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The Moral Wrongs of Obamacare. Part 1. Entrenching the Medical-Industrial Compex

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I believe it is important to set down, in as methodical and systematic way as possible, the ways in which Obamacare is not only risky or potentially harmful, but actually something morally wrong.  Several times I’ve begun to write an article that does this, and each time had to quit as the task became simply overwhelming in scope.  It is a big issue, a huge one.  We’re talking about something that may constitute, both in what it is and what it may lead to, a fundamental restructuring of the system of American government and the nature of our society.  Yet, as many times as I give up and put the project aside, I feel dissatisfied for having done so and return to it again.

In part, what I face is what every person faces when, in a debate, they encounter the big lie.  The big lie is the tactic by which a party presents a falsehood so enormous, so outrageous, so utterly beyond the realm of plausibility, that it literally overwhelms the ability of the other party to refute it.  The opponent is simply flummoxed, bewildered by the sheer audacity.  The big lie changes the ground rules of a debate, transforming what should be an earnest attempt by two agents of good-will to find the truth, into something of bad-will.  The big lie is a power play, a trick, which seeks to win  by deceit and  subterfuge.

The big lie tactic therefore, is not used, or should not be, by decent people, either in debates between two people, or between groups of individuals in a social or political context.  However in the present case we are not debating an individual, nor groups of individuals.  We are ‘debating’ – in a broad sense of that term – a vast system, something intrinsically amoral.  It is a system like or analogous to the military-industrial complex, but something much greater; a system that includes our government, our political parties, Wall Street, multinational corporations, and our news and entertainment media.  Moreover, each of us is, to varying extents, consciously or unconsciously, part of this system.  Anyone who has a mutual fund or retirement plan with dividends linked to Wall Street profits, is, to some extent, part of this system.  This system is our opponent.  That it resorts to the big lie to sway public opinion is the least of our problems.

One reason the big lie tactic is so effective is that an opponent faced with the prospect of refuting it envisions how hard a task it will be, and simply gives up before trying.  Much as I might like to do that, I simply don’t see it at as an option.  The only alternative, therefore, is to try to make this daunting task more manageable by breaking into several smaller ones.  The present, then, will be the first of several installments dedicated to this.

Preliminary Remarks

Some preliminary remarks are in order.  First I wish the reader to know that I am most certainly committed to the principle of social justice – both in general, and in the particular matter of health care.  I *am* a health professional, and I chose that profession not to make money, but because helping people with health and psychological problems is in my nature.  It is my vocation (or, at least, one of my vocations).  In fact, it is precisely *because* I care about people’s health that I am opposed to Obamacare, which I see as ultimately harmful to public health. I have major political and economic concerns, also; but, frankly, I would be willing to overlook these were it not for the disastrous effects on public health.

Second, I should make clear that it is not Obamacare in particular that I am concerned about, but rather any attempt to place the healthcare system further under the management and direction of the federal government.  If a plan of universal health care administered at the level of local or county governments could be developed, I would have much less reason to object.  In any case, it is certainly not because the new plan is associated with President Obama that I object.  For me that is simply a term.

Third, I wish to clarify what I mean by “moral wrong.”  I mean this in the strictly technical sense of moral philosophy.  That is by “moral wrong” I mean (1) what is opposite or opposed to moral good; and (2) that which we therefore have a moral responsibility to prevent, change, or oppose.

Finally, it should be pointed out that I am not writing this out of any need or wish on my part to merely complain or criticize.  There is already too much emotionalism, antagonism, and partisan strife in society today.  I know better than to be part of that.  I am writing because I should.  I have many years’ experience in diverse facets of the health field, an insider’s perspective (including positions at
Duke University, Wake Forest University, and the RAND Corporation) and, it could honestly be said, a uniquely informed one.  Much as I might like to evade it, I have a civic responsibility to write about this.

These clarifications made, let’s proceed to the analysis.

Reason 1.  Industrial Medicine

The first and greatest reason why I see Obamacare as morally wrong is that it will consolidate and entrench the paradigm of modern industrial medicine in our society.

By consolidate I mean it will strengthen and make more prominent the model of industrial medicine, and those organizations and institutions that promote it, and it will drive out competing, non-industrial health paradigms.  By entrench I mean that, once consolidated, it will be extremely hard, almost impossible, at least for many years, to change that paradigm.  We will watch in anger and disgust as public health and healthcare deteriorate, and be powerless to change it.

By modern industrial medicine I mean the prevailing system by which medicine is practiced today, which emphasizes (1) domination of healthcare and policy by large corporations, (2) treatment rather than prevention; and (3) expensive rather than moderately or low-priced alternatives.

