THE BOUNDARIES OF COMPASSION, pt.2

15 04 2018

In a post a couple of months ago, I wrote about a dustup I was having with some old friends over Caitlin Johnstone’s posts, “Please,, Just Bleeping Die Already” and its follow-up, “Good,” written after McCain had been diagnosed with brain cancer. My friends were horrified that she seemed to be wishing death on someone, even a bloodthirsty maniac like McCain. I thought Ms. Johnstone’s view might fall under the rubric of “radical compassion,” doing whatever it might take to keep him from doing more damage (after all, hurting other people hurts oneself, as well), and decided to ask the opinion of a person I regard as an authority on what is, and is not, compassionate. After that conversation, I communicated with Ms. Johnstone, and on those bases, here is my response to my friends in that discussion group.

First, I want to lay out some context for the statement that “Caitlin Johnstone wishes John McCain was dead.” Here are a few statements that I think fall into the same category as this allegation about her. Read the rest of this entry »

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LARRY NASSAR AND THE BOUNDARIES OF COMPASSION

18 02 2018

Even in the midst of a veritable avalanche of revelations of sexual predation, the case of Larry Nassar sticks out like a gaping, bleeding wound. It’s not just that he took advantage of his position as US Olympic Gymnastics Team doctor to use the bodies of young girls as objects in his sexual fantasies. It’s not just that, apparently, a whole lot of the officials involved with him knew what he was doing, and chose to ignore it. It’s that, in our culture, the objectification of female bodies is, in many ways, the norm, so that, viewed from a certain perspective, what he was doing was not so far out of the ordinary. Our commercial culture uses sexually attractive women’s bodies as a lure to sell things to men, and as a way to shame women, deny their worth, and guilt-trip them into buying things that will, supposedly, make them more worthy. In this world of women-as-objects, sex becomes detached from emotional intimacy. “Sex robots” seem like a reasonable use of technology….hey, they’re just the ultimate sex toy, right? This objectification, and consequent alienation, is a symptom of the normalization of sociopathy in our culture.

not the real thing…just a fantasy

People are rightly horrified by Nassar and what he has done. The father of one of his victims attempted to assault him in the courtroom. He will not be the last person to do so. Child molesters are the very bottom of the social ladder in prison, and often meet violent ends. Whatever thrills Mr. Nassar got from taking advantage of the young girls with whom he was entrusted, he will be paying for them dearly.

But our culture has plenty of Larry Nassars  who have figured out socially acceptable ways to victimize innocent people. I want to examine the case of one man in particular, a man whose initial way of molesting women and children was to drop bombs on them. He didn’t know the children he killed and wounded. He didn’t even see them. He was killing people for what he considered a higher purpose, so that the country he lived in would prevail against the country whose women and children he was killing. Read the rest of this entry »





EVIL

10 12 2017

This is the 29th chapter of Charles Eisenstein’s book, “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible.” It’s a long one, so I won’t be reading the whole chapter this month. Please buy the book to support Mr. Eisenstein’s work. Thank you!

When we confront something we regard as “evil,” it poses a threat to the self-preservation of ego. We are so busy preserving our existence in the face of this threat that we cannot see the thing clearly at all.

—Chögyam Trungpa

Sometimes in Q&A sessions or internet comments I am confronted with the accusation that I ignore “the dark side of human nature.” I would like to unpack that statement. What is the dark side of human nature? It certainly means more than “Sometimes people do some pretty awful things,” because obviously if it wasn’t someone’s fault or intention to cause harm, that is not very dark. Besides, anyone who has read my work knows that I am well aware of the horrible things we humans have done to each other and the planet. No, when we speak of the dark side of human nature we are making a dispositionist claim: that we do bad things because there is bad within us. We bear within us evil, malice, selfishness, greed, brutality, cruelty, violence, hate, and callousness.

On the one hand, this is trivially true: all of these are parts of the human experience. Even if circumstances bring them out, they must be there to be brought out in the first place. But if it were only that, then the situationist response would be sufficient: change the circumstances that elicit evil. No easy task, this: these “circumstances” include the whole edifice of our civilization all the way down to its foundational mythology of Separation and Ascent. Yet still, a more beautiful world is still possible in principle…..

…..

