Category Archives: Politics

Ship of Fools?

Posted by Mike

It was Sarah Palin, then Donald Trump, Michele Bachman, Rick Perry, Herman Cain. How could any reasonably intelligent person actually think any of these people

Childe Hassam Flags on the Waldorf detail Amon Carter Museum.jpgwould make (or would have made) a satisfactory President? Is this country filled with ignorant people who are unable to discriminate competence? The remaining candidates, thank goodness, all have some credibility, and hopefully some might make adequate Presidents. I have no complaints about people who might be supporting Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, John Huntsman, or Mitt Romney, though I wouldn’t agree with any of them regarding their choice of candidate.

The answer to my question above is two-fold. First, I don’t think this country is filled with ignorant people. The people I interact with every day, at work, at the grocery, at home, seem very bright and competent. And I think that people in general, in this country, are very bright and competent, at least in the areas of their expertise. But secondly, I think the problem is that in some areas – and I think politics and religion are the two prime suspects – we just don’t learn to discriminate very well, to put on our “thinking caps” and apply reason and logic, seek information, and perhaps more than anything else, be willing to challenge accepted notions. I fault religion with having the most influence in this area. Religious beliefs and doctrines are handed down from one generation to another and there is a generally unexpressed assumption that these basic beliefs are not to be challenged, that somehow, just because a belief, doctrine, or institution has survived essentially the same for 200 or 500 or a thousand or two thousand years it is sacrosanct and not to be challenged. I’ll just bore you with one issue I have with our religious beliefs. One denomination on its website reports that, “Our beliefs all stem from a full commitment to the authority of the Bible as the inerrant, infallible Word of God.” If you think like these folks, no challenge is possible. I wonder what they say to the occasional questioning teenager who wonders, “What makes it inerrant and infallible?” In my opinion there is no satisfactory answer to that question. My guess is that such questioning if it ever occurs is squelched, but I really don’t know as I don’t run in those circles.

We haven’t really learned, in this country, to question authority, to challenge accepted notions and the status quo. It’s been to our disadvantage continually, since the formation of our nation, and it’s remarkable that we have preserved to the extent that we have , our democratic processes given this lack. I’ll grant that there have been and are countervailing forces that have encouraged independent thinking and challenges to the status quo, from Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers to Occupy Wall Street, but they have tended to be a “weak force.” The “strong force” has always been the maintenance of the status quo. One example: It took almost 100 years for the full effect of Lincoln’s emancipation of the slaves to be effectively brought into being. Equality for African-Americans was delayed in the American South for years by supposedly “well meaning” whites who were unwilling to grant equality for all Americans. Oh – and did the churches speak out against this travesty?

It’s threatening and scary for our cherished assumptions and beliefs to be challenged, but adaptation to a changing world requires openness to that process. And it’s even more important now with the extraordinary effects of the internet and global interconnectedness as well as the increasing rapidity of innovation in technology and its effects throughout the world. Oh – we’re not a Ship of Fools or we would not have survived as well as we have. We do need to assess our foolishnesses from time to time, and this is one of those times.

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Filed under Christianity, philosophy, Politics, skepticism, Uncategorized

As the Year Comes to an End

Posted by Mike

I’m an avid reader of the New York Times. I read it on-line; it’s cheaper and easier. The compelling articles and opinion of the past few days have been editorials, especially the one by Nicholas Kristof regarding the incredible amount of money and materials we pour into our military arsenal,  and the article by Michael Kamber about his friend, the photojournalist Joao Silva: the work Silva has done over the years and his terrible injuries in Afganistan, where he recently lost both of his legs to a land mine. The issue of our military goals and expenses and the human costs are just some of the uncomfortable concerns that should make all of us squirm more than a little as the year is ending.

