Cultural Psychology

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Yoga and Voting for Peace

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Art by Dan Morris

ONE definition of Yoga is the integration of the spiritual and material realms in the human being, making a union of Heaven and Earth.

Given this definition, it is possible to approach politics as a form of Yoga.  This would of course be very different from the usual practice of politics today.  Rather, it would try bring into social affairs and institutions of government divine and eternal principles of Truth, Beauty and Goodness.

While we’ve grown accustomed to think of politics as selfish and egoistic, in truth it is something that can glorify the Divine.  Among the animals only human beings have devised such things as governments and elections — methods with which, if used rightly, we can greatly improve our lives and planet.

Today the world is in great peril, with a dangerous combination of growing populations, militarism and materialism, combined with threats to the environment and climate.  But since we believe in a benevolent and superintending Spirit, we remain confident that solutions will reveal themselves in due time.

Putting these two thoughts together, we may see that political institutions like elections and voting, if approached rightly, give us a means of shaping a positive future.

What does it mean to approach politics rightly?  Some basic guidelines are evident.  First we know that our choices should be governed by unselfish rather than selfish or egoistic aims.  Our goal as ‘yogic voters’ should be to better the condition of all, not only of some.  Further, it follows from the principles of Yoga, that our actions should seek to unify, not divide members of society.  In addition, right politics and voting should leave our mind more calm and peaceful, not agitated and angry. These principles alone would exclude perhaps 90% of usual politics.

Today we are faced with one great need above all, which is to end the terrible program of constant war that our country (that is, the government and corporations) has pursued.  To help you exert a countering and correcting force of Love, I have placed my name on the ballot in the June 7 primary as an independent peace candidate for US Congress in our district.  A vote for me will be recognized as a vote for peace.  In this way the ordinary process of an election is turned into a referendum against war and for peace.  Since we do not have direct referendums on war, this means of producing one appears promising and I hope others will follow the example in future elections.

Every vote for peace will have a positive karmic effect, helping to improve our country and world.  It is to enable you to gain positive karma for yourself and others that I am running.  The direct goal is not to win the present election, but to begin the journey to peace.

I may add that the alternative — to vote for a Democrat or Republican politician — would, in my opinion, have little effect, as both represent materialistic values and the differences between them are negligible; I also believe they habitually promote divisive issues with the aim of diverting public attention from more fundamental needs for change, such as ending war.

Therefore please let me ask that you visit my campaign website and consider voting for peace.

If you should like to share this information, that would also be appreciated as I am relying on grassroots means of reaching voters.


John Uebersax



Divided We Fall

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HERE’s my take on the ‘state of the union’ as we appear to be headed towards another 10 years (at least) of war: Our domestic politics is nothing more than a lot of highly circumscribed but fierce battles being fought by indignant special interests, and equally indignant groups that oppose them: gay marriage, Obama-care, fracking, etc.

Now if I were gay, sick and poor, living amidst fracking, etc., no doubt I would have similarly strong feelings about these issues. That’s normal human nature. And all of these are, in any case, legitimate social issues we should be trying to address. BUT the reality is that we are ALL being hurt MORE by having a failed society generally than by any one of these issues, or even by all of them put together!

It’s a matter of priorities. Things will get worse for everyone UNTIL more people place social unity and the ‘bonds of mutual affection’ AHEAD of these more limited interests.

“I demand gay marriage! And immediately! And everything else must come to a standstill until I’m satisfied!”
“Because I want my rights!”
“Because I deserve to be happy!”
Certainly. But would having gay marriage, but all other conditions unchanged, produce happiness?
“Well, I might be happier, relatively!”
Would it reduce the cost of living, create more jobs, end war, cure cancer, solve the environmental catastrophe, improve schools?
Would you be happy, gaily married, if all these other problems remain unsolved; or would it be more likely you’d experience the same ambient level of unhappiness, malaise, discontent, poverty, frustration, ill-health, stress, pessimism, and near-despair as those who are heterosexually married or single evidently experience today?
“In honesty, the latter.”
Another question. Which would be better? (1) To substitute “civil union with the same rights as marriage” for “gay marriage” as an acceptable, if perhaps temporary, compromise, but with the results of achieving national unity and ending war; or (2) to have “gay marriage”, disunity, and perpetual war?
“The former, of course.”
Can we end war, or solve any of the other desperately urgent social problems already mentioned, without greater social unity?
“It would seem most unlikely.”
But if we were to achieve social unity, would it be likely we could solve these problems?
“There’s a good chance.”
And is it *possible* to achieve social unity?
“I don’t see why not. It seems in human nature to do so.”
If everyone placed as their *highest* social priority the achievement of unity, without abandoning their commitment to their individual interests, do you think it could happen?
“Seems likely.”
“Yet I must ask: why do you choose gay marriage as your example to illustrate this principle?”
Partly the choice is arbitrary. And partly because it seems to me that, unlike these other issues, the whole essence of “gayness” involves love and affection; so that, on the assumption that gay people have love and affection more salient in their minds generally, they should more readily grasp the importance of unitive, communal love.