The modern paradigm of industrial medicine is inextricably linked with profit motivation.  The innovations in healthcare, the new products that emerge, are those which deliver the most profit to corporations.  The nature of the system is that there is every incentive to develop expensive, invasive interventions, and virtually none to produce less expensive and less invasive treatments.  The paradoxical nature of “health for profit” can be illustrated with a hypothetical example: if we had the technology to develop a pill that cured the common cold that cost .1 cent per dose, we wouldn’t do so.  There’d be no profit in it.  But if the same pill could be sold for $10, companies would be fighting tooth and nail to develop and market it.

Similarly, it is well within our technological ability to wipe out a global scourge like malaria; but this receives comparatively little attention, because it isn’t seen as profitable.  I don’t know the actual statistics, but wouldn’t surprise me if more money is spent in the US developing new versions of Viagra and Cialis than goes into anti-malaria research.

Malaria doesn’t affect public health in the US, but obesity does.  So do the effects of alcohol and tobacco use.  The effects of this deadly trio alone probably account for at least half of all hospital admissions in the US.  We have virtually an unlimited ability to prevent these problems.  Anybody can stop smoking.  Most obesity can be prevented by intervening in childhood.  But, again, it’s much more profitable to treat the outcomes of these problems than to concentrate on prevention.

This problem affects the very foundation of medicine, the culture of it.  It affects how physicians, nurses, and medical researchers are trained.  It affects undergraduate education.  By the time someone gets an MD or a research PhD, they are fully indoctrinated in this model.  It becomes difficult to think of health in any other terms.

As long as the federal government stays out of healthcare there is some hope for change.  We always have the potential for new ideas and innovators to arise at the grass-roots level, to demonstrate new paradigms, which catch on and influence others.  But the danger of Obamacare is that, in centralizing healthcare delivery, planning, and policy to an unprecedented degree, and laying the foundation for still further centralization, we make it much harder for the grass-roots kind of innovation to occur.  Instead, will have a massively top-down model of dissemination of technology and practice.  Centralized boards will review and approve only certain medical procedures, and will pressure all players to use these methods.  Further, it is the large corporations who will have the most influence in choosing these methods and designing policies.  Naturally these policies will lean towards  practices and a basic philosophy of medicine that produces the most profits.

It is not just the actual dangers outlined above that concern me.  Beyond these is the fact that we will be placing literally our lives under the control of a vast, amoral, non-human system.  We have already seen, over the last 50 or 60 years, what happens when we place national defense in the hands of such a system: instead of peace, which is the natural desire of every human being, we have perpetual war.  Our collective policy becomes utterly dehumanized, and inimical to each individual.  I do not see how we can expect anything different when we hand over control of our health to the federal government and profit-driven corporate system.

My Reply to Congresswoman Lois Capp’s (CA-24) Letter on Syria

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Re:  ** Your Response Concerning Syria **

Dear Rep. Lois Capps
California’s 24th US Congressional District

Thank you for informing me of your position on Syria.

May I remind you:

1. That there is a legitimate possibility that the Syrian rebels were responsible for the use of sarin gas in a Damascus suburb recently, with the precise intent of drawing the US into the conflict.  And that the UN investigators have not made their report.  And that it is foolish in the utmost for the Obama administration to commit itself before sufficient data are available with which to draw reliable conclusions.

2. That there is near unanimous consensus that the figure of 1,429 deaths is exaggerated, and that the actual number killed is significantly lower.

3. That even if there is a moral imperative to address the use of nerve gas in Syria, there is *not* a moral imperative for the US to act precipitously and unilaterally.  Indeed, there *is* a moral imperative to respond in a responsible way, namely by dealing with the problem as one member of a community of nations.

4. There are far worse humanitarian calamities, such as mass starvation, which the US government pays no attention to. And that this double-standard reveals that President Obama is using the recent sarin gas event as a pretext for military intervention motivated for other reasons.

5. That in any case there is no such thing as a limited military action. Mission creep is a brute fact.  Once released, there is no calling back the dogs of war, and one would be both extremely naive and ignorant of history to believe otherwise.

Sincerely,

John Uebersax

Written by John Uebersax

September 11, 2013 at 12:47 am

Syria Letter from My Congresswoman Lois Capps (CA-24)

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mail_headercapps letter 1capps letter 2

Text of letter:

September 10, 2013

Dear John Uebersax:

Thank you for contacting me to express your opposition to U.S. military involvement in Syria. As your Representative, I appreciate hearing from you.

