Sunday, December 11, 2016

Time to Break Silence


Well I haven’t exactly been silent in recent years, but I think the circumstances we are in call for being unafraid to stand up to forces that are dragging us toward our collective demise, but also to offer alternatives that redirect us towards a more just and peaceful future. It will be 50 years in April, when Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his most radical and courageous speech at Riverside Church in New York City. In fact, it occurred one year from the day of his murder in Memphis. That speech , where he came out against the Vietnam War, brought him all kinds of hate mail, even from within the civil rights movement from some who believed he was jeopardizing that work.

He chose that title inspired by a recent statement from Clergy and Laity Concerned, a group that was sponsoring his speech, which opened with, “A time comes when silence is betrayal.”

The truth of these words is beyond doubt, but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government's policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one's own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexing as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must move on.

And some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak.

The increasing evidence of climate destabilization and its acceleration demands that we act, as King suggested then “with the fierce urgency of now.” We can’t ask that the necessary sacrifices be borne by those already struggling to survive or to find some basic level of security. Our situation has been manufactured in significant part by those who gorge at the consumptive trough.

The Trump regime appears to be handing power to those who have been gorging. Four billionaires so far for cabinet offices, most of the rest are multi-millionaires. We have apparently so idolized profit driven market over the past forty years, that even noted theologian Harvey Cox has equated it to God. The unrestrained drive for profit over everything has accelerated both climate change and growing income inequality both domestically and globally. And of course they are linked. If we want to address either of these urgent crises we must tackle runaway private profit.

Cover: The Market as God in HARDCOVER


We need to move towards more equal sharing of the gifts of this planet with a strong commitment to care for the life forms we share it with. We can do this. Herein are a series of possibilities. They aren’t the only ones , I’m sure, but I offer them in hopes of moving us towards solutions that will address the dual crises before us.


We need to peg maximum salaries to reasonable ratios of the median household income. That income,  which marks the point at which 50% of the population earns more and 50% earns less in the U.S.  is $51,939 for last reporting year (2014).  I believe it is totally reasonable that in 2016 median household income should provide a family adequate housing, access to health care and education, nutritious and ample food, affordable utilities and transportation. Remember that this is household income, not individual income.

Some possible policy examples might be as follows:

1)      For an organization to receive nonprofit status and the benefits it accrues from it, no employee of that organization should make more than three times the median household income.  That’s nearly $156,000 which should be more than sufficient for anyone working for an organization that is not designed  to reap ‘profit’, but rather is supposedly committed to some aspect(s) of the common good. This includes schools and churches.

2)      Government employees should not make more than two times the median household income.  A commitment to work on behalf of fellow citizens should also carry with it a status.

3)      Private sector employees should not make more than 10 times the median household income. This should apply for all for-profit enterprises and includes professional athletes, musicians, actors, etc.  The city of Portland just took a step in thisdirection, by passing a policy that companies that pay CEOs more the 100 times their lowest paid employee, will not be eligible for contracts with the city.

I offer the specific ratios not as fixed thresholds, but as starting place for the necessary conversations we need to have as a human family in the face of the pending crises. I would like to see the specific thresholds set democratically at least every five years.  As inequality is reduced in future years, these ratios should be reviewed. If the median household income stays at $50,000 that household would have an income of $250,000 over five years. Someone making ten times that amount would $2.5 million over the same period thus increasing their wealth difference from $450,000 to $2.5 million over that same time. In other words the disparity grows. The intent is to both curtail the increase in inequality, but also to be able to provide a better social safety net, while investing more in the prudent stewardship we need to enact to preserve the healthy functioning of our ecological services.

One could address this differently by applying a more progressive income tax like the one we had during our greatest growth from the 1940s and 50s. With the demise of the progressive income tax, reduced corporate taxes and the increase in exorbitant salaries for the 1 per cent we have not only drowned government services in the bathtub, we have shredded the social safety net and destroyed or severely damaged the ecological health necessary for us to thrive. With the election of Mr.Trump and his wealthy coterie of greedy advisers and cabinet nominees we are now at the “fierce urgency of now.” If these possibilities don't work, we need to come up with some that do, and in a hurry.



Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Time for Expanded Fellowship

I read this passage the other morning. It's from a book I wasn't looking for when we were browsing through its many floors of used books at one of the great used bookstores in the world, John K. King's in Detroit.

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     "Without some notion of brotherhood, civilization, indeed the very life of the race, would have been impossible. But, through the ages, the idea of brotherhood has generally been restricted to members of the same family, tribe, nation or race, or believers in the same religious or political creed. There will always be a particular sense of fellowship resting upon common loyalties. But today the peace, and certainly the happiness, of the world requires a larger and more inclusive sense of brotherhood for all the sons and daughters of earth...This brotherhood must take account of the existence of important differences of opinion. Its emphasis must not lie on imposed unity of thought, but on a common abhorrence of cruelty, oppression, and everything that would reduce human life to the status of a commodity and man himself to the level of a thing."


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Norman Thomas, letter to Everett R. Clinchy (1950) quoted in W.A. Swanberg, Norman Thomas: The Last Idealist. New York, Charles Scribner's Sons 1976, p. 331.

One of the reasons I believe it struck me enough to mark the page so I could go back and copy the quote, was that I have been reading more and more about efforts to end war, to create some vibrant form of global governance, and also reforming the United Nations. The issues we face, especially on a single finite planet that is both increasing in human numbers but even more so human impacts, requires us for survival to work together. To find in Thomas's words from more than 60 years ago "a larger and more inclusive sense of brotherhood for all the sons and daughters of earth."

I find it hard to imagine given those increasing challenges that only one year ago all 193 nations of the United Nations agreed on a need and commitment to reduce greenhouse gases for the betterment of all. And yet one year later, we have an election where the purported winner and his nominees are collectively hoping to unravel that essential foundation for a less troubling future. Mr. Trump's erratic hyper-individualism that he hopes to impose on our nation, if not the world, is truly in this writer's mind the most troubling of the results.

If it was simply himself, and we could hope that the democracy once created could work to constrain his excesses, perhaps we might survive his worse inclinations. But so far, I am seeing very little from the governance sector, save a few lonely Democrats, joined by sincere libertarians like Sen. Rand Paul, who dare confront this demagogue. This fear of confrontation, of standing up for what one believes, especially permeates the Republican Party with unfortunately rare exception, even at local government levels.

If we believe that Thomas had it right, and I certainly do, it is up to us to stand up for building and strengthening that sense of global brotherhood and sisterhood. The initial nominees of the president-elect are of course not only from the well-connected club of wealthy insiders, so much for "cleaning the swamp", but they are of a view that governance is bad, unless of course it profits a business they support. The reports of conversations that the president-elect has had with other national leaders shows he is still seeking advantage for his business ties, either directly his own, or for his 'friends'.

I am not optimistic about the next four years, but there is so much that we cannot predict, although we're pretty certain climate as we have known it for thousands of years will continue to destabilize. Perhaps one of our finest writers and thinkers Rebecca Solnit says it best.

When big changes and dangers arise, you have to think big. You don’t put out a forest fire with a glass of water. Thinking small can prevent you from even recognizing trouble, let alone your options for overcoming it. There’s never been a time when thinking big matters more than now. Many across the United States are now trying to figure out how to survive Trump, but it may still be possible to stop him. His regime is not yet inevitable.

It’s a long shot, but one worth trying, the way someone diagnosed with a disease with a 3% survival rate might want to do what it takes to try to be part of the 3%. You don’t get there if you give up at the outset. Trump represents a catastrophe on a scale many seem to have trouble grasping, an attack on what remains democratic and uncorrupted in our old and messy system of government, a threat to international stability, to efforts to address climate change, and to human rights at home and around the world.”

 …read the whole piece here:

Monday, November 28, 2016

Maelstrom on Steroids

I know I am not the only recipient of countless takes on the U.S. election. Everywhere I turn there is a new attempt to either assess how it happened or that predicts what will follow. I'm pretty convinced that no one understands either very completely. Yet that doesn't mean that we should not glimpse at them and in so doing add additional perspective to our own emergent understanding of the cause and effect.

