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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CONTROL ISSUES

15 04 2018

There are a number of seemingly disparate issues affecting the country these days. When I examine their roots, and the way our society is attempting to deal with them, I see that they actually have a lot in common, and that the commonly accepted responses to them are failing to have their hoped-for effects, for a common reason. Likewise, the optimum solutions to all these very real concerns, while individualized according to the particular manifestation they treat, all spring from a common root. I am going to describe these problems, the conventional-wisdom solutions to them, look at the unintended consequences that these solutions engender, and, as best I can, suggest a Green,  radical–literally “to the root”– solution to them.

GUNS AND PUBLIC VIOLENCE

Gun violence has been a hot-button heart breaker for far too long. The natural, and obvious, response is to make it more difficult to obtain firearms, or at least, as comedian Chris Rock has suggested, to make the price of ammunition prohibitive. Five-thousand-dollar bullets would certainly rearrange a lot of people’s priorities. Hey, the Constitution guarantees the right to keep and bear arms–it doesn’t say anything about ammunition! I have no problem with making  high-tech rock throwers, or the rocks they throw,which have no other purpose than to harm or kill other beings, a lot more difficult to obtain.

But, in spite of the tremendous hue and cry about this devastating fact of American life, legislatures, especially Republican-dominated ones, remain deaf to the appeals of the growing clamor for gun control. Read the rest of this entry »





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 »





A BASKET OF DISPOSABLES

21 01 2018

Our current junta, which took power based on the approval of somewhere around a quarter of the potential voters, seems to be making a practice of doing things that are opposed by at least three-quarters of the adult American public. They repealed internet neutrality. They’ve approved a tax plan that benefits, and is mostly appreciated by, nobody but the insanely wealthy. They’re trying to revive the war on marijuana. They’ve proposed opening virtually the entire coastal US to offshore oil drilling. They’re shredding the Constitution to go after domestic activists of many stripes, as well as Central American refugees who have come here because US policies sucked their home countries dry of all hope and sustenance. They’re expanding their ability to spy on and search anybody they choose. They’re filling the judicial system with right-wing ideologues. And, of course, they’re shutting down every government mention of, measurement of, and response to, climate change and the direct relation between climate chaos and our cultural dependence on fossil fuels.

As we all endure this sh@tstorm as best we can, some people are asking me, “Given this horrendous record, have you repented your refusal to support Hillary Clinton and the Democrats?” That’s a good question, and I’ll respond to it in a few minutes, but the first, “Deep Green,” question I want to examine is, “What is the logic, the pattern, the thinking behind what the GOP is doing?” In order to answer the question about my personal political allegiance and whether it is shifting, I will also examine the question of how things might have been different if Ms. Clinton had been able to turn out a few more voters in a few key states, or if a few more of the votes that were cast for her in those states had been counted, in either case making her the President instead of the guy who’s in charge now, ignoring for purposes of focus the fact that she would have been facing an extremely hostile Congress that, even if they couldn’t manage to impeach her and Tim Kaine and install Paul Ryan as President, would have blocked all of her cabinet nominees, judicial nominees, and anybody and anything else, like her legislative agenda, that needed Congressional approval.

I want to start by discussing “austerity.” You hear a lot about the need for austerity from Democratic as well as Republican, politicians these days. Let’s look at “what we can’t do” because of this supposed need for “austerity.”

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





THE UNITED STATES OF DENIAL

12 11 2017

I want to explore the geography of the United States of Denial just a little. No, “The United States of Denial” is not a new name for Egypt. I’m talking about the good ol’ USA, where we are all united in being in various states of denial. Some of those states are adjacent to each other, some are pretty far apart, and some of the ones that are adjacent to each other are simultaneously quite distant from their neighbors. That’s one of the ways we’re united–in denying our denial. Those other people–they’re in denial Not me!

There’s Republican states of denial, Democratic states of denial, and then there are various liberal-left-socialist-Green states of denial, as well. I think it’s wonderful that, even though the United States of America has effectively closed its political process to all but two basically similar parties, in the United States of Denial there’s room for lots of political flavors.

Republican states of denial have been on the front burner a lot lately. Climate change denial has been front and center, along with science denial in general, as well as denial of racism, sexism, and compassion.  And then, of course, there’s denial of reality in general. Speaking of generals, there’s denial of the danger that a war anywhere in the world would pose to life everywhere in the world.

That particular state of denial, the denial of the danger of war, borders one of the most prominent Democratic states of denial, which also denies the dangers of war. While the Republican state of denial of war danger borders North Korea and Iran, its Democratic counterpart bumps up against Russia. The two states of denial also share a common border with Afghanistan.

Republican climate denialism is so well-known that I’m going to skip over it and give some attention to its neighbor, Democratic climate denialism. Democratic climate denialism is more subtle than the rugged Republican version, which simply denies that the problem exists. Hey, mass extinction is the capitalist way to solve overpopulation!

Read the rest of this entry »





THE LARGEST AND LEAST POWERFUL GREEN PARTY IN THE WORLD, AND HOW TO EMPOWER IT

24 09 2017

The United States has the largest Green Party in the world, with around a quarter million registered voters, plus thousands more supporters in states like Tennessee that don’t have party registration. In survey after survey, and as demonstrated by Bernie Sanders’ galvanizing effect on the American public, substantial majorities of Americans support Green positions, from universal single-payer health care greenyetto a greater emphasis on alternative energy and a cleaner environment, to local economies and greater community and economic democracy, but you wouldn’t know it to look at election results, where the Green Party rarely even gets into double digits, let alone is a contender, in any election higher than the local level.

As I researched this piece, I discovered that it was easy to find links backing up my statements about public support for health care, alternative energy, a cleaner environment, and stronger local economies, but it seems as if nobody has thought to ask about the radical notion of having more “everyday people” involved in their own governance, let alone the ownership and governance of their workplaces. Both of these have been taken up enthusiastically in places where they have been tried, such as Burlington, Vermont when, and ever since, Bernie was mayor, Jackson, Mississippi today, and the increasing number of worker owned and managed companies around the country. The Democrats will attempt to co-opt Green Party positions on the environment, alternate energy, and the minimum wage, but you can bet they won’t touch economic, workplace, and community democracy. The change from hierarchical ownership and direction by the few to governance by the network of people actually involved in a workplace or community  threatens the corporatist, oligarchic monopoly of the few that currently calls the shots in this country, and thus consideration of such ideas is not welcome in polite society. As Noam Chomsky said,

chomskynarrow

I think that’s a very apt description of what’s going on the US these days: there’s tremendous passion and polarization around scores of issues, while the root cause of all of them is never touched, and keeps throwing up new shoots that we activists hack at until we grow weary. If we are going to put an end to all the many levels of oppression that saturate our society, we need to uproot the oligarchy that is the source of our oppression. It’s not just an oligarchy that’s outside us. All of us have internalized it to some extent, and we each need to win our own our personal psycho-spiritual revolution if the external revolution is going to succeed.

Meanwhile, around the globe, Green Parties are achieving a satisfying level of electoral success in a great many countries, and changing those countries’ priorities for the better in the process. Let’s examine some of those countries, and then look into why it hasn’t happened here, which leads directly to what it will take in order for it to happen here. Read the rest of this entry »








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