This is a deeply troubling and complex issue. As you know, several reports revealed the use of chemical weapons in the ongoing conflict between the Assad regime and armed rebel forces in Syria. On August 30th, the White House released an unclassified summary of U.S. intelligence reports, which assessed the Syrian government’s mass use of chemical weapons on a Damascus suburb, as well as other smaller suspected chemical weapon attacks. The assessment determined the most recent attack on August 21st resulted in approximately 1,429 deaths, including at least 426 children. In addition to the unclassified evidence released by the Administration, I have since reviewed further evidence regarding the attacks through classified briefings in Washington.

Clearly, the Assad regime’s deployment of chemical weapons violates a long standing international norm, in place for nearly 100 years, that has greatly deterred their use. The question before me is what actions should the U.S. take to reduce the likelihood of those weapons being used again in Syria and by others in the future. As such, I am reviewing the Administration’s proposal for targeted action in Syria very carefully, including meeting with government, military and foreign policy experts, but I have yet to determine whether this action would achieve that goal. As someone who voted against the Iraq war, I believe that any commitment of U.S. military forces must always be considered with the greatest of care and, furthermore, be the last resort to achieving the goal of safeguarding our national security. Indeed, that is one reason I wrote to the President urging the Administration to seek Congressional authorization prior to committing any military force in Syria so that we, as a nation, could have this critical debate.

I will continue reviewing information on this issue and am monitoring the situation within Syria closely, as it continues to evolve. Moreover, I will continue to listen to my constituents as you make your voices heard on this difficult issue. Rest assured, I will certainly keep your views in mind on this critically important topic.

Thank you again for contacting me. Please keep in touch by liking my Facebook page, following me on Twitter, signing up for my e-newsletter, or by visiting my website.

Sincerely,

LOIS CAPPS
Member of Congress

Written by John Uebersax

September 11, 2013 at 12:40 am

The Four Kinds of Drone Strikes

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Drone (appears to be General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper)

Regrettably, the US government is continuing its shell game of distraction, disinformation, and shifting definitions to thwart any serious attempts to impose transparency on its drone killing campaigns in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.  A good example is found in the headlines of Monday, May 21, 2012.  One news story reported that several anonymous government officials disclosed (off the record) certain new regulations concerning selection of drone strike targets.  The new regulations probably mean very little, since, as we shall observe below, targeted strikes of terrorist kingpins are relatively infrequent.  But ironically, a second story summarized the latest brief issued by the CIA in its ongoing legal battle with the ACLU (the ACLU is suing, under the Freedom of Information Act, for the government to supply more information about drone strikes, including data on civilian casualties.)  The gist of the CIA response is that, even though the existence of drone strikes is common knowledge, and the government informally acknowledges the strikes, it does not officially acknowledge them, and to do so would somehow jeopardize national security.  So, in short, on the same day the government is both leaking carefully prepared propaganda about the strikes in an evident move to assuage public opinion; and also refusing to admit that the CIA conducts strikes in Pakistan or elsewhere.

In the face of such contradictory and confusing tactics, we, the American public have only one recourse:  to doggedly pursue the truth, and to not cease asking questions until we are entirely satisfied with the answers.

We must begin with clear terms, and that is the purpose of the present article.  Drone strikes, that is, the launching of explosive missiles from a remotely operated aerial vehicle, come in four varieties: targeted killings, signature strikes, overt combat operations, and covert combat operations.  We shall consider each in turn.

  • Targeted killing. This occurs when a drone strike is used to kill a terrorist whose identity is known, and whose name has been placed on a hit list, due to being deemed a ‘direct and immediate threat’ to US security.  The government would like people to think this means these strikes target a terrorist literally with his or her hand on a detonator.  But, in actuality, the only real criterion is that the government believes the target is sufficiently closely affiliated with terrorist organizations (e.g., a propagandist or financier) to justify assassination. This is likely the rarest form of drone strike.  However it receives the most publicity, because the government likes to crow when it kills a high-ranking terrorist.
  • Signature strikes.  In signature strikes, the target is a person whose name is not known, but whose actions fit the profile (or ‘signature’) of a high-ranking terrorist. There is some ambiguity concerning the meaning of this term.  Some use it in the sense just stated — i.e., a strike against an anonymous terrorist leader.  Others use it more broadly to include killing of any non-identified militants, whether high-ranking or not.  However from the moral standpoint it makes a major difference whether an anonymous targeted victim is  a high-level leader, or simply an anonymous combatant.  For this reason it is advantageous to restrict the term “signature strike” to the targeting of anonymous high-level leaders,  and to assign strikes against anonymous non-leaders to the two further categories below.
  •  Overt combat operation. This category includes drone strikes conducted as part of regular military operations.  These strikes are presumably run by uniformed military personnel according to codes of military conduct, and are, logically and legally, not much different from ordinary air or artillery strikes. As a part of routine warfare, such strikes are subject to the provisions of the Geneva Conventions.  Three items of the Geneva Conventions are of special interest here:  (1) strikes should occur only in the context of a legally declared war; (2) they should be conducted by lawful combatants (which, many experts believe, excludes use of non-uniformed, civilian contractor operators); and (3) standard provisions concerning the need to report casualties, especially civilian casualties, are in effect.
  • Covert combat operation. Finally, there are covert combat operations. These, like the former category, are launched against usual military targets – e.g., any hostile militant, not just high-ranking ones.  But why should these strikes be covert?  The obvious answer is: to mask something shady. Covert combat strikes can evade all those irritating constraints on military tactics imposed by the Geneva Conventions, International Law, public opinion, and basic human decency.