united-we-stand~ * ~

Transformation of Society by the Power of Love

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Each year on Martin Luther King Day I try to write something related to the principles Dr. King stood for.  This year the topic concerns the work of the sociologist Pitirim A. Sorokin.  Sorokin devoted much of the latter part of his career to what he called amitology, that is, a science of love — work which he pursued at the Harvard Center for Creative Altruism. This work was dismissed by the social science establishment as eccentric and unimportant.  But perhaps the time has come to re-examine Sorokin’s contributions and to consider whether he may have been ahead of his time.

The best literary production of this phase of Sorokin’s career is a book titled, The Ways and Power of Love.  The book has many important features, several of which I’d like to mention here.

The first is Sorokin’s theory that love can be understood and studied as a real force or energy.  This notion may seem like a silly or simple-minded idea – one  more fit for a pop song than for scientific discussion. But in Sorokin’s hands the concept is substantial and credible.  As to whether love is a cosmic, metaphysical force, perhaps we cannot know or determine with certainty scientifically.  But we can at least say with some confidence that  in many important and objective ways love functions in the same way that forces and energies act.  Love motivates activity.  Love can be transmitted.  Love is cumulative.  All of these concepts can be operationally defined and demonstrated in objective, observable ways.  We can remain fully scientific and still assert that love is, at the very least, something like a force or energy.

Transformation From a Hate Culture To a Love Culture

A second noteworthy principle of Sorokin’s amitology follows from the first: if love is something like an energy, then we can meaningfully consider the ways in which this energy may be (1) produced, (2) accumulated, and (3) distributed.  These considerations have very practical implications for the kind of cultural transformation needed  in the world today.  We clearly must do something (or at least try) to change the present cultural orientation away from hatred, anger, fear, and conflict as organizing principles.  Much as we might want this transformation to occur, merely wishing for it is not enough.  Something tangible must happen to produce the change.  There must be actual sources of the opposite energy — that is, love — creating and placing this positive energy into the social and cultural milieu.

Clearly the most  obvious way for this to happen is for individuals to become emitters of love energy in their immediate surroundings.  Such an idea is scarcely new.  This was talked about in the 60’s, but without much lasting success. However, if, following Sorokin’s lead, we allow ourselves to see this as a scientific issue, new possibilities emerge.  One example is to see the problem in terms of mathematical chaos theory. We could quite plausibly suppose that the rate of positive cultural change in relation to the number of love emitters is something like exponential.  Imagine certain individuals who see it as their task to go out into their communities spreading love – through their own actions, by setting positive examples, and by teaching others about love.  One or two people alone can accomplish only so much.  But at some point, as the number of love emitters increases, a critical mass is reached, and suddenly the entirely social fabric of the community changes direction — no longer being conflict-, competition-, and fear-based, but love based.

Because such a transformation process is non-linear, the benefits of each additional love-emitter are that much more important.  That is, if you choose to become a love emitter, your added contribution might make the crucial difference; there might already be nine love emitters in your community, but if you become the tenth, the total number may achieve critical mass at which a transformative revolution takes off.

Love and Social Media

It also occurs to me how this principle could be applied to such social media as Facebook.  Unfortunately, the networking potential offered new social media has, thus far, all-to-often been directed negatively. People of every political stripe use Facebook and email for hate campaigns.  Someone will post a derogatory picture and comment about President Obama or Sarah Palin.  Then others will forward it to a dozen of their contacts.  Within a day thousands of copies are circulating — the negative energies of hate, anger, resentment spreading exponentially across the web and around the world.  This scenario is being played out perhaps many thousands of times every day.

But now consider an opposite scenario.  What if people began spreading love and positive energies in precisely the same way?  What if it became our ‘custom’ not to send a hate email to five or ten contacts, but some article concerning love, compassion, generosity, and optimism?

