tideshift

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Hypocrisy

The hypocrisy of it all is perfect. Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita says, of the source for the Koran desecration story: "People are dead because of what this son of a bitch said. How could he be credible now?" This despite the fact that the world knows American troops continue to abuse prisoners all over the world in all sorts of ways, violating international and American law.

Thousands of Americans, Iraqis and Afghani's are dead because of what another "son of a bitch" said. President Bush lied, and his lies were amplified by Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice and others. How can they be credible now? America must impeach.

Accountability for Muslim Riots

In all the uproar over Newsweek's report of the desecrations of the Koran by American troops --Pentagon and White House denunciations of the magazine, Newsweek's retractions -- where is the outrage over the desecrations themselves: part and parcel of ongoing abuse at Gitmo, Abu Ghraib and other American-run prisons around the globe? The world's Muslims have been provoked to deadly violence by the actions of American troops with weapons, led by Commander-in-Chief Bush, not American reporters wielding pens and following stories. The rioters are not protesting Michael Isikoff; they are infuriated by American violence directed against their people and their culture. When are Americans going to hold the Bush Administration accountable for the justified outrage of the world's Muslims? The military's actions are wrong, not the fact that we now know about them.

Friday, May 13, 2005

MS-13 and U.S. Foreign Policy

The recent article - “Federal anti-gang bill draws sharp debate” - in the Bridgewater Courier-News, barely scratched the surface of America’s growing gang problem and its relationship to the war in Iraq. In the early 1980s, John Negroponte was Reagan’s ambassador to the Honduras. In that job, he helped coordinate the delivery of $6 billion worth of funding, guns, and training for brutal paramilitaries in El Salvador that terrorized the entire population and killed 70,000 El Salvadoran citizens between 1981 and 1992.

Thanks to that American support, fueling protracted civil wars, many civilians fled from El Salvador and other Central American countries, bringing their children north through Mexico to California, where they settled as refugees, traumatized by witnessing torture, rape, shootings and other terrible violence. These children started gangs like Mara Salvatrucha-13 (MS-13) in Los Angeles. After the 1992 LA riots, America began deporting young gang members back to El Salvador, where they had no way to connect to the culture and even fewer opportunities to build decent lives than in the ghettos of American cities. Recruiting has continued both in Central America and in the U.S., forcing the whole region to deal with crimes committed by violent young men – a problem created by U.S. policy.

About six months ago, reports stated the Pentagon was preparing to fund a similar paramilitary program in Iraq, as a means to fight the “insurgents” – Iraqi fighters killing members of the American occupying force and Iraqis, and blowing up the parts of Iraq’s infrastructure left standing after two years of American “shock and awe.” At the time, John Negroponte was the U.S. ambassador to Iraq. So it goes: our blind leaders try over and over again to stop violence with more violence, and in 10 years or so, the brutalized children of Iraq will be full-grown international terrorists.

There are no “quick fix” solutions; throwing young gang members in jail or deporting them to be jailed abroad won’t help. We need to look at the problems in the same generational way they were created, and start caring for children in real ways, so they don’t grow up twisted into believing that slaughtering is power. Hard to do when slaughter-power is the only example our national foreign policy ever sets.

Financial Planning v. Child Care

Advising younger workers to start saving early – for their children’s college tuition and for their own retirement – is certainly a nice idea. But there’s an elephant in the room that I’ve never seen covered in any financial advice forum: the huge costs of child care, which can eat up 25% or more of a young couple’s annual income even among college-educated, professional workers. The problem is much, much worse for high-school educated, low-income service workers.

In many high cost of living areas (including New Jersey, where we live), high quality, full-time day care for infants, toddlers and preschoolers can cost $9,000 per year or more. When I attended Penn State University 10 years ago, that was the combined cost of in-state tuition, room and board. Unlike college costs, there are no Pell Grants or Stafford loans to help young parents pay for child care; the tuition must be paid immediately out of wages. And that’s a good thing, because if there were loans, we’d still be paying off our own college loans and our children’s day care loans in our 40s, putting off home-buying, college saving and retirement saving for another decade or two.

The upshot is, Generation X and Y workers cannot squeeze more savings from their budgets for long-term needs until America implements a significant national child care program that really recognizes the importance of all parents’ contributions to the work world, and the importance of high quality day care for our kids.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Global Competition and the No Child Left Behind Act

The relationship of the No Child Left Behind Act to rising global competition for work. Economists speak of a developing “level playing field” as jobs move to countries like China, India and Pakistan where well-trained, English-speaking workers attract cost-cutting, profit-seeking American corporations. But the level playing field isn't, because the cost of living and wages are so much lower everywhere other than U.S., and America is adjusting to the new competition by cutting wages, without addressing cost of living issues at all. See: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/06/opinion/06friedman.html?n=Top%2fOpinion%2fEditorials%20and%20Op%2dEd%2fOp%2dEd%2fColumnists%2fThomas%20L%20Friedman Is it the beginning of the end of work altogether for Americans, and if so, what will we do, other than join military contracting firms to do international police work? Interestingly, today's flooding of America with cheap Chinese textile imports (killing the textile manufacturing base in the American South) is one example of the "goes around, comes around" phenomenon. The Industrial Revolution of the mid-1800s saw the reverse: machine-made textiles flooded the Far East, destroying the livelihoods of craftspeople there. It's payback time.

