Satyagraha

Cultural Psychology

Archive for March 2008

Analysis of Nader’s Platform – 2008

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As of March 5, 2008, Ralph Nader’s campaign has now placed a preliminary platform online. You can find it here: http://www.votenader.org/issues/

Let’s review the items one by one.

1. Adopt single payer national health insurance

As I understand it, this would work by having, in essence, a single, national, government-run health insurance agency. There are two rationales for this: (a) to achieve universal health coverage (at present, 40 millions Americans have no health insurance); and (b) to reduce overhead costs associated with the ‘private insurance bureaucracy’, which, it is claimed, consumes about 31% of every health care dollar.

Clearly we need to address issue (a). However about (b) we should be cautious. First, competition generally brings costs down. I don’t understand the argument that a single government-run health insurance agency would somehow have lower administrative costs than those of privately-owned companies. The former would be performing the same tasks, only with no competition and so with less incentive to find ways to increase efficiency, reduce costs, and improve service quality.

And where would you go if you had a complaint? Think about it: would you want the IRS to be in charge of your health care reimbursement?

I worked in a private health insurance company once, and it seemed to me they were always finding ways to improve service, process, and efficiency. They recognized and took seriously a responsibility to promote patient health and welfare. With improvements in computer and communications systems, private health insurance service is getting continually better.

2. Cut the huge, bloated, wasteful military budget

Definitely. This is a good platform policy.

3. No to nuclear power, solar energy first

Probably good. I’d rather we say instead “other energy sources, especially solar energy”.

4. Aggressive crackdown on corporate crime and corporate welfare

Nader coined the term, ‘corporate welfare’, in 1966. For him it means the government’s bestowal of grants, tax breaks, or other special benefits on corporations. This platform plank is related to the need for lobby reform, which is definitely a good idea. The phrase ‘aggressive crackdown’ hints at a basic animosity Nader holds towards corporations.

Further, corporate crime and ‘corporate welfare’ are separate issues.  The former is a legal-criminal matter; here we need to enforce existing laws.  However, what Nader calls ‘corporate welfare’ is a social policy issue.

Nader, of course, has a long history as an anti-corporate crusader, and tends to overstate things in this area. Economist Eric Blair, in his blog, put it well:

When I hear Nader speak of government’s ‘corporate paymasters’, I get flush with embarrassment, because it’s the sort of gross oversimplification that makes people think liberals are all dumb. It is based on a false us-versus-them dichotomy. All of us, capitalists and laborers alike, want to have a healthy economy where we all have some kind of income and lots of the stuff we want to consume with that income readily available. Gosh, that’s going to involve corporations, especially if we want things to be efficiently done.

See Eric’s article Critique of Ralph Nader’s 2004 Platform for details. Eric’s comments above are in line with my thoughts about Redeeming Corporations and Renewing America. Use corporations for good; don’t scrap them or see them as innately bad things.

For background on Nader’s position, see this article:

http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Nader/CutCorpWelfare_Nader.html

5. Open up the Presidential debates

To bring more third-party and independent ideas into public view during elections. Definitely.

6. Adopt a carbon pollution tax

To reduce greenhouse emissions. We do need to reduce greenhouse emissions, but it’s not clear that a tax like this is a way to do it. Arguably, a ‘disincentive tax’ like this should be linked to offsetting societal costs associated with the thing taxed. For example, cigarette tax revenue should be directed to treating smoking-related illness, preventing smoking, etc. It’s hard to see how that principle would apply here — but maybe we could spend it developing alternative energy sources.

Other various criticisms of a carbon tax can be found here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_tax

7. Reverse U.S. policy in the Middle East

If that means to switch from making enemies and war to making friends and peace, yes.

8. Impeach Bush/Cheney

This one sticks out like a sore thumb. Why impeach Bush/Cheney? Because of the war? Then why not impeach the US Congress while we’re at it? Or how about the majority of voters who implicitly endorsed the Bush administration in the 2004 elections? Come on, this is back to hate politics. Let’s raise the level of public discourse, and focus on issues, not personalities.