Jimi told me he’d think about it. He didn’t do as I suggested, but let me tell you what happened. Later that week Jimi arranged a meeting with the thief. He went accompanied by his friend M., a martial arts expert. The thief brought two of his friends along as well. He said he really wanted the item and didn’t want to pay for it. His two friends started egging him and Jimi on, suggesting that they fight for it. Jimi (who is six-feet-two and has also studied martial arts) said, “Forget it, I’m not going to fight you for this petty material object. You keep it. I don’t want your money.”

The thief was taken aback. Then he said, “You know, that doesn’t feel right. I shouldn’t have taken it like that. Let me give you some money. How about $50? That’s all I can afford.”

Whereas each had held the other in a story of enmity, now there was humanity.

Bruce Cockburn, “The Gospel of Bondage” and “The Gift

Second installment begins:

Pancho Ramos Stierle runs a peace house on the border between two gang territories in what is considered one of the worst neighborhoods in Oakland, California. People tell me that more than once, local individuals have entered the house with the intention to rob or kill, only to be converted into peace workers instead.

Years ago, Pancho was involved in a protest at UC Berkeley, where he was a PhD student in astrophysics. He was one of a group of students publicly fasting to protest the university’s involvement with nuclear weapons development. After nine days, the university got tired of it and had the police come and make an example of the group of hunger strikers. Police officers broke the human chain the protesters had made by interlocking their arms, and one officer lifted the slight Pancho into the air, slammed him onto the concrete, and brutally handcuffed him…..

…..Even if the reader is not convinced that there is no such thing as elemental, essential evil, it should at least be clear that most of the time, what we ascribe to evil actually comes from situation. Even if the reader still thinks there is a “discontinuity that divides the ordinary flawed human from the truly evil,” it is clear that we often categorize the former as the latter. That is extremely important, because whereas evil can be overcome only by superior force, anything else can be changed by changing the situation, the totality of the inner and outer circumstances. In large part, these circumstances consist of layer upon layer of story, going all the way down to our personal and cultural Story of Self.

This is the level we must work at if we are to create a different kind of society. We must become the storytellers of a new world. We tell the story not only with words, but with the actions that spring from that story. Each such action shows all who witness it that there is another world out there, another way of seeing and being, and that you are not crazy for thinking it is there.

I will conclude my reading of this chapter next month.

music: Jefferson Starship, “I Want To See Another World

Well, actually, I’m not going to finish it this month. Conclusion of “Evil” will happen in March, unless other stories take up all my time. (Local transit issues and recent Russiagate developments come to mind.) The February segment begins

Every act of generosity is an invitation into generosity. Every act of courage is an invitation into courage. Every act of selflessness is an invitation into selflessness. Every act of healing is an invitation into healing. I am sure you have felt this invitation upon witnessing such acts.

I once read a news story about a train wreck in Peru. The travelers and tourists were stranded in the mountainous area in winter, without food or heat. Many might have died that night, if it weren’t for the local villagers who came with food and blankets to keep them warm. These were poor villagers, and they were giving their only blankets.

I remember when I read that story how petty my own insecurity seemed, how tight my heart, and how tiny my generosity. I felt a kind of opening. If those indigent villagers can give their last blankets, then surely I needn’t be so concerned about my financial future. I can give. It will be okay……

and ends

I would be curious to know what people who have been victimized by psychopaths or other malevolent powers have in common. Are they just random victims, or is there something inside of them that attracts the experience?

Those who do what they call shamanic work might ask the same question about the “entities” that attach themselves to people. Are these arbitrary, predatory forces, like the impersonal forces of nature, that visit themselves upon the unlucky? Or is there an energetic hole, a missing part, a wound that perfectly complements the configuration of the entity that attaches itself? In that case, perhaps the entity is performing a service, merging with the host into a symbiotic whole. One might ask, is the entity really a separate entity at all, or could it be an unintegrated part of the psyche? Is there even a meaningful difference between those two categories? What is a self, anyway? If we are interbeings—the sum total of our relationships—then the existence of an alien, othered “evil” is highly problematic.

My response to his question about whether those attacked by psychopaths are “random victims,” in light of my view that we are all, humans and non-humans alike, suffering from the actions of political psychopaths, is that in a way, yes, we are simply random victims who have done nothing to attract this unwelcome attention except be born here on Earth. Since we have been born into this mess, however, it’s up to us to clean it up if we can.