Project for the New American Century

1) What's the relationship of the Project for the New American Century to the School of the Americas? Is it even possible to spread democracy at gunpoint, is that what the Bush Administration is up to, or are they (as they say) working only to prevent the rise of a rival? See http://www.newamericancentury.org/statementofprinciples.htm

The post-nation-state future appears to be shaping up as a regional system, in which natural resources from South America and Africa are processed by intellectual and manual labor from China, India, Pakistan and Central America and global military contracting and consumption are the domain of North America and Western Europe. The relative comfort level enjoyed by Americans – beds, food, hot showers, clean water, cars - begs the question: How is military dominance going to bring those things to the poorest of the poor, when we need them to stay poor to keep the cheap labor flowing? And how do we flip the equation, so that we no longer see the purpose of people as minimizing the cost of doing business, but rather the purpose of business as meeting the needs of people? The inversion can be traced to Ancient Greece: the debasement of everyday, life-sustaining labor and the elevation of long-lasting product- based intellectual and artistic work. See: http://www.iep.utm.edu/a/arendt.htm#The%20Human%20Condition

Why We Don't Need the Draft Back

July 2, 2004

In the Washington Post on July 1, Noel Koch made the case for “Why We Need the Draft Back.” He argued: “we do not have enough men and women in our armed forces. Reliance on reserves and the National Guard is creating strains along the socioeconomic spectrum and is not an endlessly sustainable expedient. If we are to fight elective wars, as we are told we must, we need more men and women on active duty.”

War, as humans killing one another using simple or complex killing tools, cannot be an “endlessly sustainable” enterprise. Eventually, everyone will be dead.

We need not fight elective wars: by definition, they are chosen wars, and American citizens choose them, through our elected government if it is responsive, and through our silent, tacit cooperation if our elected government is unresponsive. No one tells American citizens what to do – no one other than American citizens.

Koch made other points: that joining the Army in 1957 was, for him, one of many expectations to fulfill – like marriage and having children – and he suggested that the draft “shattered class distinctions,” although he listed numerous examples of clashes between rich and poor soldiers during training and on active duty.

Most distressingly, he suggested that because of the draft, “[c]lass lines blurred and so did racial lines. The military did more to advance the cause of equality in the United States than any other law, institution or movement.”

This is a shocking insult to the courageous, and non-violent, work of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement he led, which included outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War as immoral, racist and exploitative, until his tragic assassination.

It is a shocking denial of the current state of race relations in America, where black voters are still systematically denied the right to participate in democracy; where the racist legal system still disproportionately imprisons black and Hispanic males; where the racist economy still puts the burdens of unemployment and affordable housing shortages overwhelmingly in black and Hispanic communities; where racist school segregation is widespread and growing; and where the military still focuses recruitment efforts in poor black and Hispanic neighborhoods whose inhabitants – for all of the above reasons – see no possible route out of poverty other than learning to kill on command.

It is also a willful denial of the current state of class relations in America, ignoring the well-documented fact that for the past several decades, wealth has been flowing up the pyramid, out of the hands of the poor and middle class and into the hands of the wealthiest few.
Koch argues that draftees went home after Vietnam with “an investment in America not shared by those who did not serve” and suggests that readers “try to find a draftee who regrets his service to America.”

It is a lie to suggest that love of country depends upon killing in the name of one’s country; love and killing are incompatible. But perhaps Koch was not referring to the investment of love, but to an investment in war, in promoting war ideology, to retroactively justify the wars of the past by recreating them in the present. Such an investment would probably not be shared by non-combatants.

It is also a lie to erase from history and current events the thousands of Vietnam veterans who came home deeply scarred by what they had seen and done, full of incisive, vital questions about why they had been sent to Vietnam to begin with, and deeply committed to non-violent work against the Vietnam war and all war.

Many of those veterans were active in the movement against the first Gulf War. Many of them are active in the movement against the current war and occupation in Iraq. And many experienced military leaders who did not become pacifists during Vietnam nonetheless had grave reservations about our current elective war – before it was launched right up until the present day. They have written and spoken eloquently about the damage done to America’s moral standing and credibility in the world. Their speeches and letters have been filled with regret about atrocities committed by America’s military in America’s name.

Koch argues that America needs a new draft “to honor, and to even out, the sacrifices we call upon our young to make for our nation.” For American pacifists, however, there is nothing honorable about killing human beings, and we have no right to sacrifice the lives of our children on the altar of more killing. Our duty is the opposite: to make peace a present reality through peaceful means.

Hard Facts

October 18, 2004

I read a lot. Sometimes, I watch Bill Moyers’ NOW, or tune into Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now. But most of my world knowledge comes from books, and from news magazines in print and on-line, primarily journals at the political center or left.

It’s a truism that the Information Age has narrowed the range of ideas to which any one person is exposed. We have intimate control over our information choices, making it unlikely we’ll hear an opinion that doesn’t mesh with our own, or facts that might undermine our opinions.

Moreover, the Bush Administration has buried the concept of “fact” as a verifiably true piece of information. Under Bush’s fact-obliterating leadership, many people support him by denying all factual evidence about his damaging impact on international relations, global financial stability, the American economy, public health, the environment and the principles of law. Still, the reality of the human mess can’t remain out of consciousness forever. Deforested landscapes, sickened family members and wounded friends will someday smack even the most dedicated denialist right into the search for genuine solutions meeting the needs of even the weakest stakeholders.

In general, liberals want to hear as many different perspectives as possible, and therefore must evaluate and reconcile complex and often contradictory views. So stubborn is my liberalism, I even think there must be a nugget of truth to conservatism, despite the many conservatives who either yell or maintain a tight-lipped silence, and those who ignore not only facts but people who cite facts.

But the debate-defying twist of political philosophy is that conservatism historically espouses the “My way or the highway” stance, stifling all voices pointing to the highway or a third way. It’s a recipe for stagnation. Ingenious, it also perfectly coalesces large groups of people around simple lodestars. I can’t blame the millions of American fundamentalists – nor fundamentalists in any country – who are drawn to that illusion of security, however dangerous it is long-term. Without the real security of a world that works for everyone, illusory security is, for many, a tolerable second best

These days, much American public discourse shines through a conservative lens – executive, legislative and judicial branches, covered by a deeply conflicted media seeking to be both fulcrum of power and watchdog of liberty. Forgotten is that media power, like government power, is on loan from the People, whose rights both have sworn to protect.