The specific terms used above to distinguish these four kinds of strikes are admittedly arbitrary, and perhaps some other nomenclature would be more advantageous.  But we need some fixed set of terms to refer to these fundamentally different kinds of strikes. Without such terms, the US government will continue to have its way by relying on public confusion and terminological sophistry. For example, if there is only a single generic term, the government may issue a claim such as “drone strikes comply with international law.” This is perhaps technically true for, say, overt military drone strikes, but it is not true for signature strikes. With more precise terms, it would be more difficult for the government to mislead the public.

The last two categories of strikes correspond to what (according to the New York Times) the Department of Defense calls TADS, for Terrorist Attack Disruption Strikes.  This term is a misleading euphemism, however.  It invites the interpretation that such strikes aim to disrupt potential terrorist attacks on the US.  But what these strikes actually seek to counter are things like cross-border raids from Pakistan to Afghanistan, attacks on supply lines, militant engagements with US forces, and actions of insurgents within their own countries.

Statistical tabulations compiled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and other sources show convincingly that most strikes in Pakistan must belong to the last category, covert combat operations.  The sheer number (300 strikes, with thousands of casualties) rules out targeted killings and signature strikes: there simply aren’t that many high-level terrorists.  What seems much more likely is that the US military feels the need to attack Taliban fighters within Pakistan – both to prevent Afghan Taliban members from hiding in Pakistan, and to counter strikes by the Pakistan Taliban and affiliated groups on NATO supply trains.

This, of course, is completely illegal, inasmuch as the US is not at war with Pakistan, or, for that matter, with the Pakistan Taliban.

“But”, drone strike zealots will plead, “what if we have the permission of the host government to conduct strikes in their territory?”  This is bogus logic to begin with.  Suppose some brutal dictator gives the US permission to launch drone strikes against innocent civilians in his country?  Would that permission somehow make the strikes just and legal?  And in any case, what good does such permission mean if it is not public, not acknowledged by the host country?

What really appears to be going on in Pakistan is this:  the US military in Afghanistan has a decided military interest in launching combat operations against the Pakistan Taliban.  However, this is illegal.  Meanwhile, conservative factions of the Pakistani government would love to see the Pakistan Taliban eliminated.  Unfortunately, the hands of this faction are tied by an uncooperative and unreliable military, and by other powerful Pakistani factions that are not so interested in seeing the Taliban destroyed, and certainly not at the price of trashing national sovereignty.

The solution is obvious.  The Pakistani conservatives give a wink and a nod to the US to do the dirty work.  “You launch the strikes, then we’ll officially disapprove of them.”  This works until the toll of innocent civilians killed by the strikes becomes too great, and pressure mounts on the Pakistani government to denounce them.  But, as modern politicians understand so well, the public has a short attention span.  All that need happen is for the strikes to subside for a few weeks until the anger abates, only to begin again.

To summarize, the US government thus far has promoted and capitalized on public confusion about the nature and purpose of drone strikes.  Most strikes in Pakistan and Yemen are likely covert combat operations.  The government, however, would gladly have the public believe these are targeted killings and signature strikes against high-level terrorists.  As covert combat operations, the strikes are illegal under international law, and extremely harmful to US dignity and security.  Further, unlike targeted killings or signature strikes, which might potentially prevent a terrorist act, collateral civilian damage of covert combat drone strikes is unacceptable.

John Uebersax is a psychologist, writer and former RAND Corporation military analyst.

The Psychology of Political Fighting

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Question:  Dr. Uebersax, you’re a psychologist.  Can you please explain why there is so much political fighting now?  It seems like that’s all people do these days?  Perplexed in Peoria.