It would be uplifting if we in this country could look back upon the current and near-to-be-past year with satisfaction at worthwhile accomplishments and forward to the next year with anticipation of further successes in the areas most needed, not only in this country, but even more worldwide: available universal health care and increased focus on eradicating endemic diseases in the third world; increased educational opportunities, especially for those who have been underprivileged or denied opportunities in the past; a reduction in armaments and in warfare worldwide, including, but not necessarily especially, reduction in nuclear weaponry; strengthened efforts to negotiate with those who see us as their enemy, rather than to eliminate them by military force;  focus upon reduction in poverty worldwide; increased concern and action to protect the environment from its ongoing degradation, both on land and in the oceans.

Unfortunately, we are unable to accommodate to  the “uplifting” ideal suggested above. The countries of the world – and specifically for us, the United States – in general, but not universally, are in a great deal of trouble, having defaulted in most of the areas discussed above. In general, we have become in the United States insensitive to the needs of the impoverished and underpriviliged both here and worldwide; we arrogantly pursue our “national security” and consumer-product oriented goals: “more for myself and my family and my group and to hell with the others”, and avoid awareness of the needs of the manifold others less fortunate. We are the privileged and the correct thinking ones and the “saved” ones.

God help us – when the reckoning comes!

The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, shines above Bear Lake, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska.

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Filed under philosophy, Politics, Uncategorized, values

Going to Hell

Posted by Mike

Wikipedia reports that the expression “Going to Hell in a handbasket” is of unclear origin, but likely originated during the Civil War and means a situation headed for disaster. USCapitolbackside.JPGBeing a long-term Democrat and finding all neoconservatives, Tea Partiests, and Sara Palin the embodiment of evil, you can see why I’m reacting this way to the results of the current election.

It’s not the first time, of course, that the national population has acted stupid. It’s bad enough for the denizens inside the Washington Beltway to behave insanely, but worse when the population at large gets flummoxed. I know – you think I’m overreacting; maybe even think that I’m completely wrong in my assessment. You know, of course, if you do feel that way that you’re one of “them”!

Just in my lifetime, as a nation we’ve done a lot of stupid things that have had profound effects, perhaps mainly affecting those outside our borders, but also ourselves. I’m thinking of wars in particular. We could cite the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and our recent engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can’t blame the Republicans for all of this, of course. Truman was at the helm during the Korean War, and Kennedy and Johnson were responsible for Vietnam (regardless of what the biographers say).

It’s really sad, too, how Congress is generally set to go along with the President when they are only too willing to agree to his declarations of war. Perhaps we should trust Presidents and their coteries more on little issues and less on the big ones, like making war.

During the current election hardly anyone mentioned the current wars. It’s like they’re the horse on the dining room table. We know it’s there, but we all agree not to talk about it. There was a lot of talk, as you know, from Republicans about “rolling back” what they call Obamacare. Personally, I work in a health-related field and review so many cases of individuals whose only health care source is the emergency room. The lucky ones can get Medicaid cards, but there are more people out there than you can imagine who just don’t have access to any health care. You can’t go to emergency rooms and receive adequate care for chronic diseases. It’s true that in some communities there are nonprofit and volunteer-staffed free clinics, but for the average person without funds or resources, they make do until they are in extremis. Sometimes it’s too late to do much for them.

It seems like it’s never mentioned, but I think everyone deserves adequate dental care too. The only free dental clinic in our area was recently closed due to lack of funding. I imagine it served only a fraction of those needing care. The average low income person is not able to afford the charge for even one filling, much less any kind of regular dental care.

I’m not suggesting that society should assume responsibility for taking over the lives of the people in it. I do think that we have an obligation to provide help to those who lack the resources and who are unable to help themselves. Sometimes what people need is information and access to prevention. I see this in conception prevention. Do we really have adequate information available to young people to prevent pregnancy? Young people learn all about sex from television at an early age as well as from each other. We need to be teaching them more about how to avoid conception, and the problems  accompanying early and unplanned pregnancies. Obviously, we should also be teaching accountability and personal responsibility to children from an early age. Our society seems particularly deficient in such matters. I was reviewing a case file yesterday: the young woman was 25. She had five children. They were in the custody of others. She had already been in three drug rehabs, and is currently homeless, having left her court-ordered residential treatment program. Somebody was dropping the ball with this young lady; we can give her primary responsibility, but what was her mother doing? And the school (before she dropped out)? And her community?