It’s a strange time for the open-minded: barely tolerated, but yapping nonetheless. The personal costs are considerable. Yapping about facts, deriving moral arguments from facts, asking conservative family and friends how they conclude that the war is just, tax cuts to the rich help the poor, trade deficits are stimulating, undermining environmental controls is good, eliminating the collective power of seniors will bring us all better health care and so on – people get mad. They can’t back up those arguments, and they don’t even try. Their goal is not to convince non-believers, so they needn’t seek common ground as a starting point for persuasion. Their goal – to bolster their own convictions through repetition – requires no thought, only short-term memory. The spaces between us widen.

For now, the conservative cocoon is snug and warm. But the pupae aren’t growing, because growth requires change, change requires loss of conviction, and loss the conservative pupae cannot tolerate; they are a living dead. Out in the uncomfortable cold, where the facts gleam sharp and hard, and our skin is thin, we are bleeding, but we are also learning, growing, adapting, and struggling. And out here, there’s room for more than one.

Us or Them

October 11, 2004

At my local Borders recently, I spotted Ann Coulter’s new book: “How to Talk to a Liberal.” I know little about Coulter’s arguments and the facts she chooses to support them. I know she is a conservative, with great contempt for liberals.

Seeing the book triggered afresh the feeling of alienation brewing ever since President Bush declared there were only two ways to react to September 11: “either with us, or with the terrorists.” He set a tone, and split humanity into mutually enraged factions labeled good and evil, right and wrong.

It’s election season, and although I’m young, my elders confirm they’ve never seen Americans so bitterly divided. Brother against sister, parent against child, husband against wife, neighbor against neighbor: few people look upon those who disagree with them, tolerate the differences and celebrate the similarities. Instead, to many Kerry supporters, anyone who even considers voting for Bush is profoundly ignorant and certifiably insane. To many Bush supporters, anyone planning to vote for Kerry is unforgivably naïve. We live in a terrible world of mistrust and fear, of people plotting to attack us again, and of each other. We have no faith in the basic goodwill of our wildly lively and diverse fellow citizens.

Both major candidates claim they will keep us safe, but the truth is, no one really can. Closed or open, any society in which weapons are available, and fear and hatred are fed by neglect and abuse, is vulnerable to violent eruptions of human despair. We are in danger from automatic weapons in fast-food restaurants, Stinger missiles fired at passenger planes, nuclear bombs smuggled into container ships, and so are the people of every country. Those who plan and carry out such attacks are sometimes members of radical Islamic sects, and sometimes white supremacists; they come in all colors and ideologies.

So when evaluating the relative credibility of the two tickets, it’s worth remembering that no candidate has yet courageously stated the overarching truth of our universal human vulnerability.

There will be a morning after November 2. Riven as we are, the winners will stalk triumphant and relieved; the losers will struggle to accept the result, convinced it’s a colossal collective mistake.

One man will face both contingents, and his job will be made harder by the “us or them” context. With luck, his first days in office will include a genuine effort to heal the split, to acknowledge in word and demonstrate in deed the importance of tolerating reasonable differences of opinion about how our nation and our species can best move on in time.

There will also be a morning after war, when the futile effort to prove might makes right will have been abandoned. Our souls already live there; our bodies do not.

It won’t arrive soon, yet it remains an inevitable evolution. When faced with complex problems, we’ve learned to break them into small, manageable steps. But with war and peace, we seem paralyzed, overwhelmed by the magnitude of the distance between them. We may want to “love our enemies,” but it’s too hard to even love ourselves and those closest to us. Forget loving killers.

Perhaps the job of our human generation is not to love our enemies, nor even to like each other. We need not perfectly emulate Christ’s infinite patience, tolerance and generosity. For us, toddlers of human history stuck in the global tantrums of our terrible twos, the task may be to learn one lesson: No hitting.

Not all or nothing, just an increment: baby steps. It will be hard enough, and enough of an achievement.

The Purpose of the Military

October 5, 2004

Rush Limbaugh made me a pacifist.

Sometime during the run-up to the war in Iraq – during an exchange of violent e-mails among the pro-war and anti-war factions of my family – my mother asked me why I was a pacifist.

Every few weeks, I joined hundreds of thousands of civilians in New York City, Washington DC and other cities to march through the streets. We bore public witness to the fact that there was no evidence of an imminent threat, that the reasons proffered to the American public and the United Nations were bankrupt.

We had no special access to information; we simply acted as a grand jury. The prosecution had no evidence; we could not indict. We refused to stand silently complicit as our leaders condemned tens of thousands of Iraqis to death for having a tyrannical dictator and millions of barrels of oil.

Daily, we hear excuses from the Bush Administration. They defend the preemptive attack by claiming “everyone” was misled. As the original arguments for war fade in our national memory, replaced by the noble myth of building democracy, remember, not everyone was misled. Those who saw and spoke up for the truth were ignored, or vilified, as they are in every war.

I’ve tried to trace my path to pacifism. Years ago, I read The Beatitudes in the New Testament, and biographies of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. I gained inspiration from those visionaries, supporting a belief I already held: a hard-to-articulate conviction that all things are connected and what hurts one hurts all.

Chris Hedges’ amazing book “War is A Force That Gives Us Meaning,” reminded me of a turning point, though. One of Hedges’ points is that only soldiers, victims and war journalists can truly understand the horror of war, because they alone directly experience war’s brutality, fear, stench, blood and moral maelstrom. Everyone else, ignorant of the reality and slaves to the myth, eagerly jumps on the nationalist war bandwagon, he implies.

