Thursday, March 31, 2022

No Time for Silence

 

The President’s newly announced budget this week ramps up an already bloated military budget. This is the popular and easy thing to do in a war-based culture. While the Russians brutally invade Ukraine, the drumbeats to beat ploughshares into swords intensifies in a war culture. To propose a more peaceable approach is to invite calls of emasculation, for the war culture is male dominant; just ask the myriad women in the military abused by their comrades. In a war culture, the heroes are the ones that destroy the enemy, even if the enemy they destroy is generally like them--young men asked to ”defend” their nation.

One doesn’t need to experience war firsthand to understand its horror. Certainly the impacts on those directly involved, whether soldier or civilian, are of another level entirely. Even the dubious winners of war leave with untold moral injuries that disrupt their lives forever and, for many, cause them to abruptly end it. In a war culture the fixation is on more weapons, more power, more soldiers that we are told will surely bring peace. History tells a different story, should we be willing to escape the glorification of war in film, parades, football halftime shows, recruitment videos and other realms of war culture and examine the data, as Erica Chenowith has.

Many in the peace community have counseled that contesting the growth in military spending during the atrocious Russian war against Ukraine is counterproductive.  If former general, and then President, Eisenhower could state the following during the Korean War (1953)

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.
This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter with a half-million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.

Why, then, should peace-seeking believers in nonviolence shrink from calling for peace and military spending reductions? We expect ridicule from the pragmatists, realists and war profiteers that we are just so naïve. So be it. It is time to put the brakes on the war machine that is robbing our future in an unending theft of the resources needed to build a just and peaceful world for our children and grandchildren as Eisenhower warned.

Martin Luther King Jr. noted during the height of the Vietnam War, "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death." Fittingly, this speech at the Riverside Church in New York City a year to the day before his death was subtitled “A Time to Break Silence.”

Let us stand with those brave members of Congress unafraid of being called “naïve” or worse – Bernie Sanders, Pramilya Jayapal, Barbara Lee and others--to break our own silence.  

For a better overview of the military spending debacle, read the Quincy Institute’s analysis of the new budget request by William Hartung  here. Or a broader look at the complexity through the eyes of energy expert Richard Heinberg today.

Thursday, March 17, 2022

What Are the Chances?

 

What are the chances, that someone else on the planet is simultaneously reading David Gessner’s Quiet Desperation, Savage Delight: Sheltering with Thoreauin the Age of Crisis and Kelly Denton-Borhaug’s And Then Your Soul  Is Gone: Moral Injury and U.S. War-Culture? Slim to none I would wager.

The why is unclear, but the how was a trip, pre-heart-attack a couple of weeks ago, past the new book shelf. Gessner’s book had acclimations by others I admire – Scott Russell Sanders and Allison Hawthorn Deming. So let’s try it I thought. Denton-Borhaug’s tome’s title is what stirred my interest, perhaps enhanced by recollection of a book similarly found and read last year by Aussie philosopher Ned Dobos on Ethics, Security, and the War Machine: The True Cost of War. The recent invasion of Ukraine and its expansive media coverage (unlike Yemen war) has us hopefully thinking about the folly and ravages of war in a clearer light. 

 Cover for 

Ethics, Security, and The War-Machine

I’d actually be surprised if more than a few hundred people worldwide are currently reading EITHER of these books. Why me? Why am I not sodden with compelling interest in the NCAA basketball tournaments, or upcoming Academy Awards, or even …? I admit to often feeling like a freak, misplaced in time and space, perhaps from another planet or dimension. What is the magnetic force that pulls me towards these authors, these books, these ideas? And they are each compelling.

 

 9781948814485_FC.jpg

Reading Gessner is simply delightful. One of those books I don’t want to end (300 pages read), 75 pages left as of this morning. It’s as if you are sitting with a friend on his front porch sharing a beer or two and talking about the world you share. No pretentions, just honest frank conversation and thinking out loud together. He weaves his rereading of Thoreau with living through the current pandemic and his own journey with nature, writing and living in our times. I suspected Ellen would relish his writing as well, and sure enough, she picks it up when I set it down. He’s become a voice we both want to hear more of.