I read our metropolitan newspaper daily. Without exception there is at least one shooting death in our inner city every day. The only person I heard mention guns during the election period was actually after the election. Mayor Blumberg was on a panel last night. In passing, he reported briefly on his major agendas, and included that he is “antigun.” Blumberg is an exception. Most politicians and mayors are so scared of the gun lobby to even suggest any tighter restrictions than the current regulations regarding gun possession.

Are we going to Hell in a handbasket? No, we’re not. If you look at a broad timeline, we are overall making progress, not only as a nation, but collectively worldwide as inhabitants of this vulnerable planet: Christians no longer burn heretics at the stake; we no longer accept slavery as okay, and African-Americans are no longer second class citizens – or worse – here in the United States; women have the right to vote and are taking their place as fully equal to men in virtually every work setting (maybe superior?). We have made tremendous strides in technology, in health care, in general understanding of how the world and society work, and in understanding the basic biological, chemical, and physical mechanisms upon which our technology rests. Nevertheless, we have a long way to go, and given the history of mankind, progress is going to be slow in furthering some basics, like true understanding, compassion for all, and generous provisions for the needy.

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The 2009 Civies

Guest Post by Alan Gibson—

Somebody’s got to recognize conspicuously civilized behavior, decided civility advocate Alan Gibson, author of the twelfth annual list. And the 2009 CIVIES go to:

ERNIE HARWELL — The Washington, Georgia, native broadcast Detroit Tiger baseball for 42 years with such gentlemanliness that he actually befriended the grimly efficient Ty Cobb.

GENERAL STANLEY McCHRYSTAL — The U.S. commander in Afghanistan, tasked with suppressing the Taliban, observed that his job is to “convince people, not kill them.” A thinking man’s soldier if you ask us.

THE BEER SUMMIT — Harvard prof. and Cambridge cop hash out differences at White House. Now that the format’s established, try it out on health care.

CATHLEEN FALSANI— The Chicago Sun-Times columnist roams the globe in search off grace—”gracespotting” she calls it—and thus becomes its avatar.

TIMOTHY KELLER — Civility among competing faiths—in Manhattan? Minister Keller takes a pastoral tack, advocating quiet, respectful dialogue.

CAPTAIN “SULLY’ SULLENBERGER — After landing on the Hudson, he handled heroism as smoothly as he’d handled his aircraft.

THE CITIZENS OF TEL AVIV — The Israeli city’s sophisticated ambiance embraces cafés where Arabs and Israelis can meet and talk. Left to tolerant Tel Aviv, there could be hope.

CHRISTOPHER PORTER —  Operating near Palm Springs but world’s away, the California activist, 55, found Hidden Harvest, feeding hundreds with crops left unharvested.

THOMAS ARE — the courtly Georgia theologian posits that we can best neutralize the Taliban by sending phalanxes of teachers to Afghanistan. Wouldn’t it be nice to think so.

CAMERON BROWN and BRAD WESTCOTT — The Purdue University sophomores advertise “Free Compliments” and toss verbal bouquets to campus passersby. Sophomoric? Yeah, in the best sense.

Gibson is co-found of Americans for More Civility and a columnist for the Pickens County (Georgia) Progress as well as hosting TV’s Civility Hour on Comcast Atlanta. His phone contact: 770-893-2578.

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Lose the Argument

Licorice Fern

Licorice Fern (Polypodium glycyrrhiza)

Part 4 – How to Stop an Argument

Posted by David—

“Look! If you-know-who was such a great president, then why…”

“You see, it’s clear that the earth is 4.5 billion years old…”

“Come  on, you know it’s on Route 441 rather than HWY 28, we need to get off at the next exit not this one…”

Stop for a moment and seriously consider losing the battle. Try submitting to your opponent for a moment and see what happens. If you’re not 100% certain or at least 100% riding on faith in your perspective, then submit to your opponent. If you are certain, then there’s no need to argue. Just say the truth with authority and move on.