But you don’t need to see war to imagine it. When I went to college in 1992, I was a staunch but lonely conservative in liberal Greenwich Village; I would sneak into the student lounge late at night to watch Rush Limbaugh. The big issues were gays in the military and women in combat. Rush would repeat: “The military is not the place for social experiments. The purpose of the military is to kill people and break things.”

Such simple tasks are not hard to visualize. I can imagine burning up in the fiery inferno of an American bomb exploding an apartment building, and the flesh-ripping impact of an American bullet through my heart. I’ve seen photographs and read the stories of real people who not only imagined such horrors, but lived and died them.

I studied philosophy and science, slowly breaking out of the adolescent rugged individualism phase into a worldview that grants moral stature even to those who suffer and have bad luck. I learned from philosophy that humans crave meaning in our experience. From physics, I learned every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

Combining the two lead me directly to the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have done unto you. We look to each other from birth to old age, for models of behavior and sources of meaning. Thus, since I do not want a bomb to blow up my home, nor a bullet to tear out my heart, I did not, cannot, and pray I will never support my government’s call to inflict that damage, death and despair on other human beings.

Reciprocity in Foreign Affairs

May 24, 2004

Perhaps we do not yet think of war as something violent that we do to one another by choice, and perhaps we do not believe we can choose something else. It is; we can.

In a March 2003 essay in the New York Times, Paul Berman presented a detailed analysis of the philosophy of Sayyid Qutb, “the intellectual hero of every one of the groups that eventually went into Al Qaeda, their Karl Marx…their guide.” One of Qutb’s main objections to American civilization was the separation of church and state; in Berman’s analysis: “the modern political legacy of Christianity’s ancient division between the sacred and the secular.”

In his concluding passage, Berman remarked: “It would be nice to think that, in the war against terror, our side too speaks of deep philosophical ideas…The terrorists speak insanely of deep things. The antiterrorists had better speak sanely of equally deep things.”

Berman correctly stressed the importance of ideas to the building of a terror-free world, a world of peace. Policy is the mechanism by which ideas take on physical form, through actions. The rubble of the World Trade Center leads to Qutb’s ideas, via the policies developed by Osama bin Laden to bring those ideas into tangible reality.

The rubble of Baghdad, dead Americans and dead Iraqis, pornographic prison photos – all point to ideas at the root of America’s identity, truths and distortions of Christian, Cartesian and Jeffersonian ideas, brought into physical reality by the policies of the Bush Administration.

The biggest differences, however, are not between the source ideas Bush and bin Laden reference in their policy decisions, but between people who teach others to live their principles and people who order others to kill for them. The ideas needed to transform our violent world into a peaceful one are not forthcoming from either the terrorists or the American right wing.
The core teaching of the world’s great spiritual leaders, past and present, is simply to live the powerful principle of reciprocity: do to others as you want done to you, and don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you. Many people already live by this principle privately. American foreign policy can and should embrace the idea of reciprocity internationally. We can and should enact it publicly and collectively now, not later.

This essay explores the current condition of the world as an arena for reciprocal violence, and advocates American leadership in reciprocal non-violence as a new global foreign policy. We can and must go first.

Secular and Sacred

In the version of Matthew 22:16 readily available to the modern reader of the Gospels, Matthew describes an incident in which the Pharisees and Herodians challenge Jesus with the question “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” The question is a trap to lure Jesus into a public statement denying the authority of Roman law over the Jewish people.

According to Matthew, Jesus held up a denarius, the coin used to pay taxes and imprinted with Caesar’s image, and replied: “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

From then to now, this passage has commonly been interpreted to uphold worldly authority, by codifying a separation between state power and divine power. Righteous Christians are called upon to go to school, go to work, pay their taxes, vote and support their government publicly. In their private lives, they should go to church, raise their families, and obey the moral teachings of the Bible as interpreted for them by religious experts.

As conveyed to contemporary American Christians, this view is an implicit endorsement of the capitalist, entrepreneurial ideology: work hard, do your duty, be good, reap your material rewards in this life and your spiritual rewards in the next.

Jesus made no such endorsements of capitalism. He explicitly urged his followers toward voluntary poverty, abandonment of all material possessions and absolute dedication to reciprocal care-giving and service. Jesus denied that earthly power was the prerogative of material power brokers: emperors, soldiers, tax collectors, land-owners. He vigorously argued that all power emanated from the spiritual power of love, of God.

When Jesus said: “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s,” he referred to nothing of importance – neither tax dollars nor patriotic allegiance. When Jesus said: “Render unto God what is God’s,” he referred to everything that mattered, everything that was then and is now. He primarily referred to love: love of man for woman and woman for man, love of parent for child and child for parent, the love of living things for life, the love of created beings for the Creative.

Jesus recognized only one authority – God – and offered his listeners a glimpse of spiritual power exercised and spiritual reward reaped by each soul in this life, now. For Jesus, material power and material goods were irrelevant, as immaterial as the physical body in which his spirit lived for 30-some years.

The inspirational power of Christ’s challenge was tremendously threatening to the Roman occupiers then, all politico-religious hierarchies today, including America’s, and every monarch, dictator and tyrant in between.

To have power, others must acknowledge that you have it. When the ruled refuse to play the game of fear and obeisance, rulers rule no one. When the ruled refuse to postpone joy, their desire to reach joy someday, can no longer be manipulated.

Thus material power-holders and power-brokers work exhaustively to suppress genuinely spiritual messages and to redirect the populations within their tenuous control toward human intermediaries to God and material substitutes for spiritual nourishment. Americans are increasingly subject to this process of mediation and substitution.

It’s not new, but it has been brought to a new level of sophistication; we Americans now limit ourselves to the secular. We think of ourselves as freely choosing, but we don’t see the things we choose between – the cars and stereos, movies and clothes, furniture and foods – as the distraction devices they are. We are only vaguely aware of what we are being distracted from: our own souls and our own unique places within the universe, the sacred.