Answer: Dear Perplexed.  Thank you for your question.  No doubt many people are asking the same thing.

The subject of today’s political acrimony is a terribly important one.  There are many dimensions to the problem, and an exhaustive treatment would take a book-length response.  In lieu of that, let’s see if we can outline or simply list some of the most relevant contributory factors, drawing upon the whole range of available psychological theories and paradigms.

Imitation.  Imitation is one of the strongest determinants of behavior.  Our species has survived partly due to our ability to learn quickly by imitation.  For one thing, this is how innovations disseminate rapidly in a culture.  Unfortunately, imitation is a two-edged sword.  We not only imitate good behaviors, but bad ones.  This is related to the phenomenon of conformity.  In any case, social attitudes and behavior disseminate in a nonlinear way.  They can change very rapidly.  Once a critical mass of  “convention” is reached, there is a strong pressure on everyone to conform.  Today, unfortunately, the convention has become one of approaching politics in terms of anger, hatred and demonization of opponents.

Instigation.  The situation is not helped by the presence of active forces which seek to perpetuate the spirit of conflict.  News media are prime culprits here, and banks and corporations benefit immensely from maintaining the present situation.  As long as people are angry, they are unable to effect any meaningful change to society or government.  Moreover, anger unleashes a cascading sequence of negative emotions that support materialism.  We eat, drink, smoke, and buy things that aren’t necessary, and often harm  us, because of being dominated by disorderly passions.

Stress.  Stress reduces our good judgment – by which we ought to be able to see that constant fighting is hurting everybody.  It also makes us irritable and eager to find scapegoats.

Ignorance.  People today are pervasively ignorant in five relevant respects.  First, they are ignorant of the issues; they reduce all issues to black-and-white, all-or-none thinking.  Second, they are ignorant of the motives and rationale of their opponents (i.e., those who support political policies they oppose).  Third, they are (and this is surprising) ignorant of how the established power interests actively manipulate public opinion in an obvious divide-and-conquer strategy.  Fourth, they are largely ignorant of critical thinking skills.  Fifth, our culture has reached a remarkable degree of functional illiteracy, such that many more people would prefer to read inflammatory headlines than to immerse their minds in deep reading and books that convey sound, positive ideas.

Laziness.  This is perhaps too harsh a word, but in any case people today exercise insufficient initiative.  Partly this is due to stress and fear.

Lack of good examples.  This is self-explanatory.  Because people are naturally inclined to seek good, all it would take is a few good examples to offset many bad ones.  Unfortunately, there are few good examples today of how to engage in social issues in a positive, constructive way.

False opinion.  By this we mean the near universal tendency of people to confuse opinion with fact.  Due to the complexity of life and the urgency of its demands, we feel that we must have an opinion on everything to guide our actions.  Thus, there is a pressure to form beliefs prematurely.  At first we hatch these as provisional, tentative beliefs.  But before long (and especially if our opinion is attacked by others), we start to act as though our opinions are established facts.  Ultimately no distinction is made between our opinions and proven facts.  In various ways, the psychological phenomenon of cognitive dissonance supports this unfortunate tendency.

Recognition of false opinion as a basic problem in human nature goes all the way back to Socrates.  (Indeed, the parallel between the politically chaotic Athens of Socrates’ time and our country today are quite relevant).  From Socrates we also learn the solution.  Socrates claimed that if he were wise (as many claimed), it was only in the recognition of his own ignorance.  That is, Socrates was able to say simply, “I don’t know.”  The better part of his career, as it has been recorded and handed down to us, consisted in trying to help free others from false opinion – largely by asking questions.  By asking questions the spirit of argument is replaced with one of interest and enjoyment of discovery and learning new ideas and principles.

Schematizing.  In a related way, there is a basic tendency in human cognition to schematize the world.  This means that we formulate theories, patterns and structures in our own mind before perception.  We see the world in the ways we have already decided to perceive it.  If we approach another person expecting to find them holding disagreeable or threatening opinions, we will usually do so.  We could also see numerous good things about the same person, had we formed that schema beforehand.

Identity.  One reason people cling to false opinion so tenaciously is because human beings feel a strong need to have a personal and social identity.  If you want to get someone really mad, don’t call them names, and don’t even threaten them with physical harm; rather, a threat to the sense of identity will unleash the most angry and violent responses.  People panic when their sense of identity is threatened.