9. Repeal the Taft-Hartley anti-union law

Huh? Again, Nader’s atavistic 60’s liberalism shows. Does he really thinks labor unions are going to save America? Personally, I tend to see labor unions as an example of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” That is, labor unions are quasi-governments which (1) are run by selfish, greedy leaders; (2) exploit and coerce workers; and (3) are in the long run much less transparent and democratic than the regular government is.

10. Adopt a Wall Street securities speculation tax

At first I rejected this as being too unrealistic. Then I realized that what matters here is not Nader’s hypothetical solution, but that he’s raising the issue at all. The issue is that people, companies, and sometimes machines(!) presently engage in millions of short-term stock trades, solely for speculation. A company buys millions of dollars worth of stock and then sells it an hour later with a big profit. Sometimes this is based is on insider information; other times it involves deliberate manipulation by huge financial corporations to influence stock prices.

Further, knowledgeable traders can make huge profits even when stock prices decrease! All this creates an incentive for vastly powerful financial institutions to produce a fluctuating stock market.

This has created a bizarre, nightmarish economic machine which controls our economy, our society, and our lives, and enslaves us. It’s a huge, huge issue. I’m just not sure that a tax is a way to do handle the problem. We have enough taxes already. I believe we should simplify the tax code (e.g., a flat tax), not make it more complex.

It might be an utterly naive suggestion, but maybe it would be better to simply ban short-term stock speculation altogether, rather than to specially tax it.

11. Put an end to ballot access obstructionism

Make it easier for third-party and independent candidates to get on election ballots. Yes.

12. Work to end corporate personhood

Should corporations have the same rights as individuals? I guess it depends on what rights we’re talking about. A complex question. For background, see:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporate_personhood_debate

Overall Appraisal

Nader/Gonzalez are doing what third-party candidates should: to diversify the issues being considered in the election. Follow their election, listen to their speeches, research their ideas. Nader has 40 years’ worth of articles you can find online explaining his views.

Nader deserves credit for working to raise the public awareness and for better focusing on important issues than the Democrat-Republican candidates.

Written by John Uebersax

March 6, 2008 at 1:41 pm

Google helps SF homeless with free phone number and voicemail

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Here’s an example of how corporations can help renew society:

Google Expands Free Phone Number and Voicemail Project
San Francisco Chronicle
February 28, 2008 4:40 PM PST

Google is partnering with homeless shelters in San Francisco to distribute free phone numbers and voicemail accounts to those without homes, the company said Wednesday…

Since the acquisition of Grand Central last year, Google has been participating in periodic Project Homeless Connect events in which it has been providing the homeless with free phone numbers and voicemail accounts that they can access from any phone. More than 4,000 phone numbers and voicemail accounts have been distributed this way, Craig Walker, a senior product manager of voice products for Google, told the San Francisco Chronicle…

On Wednesday, Google announced that it would expand Grand Central’s project and partner directly with homeless shelters that will now be able to give out phone numbers and voicemail accounts and help individuals set up their accounts anytime. The idea is to expand the service, and eventually offer it in other cities, a Google spokesman said…

For homeless individuals, a phone is a luxury, and yet, telephony communications is an essential tool in our society. Without a phone number you can’t apply for a job or even get on a waiting list for low-income housing.

Said Google’s spokesman, “Being able to give a phone number to people and access voicemail can be a very powerful thing in sustaining quality of life….”

Read a complete article:
http://www.news.com/8301-10784_3-9882460-7.html?tag=newsmap

or here:
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/02/28/BACBV9MBG.DTL

Written by John Uebersax

March 5, 2008 at 3:34 pm

Christian Satyagraha

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What is Satyagraha?:  Satyagraha and Christianity

Mohandas Gandhi called his philosophy of social change by peaceful means satyagraha. The word is derived from the Indian words satya (truth) and graha (from the same Indo-European root word from which comes our ‘grasp’, ‘grab’, and ‘grip’).

Satyagraha is more than a philosophical system; it is a metaphysical force. Thus it would be more correct to call Gandhi a discoverer of satyagraha than its inventor. We should be willing to extend and refine our understanding of it, and to adapt Gandhi’s principles to modern issues and circumstances.

Consider satyagraha the subject of a cumulative science — something we collectively experiment with and gradually improve our ability to use.