Subject-Object Dualism

In 1638, Rene DesCartes published “The Discourse on Method,” in which he made the now famous observation cogito ergo sum: “I am thinking, therefore I exist.”

DesCartes did not invent the subject-object split, in which the perceiving subject explicitly understands himself as separate from the objects he observes. Although countless cultures regard humans as an inseparable part of a divine One, the dualistic structure was already embedded within the patriarchal culture in which Jesus lived and taught, and carefully tended throughout the centuries of official Christianity’s misogynistic global power expansion.

DesCartes articulated the old worldview in a format suitable to the culture in which he lived, and his articulation served to intellectually justify that culture’s behavior for another four centuries. His idea became embedded in policies; policies drove actions.

As other modern thinkers developed the subject-object split, alongside the secular-sacred split, humanity has traversed an intensely schizophrenic era defined by manipulation of objects and people. Modern colonialism and modern science ensued: a rapidly progressing effort to dominate and control the natural world without reference to humankind’s absolute identification with that world.

Today – beyond the multiple holocausts of the 20th century and amid the multiple wars and natural disasters of the 21st century – we are living with the violent physical results of those political and scientific policies, derived from that half-truth idea.

There is a subject and an object in all interactions. There is a part and a whole.
The missing half-truth is simultaneously as old as eternity and as new as this millennium. It is pouring into our consciousness from every direction, from quantum physics to peace activism, organic farming to daily newspapers: We are each both subject and object, both part and whole, all the time. What we do unto to others, we simultaneously do unto ourselves.

As Jesus said in Matthew 25:34-40, praising those who feed the hungry, provide drink for the thirsty, take in strangers, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the imprisoned: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me."

Freedom of Religion

In a letter dated January 1, 1802, Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut to calm the congregation’s fears that Congregationalism was soon to be the national religion. Jefferson, referring to the First Amendment to the Constitution, wrote:

“I contemplate with solemn reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”
Jefferson apparently borrowed the expression from Roger Williams, a prominent Baptist preacher, who evoked the Genesis story by describing the Church as a “garden,” the world as a “wilderness,” and suggesting that to regain paradise, God would “wall in” the Church to protect it from the corrupting influence of the world.

Williams and Jefferson were both making the same point: that the American Constitution was designed as a one-way wall to protect the spiritual lives of American citizens from interference by the state.

Today the phrase “separation of church and state” is broadly understood as a two-way barrier. The government cannot forbid or require any individual to practice any particular religion. And individuals are to make no reference to the moral, spiritual and religious precepts that guide their personal lives, once they enter the public sphere to discuss public issues, issues of concern all human beings and the daily acts of our living together.

This distorts the original idea, and makes morality in public life virtually impossible. Jefferson and the other founders were, by all accounts, deeply spiritual men who derived their passion for freedom from their views on the moral dimension of human life. They believed the sacred should inform the secular, and never be subordinate to it. But today, we in America live with a barrier between the two – so frightened of oppression by others that we have chosen to oppress ourselves. It is the same barrier erected centuries ago between men and women, between the subject and the object.

All the barriers we live among are shored up by the same power holders and power brokers, and for the same purpose: to deny the reciprocity principle, to escape the sense of one-ness with those whom ideas, policies and actions impact.

Inscribing Children

Ideas are transmitted on human lives; some have called the ideas “memes” and suggest that humans are mere hosts for ideas, which are themselves controlling evolution. Ideas move people to create policies and to enact them, and those enacted policies are the environments in which human souls take shape: neighborhoods with trees or without, homes and businesses powered by nuclear reactors or wind farms, funding to build, staff and populate schools, or funding to build, staff and populate prisons.

We etch our ideas on our own bodies and on the bodies of others. We learn about what our own parents and the entire elder generation believe through what they create to hold us, through what they do with themselves and with us.

We can look around at our world and see what the ideas of the last few millenia have wrought. American soldiers and Iraqi prisoners, Iraqi fighters and American hostages, have recently and graphically demonstrated the ancient phenomenon of reciprocal violence for the whole watching world.

Driven onto the global stage by the split idea – the subject from the object, the men from the women, the secular from the sacred – we have seen policies of humiliation and destruction transformed into dead bodies, blinded children, legless men, burned women.

The policies bear many names: law enforcement, rules of war, war plans, Geneva Conventions, military doctrines, economic theories, national budgets, trade agreements, United Nations Declarations. Enacting the violence policies costs a great deal of money and material wealth: world military spending in 2002 accounted for 2.5% of world Gross Domestic Product and was $128 per capita, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
In America, the 2004 military budget was $399.1 billion. Spread among our estimated population of 290.8 million, we Americans spent about $1,376 per person, preparing to kill or killing our fellow human beings. The violence budget is rising still.

People are outraged and grief-stricken over the violence in every country; photographs of distraught faces fill the newspapers of Israel and Palestine, India and Pakistan, America and Iraq, Afghanistan and Russia, Nigeria and Argentina.

Yet there is little public inquiry into the precursors of violence. Little inquiry is needed. History and psychology, along with anecdotal experience, are clear about the methods used to create peace-loving, generous adults and the methods used to create violent, selfish adults.
To lead an individual into acts of desperate violence against people and things, adults must immerse children in violent environments from birth: violent families and homes, violent neighborhoods and schools, violent armies and nations.

Adults must ensure children’s poverty – material poverty, spiritual poverty or both. Elders, through culture, must impress upon children and young adults that they have little or no control over their daily environment and actions. Housing for their bodies and souls must be cramped, dirty and noisy. People must be kept perpetually hungry or at least in perpetual fear of hunger; they must be deprived of steady and reliable food and spiritual nourishment.

To create violent human beings, children and young adults must be shown that there are virtually insurmountable obstacles to reaching better diets and better housing, and to developing their intellectual and emotional range of experience and expression.
Above all, children must be demeaned. They must literally be robbed of meaning. At the very least, they must be persuaded to believe they have no meaning, for if they realize their meaning as creatures of life and of love, they can no longer be molded to violence.