Perversity.  So far we have considered the obvious reasons for rampant political discord.  These ones are not very threatening.  Most people can probably agree that they exist.  But now we need to take the gloves off and delve in to deeper, less obvious, and perhaps somewhat more challenging issues.  The first of these is the perverse side of human nature.  Many writers over the ages have noted a strange yet basic tendency in human nature to resist what is good.  Freud, for example, posited the existence of a “death wish” present in all human beings, which counters the vital, life-affirming energy.  Death wish is probably not the best way of looking at this thing, but it will serve adequately for our present purpose.  In short,. the premise is that death wish, or something like it, causes people to unconsciously do what is harmful.  The current political discord is extremely harmful, and can be partly explained on this basis.

Concupiscence.  If we delve even more deeply, we can detect a connection between the above-mentioned principle of perverse self-harm, and concupiscence – which we may define as an over-attachment to sensory pleasure (pleasure of sex and of the palate being perhaps the two most common examples).  To the extent that one’s personality is dominated by attachment to pleasure, one will gravitate towards behaviors that are unruly and disruptive of the social order.  The principle here is that a concupiscent person seeks to avoid the dictates of conscience.  And that is promoted by anything that disturbs the clear vision of Reason.  By keeping one’s life in a constant state of agitation and turmoil (which political fighting clearly does), one  has a ‘green light’ to keep indulging in any and all sensual pleasures, and to any degree.

Collective selfishness.  From the preceding point we easily move to seeing how this can operate on a societal level.  We are today, arguably, a whole society of people fixating on material and sensual pleasures.  To that extent, it is in the tacit best interests of everybody to keep society confused.  If we weren’t so confused and agitated as a society, people might start ‘coming to their senses’ and realize that there are natural limits placed on how much, and in what way, various sensual pleasures should be indulged.  Thus, ironically, while Democrats and Republicans are busy vilifying each other in public, subconsciously they may wink and congratulate each other that they are effectively cooperating to resist any serious threat to the status quo.

Question:  That’s more than I bargained for!  With all these factors involved, it seems almost hopeless?  How can we straighten out something this complex?

Answer:  It’s true that, in some respects, the problem is complex, especially as each of the factors above tends to interact with the others.  If we tried to address each of these issues individually, it might not be possible.  Fortunately, there is a short cut solution.   So far we’ve adopted a mainly cognitive perspective.  But there is another dimension to the human person:  that of ethics and moral nature.  In short, if we effect an ethical solution, it will straighten out all these other problems at once.

The ethical solution means a re-ordering of one’s ethical structure.  All this amounts to is a shift in emphasis.  Instead of focusing first on ones material pleasure, one should focus on the delights associated with moral excellence.  These delights include the pleasures of knowledge, insight, love, friendship, piety, charity, etc.  In short, it means seeking the finer things.  This is the path of egolessness, which draws us closer to our true selves, each other, Nature, and the Supreme Being, all at once.

Question:  Great!  So how do we get other people to do that?

Answer:  The first and most important thing is to worry less about reforming others, and to focus that energy on reforming yourself.

The first reason for this is because that will benefit you far, far more than any change of behavior you might effect in others.

Second, your first duty toward others should not be to change their opinions, but to help them with their needs and difficulties.  A doctor in a hospital doesn’t check a patient’s political party before helping him or her.  If you wish to rise to your full stature as a person, act like such a doctor, putting aside your own ego-impositions.

Third, if indeed there is some genuine value in your influencing the other person to change their opinion or behavior, the example of your behavior is the most potent force available for accomplishing it.  Indeed, if you are really serious about changing others, you will change yourself; any effort directed to improving others, without regard to changing yourself, is ineffective, and a sign that you are not serious.

Question:  And how is that done?  Surely this is more complicated than just wishing for it?

Answer:  One sure way to fail is to try to do this all on your own (for that will only serve to further develop and entrench egoistic tendencies.)  Rather, the correct path is to seek a traditional path of ethical and moral improvement, whether it be religion or ancient philosophy.  The Westerner will find much of value in  Christianity, Judaism and Islam.  Some Westerners may also find traditions like Buddhism and Vedanta helpful – but in this case one must be wary of the more “popularized” (i.e., intellectually non-intensive) forms.   A genuine path must, of necessity, challenge and build your “intellectual muscles”.  In terms of Western philosophies, those of Plato, Aristotle and the Stoics are most commendable.  The discerning Christian, however, will learn that much of what is useful in these philosophical traditions has been incorporated into Christianity.

The Obsolescence of War and its Implications for Countering Terrorism

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The Obsolescence of War and its Implications for Countering Terrorism

A point emphasized in several Nobel Peace Prize Lectures of the 1950´s and 60´s (e.g., those of Albert Schweitzer and Martin Luther King Jr) is the obsolescence of war.  It was noted that modern technology had produced weapons of awesome power.  This meant we had no choice but to evolve beyond war, because, with such weapons, the prospect of war was no longer thinkable — too much harm would be done.  For those too young to remember, this was a widely held view in the years following the development of nuclear weapons.

