Cultural Psychology

Archive for February 2008

Libertarian Party Passes Anti-Iraq War Resolution

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According to Eric Garris, in a post at Antiwar.Com:

February 18, 2008.

The national Libertarian Party (LP) organization has taken their strongest position in favor of withdrawal from Iraq. At their national committee meeting yesterday in Las Vegas, the following resolution passed overwhelmingly.

WHEREAS the government of the United States should return to its historical libertarian tradition of avoiding entangling alliances, foreign quarrels, and military adventures and;

WHEREAS the armed forces of the United States have invaded Iraq, a foreign nation that neither directly attacked nor imminently threatened to attack the United States and;

WHEREAS the injustice and imprudence of this invasion cannot be undone by the continued presence of the armed forces of the United States in Iraq and;

WHEREAS the stability and security of Iraq lie outside the jurisdiction of the government of the United States;

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Libertarian Party National Committee calls on the government of the United States to withdraw the armed forces of the United States without undue delay.

Congratulations to the Libertarian Party which has just taken an important step towards the restoring the international credibility of the United States, its citizens, and its ideals.

Written by John Uebersax

February 18, 2008 at 8:49 pm

Notes: On the unity of world religious culture

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I recently ran across the following quote from 20th-century Christian author, C. S. Lewis in his book, The Abolition of Man. These remarks preface an assemblage of quotes that relate to what Lewis termed Natural Law, which he more or less equated with ancient Chinese term, the Tao:

The idea of collecting independent testimonies presupposes that ‘civilizations’ have arisen in the world independently of one another; or even that humanity has had several independent emergences on this planet. The biology and anthropology involved in such an assumption are extremely doubtful. It is by no means certain that there has ever (in the sense required) been more than one civilization in all history.

This is a very important point to remember. Sometimes we act as if Christian culture and Muslim culture are two different things. In truth, they are not distinct. This might be true concerning some (but by no means all) of their religious doctrines, but it is most definitely not true of their religious cultures, broadly defined.

Take but one example. Christians prefer certain postures of prayer, and Muslims prefer others. In Hinduism and Buddhism still others are to be found. Are these postures efficacious only for a particular religion? Or are these postures collectively the proper spiritual heritage of all humankind? The latter seems far more plausible.

But if that is so, should we not study each others religious cultures, and freely borrow from one another. Do not mistake that for syncretism, the mistaken notion of producing a bland, watered down world religion which glosses over doctrinal differences. Our concern here is rather with practices, not doctrines. And the model is a more complex one. The suggestion is that the spiritual practices of our most ancient ancestors, say those of the ancient Mesopotamians, Egyptians, and Indians, are now found scattered throughout the modern religions of the world, each retaining a subset. We are then not seeking to produce a new religious culture, as much as to reclaim an old one.

As I write this, the Muslim children are playing ball outside in the pool of Anspach fountain, drained for the winter, in St. Catherine’s place. Their teacher, leading the play, is a young Belgian woman, scarcely more than a girl herself. I do not speculate on the significance of this, except to vaguely consider that it has <i>some</i> meaning. It has happened; it is part of the Tao, and is worthy of comment on that basis alone, and for this reason: I planned originally to write something else — in fact, to quote a poem by the Sufi poet, Rumi, for the express purpose of participating in a mingling of cultures, and by that simple action, to further it. Here is the poem, chosen before the events outside my window began:

I used to be shy, you made me sing.
I used to abstain now I shout for more wine.
In somber dignity, I would sit on my mat and pray,
now children run through and make faces at me.

The children have not made faces at me, but they have enjoyed themselves playing as I wrote this.

Finally, here are two quotes cited by Lewis:

Men were brought into existence for the sake of men that they might do one another good.’ (Roman. Cicero. De Off. i. vii)

This is obvious enough, and needs little comment. Another is this:

‘Man is man’s delight.’ (Old Norse. Hávamál 47)

This simple statement speaks volumes. How many of modern misfortunes have come from our constant attempt to improve upon nature, and to seek something beyond what is already given to us. We imagine that one day in the future, when all problems have been solved, then humankind may have happiness. We seek to be rich, to have automobiles, and wide-screen televisions.

In truth, technology has already succeeded. We have beaten most of the diseases that afflict humankind. We are no longer at the mercy of the weather. We can feed everyone, if we simply try. Having conquered these enemies, who do we not enjoy the blessings that God has given us? Foremost among these is the gift of life itself. And second is the gift of others. God, in his kindness, has designed us so that little, if anything, on earth gives us more pleasure than to see the smile of another, to see the sparkle in their eyes. This is what truly makes us happy, and it is all free.

This blog entry is not as so rigidly organized as the others; consider it poetry, if you like, just writer’s notes.