A third noteworthy aspect of Sorokin’s science of love is the importance, and perhaps the central role, of groups and organizations. As a sociologist, Sorokin had a keen awareness of the interplay between society and the personality of the individual.  In place of Freud’s primitive tripartite model of human personality (id, ego, superego), Sorokin understood human personality as a dynamic interplay between a large number of alternative egos or sub-egos within the same person.  Among these egos, Sorokin gave prominent place to those associated with our social roles.  Each group we belong to, and each stratum or role we occupy within that group, has associated with it in our psyche a separate ego.  Thus, for example, as members of a religion, say the Catholic Church, one may have a “Catholic ego.”  And as American citizens, we have a “US citizen ego”, and so on.  To the extent that our social institutions themselves conflict (as when Catholic moral principles teach that war is wrong, but national pride or competitiveness urges a war), then this conflict necessarily manifests itself within our own personalities.  Until such time as our social institutions are themselves harmonized with each other, we will be individually conflicted; and because of these conflicts, we will continually be a cross-purposes within ourselves, never being able to rally all our mental, emotional, and physical resources to accomplish anything productive.

There is much more to this part of Sorokin’s theories, but the main point is that if we wish to increase the number of love emitters in our society, we should give some thought as to how we might develop new social institutions, or adapt old ones, to organize this effort.

Fourth and finally, Sorokin explained how love and altruism should be understood as creative activities — in just the same way that we understand art, literature, and (to some extent at least) scientific activity to be creative.  True creativity comes from a source other than our individual egos and rationalistic minds.  It comes, rather, Sorokin insisted, from a higher source — what he called the supraconscious.  Whether we understand the supraconscious in a religious sense of a grace or inspiring energy from God, or as coming from some kind of collective unconscious, or something else entirely is unimportant.  The mere fact that we have such works as those of Shakespeare, Plato, Beethoven, Mozart, and Michelangelo proves without doubt there is such a thing as creative genius.  And just as there are creative geniuses in art and literature, there are creative geniuses in morality and ethics — people like Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and Mother Teresa.

Moreover, each one of us can creatively assist in the growth and spread of love. Our best ethical contributions, however, come not from our egoistic strivings and rationalistic schemes.  No.  If we are to be agents of a ‘love revolution’, then it is essential that we surrender our egoistic plans to a higher source of inspiration.  Great accomplishments require great humility.

Such then, are several if the key points of Sorokin’s science of love and social transformation.  Does it sound unrealistic?  If so, maybe that’s due to heavy conditioning by our cynical and materialistic culture.  Nobody can be happy in a hate- and conflict-dominated culture.  A change is necessary.  And how else could a cultural transformation occur except by the means outlined by Sorokin?

On ‘The Amazing Race’ in Bangladesh

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Last night I happened to see ‘The Amazing Race’ on television.  This week’s episode took place in Bangladesh — and amazing it was, an eye-opening witness to the utter poverty and privation of the people there, and their determined energy. The vividness was heightened by having the opportunity to watch the episode on  HDTV.

It made me want to go there myself, on the rationale that such an experience would change me.  When considered from vantage point of our living rooms or dens, the suffering of the third world seems merely an abstraction.  It elicits a mild concern — maybe enough to send a check to a charitable organization, but not much more than that.  In contrast, to actually live in a place like this brings the full force of human misery, and our instinctive urge to help, to the surface.  If one has any skill at all, anything to offer other human beings by way of service, one could not face these people in person without the conscience commanding one to think or say, “How can I help?  How can I be anything like a complete human being if I do not commit myself to assisting such people with my all!”

Yet, I imagine that if I were to go there and ask some sage elder, “How can I help?”, the answer might well be:  “Why travel here?  Could you not do more in your own country?  Can you not apply yourself to changing hearts and minds there?”

Indeed, tonight two presidential candidates will posture and pretend to meaningfully address the foreign policy of the United States.  Both represent a pitiless status quo which thinks nothing of killing thousands or millions of Iraqis, Afghans, or Pakistanis in pointless wars.  And more telling:  we spend trillions of dollars on war, when for 1/10 that amount in humanitarian assistance we could attain complete national security by winning the friendship, admiration (and imitation) of every nation on earth.

It is fitting that we should recall the words of that great American practitioner of satyagraha, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who spoke as follows in 1965:

All I’m saying is simply this: that all mankind is tied together; all life is interrelated, and we are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be – this is the interrelated structure of reality. John Donne caught it years ago and placed it in graphic terms: No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main… And then he goes on toward the end to say: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. And by believing this, by living out this fact, we will be able to remain awake through a great revolution. (“Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution“, Commencement Address for Oberlin College, June 1965, Oberlin Ohio)

The beginning of change is education.  Despite its potentially negative aspects, modern technology is making the world one.  If you’d like to get a picture of life in Bangladesh, you can see the episode (complete or clips) at the CBS website, here.