 

Denton-Borhaug’s work is a deep dive that I’ve only skimmed the surface of thus far. You’d have to want to submerge yourself not only in questions of ethics, but also of psychology, sociology, and ultimately political issues. She is not a newcomer to wrestling with these issues. And she probes deep into not just the individual impacts but, perhaps most importantly, into the social and cultural violence that nurtures the violence and war obsessions of our culture. She doesn’t pull these thoughts out of thin air. With some 500 references that support the 225 pages of text she has poured herself into the subject. Assuming I complete this in the next few weeks, the real question is what will I do with it. I suspect, it may  nudge me to remain, if not re-energize my efforts, however seemingly futile, to abolish war. To turn away from the questions she raises seems a dereliction of duty.

Two more titles got added to the pile yesterday as once again I skimmed the new books at the MSU Library. Toby Ord’s The Precipe: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity and Lily Baum Pollans’ Resisting Garbage: The Politics of Waste Management in American Cities. Too soon to try and discern much from them. Although, I had seen a positive reference to Ord’s book in something recently read. Interesting that the 250 pages of text have 130 pages of notes, which should make for a literal ‘page-turner’. Pollan's title wrestles with my deep involvement in waste reduction. Hoping I learn something useful from both.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Pieces for Peace

Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano has erupted unleashing a force rarely felt. “The tremendous energy of this latest explosion, which NASA estimated to be equivalent to five to six million tons of TNT, is unlike any seen in recent decades. The eruption sent a tsunami racing across the Pacific Ocean. It unleashed a sonic boom that zipped around the world twice. It sent a plume of ash and gas shooting into the stratosphere some 19 miles high, with some parts reaching as far as 34 miles up. And perhaps most remarkable, all these effects came from only an hour or so of volcanic fury.”(National Geographic)

 Perhaps in some unknown way, this rare event is responsible for a similar force that erupted and surfaced this morning, at least briefly, in my own consciousness. Like the usually quiet volcano, this eruption has been percolating beneath the surface, perhaps over a lifetime. I can’t be sure, but this is an attempt to understand how it has reached the point where its eruption is now becoming detectable, and what might flow from it.

I will try to trace the steps that are immediately visible before the memories evaporate. Last week I picked up a book I had put aside because some other more engaging titles found their way into my reading stack. That book was Global Governance Futures published in 2021 by Routledge. The book was edited by Thomas Weiss and  Rorden Wilkinson. I had read the twenty page introduction by the editors which was interesting, but I also noted that it was written primarily for an academic audience, which tends to make reading a bit more of a slog, even if the subject matter is compelling. I have read other works by Thomas Weiss before and I believe I picked this up when looking to see if he had written anything recently. He is a leading scholar/writer on “global governance” which I have been particularly drawn to as a result of my invitation a few years ago to join the board of the Greater Lansing United Nations Association. That affiliation has led me deeper into the world of the UN Sustainable Development Goals which tie together for me so many of the strands of thought I have wrestled with for decades.

When I picked up Global Governance Futures again a few days ago and read the second chapter, “Global Governance and the Anthropocene: Explaining the Escalating Global Crisis” by Peter Dauvergne, an author I was also familiar with, he referenced another book in his short chapter (actually more than 50 titles) -- Peter Newell’s Global Green Politics (Cambridge University Press 2020). It was that book among a handful of others emanating from a combination of Dauvergne’s references and my own bibliofetishism, that I retrieved from the library the following day. Of the seven supportive quoted blurbs by others on the back of the book’s cover, I have read six of those authors. So I started in on the Newell book yesterday, though a little stiffer than I prefer. He’s blending a lot of forces into this tome that resonate with my evolving understanding of the world. So while I’ve only finished his twenty page chapter one and crept into the first few pages of chapter two, it was here that resonance felt strong enough to know there might be a possibility of something emerging from it that I should try and record, before it vanishes into the black hole that is my memory.

I think the spark that was ignited this morning was a reconnection with my enthrallment some 25 years ago or so with the Green Movement’s 10 Key Values. My intrigue with the 10 Key Values led me to a week-long research sabbatical to the National Green Clearinghouse for the US Green Party in Kansas City. I was able to dig through their files to better understand how various local and state green parties made decisions. “Grassroots Democracy” is the first of the Ten Key Values! This commitment to a deeper and conscious approach to democracy has stayed with me and frequently inserted itself in almost all other intellectual and activist detours since.