Written by John Uebersax

February 18, 2008 at 5:07 pm

Notes: On how the people in America and in Gaza are brothers and sisters

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On how the people in America and in Gaza are brothers and sisters

A logical proof:

1. I am an American currently living in the center of Brussels. Perhaps half of the dealings I have each day are with Muslims from countries like Morocco, Pakistan, and Turkey, whose shops I visit and whose services I use. These are my neighbors, my colleagues, and my friends. If they are treated unfairly it is impossible for me to ignore that. Human beings are such that they are psychologically incapable of ignoring the suffering, unhappiness, or oppression of those around them. The natural instinct is to help others and to be concerned for their welfare.

Therefore the Muslims from these countries in Brussels are my brothers and sisters. It is impossible to think otherwise.

2. The European Muslims are brothers and sisters with the Muslims in their home countries, and in other Muslim countries, including Gaza.

3. Therefore if the European Muslims are my brothers and sisters, then so too are the Muslims in these other countries.

4. But I am still an American, and brother of the people there. That is hardly a bond that distance can abolish. Therefore, by this series of links (as if it were not apparent for other reasons), Americans and the people in Gaza are brothers and sisters.

So now I ask my younger brothers and sisters: please stop the quarreling. Americans: try harder to help the people in Gaza. At the very least, pray for them and take the time to learn of their difficulties. People of Gaza: stop sending missiles into Israel; re-examine the Hamas regime; work constructively to make your difficulties known, so that Americans and the rest of the world can help redress them.

Written by John Uebersax

February 18, 2008 at 3:47 pm

Notes: the spiritual children of Abraham should not battle each other

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Some entries in this blog are formal articles. Others, like this one, take more the form of working notes, outlines for later development, or ‘thinking out loud’. Some are complete, and some are just sketches. For now I will label such entries as ‘Notes’.

I am aware of and distressed by the current suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza. I am also deeply concerned by the terrorist tactics of the Hamas political regime. And, naturally, I am concerned about the threat of Muslim terrorism in general.

As a religious person who seeks to love and serve God and neighbor, I must try to act in some way to improve things. How? Naturally I must look to God first, that I may do His will in this and all things.

Sometimes God makes plain to us what we should do. Other times He allows us to use our reason to decide this. In the present case, reason informs me that God has given me certain skills, interests, or “talents.” Among these are philosophy. But that I mean not the lesser things — scholasticism and sophistry — which have perenially passed themselves off as philosophy, but true philosophy — philo-sophia, which means the love of God’s wisdom. I am also trained as a psychologist.

Let met then humbly devote my skills, such as they are, to address the current problem by means of a logical analysis or scholia. I present this as a series of short propositions and conclusions.

1. Many Muslim terrorists call America the Great Satan, or hold opinions similar to this. Some apparently hold similar views towards the state of Israel.

2. It is clear from these statements that these Muslim politicians and activists believe Satan exists, and makes war against the Muslim people.

3. If Satan exists and wars against Muslims, then surely he must also wage equally malicious war against the other spiritual children of Abraham, namely Christians and Jews.

4. History shows that a very effective means Satan has for warring against religion is by political oppression.

5. In the broadest sense, political oppression occurs both within a country and by means of one country oppressing another.

6. Just as Palestinians are oppressed internationally, the faithful religious of the United States and Israel are oppressed domestically by their own governments. In each case, People of the Book should recognize Satan at work.

7. When terrorists attack the United States, or when Hamas launches missiles or mortars into Israel, their destructive actions are indiscriminate: they harm the righteous and unrighteous citizens of those countries alike. If military jihad could be justified at all, then it would have to be directed exclusively against the agents of oppression, and not harm other innocent people — but this is not possible. This leads us to our first preliminary conclusion: that terrorism as military jihad is unjust, because it harms innocent people.

8. Further, the inevitable consequence of terrorist attacks is to strengthen the central government of the attacked countries. This leads to further oppression of the devout religious communities within the target countries. Moreover, the central governments of these countries, which are effectively machinelike, beyond human control, and, if one may be so bold as to say it outright, often tools of Satan — these governments use terrorist actions as an excuse for more oppression. This leads to our second preliminary conclusion: that terrorist jihad is counterproductive, because it leads to more, not less, suffering of God’s children.

9. People of the Book believe that Satan works in conjunction with an “army” of daemons. Scientifically, we do not know what daemons are. Whether they are disembodied entities, or something else, is not clear. At present, the word “daemon” is a placeholder term for a range of phenomena that we observe but to not fully understand. We use the word daemonic to describe states of mind in which a person is “seized”, and in which they act irrationally and impulsively, especially in a violent way. It is also characteristic of daemonic states that people cannot clearly scrutinize their own motives.

10. From all the preceding, points, it would appear that terrorist actions are daemonic, not holy. They do not reflect the wisdom of God, which comes from above, and which is recognized by qualities of peace, gentleness, patience, and insight.