“I never thought about it that way.”

“I suppose that I’m basing my facts on ideas which I’m really not all that certain about.”

“Okay, let’s try your way.”

But be honest with your statements. If you say you’ll think about it, really do take the information and digest it.  The bomb will be diffused. See where it takes you.

Please note that I’m not talking about capitulation here. It’s not really possible to compromise truth. Don’t water-down your belief here. Just be humble where humility is appropriate. This form of submission is like saying, “Wow, the universe is an amazing, complex, yet simple, and gloriously beautiful place, more so that I can imagine. I’ve been wrong before. I could be wrong this time.”  

And if you find out you were right all along, you can have a fight—a fight with yourself. Fight very hard to not let yourself even think, “I told you so.”

If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic.

Luke 6:29

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Yes, Yes, Nod, Nod, Wink, Wink

Hurricane Katarina

Photo Credit: NASA

Posted by David-

Anyone who has spent much time with me knows that I love the weather and that I have special theories that cover just about everything. I suppose, “theory” isn’t the best word for my thoughts. It’s more like I hang on to a map that is based loosely on observation and highly on metaphor. I ask myself, “If [A] works in this pattern, then mustn’t [B] work in a similar way?” Yes, there’s trouble written all over that logic. Or is there?

I’ll share with you one of my special maps that helps me grasp processes in the cosmos. It’s quite simple: all processes of the heavens, including the ‘space’ below our feet, work like weather. I always envision the hurricane as an example because it’s so elegant and its basic processes are fairly well understood. We might not know why it centers on Kingston rather than Havana, but we do know the heat engine that drives it, the steering currents that push and pull it, and the general pattern of wind development. In my personal opinion it is the perfect model for everything from trees to planets and from atoms to galaxies. In my map, the hurricane is the rosetta stone for understanding how all natural phenomena works.

As bold and off-base as this might sound, it actually is my fundamental subconscious map that I use to understand nature. When I think geology, in the back of my head I see the earth as a hurricane. When I think of gravity, I think of the isobar gradients that weathermen plot. If I read about a scientist’s new theory about the cosmos, I always plug the new theory into my ‘map’. Does it fit into my map?

As a result, I have developed a fairly farfetched vison of how nature works. But I enjoy it and if I’m wrong, that’s okay. I’ve been wrong before. My scientist friends think that I hold on to these ideas, because that is what I ‘want’ to believe. They may be right. It maybe that my pride and prejudices need this to be the case so I don’t tumble into existential despair. But I don’t think so. These days, Jesus keeps me humble. It may very well be that I am projecting my ‘maps’ on to the universe, which takes me to one of the other special ‘maps’ that guide my understanding: human projection is a real and powerful force.

I had an interesting experience just the other day that may help me to explain. I’m using this incident as an example and by no means am justifying myself here. I’ve done the same thing many times.

I was at a dinner gathering of 20 or so men, women and children. The friends that I usually chat with were either occupied or absent, so I just sat around and watched the children play. One particular person started telling a story describing something of a political nature. As an observer to the story I listened and the storyteller knew it. Every few moments, my eyes were linked to the storyteller. I listened. As the person spoke, the story was told in a manner that had the general expectation that the audience agreed or should agree with the political position. The storyteller’s eyes were seeking facial cues of “yes, yes, I agree with you.” But I didn’t agree. I rarely agree with any political stance, right or left. But what was interesting was that the storyteller seemed to hunger for acceptance of this particular view.

At first, I felt compelled, almost as if by a power, to agree with my eyes. But my eyes wouldn’t, they tried to stay neutral, which I found to be no different than a lie. It was so difficult. Finally, I burst out and said that “no” what was being described sounded like Hell to me, because that was the truth. Politics are Hell. Politics are simply the societal gossip that lead humans down the road to civil war.