However this reasoning does not just apply to nuclear weapons.  As the 9/11 attacks illustrate, technology had made it  possible to easily inflict massive harm in other ways.  A few extremists were able to get control of huge jets and fly them into buildings, killing thousands.  It could have been even worse.  The jets could have been flown into nuclear reactor power plants, potentially producing much greater devastation and loss of life.  Other realistic scenarios we must contend with are use of biological weapons on civilians, attacks to the electrical power infrastructure, poisoning of water supplies, or even things like computer viruses.  Any of these could be used by a few terrorists or a small country to inflict great harm.  Coupled with the continued threat of nuclear proliferation, the potential threats are so many, and so easily accessible, that, we are more vulnerable than ever.

Fifty years ago,  the consensus was that our only choice was to evolve ourselves — by dint of sheer will, if necessary — out of the mentality that begets war and violence.  If that was so then, how much more true it is now.  Further, the very fact that people are not saying such things today is itself extremely serious and revealing.  It means we are collectively less wise and more confused than people were then.  In this atmosphere of confusion, desperation, and loss of vision, people are even more likely to lapse in their judgment and make use of such weapons.

This pertains directly to the US involvement in Afghanistan, and the stance of modern governments towards terrorism.  Yes, terrorism is a terrible thing, and we must be prepared to work with intense dedication to prevent terrorist attacks.  But in today’s technologically advanced world we must ask more than ever:  can terrorism be effectively prevented by pre-emptive aggression or a just war?   And yet, not only is the US now falling back on the notion of a just war, one is astonished to see that no public officials are questioning it.

Even if the war in Afghanistan is ‘just’ – and there is genuine doubt as to that – two other questions must also be asked.  First, is the war winnable?  Events so far would suggest that it is not.  We are not countering a conventional army of hundreds of thousands of soldiers.  The nature of terrorism in the age of modern technology is precisely that a group of dedicated extremists, few in number and extremely mobile, may hold at bay even a great military superpower.  We cannot spend $1 trillion retaliating every time there is a terrorist attack — especially if the retaliation is ineffective.

Second, we must ask: does a large military response to terrorism cause more harm than potential good by affirming the principle of aggression as a way to solve problems?

Third, we should ask why governments are so chronically unable to work for peace pro-actively.

Fourth, what has happened to the moral and ethical fabric of society?  Fifty years ago the view expressed by socially-minded intellectuals was that the moral evolution of humankind was not keeping pace with technological progress.  But at least there was a sense of there being some progress.   Now there is considerable evidence (and one need only turn on television any given evening to confirm this) that we are going rapidly going backwards.

We cannot lay blame on President Obama so much as on the failure of the intellectual community to question the continued dominance of war as a strategy for countering terrorism.

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Americans do not exclude the possibility of forgiving Osama bin Laden

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Letter to US Senator Barbara Boxer

December 24, 2009

Dear Senator Boxer,

Please be apprised that, I, as a US citizen, do not exclude the possibility of forgiving Osama bin Laden for the terrorist attacks of 9/11, or of some form of general diplomatic discussions. I believe many Americans feel likewise. Neither will I hesitate to mention that ‘forgiveness of enemies’ is a central ethical principle of Christianity.

I therefore wish that the US government not proceed unquestioningly under the assumption that all or even most citizens are intent on revenge, or see no possibility of peaceful resolution of current conflicts.

Nor do I simply take it for granted that bin Laden and Al-Queda are inherently ‘evil’ and hold positions inherently and irrevocably inimical, hostile, and dangerous to the welfare of the citizens of the United States.

Further, I perceive a tendency of the government to actively shape — though perhaps unintentionally — public opinion in the direction of revenge and violence. The president’s recent remarks on Afghanistan, for example, nowhere seem to acknowledge that many Americans are hesitant about continued military involvement in Afghanistan. In effect, a false consensus on this issue is presented to the American public. The government is not making a sincere attempt to determine the true sentiments and beliefs of the people.

Indeed, if we are concerned about the events 9/11, should not our first priority be to take better care of the survivors and their families? Imagine how much more we could help these people were even a small fraction of the $1 trillion spent on Iraq and Afghanistan devoted to assisting them.

That we do not do so calls into question the sincerity of our expressed motives in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Sincerely yours,

John S. Uebersax PhD

Written by John Uebersax

December 24, 2009 at 9:44 pm

Game Theory and the American Two-Party Racket

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Here we refer again to a recurring theme of this site: how American politics is, under the present regime, basically a one party system, with two colluding “wings” — Democrats and Republicans.