We then conclude this: any logic by which people, through desperation, suffering, anger, or resentment, reach the conclusion that they must engage in a military jihad must be immediately recognized as false, and daemonic in origin. Yes, the suffering is unjust and unfair. It must stop! But to act violently is certain not to end the misery, but to continue it. Further, armed aggression does not harm the sources of oppression, but is displaced onto other innocent victims. Finally, we must recognize that as long as people respond to suffering with violence, then Satan will produce more suffering.

Even (or especially) the most fundamentlist Muslims, Christians, and Jews should admit that the real enemy is Satan. Then why not face the real enemy, and wield against him those weapons which he most dreads: holiness, peace, virtue, and trust in God? Do the young men who brandish machine guns and grenade launchers consider themselves courageous? That is not courage. Courage, the true way of jihad, is found in the battle to acquire virtue, and the struggle to follow the more difficult path of peace.

People in America — the awake and decent ones — want to see peace and justice for the Palestinian people. The people in Gaza need to understand that we are all suffering together, although in different ways. The corporate-dominated media do not tell Americans the truth. Americans are, in any case, beaten down by their own political system, and barely able to act to change things.

Despite all these difficulties, we have the one tool at our disposal which Satan cannot remove, namely prayer. Indeed, Christians believe — and I would be greatly surprised if Muslims did not also believe it — that prayers are rendered even stronger when made in the midst of suffering.

Written by John Uebersax

February 18, 2008 at 12:05 pm

Countering Political Evil

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At the Watchblog Third Party Website, Joel S. Hirschhorn wrote an good article titled The Evolution of Evil. He identifies as an essential problem the current two-party system. To quote Joel:

Most corrupt and legally sanctioned forms of tyranny hide in plain sight as democracies with free elections….  Nothing conceals tyranny better than elections. Few Americans accept that their government has become a two-party plutocracy run by a rich and powerful ruling class. The steady erosion of the rule of law is masked by everyday consumer freedoms. Because people want to be happy and hopeful, we have an epidemic of denial, especially in the present presidential campaign. But to believe that any change-selling politician or shift in party control will overturn the ruling class is the epitome of self-delusion and false hope. In the end, such wishful thinking perpetuates plutocracy. Proof is that plutocracy has flourished despite repeated change agents, promises of reform and partisan shifts.

He also identifies three solutions aimed at achieving reform: (1) curbing discretionary spending as a form of civil disobedience — hit the enemy where it hurts: in the pocketbooks; (2) refusing to vote, and (3) grassroots political organization aimed at reform.

I agree in general with (3), completely disagree with (2), and largely disagree with (1).

My arguments for promoting change by voting for third-party and independent candidates are explained elsewhere, so there’s no need to repeat them here. Concerning consumer protest, I would rather see more intelligent discretionary spending than no spending at all. Spending is good for the economy. More importantly spending means you’re paying somebody else to work, which is an intrinsically good thing. People like to work. People need to work. Working gives people a sense of accomplishment and meaning. We’re designed to work. But it has to be the right kind of work. So spend money, but let it be on services and products that are good — for example, organic food and solar energy.

More basically, I suggest that we need to pay more attention to spiritual solutions. On the one hand, most people seem to accept that the human race is battling some kind of metaphysical evil; but on the other hand, we seem very reluctant to admit this publicly, or to try to use spiritual strategies to counter it. To avoid narrow sectarian religious views in public social discourse is understandable; but to avoid spirituality altogether seems near suicidal! Hence my comment to Joel’s article, which I also ‘reprint’ below

John Uebersax

Hi Joel, this is an excellent article. You truly see how the current two-party system is a tyranny masquerading as democracy! I’m going to post a link to it in my third-parties blog.

Please let me suggest three other strategies for restoring power, in addition to the three you mention. First though, let me explain that I approach politics from a perspective that is both spiritually-oriented and logically hard-headed. I always feel I must apologize for this, fearing that people will associate my ideas with those of ignorant religious fundamentalist or ‘new-agers’. Be assured that such is not the case. My religious views are more like those of the Renaissance or in classical Greece and Rome — in times before the radical dissociation of Science and Religion occurred. The ‘System’ has discredited religion, thereby removing our most potent tools for restoring control. It has marginalized religious thought, drawing most attention to the more ignorant representatives of this viewpoint. Regardless of what the dominant positivist-materialist worldview teaches, evils does exist, and it quite plainly operates in ways that go beyond our current scientific models. It stands to reason that if we want to counter evil, then we have to be willing to consider spiritual paradigms. The fact that this seems to many so implausible is itself evidence of our conditioning.