At some point we each have to make sense of it and act with some measure of congruence with that understanding. Those choices we make and act upon do matter. Even the choices where we do nothing different, as if it is 'much ado about nothing'. Life goes on, right! Besides, there is nothing any one can do against the huge forces of the systems - economic, social, environmental, political, etc. This is the malaise of dis-empowering our young through an education system that largely confines thinking to True/False or three or four multiple choices. We teach civics as something out there, that government does, not a lifelong calling of citizenship to build community. 




Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule - Dorothy Day, Mohandas Gandhi, Ralph Nader, Wangari Maathai - that break free of the constraints of formal education to find their voice and to link it to a lifetime of action for community betterment. This is the crossroads we find ourselves facing. I believe that our thinking is generally too narrowly construed and thus we lose potential allies necessary to build more forceful presence both against darker forces and for progressive possibilities that we have yet to achieve.


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With all the swirling possibilities of what we might be facing, especially with the recent US election [for a more challenging view check out George Monbiot's particularly gloomy 13 Impossible Crises That Humanity Now Faces posted Friday], no one really knows what might unfurl. They are simply hunches. Trump himself, now a main actor on the stage, is himself unpredictable, contradicting himself, changing his tune, as if sometimes on a whim. As he announces his cabinet nominees we will get a better picture perhaps. In my opinion his first few nominees do not support optimism for a more progressive, just, or peaceful future. So like others I have been pondering how to proceed. I am certainly not inclined to retreat entirely to the sanctity and quiet of my domicile or to silence my thoughts or concerns or suggestions for alternatives. But where is my energy most effectively harnessed? 

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Here are some of my hunches, honed on trial an error, expansive reading, and reflection. 

1)  We need a horizontal approach that connects many issues and citizens involved in them. We should make the connections visible, palpable. For example, peace is not simply the absence of war. It is tied to issues related to domination, to winning and losing, and to a respect for human life, not just at birth.

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2)  We need to address wicked problems that know no national borders. If we get hung up on seeking advantage for our community, or our state, or our country we will be building walls that create insiders and outsiders, friends and enemies. We can't solve the challenges facing us looking to win while others lose. Climate destabilization is clearly one of those wicked problems. But the recently globally agreed upon Sustainable Development Goals offer many wicked problems to face.

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3) As individuals there is no one activity that will bring about the changes we need to see if we are to survive and thrive as a human community on this finite planet. Individual actions do matter. How we vote, how we consume, how we support and challenge others, and how we come together or not all matter. Indeed policies need to change, and that is political work which requires involvement beyond the ballot box. Those with power, wealth, lobbyists will not give up their advantages without a struggle. As the power concentrates in fewer and fewer hands citizens work is even more critical.

4)  Our efforts need to be visible. There is a place for large public gatherings of protest or of affirmation. See for example the March for Women on Washington, scheduled for January 21, with parallel events in many state capitols. But protest is not enough. We need to be visible in letters to the editors, at public meetings, in the offices of government lobbying for policies we believe in.



5)  We don't have to wait for government to move. We can come together with others to build organizations and community that we believe in. There is a great fertile field for social entrepreneurship, for community ownership, for building a commitment to a community without harming other communities . 

Perhaps Barbara Kingsolver has it at least part right in her November 23 post "Trump Changed Everything, Now Everything Counts".

          "We refuse to disappear. We keep our commitments to fairness in front of the               legislators who oppose us, lock arms with the ones who are with us, and in the           words of Congressman John Lewis, prepare to get ourselves in some good                    trouble." 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

One Possible Pathway at the Fork in the Road

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We are two weeks away from the fourth anniversary of this blog. I had no idea I would continue to pass along some of the ideas that I continually bump into for this long. In fact, this post is number 227 over that span. I have no clue who reads what. Although I do get notes, or sometimes people I meet say they have read some piece or another. I suspect a few individuals read many. The website data tells me I average 150+ readers per post, but I know nothing about them or whether what they have read has propelled them to pick up one of the books or articles I reference in most posts.

Today, I want to try a little different track -- one more closely in line with the title of the blog, Possibilitator. While I hope all my posts offer some possibility of viewing or understanding our world a little better, this one is aimed more specifically to directions and actions we might consider as we seek to re-balance our lives from the outcome of this week's election results.