* * *

Gandhi said many times that he developed his ideas about satyagraha in large part from New Testament teachings. Yet he also, when asked what he thought of Christians, replied: “I don’t know; I have yet to meet a real Christian.” Together, these remarks remind Christians that (1) they may, potentially, learn more about what satyagraha is and how to use it by looking more to their own Christian scripture and traditions than to the writings of Gandhi, and (2) they should try harder to use the spiritual tools of their tradition to promote change in the world.

As evidenced by Gandhi’s life and writings, there is a link between satyagraha and suffering. The link is not spelled out; there is no definite metaphysical theory that explains the connection. We must rather infer it from various specific actions and indirect comments of Gandhi, along with other data.

There are clearly psychological mechanisms by which ones suffering may change the opinion of others. For example, oppressors may be moved by compassion to change oppressive policies and practices; or oppressors may become convinced of the others’ sincerity and good will by their acceptance of suffering.

But these psychological mechanisms, while important, are not the only consideration. What of silent, private suffering? What of sacrifices made that others never directly observe? It seems a near-universal practice in spiritual traditions that one person may assist another by voluntarily accepting suffering on their behalf. In Christianity, Christ himself accepted suffering for the salvation of others — for undeserving others, in fact, as St. Paul points out (Rom. 5:7-10). Christians, whose model is Christ, are expected to similarly accept sacrifice both to help alleviate the suffering of the oppressed, and to promote the moral advancement of others, including ones enemies and persecutors.

* * *

Satyagraha, as “truth force”, involves truth; people lose sight of that too easily. Social activism undertaken in a spirit of militant self-righteousness or indignation is not satyagraha. One must first align oneself with truth. That is no easy task.

It is especially ironic, then, that so many people engaged in activism choose to distance themselves from traditional religions. For example, young people today are quick to follow Gandhi’s beliefs about social change; he is taken as a credible, authoritative source in that matter. But people pay much less attention to his support of traditional religion and spirituality. If his example is authoritative in the one case, why not in the other? Should one admire his political actions, even to the point of calling him a mahatma, which means great-souled, yet ignore his obvious support of traditional religion? That makes little sense.

To apply satyagraha one must align oneself with the truth. This means one must first seek out the truth — which is God, or comes from God, or is in any case closely associated with God — and then overcome the personal obstacles that cause one to prefer self-will, egoism, or selfish ends to God’s will.

Thus, the person who wishes to follow the methods of satyagraha effectively should also be a religious person, in the traditional sense.

Today when a person says such things it is thought strange; yet this is completely consistent with Gandhi’s teachings.

* * *

Various rules and principles of satyagraha as outlined by Gandhi and Christianity:

Love your enemies

* harbor no anger towards your enemies
* suffer the anger of the opponent
* do not insult the opponent
* do not trivialize the beliefs or intelligence of opponents
* forgive as you wish to be forgiven; hate the sin but love the sinner
* opponents are God’s children, made in His image and likeness
* defend your opponent against insult or assault
* look for God’s face in the face of others

Truth

* set an example of truth-seeking
* educate yourself, expand your perspectives, question your assumptions
* be honest with yourself; habitually examine your conscience and scrutinize your motives
* God is Love. God is Truth. When you stop loving you depart from truth.

Mental transformation

* do not stereotype any ethnic or cultural group or any person
* understand the dynamic of projection: what you do not like in yourself, you project onto others
* a strong, irrational attitude towards others implies projection
* first see if faults ascribed to others apply to you
* external conflict mirrors internal conflict

Personal virtue

* do not be angry
* do not curse
* patience is the foundation of all other virtues
* concupiscence is the enemy of patience; practice temperance; moderate and control appetites

Religion

* have a living faith in God
* have faith in the inherent goodness of human nature and peoples’ ability to change
* pray
* read scripture
* prefer God’s guidance to the voice of false reasoning

* * *

It is very ironic and counterproductive that many advocates of peace today express themselves in negative, hostile, and aggressive terms. If, for example, you preach peace but hatefully ridicule George W. Bush, people will pay more attention to your actions than to your words. Moreover, acting in so plainly counterproductive a manner, you will have lost touch with truth and the truth-force.