Music: Buffy Ste. Marie, “Priests of the Golden Bull,

Zakir Hussein, “Balinese Fantasy

Buffy Ste. Marie, “Power in the Blood

The March reading begins with this paragraph:

The idea that evil is part of a larger alchemical dance vastly complicates the usual narrative of fighting on the side of good to conquer evil. We might instead see the evil we encounter as the externalized image of something hidden within ourselves. In contrast, the concept of absolute, merciless evil is closely analogous to the impersonal, merciless forces of the Newtonian universe, which visit destruction randomly upon us. It is also analogous to the ruthlessly competing gene-controlled robots of Darwinian natural selection. Both of these are key pillars of the old story. Does it not stand to reason that evil is as well?

And ends at the end of the chapter, with an amazing story:

My friend Cynthia Jurs met Christian Bethelson while she was doing peace work in Liberia, which had suffered a horrendous civil war in the 1990s. A rebel leader known by the nom de guerre of General Leopard, Bethelson was infamous in a milieu of massacre, child soldiery, and torture. If any human being is evil, it would have been him; he was, in his words, a man with “no conscience.” Eventually the war ended, and with it Bethelson’s livelihood: he had no skill other than killing. He decided to go to the nearest war, in Ivory Coast, where there might be demand for his gruesome services. On the way his car got stuck in the mud. Who would have guessed that another car would be stuck in the mud on the same stretch of road at the same time, and that that car would be bearing members of a peace group called the Everyday Gandhis? Intrigued by their conversation, he announced himself as a former rebel general. He thought they would vilify him, maybe even beat him, but to his astonishment the group gathered around him, hugged him, told him they loved him. He decided to join them and dedicate his life to peace.

Let us hold out for no less a miracle planetwide. Let us accept the invitation that it offers us into a larger sense of the possible.

music: Incredible String Band, “Painted Chariots





RIGHTEOUSNESS

9 07 2017

Once again, my occasional reading of a chapter from Charles Eisenstein’s 2012 book, “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible,” seems totally appropriate to our current situation. You can read the whole chapter here, and buy it and other works by Eisenstein at that same link.

The way you see people is the way you treat them, and the way you treat them is what they become.

—Goethe

Underneath the common agreement that the problem with the world is evil and the solution to conquer it is an unmet psychological need for self-approval. Two-thirds of our political discourse goes toward meeting our need to be right, to align ourselves with Good. If the man who disagrees with me does so because he is stupid, naive, bamboozled, or wicked, then I must be smart, canny, independent-minded, and good. Positive and negative judgments alike hold oneself as a tacit reference point (lazy means “lazier than I” and responsible means “responsible like me”).

Why do you really visit those websites that get you stirred up and indignant? Whatever reason you give yourself (e.g., to “stay informed”), maybe the real reason is the emotional gratification, the reminder that you are right, smart, in a word, good. You are part of the in-group. If you want even more reassurance you might start an online discussion group or a face-to-face group where you and a bunch of other people get together and talk about how right you are and how awful, incomprehensible, evil, and sick those other people are. Unfortunately, because this gratification is addictive, no amount will be enough. (The real need here is for self-acceptance, and the proxy offered does not and cannot meet the real need.) Soon everyone will want to be even more right—more right than certain others in the group, which will degenerate into infighting and flame wars…….

……Look at the plot of so many Hollywood movies where the resolution of the drama comes with the total defeat of an irredeemable bad guy. From high-concept movies like Avatar to children’s movies like The Lion King or Wreck-It Ralph, the solution to the problem is the same: conquer evil. Significantly, the type of movie that most often has this plotline, besides children’s movies, is “action” movies. No wonder defeating the bad guy so often becomes the unquestioned programmatic assumption behind all kinds of political action. I need not mention that it is also the defining mentality of war. And since the label “evil” is a means of creating an “other,” one might also say it is the defining mentality of our relationship to everything else we have made other: nature, the body, racial minorities, and so on.

More subtly, Western notions of story and plot have a kind of war built in to them as part of the standard three-act or five-act narrative structure, in which a conflict arises and is resolved. Is any other structure possible that isn’t dull, that still qualifies as a plot? Yes. As the blogger “Still Eating Oranges” observes, the East Asian story structure called Kishōtenketsu in Japanese is not based on conflict. But we in the West almost universally experience a story as something in which someone or something must be overcome. This surely colors our worldview, making “evil”—the essence of that which must be overcome—seem quite natural a basis for the stories we construct to understand the world and its problems.