I have no intention of reanalyzing why the election resulted the way it did. I like to believe that I would have written this same piece regardless of the outcome. Although, the specific income has been a spur to move ahead with ideas that have been invading my head for awhile. For regardless of who sits it which seats of government, my responsibility is to push for justice and peace and speak the truth as I know it. That last sentence should paint clearly a picture of my own fallibility in knowing completely this world we share. Acknowledging from the outset the incompleteness of my understanding can allow me to learn. Where I can't acknowledge that imperfection, I will not be able to learn.

So the following is offered with that humility, but with assertions that I will try to support by noting their origins.

1)     The planet we share is increasingly destabilizing from that which has allowed us to emerge as a species. We know this not only from the rigorous scientific work and consensus process of the International Panel on Climate Change, but from the similarly rigorous work of the 2003 UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Subsequent reports tend show that the ecological unraveling is accelerating faster than most scientists projected.

2)     Income inequality, both nationally and internationally is also at it's highest level in a hundred years. We know this from reports from our own census data and data from countries around the planet. Research also shows that with growing income inequality we tend to see higher levels of societal ills, including increasing child mortality, more crime, more violence, more poverty, less life expectancy.

3)     Political power is concentrating more and more in the hands of the wealthy few. There are numerous serious studies that indicate this fact, as noted by three highly regarded political scientists in comprehensive research on the topic.

4)     Women and people of color, as our own nation's history demonstrates, have not had equal opportunity. While progress has been made, we are a long way from a society where discrimination by gender and race is an anachronism.

These issues confronted us before the election last Tuesday, and they confront us today. It would be a foolish mistake to assume that those elected to govern this week have all the answers to these complex challenges. No one does. If we are concerned with any or all of these challenges it becomes our responsibility to learn more and to advocate for changes we believe. These suggested changes should be based on whatever evidence we can unearth, to effectively address these challenges.

We are constrained in many ways. Principally we are constrained by the fact that there are no quick solutions that we are certain will work. Even if we are wise enough to select and apply the options that lead to reducing the threats of these challenges, we likely won't know that from one two-year Congressional term or one six year Senate term. Note how long it took us to end slavery or for women to get the vote? These challenges will take dedicated effort for generations. Yet our culture looks for quick fixes - the corporate quarterly report, the daily stock price, or monthly unemployment or housing figures. As we speed our lives up we have moved from hand written letters to telephone calls, to emails, to now 140 word character messages, the preferred medium of our new president. Such a constricted environment can have no room for nuance or complexity, let alone the interdependence of multiple systems.

So how might we move forward under these circumstances?

I offer the recently globally agreed upon Sustainable Development Goals. These 17 goals cover all of the challenges I mentioned above plus a few more. 193 nations of the world agreed on these goals a year ago. The United States agreed to these goals. These goals have actual measures that have been produced and for each nation state to be measured against. They have a deadline, 2030. The agreed upon penalty is that our planet will be in even worse shape in 2030 if we don't meet these goals together.

As an individual those seventeen goals might seem beyond our ability to effect them. Different individuals looking over the goals will be drawn more strongly towards some than others, based largely on one's own circumstances. It is indeed hard to focus on all of them at the same time, but that is a weak excuse for doing nothing. For those reading this far and who are struggling on how to engage with the world under the new regime, I suggest you look over those goals and find one or two that call to you most deeply. Find organizations, government agencies, businesses that are concentrating on them and get involved. Speak up, write letters, suggest policies, volunteer. See how the issue dovetails with the other 16 goals. Does your work assist accomplishing other goals, or does it hinder?

Let's have companies and nonprofits provide annual reviews of their own operations and how they contribute to or hinder accomplishment of the 17 goals. There is already a few scorecards that approximate an SDG scorecard. B-Corporations have a certification process that covers most of the goals. More recently, Austrian economist, Christian Felber has developed a Common Good Balance Sheet that addresses many of the same challenges. These scorecards could assist consumers and other businesses and organizations when choosing which entities to support. There could be provided, as Felber suggests, incentives for those companies and organizations which receive higher scores for the common good - preferred purchasing contracts from governments, reduced loan interest rates, quicker review of regulatory requirements, etc..