 

Of course, as many of you know, I then came to believe that the Ten Key Values might offer a better guide to a good life than the Ten Commandments. I became very active in trying to get the Green Party in Michigan on the ballot collecting over 600 signatures one summer. Shortly thereafter I decided to run for local township office as a Green Party candidate and got walloped. Fast forward a bit and I ran for a county commissioner seat as a Democrat and won, in a county that had not seen an elected Democrat in my time there (if ever). Years later I tried the Green Party option when running statewide for university Trustee for Michigan State University Board, but again was swamped by major party candidates. Minor party candidates will not succeed in this country, except in the occasional local race, until the playing field of elections is changed.

If one has ever attended a Green Party meeting, there is a lot of attention to process. Sometimes that commitment to process becomes maddening, especially in a culture that wants to move fast. But even within that worthy effort, there are those who are more skilled at moving the process forward towards strong consensus, respecting all the voices and creating conditions that enable those voices a hearing. But it is a slow culture change.

Decades since my original crush on the Green Movement, I still believe the Ten Key Values point our way out of the messes we are in as a human family on a finite, living planet. But I’ve learned a few things along the way (and I’m still hoping to learn a few more before the last breath exhales this vessel).  The remainder of this post will be an attempt to capture that learning and to share it, just in case it helps any who may stumble on it, in hopes it makes a life and the future a bit better. As one of my mentors refers, this is a journey to “Betterment”.

In 2000, the Earth Charter was approved and signed at UNESCO. It serves as a call to humanity embedded around 16 principles and as such is a pre-cursor to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (2015). I saw it as an affirmation of the Greens’ Ten Key Values. It’s preamble from two decades ago is arguably even more relevant today:

We stand at a critical moment in Earth's history, a time when humanity must choose its future. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise. To move forward we must recognize that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny. We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace. Towards this end, it is imperative that we, the peoples of Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations.

The four pillars and 16 principles of the Earth Charter align closely with both the Ten Key Values and the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals:

I. Respect and Care for the Community of Life

  1. Respect Earth and life in all its diversity.
  2. Care for the community of life with understanding, compassion and love.
  3. Build democratic societies that are just, participatory, sustainable and peaceful.
  4. Secure Earth's bounty and beauty for present and future generations.

II. Ecological Integrity

  1. Protect and restore the integrity of Earth's ecological systems, with special concern for biological diversity and the natural processes that sustain life.
  2. Prevent harm as the best method of environmental protection and, when knowledge is limited, apply a precautionary approach.
  3. Adopt patterns of production, consumption and reproduction that safeguard Earth's regenerative capacities, human rights and community well-being.
  4. Advance the study of ecological sustainability and promote the open exchange and wide application of the knowledge acquired.

III. Social and Economic Justice

  1. Eradicate poverty as an ethical, social and environmental imperative.
  2. Ensure that economic activities and institutions at all levels promote human development in an equitable and sustainable manner.
  3. Affirm gender equality and equity as prerequisites to sustainable development and ensure universal access to education, health care and economic opportunity.
  4. Uphold the right of all, without discrimination, to a natural and social environment supportive of human dignity, bodily health and spiritual well-being, with special attention to the rights of indigenous peoples and minorities.

IV. Democracy, Nonviolence, and Peace

  1. Strengthen democratic institutions at all levels, and provide transparency and accountability in governance, inclusive participation in decision-making, and access to justice.
  2. Integrate into formal education and lifelong learning the knowledge, values and skills needed for a sustainable way of life.
  3. Treat all living beings with respect and consideration.
  4. Promote a culture of tolerance, nonviolence and peace.

My attraction to the Earth Charter led to an invitation to join a global Earth Charter summit in Urbino Italy in 2002. Originally, we were scheduled for a week in Italy and another in Russia, but as I recall, the Russian leg was removed for some geopolitical reasons at the last moment. The meeting in Urbino connected me with a small set of committed individuals from around the world to discuss how to take the Earth Charter and make it local. It was full of vibrant and deep conversations about possibilities and barriers. Experiencing the deep commitment from people from around the planet to the possibilities of the Earth Charter to propel us forward was inspiring.

But, despite the best intentions of the Urbino attendees and many others, the Earth Charter has never really escaped the shadows into the bright sunshine of everyday global discussion. But its offspring, the UN Sustainable Development Goals have!! Especially noteworthy is the fact that they were approved by every member state of the United Nations in 2015, all 193 members!!!

