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

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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 »





A SMOKING GUN AT LAST, OR JUST MORE SMOKE AND MIRRORS?

13 08 2017

The latest round of accusations in the ongoing controversy over Russian interference in last year’s US election has produced what many in the media are calling “a smoking gun”: Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort met with a woman described by the English national who set up the meeting as a “Russian government lawyer” who claimed to have “potentially compromising material on Ms. Clinton.”

There it is in plain black and white, we are told: the Trump campaign’s core members met with a Russian national and received “material aid” for the Trump campaign from her and her country. Ka-ching! Violations of US campaign finance laws!

Trial for Impeachment!

Trial for Treason!

Let’s step out of the roar of the crowd at this thrilling turn of events and consider what really happened, and what it means.

First of all, I think former US ambassador to the Soviet Union Jack Matlock has the most concise commentary on whether it is proper for representatives of a political campaign to speak with the diplomatic representatives of other countries:

Our press seems to be in a feeding frenzy regarding contacts that President Trump’s supporters had with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak and with other Russian diplomats. The assumption seems to be that there was something sinister about these contacts, just because they were with Russian diplomats. As one who spent a 35-year diplomatic career working to open up the Soviet Union and to make communication between our diplomats and ordinary citizens a normal practice, I find the attitude of much of our political establishment and of some of our once respected media outlets quite incomprehensible. What in the world is wrong with consulting a foreign embassy about ways to improve relations? Anyone who aspires to advise an American president should do just that.

In other words, the Democrats are attempting to sensationalize and criminalize just the kind of openness and communication, i.e., freedom, that the United States supposedly champions in the world, and that this country has pushed long and hard to establish in both the old Soviet Union and in the Russian Federation it has since become. What has turned the Democrats into such a bunch of soreheads? “Why do they hate us for our freedom?”

I think that the driving force behind that anger, and”Russiagate,” is  the Democratic National Committee’s frustration at having lost control of the narrative about Hillary Clinton, as not only Republican but left-wing non-mainstream news sources presented facts about her that disagreed sharply with the DNC’s presentation of her. “If only the Russians, and their allies and useful idiots in the American left, hadn’t publicized all that nasty stuff about her, some of which was totally made up, she would be President now instead of him. ” Read the rest of this entry »





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

 





THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE IN KNOXVILLE, TENNESSEE…

25 06 2017

This report makes extensive use of a paper written by Barbara Bridges and Joel Kennedy, who pulled together most of the basic information and are quoted at great length in it, to the point where it’s hard for me to separate out their contributions from mine. The fairest way to put it is to give them credit as co-authors. Thank you both for your co-operation!

Not long after last month’s broadcast (which you may have heard as a repeat two weeks ago), I found an essay by two Knoxville Green Party members, Barbara Bridges and Joel Kennedy, about the consonance between Knoxville’s “2017 City Council Movement” and the Green Party’s “Ten Key Values.” None of these candidates have been active in The Green Party, but, to me, that doesn’t matter much. The ideas are  FAR more important than the brand.

knoxpeoplepower

Read the rest of this entry »





THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE

14 05 2017

The word “Resistance,” with a capital “R” and a hashtag, has become rather fashionable in America these days. Thousands of people are marching in the streets, turning out for town meetings, and generally letting it be known they are not pleased with our new administration’s presumption that its narrow technical victory in last November’s election constitutes a mandate for sweeping changes in the way our government is run and in the every-day lives of millions of people.

I’d like to take this opportunity to look at some popular movements around the world that have, to one degree or another, challenged the professional political class and returned government to the people, and examine how they were able to succeed, as well as ways in which they have failed. By learning from other peoples’ experiences, we can do a better job here in America.

My main examples will be Korea, Taiwan, Spain, Greece, and, to bring it down to the local level, the city of Montreal, in Quebec. That provides a spectrum. The Korean movement is just now in the process of achieving its initial aim. In Taiwan, the citizen’s movement has won its initial objectives and established mechanisms that, it hopes, will keep things from slipping backwards. In Spain, the “Podemos” movement is rising into power. Greece’s Syriza Party has won elections, but run smack into forces it cannot change, and is learning how to keep focused on its long-term goals while encountering short-term failures.  In Montreal, the political wing of the movement seems to have been absorbed into the mainstream, but has left significant changes in its wake.

As I write this, Koreans are celebrating the impeachment of President Park Geyun-he, who roused the ire of lawmakers and citizens alike by being too cozy with the country’s financial elite and by going along with US policies that have escalated tensions with North Korea. Her replacement, Moon Jae-in, the son of a North Korean refugee, was a student radical in the 70’s, and was jailed for his role in protesting the dictatorship of Ms. Park’s father. He went on to become a prominent human rights lawyer. On the basis of that, he was hired as Chief of Staff by the Korean Democratic Party’s previous elected President,  Roh Moo-hyun. He was the KDP’s candidate for President in 2012, when he narrowly lost to Ms. Park.

This is what democracy looks like!

This is what democracy looks like!

So, how did the Koreans do it? Massive street demonstrations were a major contributor. Some demonstrations turned out nearly two million people on the same day. Korea’s population is fifty million, so the equivalent in the US would be about thirteen million people all demonstrating against the government at the same time. The real key, though, was that Ms. Park’s party did not have a majority in the legislature (in which four political parties are represented, along with some independent members). Mr. Moon’s party had a plurality, but not a majority, and as the country became ungovernable due to the force of protest against Ms. Park, it was not that difficult to round up a majority to support impeaching her for her very real crimes. The Korean constitution calls for new elections when a President is impeached, and that created an opening for change. Read the rest of this entry »








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