Our political discourse, our media, our scientific paradigms, even our very language predispose us to seeing change as the result of struggle, conflict, and force. To act from a new story, and to build a society upon it, requires a wholesale transformation. Dare we do it? What if I am wrong? Let’s look more deeply into the nature of evil.

music: Jackson Browne, “Black and White

Lisa Gerrard, “Space Weaver

        Susan Shann, “The Final Word

 





SMOKE, MIRRORS, AND ENOUGH ROPE

8 04 2017

Have you noticed that American politics has slipped into Alice and Wonderland territory? That the Tea Party is now hosted by the Mad Hatter’s cousin, the Mad Hairpiecer? And that the Red Queen has morphed into the Blue Queen, with her king and all her courtiers  shouting “Consider your verdict!” when the trial hasn’t even begun, and ordering “Off with their heads!” as the fate of anyone who dares disagree with them? How many people have noticed this, and how many people are simply too swept up in the emotions of the moment to reflect on the absurdity, and danger, of  the things they are being manipulated into believing?

billy-butcher-trump-clinton-pop-characters-5

Thanks to Butcher Billy for the artwork!

The Wonderland metaphor breaks down somewhere around this point, because in our current situation, the Blue Queen and her court have been almost wholly disempowered by the Mad Hairpiecer, so that all they can do is howl. Given the size of their echo chamber, the howl sounds pretty fearsome, but, just like the trial Alice attended, the evidence in the question of  who stole the tarts–or, in this case, the election–remains shaky at best.

For instance, here’s a conversation with our former Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, that the off-with their heads/the Russians are coming crowd has had to conveniently ignore since it popped up smack dab in the middle of the mainstream, on NBC’s “Meet the Press“:

CHUCK TODD:
Does intelligence exist that can definitively answer the following question, whether there were improper contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials?

JAMES CLAPPER:
We did not include any evidence in our report, and I say, “our,” that’s N.S.A., F.B.I. and C.I.A., with my office, the Director of National Intelligence, that had anything, that had any reflection of collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians. There was no evidence of that included in our report.

CHUCK TODD:
I understand that. But does it exist?

JAMES CLAPPER:
Not to my knowledge.

Read the rest of this entry »





HATE

8 04 2017

This is a chapter from Charles Eisenstein’s 2013 book, “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible.” Through the several years I have been serializing this book on my radio show, I have frequently been astounded at how each month’s chapter seems to speak to current events. “Hate” is no exception.

You can buy Charles’ book, and read other writings of his, by following this link.

He who fights too long against dragons becomes a dragon himself; and if thou gaze too long into the abyss, the abyss will gaze into thee.

—Nietzsche

To humanize an opponent might be challenging to allies who are still inhabiting a Story of Hatred. They might interpret the new view as softness or betrayal. “How could you excuse those people?”

A friend of mine, a military veteran committed to peace, told me the story of a friend of his who had the opportunity to serve as the personal chef to none other than Dick Cheney, a man whom millions of liberals perceived as an awful human being, a soulless, duplicitous, conniving warmonger. My friend, expecting confirmation of this view, asked his friend what it was like working for Cheney. “Wonderful,” he replied. “You can tell a lot about someone’s character by the way they treat the help, and he always treated me with warmth, dignity, and respect, even though I was only a cook.”

This is not an endorsement of Dick Cheney’s political views or conduct. The point here is that a perfectly decent human being, harboring the same basic motivations and fears as any other human being, can do awful things in one context and admirable things in another…..

….Hold on. Maybe I am saying this only because I am naive. Maybe my soft, coddled upbringing has blinded me to the reality of evil and the need to fight it with force. It is certainly true that I have not experienced firsthand the worst of what human beings can do to each other. But let me offer you the story of the South Korean activist and farmer Hwang Dae-Kwon. Hwang was a militant antiimperialist protester in the 1980s, a dangerous activity during that time of martial law. In 1985 he was arrested by the secret police and tortured for sixty days until he confessed to spying for North Korea. He was then thrown into prison, where he spent thirteen years in solitary confinement. During this time, he says, his only friends were the flies, mice, roaches, and lice that shared his cell, along with the weeds he met in the prison yard. This experience turned him into an ecologist and practitioner of nonviolence. He realized, he told me, that all the violence he had endured was a mirror of the violence in himself.