Exceptionalism and Conservatism

It is a great tenet of the conservative punditry to remark that there are numerous examples of exceptional individuals who have struggled mightily and risen above violent, impoverished childhoods and become ordinary, “productive” adults, or even reached positions of power, wealth and influence. But an ordinary, productive adult, robbed of access to his soul, is both a victim and a perpetrator of violence. Defining power as the power to control people and resources, defining wealth as material only, defining influence as the manipulative ability, and structuring society to hold only a few positions of power, wealth and influence – occupied by only a few exceptional individuals – is neither good for those people nor good for humanity.
It is a special form of violence, negating spiritual wealth, creative power and inspirational influence.

Another great tenet of conservatism, outlined by Dinesh D’Sousa in the January 2004 essay “In Defense of Conservatism,” published in The American Legion, is that humans are not “innately good.” D’Sousa attributes the naïve vision of innate goodness to liberals, and notes, “Conservatives know better...Conservatives recognize that there are two principles in human nature - good and evil - and these are in constant conflict. Given what Immanuel Kant called "the warped timber of humanity," conservatives seek a social structure that helps to bring out the best in human nature and suppress man's lower or base impulses. "

It’s an intriguing argument, given that one of the most succinct sound bites for conservatism today is Grover Norquist’s intention to “cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”
It is intriguing, contradictory and illogical.

If it’s true that humans have an innately “evil” aspect requiring a social structure to nurture the good half and suppress the bad, then humans require strong regulatory governments empowered and funded to control the excesses of greed, depravation and deprivation to which our mortal flesh is heir.

Alternatively, if it is true that society is best served by complete deregulation, a government drowned in a bathtub, a social structure dismantled, as the Bush Administration is steadily achieving, then it must follow that humans have an innate ability to know right from wrong, to do good and steer clear of bad, and therefore no need for the restraining hand of government as an expression of the people’s will to enact a common morality.

D’Sousa neatly escapes the logic trap by calling upon multiple unelected, non-governmental or military institutions to control errant behavior: "Conservatives support capitalism as a way of steering our natural pursuit of self-interest toward the material betterment of society at large. Conservatives insist that because there are evil regimes and destructive forces in the world that cannot be talked out of their nefarious objectives, force is an indispensable element of international relations. Finally, conservatives support autonomy when it is attached to personal I responsibility - when people are held accountable for their actions. However, they also believe in the indispensability of moral incubators - the family, the church, civic institutions such as the Boy Scouts and The American Legion - that aim to foster civic virtue and show people how to use freedom well. I am a conservative because I believe that conservatives have an accurate understanding of human nature and liberals do not."

Essentially, D’Sousa argues that profit-driven capitalism and capitalist corporations, headed by human executives, backed by government tax breaks and social services, but untaxed and unfettered by government regulation and public oversight, best ensure that material wealth is widely distributed among the working population.

D’Sousa argues that the presence of violence in the global community requires the use of violence by the American members of the global community. He argues that people should be held accountable for their actions, without specifying how. He suggests that “moral incubators” are the best way to instill civic virtue and teach people the proper way to use the natural, divine freedom explicitly guaranteed to all humans by the American Constitution, a document drafted to protect that freedom from usurpation by the governing elite.

A glimpse of today’s America, with our staggeringly large and rapidly increasing gap between the rich and the poor, and our education, housing, health care and prison crises, provides the only rebuttal necessary to the argument that corporate-dominated capitalism serves the common good.

The humiliating and grisly results of our violent force-driven foreign policy provide the only rebuttal necessary to the argument that the projection of American terror abroad is the best way to reverse the spread of international terror. The Bush Administration’s steady use of secrecy, and its’ obstruction of investigations into wrongdoing, provide the only rebuttal necessary to the argument that conservatism supports accountability.

But the rebuttal to D’Sousa’s last point, about “teaching people to use freedom well,” is not so clear.

Freedom

Conservatism speaks deeply to the human experience of having personal freedom curtailed. Freedom is denied to humans in many obvious ways, through imprisonment and torture, through discrimination based on race and sex, through many other mechanisms.

Freedom is also stolen from us in subtle ways. Our freedom is stolen from us as children, when we endure the dampening of curiosity inflicted by our standardized, overcrowded, under-funded schools. Our freedom is stolen from us through the manufacturing of desires for unhealthy and unnecessary products by our advertising industry, and through our susceptibility to physical and mental illnesses from the toxic byproducts of material productivity.

When we reach adulthood, our freedom is stolen from us through the de-spiritualization of work. Our hunger for inspiration, for right livelihood, is cut off at the knees when we each abandon our deepest inner passion and instead go out to find a paycheck.

The bait and switch trick is that conservatism presses a genuine nerve – the yearning for freedom nerve that runs straight up the spine of every living creature, including humans. Conservatism presses the nerve, triggers the pain, and offers paralysis as the cure. It acknowledges people’s pain at deferred dreams; the struggle to eke out a living in a world of plenty; the fear and envy of the neighbors, the immigrants, the Other; the fear of becoming weak and finding no support available in our inevitable hours of need.

Conservatives evoke peoples’ instinctive love for the democratic ideal that the only legitimate government is government freely created “of, by and for the People,” with the goal of protecting each individual’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

In the same breath, a gentle, seductive whisper in the ear, conservatism equates the government the people long to believe in and hold close – to cherish, protect and strengthen as their own power made real – with the oppressor coming to rob them of the freedom that selfsame government was instituted to protect. Conservatism tells people to abandon the ideal, to strangle their democracy, to fight and to kill their government so as to be free of it forever.
Resistance to this idea is very, very difficult.
How does one choose between freedom and freedom?