Enough by way of preface then. Now the three additional strategies for restoring power:

4. Personal education. We have let our nation become dumbed down. This must be reversed. People, need to read more, and to read better quality material. Throw out Harry Potter and Tom Clancy. Pick up Plato, Aristotle, Shakespeare, and Gibbons. If that seems too hard and gives you a headache, so much the better; it proves the point: that people’s brains have become ‘flabby’ through non-use. The better people educate themselves, the more apparent the lies and oppression of the two-party monopoly will be. This is a cheap solution, and, importantly, one that, like all true solutions, begins with a person asking, “How can I promote change by reforming and improving myself?”

5. Acquiring virtue. Yes, the System is evil and exploits us. But, as Walt Kelly, social critic and creator of the “Pogo” comic strip, wrote so long ago, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Unfortunately, we are not just oppressed by the System, we are, to an alarming degree, part of the System. Anyone with a bank account or a pension plan is, intentionally or not, invested in the stock market — that immensely powerful, blind, and amoral force which *owns* the corporations that own the political parties.

We need to become more virtuous — more just and charitable. We need to re-examine areas of our own life that contribute to the system. The more each of us acquires virtue, the more we enable others to do so by our example.

6. Spiritual weapons. Most Americans apparently believe in God and an afterlife. They believe they are immortal beings. They also believe in prayer, or say they do. Yet somehow we dissociate these beliefs entirely when it comes to politics. That makes no sense at all. Either people should give up their religion or use it! And if religion is true, then people should pray for change. Indeed, that should be their first and most primary tool.

Related to prayer is the class of tactics that Gandhi called “satyagraha”, which means “truth force.” Examples include things like demonstrations, constructive civil disobedience, and the willing acceptance of forms of suffering to promote change. When was the last time you heard anyone suggesting that people should go on penitential fasts for the sake of effecting social change? But the efficacy of such fasts is an established tenet of Judeao-Christian religious beliefs. We are ignoring all the most effective means human culture has ever known to promote social change.

As this is just a comment, I shouldn’t make it too long. Let it suffice to suggest that people should think more about re-introducing religious and spiritual themes into discussions of socio-political reform. This should not be narrow-minded, fundamentalist, or sectarian. (Gandhi, for example, was famous for holding interdenominational religious services, combining Hindu, Muslim, and Christian prayers and scriptures.) But if we’re fighting evil, then we would be foolish indeed to fail to make use of our most potent weapons for combating it.

Written by John Uebersax

February 18, 2008 at 10:17 am

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?

Op-ed: Don’t March into Gaza

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From the Los Angeles Times Op-Ed Section

Don’t march into Gaza

Only thorns and scorpions await Israel if it decides to invade that hostile territory.
By Amos Oz

February 15, 2008

Anger, frustration and invective are riling us. Israel must not fall into the trap that Hamas is setting for us — we must not march into Gaza. Because the number of casualties in a ground invasion of Gaza would be much greater than the number of casualties caused by Kassam rockets over the last seven years. Because during five of the seven Kassam years, we controlled the entire Gaza Strip and hundreds of rockets were fired on Sderot anyway, in addition to repeated bloody assaults on the Israeli settlers who lived there. Apparently, we’ve forgotten.

Reoccupying the Gaza Strip would not necessarily end rocket fire on Sderot and its environs. In addition to the continuing attacks on Sderot, our occupying force would face gunfire and suicide bombers, day in and day out.

Moreover, an invasion of Gaza would unite the Palestinian masses and the Arab and Muslim worlds around Hamas, which at present is isolated and loathed by most Arabs. If Israeli forces invaded Gaza, Hamas’ fighters would immediately be seen as defenders of a Palestinian Masada to the Palestinians, the Arab world and international public opinion — the few against many, residential neighborhoods facing an army, refugee camps under the shadow of bomber squadrons, boys battling tanks, David versus Goliath.

If we conquer Gaza, we’ll find ourselves sitting on thorns and scorpions. The occupying force will not have a day of peace. Neither will the inhabitants of Sderot and the area around it.

Even in such times of anger, when our hearts go out to the ongoing suffering of the Israelis of Sderot, we must not forget that the root of the Gaza problem is that hundreds of thousands of human beings are rotting there in refugee camps, camps that are incubators of poverty and despair, ignorance, religious and national fanaticism, hatred and violence.

From a historical point of view, there can be no solution to the problem of Gaza as long as there is not at least a modicum of hope for these desperate people somewhere on the horizon.

Then what can we do? We can and must achieve a cease-fire with Hamas in Gaza. A cease-fire would come, of course, with a high political price. But among all the prices Israel would have to pay for a mistaken and rash decision, it is the least deadly and the most bearable.

Amos Oz is an Israeli novelist and essayist. This commentary was translated by Haim Watzman.

Written by John Uebersax

February 15, 2008 at 4:24 pm