So, how do I explain this common human phenomena, this powerful force that causes us to seek justification of our points of view from those around us? It’s easy. I just look inside myself to see why others do it. I’ve done this before with my ‘theories’. My ‘fallen’ nature desires to be God. I project–as a force–my notions, my thoughts, and my lies upon reality for purposes of dominion and self-justification. At least I’ve done this in the past and I certainly do it at times presently.

I never really understood until recently how sin can have affected all of the cosmos, as is taught in Christian theology. But I now understand it to be because of the power and scope of human projection. Because of our fallen state, when we look beyond our own noses we tend to project the ego outward. However rational and unbiased and scientific we may try to be, we can’t help but apply the root of our pride and prejudices to the universe and to our next door neighbor. This is a true force and can be likened to gravity and to barometric isobars. And it can become malicious and manipulative as we seek justification.

For quite sometime, maybe our whole lives long, we can go about thinking that we’re right and that the other guy is wrong. In fact, because we’re so good at projecting with a force, the universe may even start talking back to us, and nod, and say, “yes, yes, nod, nod, wink, wink, I agree with you. I want to belong to your way of thinking.” But eventually we will discover, that it wasn’t universe talking back after all, it was only our reflection and, oh, how lonely we will be then.

Creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now.

Romans 8:19-21

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How American Discourse Goes Awry

by Alan Gibson, guest writer

Newsweek magazine recently clouted me across the snout with a stark observation: “How utterly we fail at discussing culture in American.”

 OK, that hurt. I discuss American culture all the time. For example, my observation that Newsweek’s new format is about as exciting as the owner’s manual for a tractor. But let’s say Newsweek’s stark observation is true. Here are four suggestions as to how the American discourse can go awry:

 1. We shout at one another. There is a perception, abetted by tele-pundits, that the loudest voice wins the argument. The dignity of a completed thought is rarely permitted in televised debate. When asked if he’d please stop interrupting his guests, Bill O’Reilly said “No. My job is to conduct a spirited discussion.”

 2. We argue to advance an agenda rather than to learn. Good arguing is not a contest but a cooperation in pursuit of truth. And conversation is the search for essence. How are you, we entreat one another, sometimes actually wanting to know. To talk at leisure with a good person is to discover all manner of fine things.

 3. We opt for ideological consistency when the point is truth. Beauty resides – and danger lurks – all along the political spectrum. To loiter intellectually at either of the antipodes is to substitute formula for thought process. James Carville and Mary Matalin, the media couple, are engaging not when they recite talking points but when they transcend them, illustrating that competing ideologies can not only coexist but leaven one another.

 4. We don’t understand subtext, i.e., the mood and spirit of our behavior. Happiness is not the story of our lives but the mood. Carville and Matalin superficially are antagonists, but subtextually they are in love, which is why they don’t strangle one another. A fine meal in a glum atmosphere satisfies less than a celebratory can of pork and beans. If a churl instead of a charmer had first flown the Atlantic, it would have been merely an event. But Lindbergh’s aircraft was The Spirit of St. Louis, happily invoking the supernal subtext.

So, anyway, I’m going to go on discussing culture in American, however imperfectly. I hope you’ll join me, because when you and I shoot the breeze in a coffeehouse, we’re not just discussing America, we are defining it. Attempting to solve the problems of the world is not a pastime. It is our own nobility, saluting the wind.

Alan moderates a weekly events discussion group and writes a regular column,The Essential Bad Attitude, for the Jasper (Georgia) Pickens County Progress.

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Sotomayor? Yes!

Posted by Mike

June 1, 2009. I thought it would never come. Responsible Republicans are finally speaking out against their most notorious spokesperson’s excessive rantings. I understand that in the heat of the moment any politician or individual speaking out against a political position that they strongly but honestly differ with might not speak calmly and rationally, but Limbaugh and his ilk speak constantly in hyperbole. Among the many over the top comments Mr. Limbaugh made on his Friday May 29 radio show was that Judge Sotomayor in her prepared remarks during a talk in 2001 made “… racist and bigoted comments about her being a better judge than a white guy.” Newt Gingrinch made similar comments in his Twitter note of May 27, and the issue has been picked up and commented on endlessly by conservatives in the media.