Written by John Uebersax

October 22, 2012 at 10:21 pm

Martin Luther King Jr. – Beyond Afghanistan

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There has recently come into my possession a letter from the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr that addresses the war in Afghanistan. It is miraculous, indeed, that the Martin Luther King should be writing a letter to you and to me more than 40 years after his death.  How this is possible is something of an enigma wrapped in mystery. The important thing, however, is that we can imagine him writing a letter to Americans in 2010.

Some may notice that the letter corresponds almost word for word to his famous 1967 speech against the Vietnam war.  Perhaps this means Dr. King sees the issues as little changed since then.

Yet clearly we must let Dr. King speak in his own words.  Here is the letter as it stands before me.


Beyond Afghanistan

I write now because my conscience leaves me no other choice.  “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” That time has come for us in relation to Afghanistan.

Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover when the issues at hand seem as perplexing as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must move on.

We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak.  Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movements and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.

As I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Afghanistan, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: Why are you speaking about the war, Dr. King?  Peace and civil rights don’t mix, they say. And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live.

I now make a passionate plea to my beloved nation. It is not addressed to Kabul or to the Taliban. It is not addressed to Iran or to Pakistan. Nor is it an attempt to overlook the ambiguity of the total situation and the need for a collective solution to the tragedy of Afghanistan. Neither is it an attempt to make al Queda or the Taliban out to be paragons of virtue, nor to overlook the role they must play in the successful resolution of the problem. While they both may have justifiable reasons to be suspicious of the good faith of the United States, life and history give eloquent testimony to the fact that conflicts are never resolved without trustful give and take on both sides.

Now, however, I wish not to speak to al Queda and the Taliban, but rather to my fellow Americans, who, with me, bear the greatest responsibility in ending a conflict that has exacted a heavy price on both continents.

I have several reasons for bringing Afghanistan into the field of my moral vision. There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Afghanistan and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the wars in the Middle East, and I watched the programs broken and eviscerated as if they were some idle political playthings of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Afghanistan continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.

People asked me if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.

Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read Afghanistan. It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that America _will be_ are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land.

Another burden of responsibility was placed upon me in 1964; and I cannot forget that the Nobel Prize for Peace was also a commission — a commission to work harder than I had ever worked before for “the brotherhood of man.” This is a calling that takes me beyond national allegiances, but even if it were not present I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ. To me the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I am speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the good news was meant for all men — for Muslim and Christian, for their children and ours, for black and for white, for revolutionary and conservative? Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the one who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them? What then can I say to al Queda or to bin Laden as a faithful minister of this one? Can I threaten them with death or must I not share with them my life?

This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy, for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.

And as I ponder the madness of Afghanistan and search within myself for ways to understand and respond in compassion, my mind goes constantly to the people of that region. I speak now not of the soldiers of each side, not of the government in Kabul, but simply of the people who have been living under the curse of war for three continuous decades now. I think of them too because it is clear to me that there will be no meaningful solution there until some attempt is made to know them and hear their broken cries.

Our government felt then that the Afghan people were not “ready” for independence, and we again fell victim to the deadly Western arrogance that has poisoned the international atmosphere for so long.  Now the Afghan people languish under our bombs and consider us — not their fellow Afghans — the real enemy.

Perhaps the more difficult but no less necessary task is to speak for those who have been designated as our enemies. What of al Queda – and that strangely anonymous group we call the Taliban?  How can they trust us when now we charge them with violence while we pour every new weapon of death into their land? Surely we must understand their feelings even if we do not condone their actions.

They question our political goals. Their questions are frighteningly relevant. Is our nation planning to build on political myth again and then shore it up with the power of new violence?

Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.

We are met by a deep but understandable mistrust. To speak for them is to explain this lack of confidence in Western words, and especially their distrust of American intentions now.

Perhaps only his sense of humor and of irony can save bin Laden when he hears the most powerful nation of the world speaking of aggression as it drops bombs on a poor weak nation more than eight thousand miles away from its shores.

At this point I should make it clear that while I have tried here so far to give a voice to the voiceless on Afghanistan and to understand the arguments of those who are called enemy, I am as deeply concerned about our troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Afghanistan is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the peril, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle amongst Afghans, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy and the secure while we create hell for the poor.

This Madness Must Cease

Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Afghanistan. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Afghanistan. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America to the leaders of out own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours.