“We know you want to be more free – more free is what every living thing wants, and there is no end to freedom, so there could always be more of it,” Conservatism calls. “But your power as the People is illusory; the government you have instituted is bloated and invasive. Let it go. ‘Conservatives know better.’ ”

Down the generations from our founding, we Americans have struggled with this suicidal question for a long time: Do we want the freedom of self-Governance, or do we want freedom from Government?

We have also struggled with the companion question: Do we want the freedom to express our deepest spiritual journeys or do we want the freedom to be shut off from the religious expressions of our fellow spiritual travelers?

We have retreated from the gut-wrenching paradox of those questions; we have quietly curled up into the corners of our lives to endure the pain as best we can. We have not coughed up and out the arrogance of the ridiculous proposition that anyone knows better than we each do what we each want and need to be free and grow. We have not nurtured the stirrings within our souls that tell us freedom is never about limitations, that the best government is not no-government.
The best government is government in which literally every citizen presents ideas drawn from his deepest and ever-changing understandings of himself and his humanity, enacts his ideas in his daily life, and reaps whatever the harvest brings in community with the rest.

Reciprocity is a better answer to the ancient cry for freedom. The proposition that humans are innately good is a noble one. It rests firmly on the idea that evil has no objective existence, but is merely the absence of connection-sense, of love, of freedom. Allowing others infinite freedom to sense connection and to love, just as we want infinite freedom to do the same, is an infinitely noble idea.

In a profoundly telling way, reciprocity already is the foundation upon which international experience is built. But what we now reciprocally give and receive is pain, mutual violence and an overwhelming sense of lack, rather than mutual support and an overwhelming sense of abundance.

It need not be so. Global institutions already in existence can be built up to more fully nurture and develop ever more complex and beautiful forms of service, healing, teaching and artistic expression.

Us and Them

With that freedom paradox in mind – “freedom from” vs. “freedom to,” “power over” vs. “power to” – gazing across the smoldering landscapes of our world, it’s important to continue asking why people all over the world hate Americans.

We’ve been told they hate us because we are free. But we aren’t. They hate us because we let the ideal of freedom get buried. We abandoned our power as the People, and when we did that, we simultaneously abandoned them, as strivers after that same ideal. We inherited the torch and we’ve taken it into a cave and hid.

We’ve given away the promise of the freedom ideal for ourselves. We’ve failed to elect leaders who would live the reciprocity ideal, speak it and spread it by example. Instead, we’ve elected leaders who have befouled the ideal by perpetrating violence in our names, upon other humans whom we know to be as divinely created as ourselves. We have devalued ourselves, and human beings everywhere.

That’s the truth reciprocity forces us to face. What we do to ourselves, we do also to them, and what we do to them, we do to ourselves.

With Us or Against Us

Independence from control by others is almost universally the demand made by individuals and groups who use violence for political ends, sometimes called “terrorists,” whether they live and fight in Chechnya or the Philippines, whether they organize themselves locally or globally, whether they form coalitions or act alone.

Those who fight always describe the fight as a fight between Good and Evil. They always identify themselves as Good and their enemies as Evil. They always define themselves as not-Other and thus rely on the existence of Other to maintain their own existence. Their greatest fear is peace, because they believe they will disappear in the absence of contrast and conflict.
Most importantly, fighter-leaders always tell listeners that the listeners must choose, that there is no third way of reconciliation, no way to transform enemy into friend.

Only pacifists point to the third way, pacifists like Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. Only pacifists believe that each human being has existence independent of contrast, a soul at his core, her core, invulnerable to oppression. Only pacifists urge others to freely choose and live the ideal of reciprocity, rather than kill for it. Only pacifists recognize themselves in those who condemn them and only pacifists identify their enemy as violence itself rather than violent people.

The drive for independence from oppression was part of what drove the American Revolution. Rebels whipped up the colonial citizenry into open revolt against the ruling British authorities. Ever since, democracy has been regarded, worldwide, as the form of governance most conducive to individuals exercising that freedom, that independence from coercion.

Examined in that historical light, the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq has not failed to bring democracy to Iraq. The people of Iraq – daily more committed to a violent revolt of their own against the ruling American authorities – clearly understand what democracy means, and are clearly following the example set for them by the American invaders.

But the subtext of all violent political acts is that fighters seek not only the freedom to order their own lives; they also want power over the lives of their enemies and peers. Those to-be-liberated are caught in the cross-fire, trying to live freely, but prevented by both sides from doing so, urged by each side to adopt a static and polarized view of human nature and human civilization, to identify with “us” and work toward the destruction or control of “them.”

Sooner or later, all fight-based, dualistic ideologies are subverted to external rewards, to the ideologies of profit and greed, because genuine salvation for one side cannot be found without salvation for the other, and as soon as this truth becomes clear, substitution goals must be found to mobilize the fighters. Otherwise, fighters and bystanders would become pacifists, recognizing in reciprocity the spiritual security they cannot reach through physical dominance or submission.

No one can long sustain an order to kill his fellow humans today, for a promised benefit tomorrow, without soon deciding it would be better to see the benefit up front, materially. No one can kill other humans for long without recognizing his own identical vulnerability. Ready with a solution to the joyless dilemma of “kill and be killed” are capitalism and the advertising industry: manufacturing global desire for objects as the key to the good life.

The cycling dualism, the tail-chasing silliness, extends even to the American political and economic arenas. Wall Street, responding to international news, rides mood swings up and down. Madison Avenue, responding to Wall Street, churns out more incentives to build and to buy. Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, responding to Madison Avenue, make wars to “make the world safe,” not for freedom and democracy and peace, but for advertising and consumption. American pacifists, responding to the war machine, march down Broadway and Pennsylvania Avenue.
Deep down, the control is now and ever shall be in the hands of the world’s People, in our twin roles of consumers and producers. Thing-makers and care-givers, we currently spiral along with the profit game as we shop amid gridlock, smog, road rage, the noise, stress and chaos of our world, or labor in sweatshops to create cheap consumer goods.