The specific quote by Judge Sotomayor in a talk to a group of Hispanic women in 2001 was, “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

[The full text of Judge Sotomayor’s speech which was delivered at the University of California, Berkeley, College of Law, can be found at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/15/us/politics/15judge.text.html?_r=2]

The Judge’s talk was essentially about her ethnic identity and the part that plays in her judicial work and in celebrating the increasing ethnic and racial diversity and the greater participation of women in the judicial system in the United States .

 Judge Sotomayer also stated in that talk, “I accept the thesis of …Professor Steven Carter of Yale Law School …that in any group of human beings there is a diversity of opinion because there is both a diversity of experience and thought.”  She goes on to say that “…enough people of color in enough cases, will make a difference in the process of judging….As recognized by legal scholars…as a group we will have an effect on the development of the law and on judging.” She stated that “the seminal decisions in racial and sex discrimination cases have come from Supreme Courts composed exclusively of white males,” but goes on to reflect that it was people of color and women who successfully argued those cases before the Court.  Within the context of the Judge’s talk, the specific quote above that has been the cause of so much recent controversy was specifically in relation to making judgments on the bench in sex and racial discrimination cases. 

It is clear from her talk, however, that Judge Sotomayor believes that in general ethnic, racial, and sexual diversity in judicial setting will provide more representative and more fair decisions. She states, “Personal experience affects the facts that judges choose to see.” She accepts the proposition that there will be a difference “by the presence of women and people of color on the bench.”

Clearly Judge Sotomayor’s statements are not racial or bigoted. She appears to be a realist and is clearly not a Constitutional fundamentalist. Obviously there are many Americans who are fearful of the increasing diversity of the Supreme Court, just as they are fearful of the increasing diversity of values and of the increasing ethnic and racial diversities of the country. If we look at the history of our country, despite our multicultural heritage, we have always experienced resistance to providing equal freedoms, rights and privileges to women and minorities – sometimes extremely prolonged [witness the blocking of Reconstruction in the late 1860’s and the resistance to full freedom and equality for African-Americans until the 1960’s]. Our Founding Fathers clearly had their blind spots, but in the Declaration of Independence they wrote that “all men are created equal,” and they put into the Constitution the goal of “the blessings of liberty” for all persons. Over the past 200 plus years, we have slowly, progressively, in fits and starts moved toward that goal of freedom and equality for all. The appointment of Judge Sotomayor  to the Supreme Court will move us just a few more notches  in that direction despite anything that Rush Limbaugh and his cronies will have to say!

“The will of the people is the only legitimate foundation of any government, and to protect its free expression should be our first object.”                                     –  Thomas Jefferson                            

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Slippery Slopes

Posted by Mike

As individuals we have all kinds of slippery slopes.  We say to ourselves, “It won’t really make any difference.  I’ll just….” Most of us can fill in the blank for ourselves; could be an addiction, dishonesty, cheating, lying.  It always becomes easier the second time, and by the third time we don’t notice it at all. Governments have slippery slopes too. The Gulf of Tonkin incident was seen as the slippery slope that led to the United States’ involvement in the disastrous Vietnam War. In actuality the slippery slope was a long series of covert operations in South Vietnam and propping and and support of corrupt South Vietnamese governments for the ten years preceding the Gulf of Tonkin incident.

Our war in Iraq was not a slippery slope. The Bush Administration planned the war, justifying it on the basis of Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction. It is ironic that at the time of the invasion, Saddam Hussein had been reined in: there were “no-fly” zones in the north and the south. Iraq was a danger to no country in the Middle East at that time and certainly no danger to the United States. I wonder what our response to Saddam Hussein would have been had Dick Cheney and George W. Bush served in Vietnam and observed first-hand the damage, destruction, and heartbreak that war did to both sides. 

