I have watched the violence and the revolt in Egypt with a heavy heart. On one hand, I am overjoyed to see a people long held in shackles struggling to attain freedom. I hope this sentiment will someday encircle the world, so that, as it is written, the wolf and the lamb will live together. As a pacifist, however, it causes me much distress to see police out in the street, blazes set alight, and the familiar signs of overheated passion. In observing everything from a distance of thousands of miles, I am forced to confront my own beliefs. It may be that physical force alone can bring needed reform and change. But, as others far wiser than I have noted, war and warlike impulses are easy, but peaceful solutions are difficult.
Jan 31 2011
Jul 12 2010
I am and have always been a vocal proponent of therapy, medication, and introspection. All three in tandem have proven to be invaluable to my own understanding of self, as well as an effective treatment plan. I am not the only person who has reaped great benefit from them, too. Recent developments, however, have given me a greater understanding of the limitations of each of these methods of attaining mental health. By this I mean that a friend recently pointed out once again my infamous difficulty in setting adequate boundaries for myself and alongside it, unintentionally exhausting people with my need to constantly reach out.
Jul 06 2010
This past holiday weekend I visited two Civil War battlefields: Antietam and Gettysburg. While part of my motivation to go was purely the tourist’s curiosity, I also went to remind myself of the multitude of ironies present in armed conflict. It does me well to contemplate what I believe to be the overall futility of warfare, regardless of the context. I certainly found plenty of both. I chose to go in part to celebrate Independence Day in a completely different sort of context. While I do appreciate the sacrifices made to establish a new nation and with it a groundbreaking experiment in Democracy, my pacifist beliefs often leave me deeply conflicted. To move nearly one hundred years forward in time from the Revolutionary War to the conflict that tore a hole in our nation’s fabric seemed much more suited for the occasion.
Feb 28 2010
A world divided by nationalist struggles and vain fantasies of dominating the earth’s resources is a world that grows increasingly insane and self-destructive. Yet many decent and moral people accept the current construction of politics as a ” given.” They end up participating in this insanity and calling it “realistic.”
Today, what people call realistic or common sense, is nothing more than “inside-the-beltway” assumptions created and maintained by corporate-dominated media. Only by throwing off those assumptions and thinking outside the box, can people see the Strategy of Generosity for what it is – a method to stop insane people who have power from continuing their disastrous path of destruction.
It is a delusion to imagine that only one political party or set of candidates frames our foreign policy in terms of narrowly conceived American interests. Instead, we must realize that this behavior is a shared insanity that must be challenged in every part of our political thinking. It is just as likely to be articulated by people with whom we agree, as by people who are overtly reactionary or ultra-nationalistic.–Rabbi Michael Lerner Tikkun Magazine Speaking about the Global Marshal Plan
Dec 01 2009
One hopes that President Obama will strongly and clearly frame our mission in Afghanistan tonight, including the reason for our continued presence in a country that has known wave after wave of outside invaders fighting to advance their own ends. We are but the latest army to set up shop and increase troop presence in pursuit of an elusive and often invisible enemy force. The ultimate result is cloudy at this juncture, as was the previous President’s troop surge in Iraq when it was proposed. I would hasten to call the latter decision an unequivocal success, but it did largely and surprisingly contain a low-grade Civil War. It is with this fact in mind that many will choke down the prospect of another round of foreign entanglement, troop deployment, and media saturation coverage of major military skirmishes.
One could, I suppose, reach for an obscure citation describing a similar conflict to which the United States committed troops. In this situation, however, there are no easy parallels and no conventional warfare nor wisdom to cite. The Soviet Union’s disastrous nine years in the country might be the best possible comparison under the circumstances, but the peculiarities of that conflict leave it more akin to Vietnam to our current endeavor. The Soviet War in Afghanistan was an attempt to bolster the existing Communist party from collapsing against the Mujahideen. We, of course, allocated weaponry and financial support to the Islamic insurgents as a means of undermining the Soviets.
What has been forgotten in this day is that for nearly fifteen years, the Communist government ruled effectively and made great strides in developing a civilization rather than a backwards state beholden to constant conflict. With the collapse of the USSR in 1991 came the decline of the Communist state and the rise of the Taliban, which single-handedly destroyed years of reform and plunged the country back into the Dark Ages. The country deserves lasting stability if it is ever to move forward in time but until it ceases to be a designated battleground, it never will.
Aug 02 2008
Alone among the developed nations of the West, the US still glorifies war and the “warrior.” This serves as an object lesson to the rest of the world about what happens when a nation obtains the means to wage war at will anywhere around the globe without also maturing into the wisdom to abhor the idea of war. I have come to believe that the love and glorification of war is something that a nation outgrows, and the US has a very long way to go before it is mature enough to turn its back on war. Indeed, I doubt that there can ever again be conditions dire enough to pull the US kicking and screaming out of its warlike childhood.
Join me below the fold, won’t you?
Jul 25 2008
(Cross posted from DailyKos)
The Dhammapada teaches
Conquer the angry man by love.
Conquer the ill-natured man by goodness.
Conquer the miser with generosity.
Conquer the liar with truth.
While most of us understand the logic of this approach in theory, it far too rarely spills over into practice.