Like a Möbius strip: greed flows into violence flows into greed. Slice the strip down the middle with a war, and you have a longer, more narrow-minded Möbius strip, more twisted: violence to homelessness and bereavement to poverty to despair to hate to degradation of life to greed, and back to violence.

Mastermind

Occasionally, intelligence officials and political leaders talk about the need to figure out who is “masterminding” various global acts of violence. Trace the motivation for action back through policies, through space and time, to ideas. Keep in mind the laws of physics, action and reaction.
George W. Bush is currently masterminding the actions of Muslim fundamentalists. Osama bin Laden is in charge of U.S. military strategy. Each is reacting to the Other in this historical moment, the culmination of centuries of billiard balls, bonging about the green baize surface of the earth.

Peeking behind the puppet stage, Bush and bin Laden are two hands on the same body. The body is humanity as a whole, each of us a tiny cell. If each cell acts as though freedom means the static freedom from and power means the dualistic power over, the body is now prostrate, shriveled and old, bloodied, gasping for air, but keeping up a grand and remarkable pretense of vigor and resolve.

If each cell acts as though freedom is the dynamic freedom to live and grow, and power is the power to nurture and create, then the same body will feel itself to be healing, healthy and whole. The hands will stop clawing at one another.
The cell-souls already know there is no status quo, nothing to preserve, nothing to kill or die for. There are only processes of destruction and processes of creation, and humans need not destroy one another in order to create ourselves. The cell-souls fighting can stop, and they can ignore anyone who orders violence now, for the sake of peace later.
For cell-souls also know there is no later, only now.

Americans, along with the rest of the world’s people, are pondering how to prepare for peace, rather than war. We are each asking deeply, what can I do differently today to transform the Möbius strip of violence and hunger into a Möbius strip of hope and abundance? We are trying to figure out what we must sow to reap peace.

Reciprocity

In his autobiography, Gandhi quoted a Gujarait didactic stanza:
“Its precept -- return good for evil -- became my guiding principle. It became such a passion with me that I began numerous experiments in it. Here are those (for me) wonderful lines:
For a bowl of water give a goodly meal;
For a kindly greeting bow thou down with zeal;
For a simple penny pay thou back with gold;
If thy life be rescued, life do not withhold.
Thus the words and actions of the wise regard;
Every little service tenfold thy reward.
But the truly noble know all men as one,
And return with gladness good for evil done.”

Dozens of other religions teach the same principle. From the B’ahai: "If thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbour that which thou choosest for thyself." In Buddhism: "Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful." In Christianity: "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them."
Confucius: "Tse-kung asked, 'Is there one word that can serve as a principle of conduct for life?' Confucius replied, 'It is the word 'shu' -- reciprocity. Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire.'" The Hindus: "This is the sum of the Dharma [duty]: do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you." Islam teaches: "None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself." Judaism has enshrined in the Talmud: "What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. This is the law: all the rest is commentary."
Black Elk of the Oglala Sioux said: "All things are our relatives; what we do to everything, we do to ourselves. All is really One." Taoism holds: "Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss." The Yoruba of Nigeria and Benin sum it up: "One going to take a pointed stick to pinch a baby bird should first try it on himself to feel how it hurts."

Even Immanuel Kant – a white male of the western, rationalistic philosophical tradition – wrote: “So act that your principle of action might safely be made a law for the whole world.”

America as a culture and Americans as a political force, like any single person, can move in the global community so that our principles of action might safely be made a law for the whole world. We can lead.

Leading the world with non-violent reciprocity does not require protests and demonstrations, boycotts or bombs. It requires a massive change in consciousness, achieved on the tiniest of scales: one by one.

The problem is not that we aren’t all connected to one another through the invisible sinews of our living world. The problem is that we don’t feel that connection deeply, daily. As we change our way of feeling and thinking, each a little at a time, the whole world around us will change too.
Namasté. 'The God in me greets the God in you. The Spirit in me meets the same Spirit in you.'


Tuesday, May 03, 2005

State Department Withholding Terrorism Reports

We know that state-run wars kill people. We are supposed to accept the deaths of “our” soldiers and “their” civilians as the price of protecting ourselves from danger – the calculus of risk and benefit. But what can we conclude when the 2004 terrorism statistics show huge increases in terrorist attacks all around the world even as America wages war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and plans further wars?

Last year, the State Department retracted the 2003 terrorism report after admitting it had understated the number of terrorist incidents. This year, the State Department decided not to publish the data at all in its annual report to Congress. Using limited information provided during briefings to Congressional aides, The Washington Post reports that global terrorist attacks jumped from 175 in 2003 to 655 in 2004. Terrorist incidents in Iraq jumped from 22 attacks in 2003 to 198 in 2004; that number didn’t even include attacks on U.S. troops. Terrorist attacks doubled in Afghanistan (to 27) and more than doubled in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, jumping from 19 in 2003 to 45 in 2004. Last year also brought the Beslan, Russia school killings and the Madrid train bombings.

If real information about real killing in the real world has any value at all, we must conclude that these perpetual wars are not making anyone safer: not the people in the attacked places, nor the citizens of the attacking nations. Barbara Kingsolver wrote, in her essay “Small Wonder,” about the Greek story of Jason and the Argonauts, Medea and the dragons, how cutting off an enemy’s head can scatter teeth-seeds that sprout throngs of new enemies. She also wrote, in “Flying:”“No bomb has ever been built that can extinguish hatred, and while I have been told that this is not the point, I insist on it as my point, if one is ever to be made for me.”

There are many good moral arguments against war; many were cited by people around the world as we tried to stop the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq before they happened. The best argument against war is the practical one: if the goal is saving lives, it doesn’t work.