A major current slippery slope is our involvement in Afghanistan, a country much more isolated from the West and even more enmeshed in values, mores, and loyalties that we understand less than we do the Middle East. Will and Ariel Durant published a thin volume in 1968, following the publication of the tenth volume of their opus, The Story of Civilization. The book was titled, The Lessons of History, and it was made up of what the Durants had learned from their study of history that might be of help in illuminating “present affairs, future probabilities, the nature of man, and the conduct of states.” They included a section on history and war and indicated that, “War is one of the constants of history, and has not diminished with civilization or democracy.” The Durants avoided a clear declaration of their own perspective on the use of war to settle conflicts within or between nations by including an imaginary dialogue between “the philosopher” and “the general.” The general believed that it was now [in 1968] up to the United States to fully take up the mantle assumed earlier by Great Britain to serve as the protector “of Western civilization from external danger,” the danger being the Soviet Union and the other communist countries. The philosopher made a case for challenging the “evil precedents” of history by boldly supporting solving the conflicts that lead to war through negotiation and learning to understand and appreciate the difference in perspectives among nations. At the end, the Durants clearly have the general win the argument, saying, “Some conflicts are too fundamental to be resolved by negotiation; and during the prolonged negotiations…subversion would go on.” The general saw that the only possibility of a “world order” being established was, “…not by a gentlemen’s agreement, but through so decisive a victory by one of the great powers that it will be able to dictate and enforce international law.” The Durants were clearly not optimistic that the pattern of the past – war as a “solution” to conflict between nations – would ever be supplanted.

Iron CurtainLooking back at the Cold War, it can be seen as a kind of insanity, in which nations and populations got caught up in a paranoid rhetoric that had the potential of creating mass destruction, should the paranoia have been acted upon ultimately by the use of atomic weapons. The slippery slopes that initiated the Cold War are now obscured by the veil of history, but occurred primarily right at the end of the Second World War and related to both sides being unable to perceive the fear beneath the saber rattling. Some compromises were made at that time; but even they (e.g., the divided Berlin) served to intensify the conflict.

The slippery slopes of the Cold War period led to our involvement in Vietnam and the Vietnam War, which cost our nation much in material resources and human lives, and which destroyed much of the economy of Vietnam and devastated a generation of their people. Psychiatrists call the kind of paranoia that was present in the Cold War “shared delusions,” reflective not of individual psychosis, but of the indoctrination of people with a kind of delusional “group think.”

Have we learned from the lessons of history of the past 40 years? Have we learned from our slippery slopes of the past? Are we more willing and able to continue to negotiate our differences until we are “blue in the face,” and then begin negotiating again the next day, without resorting to military action? Remarkably we have been able to do that at various places in the world, with North Korea, for example. Despite our differences and the perceived “threat” of Kim Jong-il, we have not lost our rationality and invaded North Korea. But we remain on the slippery slope in Afghanistan, seemingly unwilling to understand that Western values hold no weight in that culture, and that the solutions that we seek are not necessarily the solutions that the Pashtun and other ethnic peoples of Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan would choose. Unless we are to continue the heartbreak of further death and destruction in Afghanistan, we must finally come to understand that there are no satisfactory military “solutions” to the conflict there. Increased understanding of the other, rather than demonization, is necessary; and protracted discussion and negotiation between parties, with resolution of areas of disagreement piece by piece until final peace is attained.

We need to be vigilant, not only in the present, but in the future, for once a course of action is initiated by a “slippery slope,” it becomes harder to change direction the further down the slope we fall.

One is left with the horrible feeling now that war settles nothing; that to win a war is as disastrous as to lose one.                

                        -Agatha Christie (1890-1976)

 The stateman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforseeable and uncontrollable events.

          – Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

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The Marginalized

Posted by: David

Society will always marginalize this or that group, no matter what group is in power.

If Party A: the poor are marginalized.
If Party B: the disabled are marginalized.
If Party C: the weak are marginalized.
If Party D: the hard workers are marginalized.
If Party E: the justice-seekers are marginalized.
If Party F: the peacemakers are marginalized.

Blessed be the marginalized, for they shall be brought within.

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