frequent TMS contributor and former UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Occupied Palestine Richard Falk also participated in the David Ray Griffin lecture program and discussion.  Falk has repeatedly documented and exposed Israeli apartheid, crimes against humanity and genocidal intent in defiance of international humanitarian law and with consistent backing by the US.

We are seeing extraordinary thumos in Palestinians who resist occupation and refuse to be driven from their homes in a second Nakba that is being unleashed on them with unparalleled ferocity primarily in Gaza but also in the West Bank.  They deserve our support and solidarity in their struggle for survival, fairness and self-determination.

To those who cry out: ‘But what about Hamas’ brutal attack’? historian Ilan Pappé wisely asserts one can condemn the violent acts of 7 October without invalidating the justice of the Palestinian liberation struggle.  Israel meanwhile uses this incident to absolve itself of all responsibility for past oppressions and provide a pretext for more atrocities.  Pappé was forced out of an academic career in his native Israel many years ago for bravely speaking the truth.

Thumos exists in all of us, and although imperial powers go to great lengths to suppress it, gaslighting some and assassinating others like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., who embody it and spread it, they cannot extinguish it completely.  So we must recognize it and re-kindle it wherever we can.

Recall the determination of the founding Swiss fathers who gathered in 1291 in the forest clearing of Rütli, swearing a solemn oath to free themselves from the tyranny of the Hapsburg Empire. Five hundred years later German poet, playwright and historian Friedrich Schiller beautifully and powerfully memorialized that story in Wilhelm Tell, the last play he wrote before his untimely death at age 46 at the dawn of the 19th century following revolutionary fervor in the US and France.   Irene Eckert has offered evidence to suggest Schiller was murdered for his subversive writings which reminded people of his day that empires are not invincible.

The Haitian revolution also broke out at that time.  In 1791 Haitians convened their own version of Rütli, when enslaved people gathered in the forest of Bois Caiman in the north of what was still called Saint Domingue, determined to free themselves from slavery and colonialism,  establishing the first free republic in the Western Hemisphere in 1804.

Imperial powers have been sabotaging the fulfillment of the Haitian revolution ever since, including US military interventions over the past hundred years.  The US and its allies are currently propping up an illegitimate and repressive regime in Haiti, and this small island nation is home to one of the largest US embassies in the world.

I’ve been to Haiti several times since the 2004 US-backed coup d’état, learning from and supporting local grassroots movements there, and have experienced the fierce determination of Haitian people to continue the fight for their freedom and dignity.

I’m often asked, why does the US care so much about controlling Haiti?  Sure, keeping Haitians poor and destitute ensures a steady supply of cheap sweatshop labor, and Haiti also has abundant mineral and oil resources.  But the real threat to the US Empire is the proliferation of thumos, that deeply ingrained, spirited love of truth, justice and freedom that Haitians tasted over 200 years ago and refuse to give up.

The Haitian Kreyol term for thumos is gouté sel, or tasting salt, originating from the literacy campaigns of the early Lavalas movement of the 1980’s.  In Haitian mythology zombies are the walking dead manipulated into passive submission, but when given a taste of salt, they awaken to the deeper stirrings of their truth and freedom-loving humanity.  The watchword of the Lavalas movement in Haiti is tout moun se moun, or every person is a human being, recognizing we are all valued members of the human family, deserving of dignity and respect.

David Ray Griffin, Daniele Ganser, Richard Falk, Ilan Pappé, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., the founding Swiss fathers, Friedrich Schiller and the people of Haiti and Palestine are just a very small sample of people valiantly displaying the inability to tolerate injustice without taking action.

Recognize and nurture thumos wherever you can.  Fan the fire in your own belly and give people around you that taste of salt.  Support brave resisters, peacemakers and truth tellers.  Join with them wherever you can.  It’s not always easy and there are risks.  There is strength in numbers, and as more and more speak out and take principled action together, the risks diminish while the potential benefit for the human family increases.

May you be fueled by courage, truth and love.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) 

Marilyn Langlois

Marilyn Langlois is a member of TRANSCEND USA West Coast. She is a volunteer community organizer and international solidarity activist based in Richmond, California. A co-founder of the Richmond Progressive Alliance, member of Haiti Action Committee and Board member of the International Center for 9/11 Justice, she is retired from previous employment as a teacher, secretary, administrator, mediator and community advocate.

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