An Buddhist monk living in Afghanistan recently wrote this to me:

“Each day the war goes on the hatred increases in the heart of the Afghans and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism.”

If we continue, there will be no doubt in my mind and in the mind of the world that we have no honorable intentions in Afghanistan. It will become clear that our minimal expectation is to occupy it as an American colony, and men will not refrain from thinking that our maximum hope is to goad Iran into a war so that we may bomb her nuclear installations. If we do not stop our war against the people of Afghanistan immediately the world will be left with no other alternative than to see this as some horribly clumsy and deadly game we have decided to play.

The world now demands a maturity of America that we may not be able to achieve. It demands that we admit that we have been wrong from the beginning of our adventure in Afghanistan, that we have been detrimental to the life of the Afghan people. The situation is one in which we must be ready to turn sharply from our present ways.

In order to atone for our sins and errors in Afghanistan, we should take the initiative in bringing a halt to this tragic war. I would like to suggest five concrete things that our government should do immediately to begin the long and difficult process of extricating ourselves from this nightmarish conflict:

  1. End all bombing in Afghanistan
  2. Declare a unilateral cease-fire in the hope that such action will create the atmosphere for negotiation.
  3. Take immediate steps to prevent other battlegrounds in the Middle East and elsewhere.
  4. Realistically accept the fact that the Taliban has substantial support in Afghanistan and must thereby play a role in any meaningful negotiations and in any future Afghan government.
  5. Set a date that we will remove all foreign troops from Afghanistan.

Protesting The War

Meanwhile we in the churches and synagogues have a continuing task while we urge our government to disengage itself from a disgraceful commitment. We must continue to raise our voices if our nation persists in its perverse ways in Afghanistan. We must be prepared to match actions with words by seeking out every creative method of protest possible.

These are the times for real choices and not false ones. We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.

I say we must enter the struggle, but I wish to go on now to say something even more disturbing. The war in Afghanistan is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality we will find ourselves organizing clergy- and laymen-concerned committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Iran and Pakistan. They will be concerned about Somalia and the Sudan. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy. Such thoughts take us beyond Afghanistan, but not beyond our calling as sons of the living God.

Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken — the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investment.

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: “This way of settling differences is not just.” A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.

This kind of positive revolution of values is our best defense against Islamic extremism. War is not the answer. These are days which demand wise restraint and calm reasonableness. We must not call everyone an extremist or an appeaser who recognizes that hate and hysteria are not the final answers to the problem of these turbulent days. We must not engage in a negative anti-Muslim attitude, but rather in a positive thrust for democracy, realizing that our greatest defense against extremism is to take offensive action in behalf of justice. We must with positive action seek to remove those conditions of poverty, insecurity and injustice which are the fertile soil in which the seed of radicalism grows and develops.

The People Are Important

It is a sad fact that, because of comfort, complacency and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only Islamic extremism has the revolutionary spirit. Therefore, Islamic extremism is a judgment against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores and thereby speed the day when “every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places plain.”

A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.

This call for a world-wide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all men. This oft misunderstood and misinterpreted concept — so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force — has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man. When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Moslem-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John:

Let us love one another; for love is God and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. If we love one another God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.

Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day. We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate. As Arnold Toynbee says : “Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word.”

We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The “tide in the affairs of men” does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: “Too late.” There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect.

Omar Khayyam wrote:  “The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on…” We still have a choice today; nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.

We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Afghanistan and justice throughout the developing world — a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.

Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter — but beautiful — struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message, of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.

As that noble bard of yesterday, James Russell Lowell, eloquently stated:

Once to every man and nation
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth and falsehood,
For the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God’s new Messiah,
Off’ring each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever
Twixt that darkness and that light.

Though the cause of evil prosper,
Yet ’tis truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold,
And upon the throne be wrong:
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow
Keeping watch above his own.

And if we will only make the right choice, we will be able to transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of peace. If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.

There has recently come into my possession a letter from the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr that addresses the war in Afghanistan. It is miraculous, indeed, that the Martin Luther King should be writing a letter to you and to me more than 40 years after his death.  How this is possible is something of an enigma wrapped in mystery. The important thing, however, is that we can imagine him writing a letter to Americans in 2010. 

Some may notice that the letter corresponds almost word for word to his famous 1967 speech against the Vietnam war.  Perhaps this means Dr. King sees the issues as little changed since then.

Yet clearly we must let Dr. King speak in his own words.  Here is the letter as it stands before me.


Written by John Uebersax

January 13, 2010 at 4:54 am

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.