No doubt in the weeks and months ahead, there will be plenty of need to use our citizen voices and power to halt actions we deem harmful to our brothers and sisters and our planetary health. But we need also voices committed to providing positive alternatives. This election shows the harm caused when so many voters voted more against one candidate than for another. We need candidates and others to help provide us with new ideas, based on best evidence we can muster, to try and meet the goals that the human family through our global governance system have agreed to. Such a pursuit should not be about winning, but about bringing our collective intelligence together to devise policies better than any single-party could devise alone.

We're all in this together, and until we get the majority of people realizing this fundamental truth and working together, those goals for 2030 and our ability to thrive beyond that are in jeopardy.

Richard Falk, noted international relations scholar, offers a powerful serum for needed citizenship in Citizens v. Subjects in a Democratic Society.

 

      The moral substance at the core of genuine citizenship only exists if the political structure        allows opposition without imposing a severe punishment. If citizenship is possible, then it automatically gives rise to responsibility to act accordingly, that is, by honoring the imperatives of conscience. Unfortunately, considerations of prudence, career, and social propriety make it more attractive these days for most Americans to behave as subjects living within a rigid set of constraints. Citizens are those who not only proclaim the virtues of freedom, but act responsively to the vectors of conscience even if these go against the established public order and prevailing cultural norms.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Seeking Advantage

Advantage  n - “superiority of position or condition”.   Thus seeking advantage is to gain a superior or upper hand.  We have allowed ourselves to be convinced that this orientation will produce all that is good and worthy for a life to be fulfilled, that it is a natural biological imperative. Some have argued that Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest’ is all there is to know and that it is the dominant characteristic of all life. Of course, that’s the narrow reading of what Darwin actually said in The Descent of Man.

We are used to stories of winners and losers and are thus are attracted to them. Be that as it may, we have taken this biological factor to be transferable to our social, political, and economic lives as well. Winners, or those with “superiority of position or condition”, use this advantage  to establish the rules to maintain or improve that condition or position.  While this might seem innocent enough during a friendly game, where winning is a side benefit of the enjoyment of playing, in our larger social, economic and political lives disproportionate and lasting advantage hampers community well-being.

Linked closely to ‘seeking advantage’ is a drive towards domination.  When our world was less developed and less crowded, the planet could absorb some of the damage inflicted on it as advantage and domination were sought over nature and other beings.  Obviously many suffered and continue to suffer from domination. It is clear that our economic model is fundamentally glued to this drive to seek advantage and domination.  No doubt many, if not most, corporations who love to achieve “too big to fail” status. Hardly anyone questions endless growth or concentration of power as a concern. As in cancer, we often find out too late, that such an unchecked appetite is fatal.

Of course, our recent political season, is emblematic of that same notion in our political system. Both major parties are out to dominate. When in power they change the rules to benefit their position and condition. The Republican Party took this to new levels upon the election of Barack Obama, when Sen. Mitch McConnell  said “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Of course, the game of gerrymandering is all about securing party advantage. We just assume this kind of “seeking advantage” is normal, and therefore acceptable.

Step this up a notch to global affairs and the predominant  ethos among most of the more powerful nation states is too secure as much advantage as possible for as long as possible over every other nation. This is emblazoned in the veto power of the permanent members of the Security Council and the special powers they hold over the global community.  In the US we never heard from any of the presidential candidates any commitment to any sense of a just global governance system. I don’t even think there was single mention of the United Nations.  US exceptionalism is just one symbol of advantage and dominance sought. There seems to be no real sense of seeking unity, certainly not from the five permanent members of the SC.

In this all-encompassing worldview -- winning for oneself, one’s team, one’s state, or one’s nation is the true goal. The others, the losers, don’t matter. They are separate from us. They don’t matter. There is no room for empathy or compassion when winning, or seeking advantage, is the goal. As I sit here this evening thinking about these things, I see no desirable future with this worldview for the human family or the other living things we share this planet with. Some folks will surely find their condition and position superior to others. Until we challenge this unfettered myth that we can escape terrorism, climate destabilization, and increasing inequality if everyone simply seeks their own advantage, we are destined to heighten those same challenges. Our obsession with and fealty to spectator sports is a reinforcing loop to these more important systems where advantage and domination are the prize.