His number one principle for activism is now to maintain a peaceful heart. At a recent demonstration, a line of police equipped with riot gear was marching toward the demonstrators. Hwang walked up to one of the police and, with a big smile, gave him a hug. The policeman was petrified—Hwang said he could see the terror in his eyes. Hwang’s peacefulness had rendered him incapable of violence. For this to “work,” though, the peacefulness must be genuine and deep. The smile must be real. The love must be real. If there is an intent to manipulate, to show the other up, to highlight the brutality by contrasting it with one’s own nonviolence, then the power of the smile and the hug is much less strong.

Phish: “Revolution” (yes, the Beatles song!)

music: Georgia Whiting, “My Back Pages

The Nice: “My Back Pages” (I may not have time to play this extended cut on the air, but it’s a very imaginative restructuring of the song, and definitely worth a listen!)





PAIN

6 11 2016

eyes-of-the-world-sspv3This is the 23rd chapter of Charles Eisenstein’s book, “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible.” You can buy the book, or read it on line, here.

So, what exactly are these unmet needs, and how can we discover and satisfy them? A multiplicity of basic human needs go chronically, tragically unmet in modern society. These include the need to express one’s gifts and do meaningful work, the need to love and be loved, the need to be truly seen and heard, and to see and hear other people, the need for connection to nature, the need to play, explore, and have adventures, the need for emotional intimacy, the need to serve something larger than oneself, and the need sometimes to do absolutely nothing and just be.

An unmet need hurts, and fulfilling a need feels good. Here lies the connection between need, pleasure, pain, and desire. The deeper the unmet need, the greater the pain we feel, the stronger the desire it generates, and the greater the pleasure in meeting it. Pain and pleasure are the doorways through which we discover what we really want and really need.

One thing that we discover as we enter the space between stories is that we do not want what we thought we wanted, and we do not like what we thought we liked. We look within and question: What do I really want? Why am I here? What makes me feel alive? Because our deeper unmet needs were mostly invisible to us, and because they have been unmet for so long, our physical and mental systems have adapted around them so that the pain becomes subconscious, diffuse, latent. That makes it hard sometimes to identify what the unmet need is. During life transitions, the obscuring stories break down and what’s missing in life becomes clearer. We begin to ask ourselves, “What hurts?” and to discover answers. These answers orient us toward meeting our true needs for connection, service, play, and so on. As we do so, we find that our experience of joy and well-being deepens, and that we far prefer this feeling to the pleasures that we now recognize were mere substitutes for it…..

….We are only able to continue our ravaging of the planet under the cover of pretense. How is it that we as a society take no action, when the awful artifacts of our way of life on this planet lay strewn all around us? How is it that we continue to hurtle toward an obvious abyss? It is only because we have been rendered blind and insensate. Underneath their numbers games, the banks and hedge funds are stripping wealth away from the masses and the planet. Behind every profit statement, behind every executive bonus, is a trail of wreckage: strip mines, debt slaves, pension cuts, hungry children, ruined lives, and ruined places. We all participate in this system, but can do so willingly only to the extent we do not feel, see, or know. To conduct a revolution of love, we must reconnect with the reality of our system and its victims. When we tear away the ideologies, the labels, and the rationalizations, we show ourselves the truth of what we are doing, and conscience awakens. Bearing witness, then, is not a mere tactic; it is indispensable in a revolution of love. If love is the expansion of self to include another, then whatever reveals our connections has the potential to foster love. You cannot love what you do not know.

One role of the changemaker is to be the eyes and ears of the world. Recall the power of the videos taken of police brutality during the Occupy movement. Just as nearly everyone who saw passively seated protesters pepper-sprayed in the face was sickened by what they saw, so also, everyone who sees behind the veil of numbers is sickened by what our financial system is doing to the world. By being antennae for the collective attention, we can tear away the veil. Even if some of the perpetrators retreat more deeply into rationalization and denial, others will have a change of heart. More and more police will refuse to shoot, more and more authority figures will counsel restraint, more and more functionaries of power will quit their jobs, blow the whistle, or try to reform their institutions from the inside.

What is power, after all? Every one of the power elite’s overwhelming advantages—military forces, surveillance systems, crowd control technology, control over the media, and nearly all the money in the world—depends on having people obeying orders and executing their assigned role. This obedience is a matter of shared ideologies, institutional culture, and the legitimacy of the systems in which we play roles. Legitimacy is a matter of collective perception, and we have the power to change people’s perceptions.

music: Grateful Dead “Eyes of the World

Indigo Girls, “Hammer and a Nail








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