 In naming the values (Greens), principles (Earth Charter), and goals (SDGs) there is significant overlap and shared emphasis. Wisely, the natural world and health of the biosphere are central in each. More obliquely addressed are two areas I feel that need more emphasis and attention along with the biosphere health. The language used to address those areas is more diffused.

First area of concern is ‘decision making’. How and who gets to make decisions? The Greens call for “Grassroots Democracy”, as a clearcut focus and list it first, although no hierarchy in values is intended in their listing. The Earth Charter is perhaps the most descriptive of what that means when they state the principle - “Strengthen democratic institutions at all levels, and provide transparency and accountability in governance, inclusive participation in decision-making, and access to justice.” The SDGs address this more obliquely in goal #16 Peace and Justice and Strong Institutions and in #17 Partnerships for the Goals. To be fair, it should be noted that the more specific 169 SDG targets across the 17 goals do have decision making elements infused like that of Target 16.7 --“Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels.”. But it is so easy to forget process when impassioned about an issue, unless process is an issue.

Second, and equally important in my mind, is the direct naming and addressing of “militarism”. While both the Green values and Earth Charter principles highlight “Nonviolence” as a specific focus and the SDG goal #16 claims “Peace” as a goal, addressing militarism directly is not visible. And yet, as ethics professor Ned Dobos notes in a recent book, “Ethics, Security and the War Machine”, the simple fact of preparing for war has questionable legitimacy, especially as practiced by the U.S. and other militarized states. Here’s a brief 5-minute summary his gives during a panel discussion with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace last month. The book itself gives one much more to ponder, raising all sorts of questions we likely never stop to consider, but should. The sheer misdirection of resources to war and militarism robs the society of needed capital (human, natural, and financial) to get us to ‘betterment’. For one brief introduction visit the Costs of War Project at Brown University.

However we choose to move forward as a human family into the hazy future, I firmly believe that keeping these two concerns in mind when forging solutions to our multiple challenges is crucial to those solutions being sustainable. There are plenty of examples of efforts from every corner of the world to attend to these. We need to make them part of the discussion around the other values, principles and goals as interdependent pieces necessary for truly sustainable outcomes.

Perhaps the most hopeful area where more important systemic change is at work is in the arena of economics. It’s clear to many, if not most, economists that the neoliberal model of unlimited growth on a finite planet has not only brought us to the crises we’re in, but that in many ways it destroys the social fabric needed to hold us together. One of the prescriptions that is getting global attention at many levels and connects to many, if not all, of the values, principles, and goals above comes from British economist Kate Raworth. Her important visualization of key components to building a sustainable future is the Doughnut – merging of the limits of a finite planet (environmental ceiling) with inclusive and sustainable economic development (social foundation) and the “safe and just space for humanity” in the balance. Thus the title of her acclaimed work and subsequent applications – “Doughnut Economics”.

 

Raworth isn’t alone in pushing us towards better possibilities for managing our relations towards each other and the planet we share. Austrian economist Christian Felber has laid out a similar platform in his Economy for the Common Good. Or there is the renewed interest in the Circular Economy, Steady State Economy and Solidarity Economy that surely offer amongst them and other :new: economic thinking, better possibilities for driving us toward betterment. The vast majority of citizens are totally unaware that there are other and better ways to manage our affairs. I would include in that the vast majority of our elected officials. If one can’t imagine a different, better world, how would you possibly be inspired to build it. That’s our job. It’s more than any one of us can do and yet it is a job for everyone of us. We need all of us to open up new possibilities that we may “live as siblings with beast and flower” and one another as offered by the poet Denise Levertov.

Beginners

(Dedicated to the memory of Karen Silkwood and Eliot Gralla)

From too much love of living,
Hope and desire set free,
Even the weariest river
Winds somewhere to the sea -


But we have only begun
To love the earth.

We have only begun
To imagine the fullness of life.

How could we tire of hope?
- so much is in bud.

How can desire fail?
- we have only begun

to imagine justice and mercy,
only begun to envision

how it might be
to live as siblings with beast and flower,
not as oppressors.

Surely our river
cannot already be hastening
into the sea of nonbeing?

Surely it cannot
drag, in the silt,
all that is innocent?

Not yet, not yet-
there is too much broken
that must be mended,

too much hurt we have done to each other
that cannot yet be forgiven.

We have only begun to know
the power that is in us if we would join
our solitudes in the communion of struggle.

So much is unfolding that must
complete its gesture,

so much is in bud.