For all its many imperfections, the human family took a major step together at the end of WWII with the establishment of the United Nations. Recently those 193 member nations agreed on 17 goals to attain together by 2030 if we are to live well together on this fragile planet for the remainder of this century. The Sustainable Development Goals offer us a framework for making choices at all levels. How do the choices we make affect the attainment of those goals across the globe? If we are fixing one goal but making attainment of another less likely we can’t make the progress we need. We will need collective intelligence of many to insure our choices move multiple goals forward at the same time and that improvement in one place does not put another place in jeopardy. This is where democracy, especially in the sense that we are ALL global citizens holds some promise, some possibility that we must seize.

This is a major change in worldviews, at least as represented by the visible systems and leaders in this country. As has been the case in the past, change of this level must be led from the grassroots -- from us as individuals and members of communities. Let’s hope it’s not too late. Imagine a world where everyone is secure economically – good shelter, ample good food, good and plentiful water, and personal security wherever they live.  We can do this if we share and work to rid ourselves of the seeds of violence and domination. This is system change I can believe in.

Friday, October 28, 2016

That Exceptionalism Thing - One More Time

In my last blog two weeks ago I alluded to the American fixation with our own exceptionalism. Well, just last evening the US joined with the other nuclear powers and their clients to vote against a UN Resolution, L.41 that would call together a conference to draft  a treaty to legally ban nuclear weapons. The vote was 123 yes to 38 nays with 16 abstentions. This is the issue that our fearless leader trumpeted he would fight for and which essentially bought him the Nobel Peace prize.

Now his last budget called for a $1 TRILLION investment in modernizing our nuclear arsenal. I urge readers of this blog to read the short  (4pp.)resolution and try to determine how we could possibly be against beginning a process to make illegal these weapons of mass destruction. Only reason I can think of, is that we want to be able to use them again. Why else budget $1 Trillion for their improvement? 

1230 Schwartzberg – Transforming UN System FINAL Front Cover

Before I read about this vote from last night I began my morning with an engaging  thoughtful work by Joseph Schwartzberg, Transforming the United Nations System: Designs for a Workable World (New York: United Nations University Press, 2013). Schwartzberg, an octogenarian emeritus professor of Geography from the University of Minnesota has been studying global governance for a lifetime. He has traveled to more than 100 countries.

His careful, studious, and hopeful analysis of the numerous flaws of the UN system give birth to creative possibilities to shape a global governing system that would make the need for nuclear weapons an historical artifact.

     "It is not my intention to prescribe policies on such issues as climate change, sustainable development, human rights, migration, population growth, and so forth. Rather, I take the position that good decision-making systems will, in the fullness of time, be able to arrive at policies that will promote the good of our planet, rather than the interests of individual groups who happen to be militarily and/or economically powerful."


 I am only in the beginning pages of this lengthy analysis published in 2013, but already the breadth, depth, and passionate belief that we can create a better system of living together on this increasingly crowded and fragile planet is compelling. It flies in the face of blind obsession our nation's leaders with the notion of American Exceptionalism.

I have heard nary a word from any of our presidential contenders throughout the primary season, nor certainly after, with perhaps the exception of some comments by Martin O'Malley in one of the debates, that we need to strengthen our international governing system. Unless we do, the US will continue to believe that only we can save the planet alone. Such sentiment sounds remarkably like the egomania of our Republican presidential candidate.
Schwartzberg is not some pie-in-the-sky Utopian. He is firmly rooted in the realism of global affairs, but is a believer in the human evolutionary possibilities of moving towards violence as a means of conflict resolution.


Last weekend, as Ellen and I were meandering around the fabulous John L. King Bookstore in DImage result for john k king bookstoreetroit,

I stumbled into a few older tomes that I brought home. Two that I have begun feed Schwartzberg's faith that we are capable of creating a more democratic global governance system.
 Sissela Bok's A Strategy for Peace: Human Values and the Threat of War (New York: Pantheon, 1989) is in the words of the late Daniel Schorr's review in the New York Times

     "Toilers in the vineyards of diplomacy and arms control may find Mrs. Bok's ''moral framework'' rather abstract, but she considers it ''practical'' and ''nonutopian.'' She has no apology to make for trying to raise the level of thinking about peace at a time when ''the nuclear threat to humanity is intolerable,'' but continues to resist abatement because of ''mutual fear and distrust.''