The argument presented in this post is that this is exactly what you’d expect to find if a single special interest coalition wished to control a country. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that in some hypothetical country there was a group of people who wished to control the government and to benefit themselves by manipulating government decisions in ways that were potentially harmful to the population at large.

Suppose, further, that these ruling interests first founded or bankrolled a single party only, which tried to gain control of  the government. That might work in a dictatorship, but in a democracy like the United States, where people can in theory vote an aversive regime, it is difficult. After a few years, people would get tired of the oppression, identify the government as the cause, and elect a new government. Therefore it would not be in the interests of such vested interests to form a single party only, and to try to control the government by that means.

Suppose instead, then, that this group formed two nominal parties, and that these two parties shared control of the government, alternating, so that only one was in power at any given time. By this means the special interests could then exploit a population indefinitely. When the public got tired of the oppression of party A, then party B could come to the fore, denouncing party A. People could then vote party B into office, believing that in this way they had acted to end oppression. However, under the conditions of the example, party B would also be “owned” by the special interests. Nothing really would change. In this way, the special interests would become effectively immune to the corrective actions of public indignation.

Crucial to this scheme would to to convince people that they must vote only for one of these two main parties, and to dissuade them from voting for third-party candidates.  One effective means for this is to dominate news media with coverage of two main parties.  A second strategy would rely on the ultimate tried-and-true principle for mass manipulation: fear.  That is, make both main party candidates  so extreme that people will be forced to vote against one of them; this is facilitated by selecting platforms that divide the electorate as close as possible to a 50/50 split — that way nobody will be willing to vote for a third-party candidate, because each person believes that his or her own vote is crucial in preventing the less desirable mainstream candidate from winning.

This would be the perfect racket, scheme, or con-game. It would let vested interests remain in power indefinitely, continuing to exploit the population. Now, (1) since this would indeed be a very effective strategy for powerful vested interests, and would benefit them greatly, (2) since existing American special interests (big finance, defense contractors, etc.) are quite capable of manipulating two different parties, and (3) since, as outlined above, it gains them very little to manipulate only a single party, then we must seriously consider that this dual-party manipulation is actually occurring.

We might also note some specific evidence of this. First, it is well known that many corporations make campaign contributions to both the Democrats and the Republicans. There is absolutely nothing to prevent this. (Anyone who still thinks that big business only contributes to the Republicans is very naive!) Second, the news media (which is part of big business) tells us very little about third-party and independent political candidates and viewpoints. Rather, they devote inordinate amounts of space to petty squabbles between the Republicans and the Democrats, which fits with our model here.

Okay, that’s the argument. Some readers probably already accept that this is going on. Others are welcome to think about it. If you do agree that this is what’s happening, the answer is obvious: one should vote for some party other than the Republicans/Democrats. Even if this doesn’t change the government in 2012, it serves as a protest vote.  It will gradually (or perhaps not so gradually) force the Republicans and Democrats to develop more rational and productive platforms. Further, it signifies that you yourself have extricated yourself from the game.

Most of all, I wish to encourage people reconsider entrenched ways of thinking about Republicans versus Democrats. If the model proposed here is correct, then if one is a staunch Democrat who hates Republicans, or vice versa, then I propose that one is succumbing to the false rhetoric of these parties; one is buying into the specious controversies which the parties and their special interest owners engineer to give the mere appearance of their having two different points of views..

Look at the evidence. Yes, we’ve had a Democrat in the White House for 4 years, and things are bad. But before that we had Republican president for 8 years, and things were bad then.  Previous to that, we had a Democrat president along with a deeply troubled economy and imperialistic foreign policy. (True, on paper, the economy then was booming in the 90’s. But how much of that was the result of a hyperinflated stock market? Everyone was delighted when their pension plans, heavily invested in the stock market, doubled in value. But who was asking if this was sustainable? Or moral?) At the same time people were still working like dogs in high-stress jobs, commuting 1 hour to and from work, and breathing polluted air. The country then, as now, suffered from massive epidemics of stress-related psychosomatic diseases. In short, the quality of life was bad under Clinton, a Democrat, under George W. Bush, a Republican, and now under Obama, a Democrat. During none of these administrations was there anything even remotely close to a realistic long-term vision or plan for the country.

We can keep going back and forth like this, changing the name and the superficial appearance of the ruling party, telling ourselves that it matters; or we can wake up and smell the coffee, and throw both sets of bums out of office. What’ll it be?

Related post:  Why Vote Third-Party?

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