The world is becoming an increasingly scary place. Torture and extraordinary rendition are being committed by the United States government, and through other governments’ forces as proxies. Mercenary armies such as the infamous Blackwater are on the rise and already operating within the United States, marking potentially the most horrifying trend in the commercialization of violence. Blackwater is even slated to begin involvement with the enforcement of prohibition, making the “War on Drugs” moniker seem increasingly ominous. Prohibition itself is a travesty of epic proportion that has lead to the incarceration of staggering numbers of non-violent citizens, caused suffering throughout the world, and halted virtually all progress in fascinating avenues of research that bear the promise of more effective medical treatments as well as breakthroughs in understanding of the brain. The U.S. Military now has a presence in nearly every country in the world, and there are countless cases of injustices committed by soldiers against innocent members of the local populations. Our healthcare system is in shambles leaving the demographic most in need of the wealth we possess struggling to afford a standard of care that should be guaranteed to all U.S. citizens. Don Siegelman, and so many others, have been wrongfully persecuted on an ideological basis while the crooks doing the persecution have thus far avoided being brought to justice. Despite refusing to serve a subpoena pertaining to the Siegelman case, Karl Rove remains a free man. George Bush has issued more signing statements than all prior presidents combined in mockery of American ideals of justice and balance of power. Pondering these things can be pretty overwhelming to say the least.
Its easy to get angry when contemplating the state of the world we live in. One could argue that anger plays an important, even necessary, role in the cycle of change. While I do believe that stoking the flames of our moral outrage plays a indispensable role in that it is a powerful impetus for beginning to work in earnest for change, we must all remember that anger is an emotion of limited utility valuable only when properly channeled and devastating when not. Anger can be one of the greatest enemies of reason. Actions born from even the most righteous sense of moral outrage so often have calamitous results. It is my argument that rather than acting out of anger, it is our duty as people of conscience to constantly strive to act compassionately. If we truly wish to change the world for the better, we must transmute our anger into compassion.
First let us consider that as bad as the state of the world appears, it has been worse. Overall violence is experiencing a sharp decline on a global scale. As much as we as a species are doing wrong, we’re clearly doing something right. During the early periods of human history when anarchism and tribalism were the primary forms of social organization, there were powerful evolutionary and cultural imperatives to establish restrictive categories of who is and is not deserving of compassionate and altruistic action. Establishing an “us vs them” mentality proved to be a highly effective survival strategy in the perilous and unforgiving natural world. However with the maturation of the goals of human society, what was once a vital tool for survival has become a blight on the flower of our civilization. Nevertheless evolution has equipped us with tools necessary to progress beyond our current limitations and bring into realization the ultimate goal of a society based on reason and compassion. Contemporaneous to the development of our tendency to divide the world into “us vs them” was the development of our immense potential for compassion to those we consider to be within our group. Thus I feel the solution is ultimately fairly simple: we must all work towards recognition of the inherent unity of the human family. This is of course far more simple in theory than in practice, but as reflected by trends in the decline of violence, this process of boundary dissolution has already begun.
Now the question becomes, how do we consciously expand our circle of compassion, and perhaps, more importantly, how do we encourage others to do so as well? Fortunately encouraging others to expand their circle of compassion may be as simple as nurturing our own compassion. In Tibet the Buddha’s teachings are traditionally called the lions roar, for just as the lions roar awakens the other animals of the jungle, spreading and, more importantly, practicing teachings of compassion and mindfulness gradually awaken the closed hearts of beings throughout the world. The most fundamental step in cultivating compassion is to simply learn to smile more. Religious traditions from the Christians, to the Buddhists, to the Taoists, to the Hindus have long known that simply smiling more throughout the day leads to a more joyous experience of living and more pleasant interactions with other people. In fact medical science has recently caught up and discovered that even the physical act of smiling improves mood. We can take this basic knowledge and extrapolate it further to expand our practice of compassion. Be more polite to people you encounter throughout the day, don’t take the services of other people for granted because they are profiting from providing them, be more willing to offer your time and energy to others, and so forth. Once the habit of practicing these small deeds of recognition of the inherent value of other people has been ingrained in your daily life, I am confident you will be amazed by the sense of mental peace and clarity that develops as a result. The hardest and most important habit to cultivate is embracing those with ideas that you find offensive. We must recognize that humans have an extraordinary capacity for unconditional love, even if it is deeply buried under a haze of ignorance and conditioning. It is far more productive to forgive people for their ignorance and try to transfer your understanding to them in a non-hostile way than to take offense and respond in anger, further expanding the rift of misunderstanding. As a final suggestion for the practice of cultivating compassion, even a few minutes a day of loving-kindness meditation in a quiet place with minimal distraction can provide immeasurable benefits.
In closing, fighting fire with fire is a futile gesture. If we wish to ensure that the culture of violence that has plagued humanity since time immemorial does not regain its foothold, we must practice small acts of compassion in our daily life, spread our wisdom through conversation and blogging, and participate in peaceful activism. As compassionate ideals begin to take root, the fear that has so long been exploited by those with greed for power will begin to wither and die, and we can finally achieve the desired fruit of our fore fathers and leave a peaceful world full of opportunity for posterity.