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The other tome added is the 2002 anthology, The Power of Nonviolence: Writings by Advocates of Peace (Boston: Beacon Press). Readings from Emerson and Thoreau, Gandhi and King, and many more offer short readings from Buddha to Arundhati Roy to show that the idea has a long history and compelling possibilities. As the major purveyor of weapons of war, the US is indeed exceptional. That we might ultimately aspire to become a democratic global citizen seems a bit Utopian today as I scribble this short reflection. Nonetheless, these writers confirm that peace is possible, if we just join together to rid ourselves of the weapons of war, and of the egotistical notion that we are separate and exceptional.



Friday, October 14, 2016

That Exceptionalism Thing

I just finished reading Noam Chomsky's latest work, Who Rules the World this morning, As the craziness of this presidential election unfolds around us both the major party candidates share the dominant script of America the Exceptional.

Who Rules the World?
In fact, both not only wish to preserve and protect that image, but one would even expand it. Both candidates are bully on the War on Terrorism and see nothing that more military punch and power can't fix. Neither willing to consider that perhaps that expansive military approach only accelerates that which they are attempting to end.

Chomsky's work was completed before Mr. Trump had locked up the Republican nomination earlier this year.Nonetheless, all should read his heavily documented review (more than 629 cited references) of the forces alive in our world, their antecedents, and specifically the US actions that have nurtured the world we face together. Whether one disagrees with the complete analysis Chomsky offers, any reader would at least have to begin to be skeptical of the utterances of the dominant narrative that engulfs conservatives and liberals alike.

No one relishes reading about misdeeds of their home team. We might occasionally accept the idea that 'one bad apple' doesn't spoil the whole bushel. Or that OK, no one is perfect (we hear that one a lot during this presidential campaign as supporters of both major candidates defend their support for their favored candidate). Chomsky challenges us to consider why the rest of the world thinks that the US is the "greatest threat" to world peace ( this reported in an international WIN/Gallop poll p.222). He constantly contrasts the myths we live in with the facts that display our utter blindness to the reality as others experience it.

Nowhere is this more evident than the use of the word 'terrorist'. Chomsky, as he has written for decades, notes that we (US) use the term to describe the acts of those we disagree with (our enemies), but absolve any acts by us or our surrogates that have similar if not worse consequences for people outside our borders. So when we send a drone to take out someone we don't like and blow away innocent civilians, that's not terrorism but our right to defend ourselves. Yet when a Palestinian attacks an occupier in his own country, it's terrorism. From the Vietnam War to the debacles in Libya and Syria, Chomsky shines the light on the hypocrisy.

This is hard to read as an American who wants us to live up to the vision of a just, compassionate democracy among democracies. It certainly cries for what Rabbi Michael Lerner so eloquently expressed in a blog this week, "American Politics: The U.S. Needs Repentance and Atonement".
Political Wisdom and Spiritual Vision from Rabbi Michael Lerner

      "We need a New Bottom Line of love and generosity that could reshape every dimension of our economic, political, cultural and spiritual assumptions about reality. To get there, we need a fundamental transformation of consciousness. Although not in the same league of outrage as what Trump has done to legitimate misogyny, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and xenophobia, the Democrats would also be challenged by a New Bottom Line–and even Hillary Clinton’s call for a “no fly zone” in Syria would have to be scrutinized against the alternative approach to foreign policy a New Bottom Line would suggest (namely, seeking homeland security through generosity and a Global Marshall Plan so that the US becomes known as the most generous and caring society in the world, not the toughest and most militarist)."

In another penetrating analysis of our current wave of political upheaval Charles Eisenstein actually finds a ray of hope in his "The Lid is Off."
The Lid is Off

     "Clinton and Trump are a product of their conditions, playing the “game of thrones” according to the secret rules of the insiders, in a system that has long allowed, encouraged, and in some ways nearly required hypocrisy. That system is coming to an end. We are entering by fits and starts an era of transparency in which, we may someday hope, secret rules and hypocrisy will have no purchase."