Sunday, September 24, 2006

A Long-Term Solution to Ethnic Strife

Excerpted from The Origins of Ethnic Strife by Robert W. Firestone, Ph.D.

You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear.
You’ve got to be taught from year to year....
You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate.
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

The words of this song from the musical South Pacific pertain to one aspect of a powerful psychological defense mechanism that reifies the family, shrouding it and other forms of group identification in a fantasy bond that assures immortality in the face of the conscious and unconscious anxiety associated with death.

Psychological defenses that minimize or shut out psychological pain are collectively expressed in restrictive, dehumanizing cultural patterns that people feel must be protected at all costs. Ernest Becker suggests that aggression stems from frustration and fear rather than from instinct:
It is one thing to say that man is not human because he is a vicious animal, and another to say that it is because he is a frightened creature who tries to secure a victory over his limitations.
This explanation not only provides a clear perspective concerning the underlying meaning of prejudice, racism, and war, but is also more positive, pragmatic, and action-oriented. It offers hope for the future, whereas the deterministic conception of man’s essential savagery may well provide a self-fulfilling prophecy. Indeed, pessimistic forecasting generally precludes constructive action and people tend to feel progressively more demoralized and helpless.

The lack of an immediate, obvious course of action or definitive pragmatic program should not be interpreted as cause for pessimism or devalued on those grounds. Psychological guidelines explaining human aggression can lead to an effective program of education that may enable men and women to come to know themselves in a manner that could effectively alter destructive child-rearing practices and social processes that foster aggression. Freud declared that people might benefit from an awareness rather than a denial of their mortality:
Would it not be better to give death the place in reality and in our thoughts which is its due, and to give a little more prominence to the unconscious attitude towards death which we have hitherto so carefully suppressed?
In order to find peace, we must face up to existential issues, overcome our personal upbringing, and learn to live without soothing psychological defenses. In some sense we must continually mourn our own end in order to fully accept and value our life. There is no way to banish painful memories and feelings from consciousness without losing our sense of humanity and feeling of compassion for others. An individual can overcome personal limitations and embrace life in the face of death anxiety. Such a person would find no need for ethnic hatred or insidious warfare.

Robert W. Firestone
Click to see a video clip from an interview of Dr. Firestone with Salon's Fred Branfman

Saturday, September 23, 2006

"If you don't vote, you don't matter!"

"It's up to you to nail up any bastard that get's between you and the roads and the bridges and the schools and the food you need."
A timely message from the movie character Willy Stark (patterned after Huey Long) in the just-released remake of "All The King's Men" starring Sean Penn, Jude Law, Kate Winslet and Anthony Hopkins and lots of others.

$479,000,000,000 - that's right, four hundred sevety-nine billion - is standing between you and the roads and the bridges and the schools and the food you need. That's what we are spending (and have spent) for the Iraq war. That money is lost forever. It's not a valuable investment; it's the opposite... in fact it's going to cost us a lot more in the years to come. It's why Hugo Chavez got such resounding applause at the UN (reportedly the longest and loudest of any leader who spoke thus far this session). The people know of what he spoke. Of the lies and favoritism; of the corruption and misinformation. Of the hipocricy. And of the people dying for no real reason. Chavez gave voice to all those thoughts.

But Willy Stark said it best: "If you don't vote, you don't matter!"

Friday, September 22, 2006

You can always trust Democrats to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory

Kos (of the famous Daily Kos blog and colorful prose) is right once again:
I'll be shocked if we wake up on election day controlling either chamber of Congress. If we do, it'll be because enough candidates decide to give those DC consultants and staffers the middle finger and run the race they know they need to run to win.

My sentiments exactly. And my fear as well.

Kos puts the blame on DC consultants. I concur but also put it on the candidate integrity factor.

  • Lee Atwater put a variety of alternatives in front of Bush Sr. including the racially-pointed independently-run Willie Horton ads against Dukakis. Any candidate with integrity would have said: "Thanks but I can't do that. It's wrong."

  • Karl Rove puts a variety of alternatives in front of Bush Jr. daily. Like his father before him, Bush Jr. doesn't object on moral grounds; he just uses the information as recommended, regardless of the truth of the issue(s) involved.
The result is what we have today: a totally ineffective Congress, bribed officials everywhere, major MAJOR issues going unanswered, rampent fear and polarization, burgeoning REAL threats to our very existence, and a stubborn, belligerent and antagonistic executive branch.

Political consultants are recommending that the Dems focus on the economy in these last weeks of campaigning before the mid-term elections. Candidates can still shuck the chaff and choose what's right for them, as people, and as they see their electorate. Every election is a local election, no matter the national talking points.

People are hungry for a real leader to represent them. They've had enough lies and manipulation. They just want an honest person, with real feelings for their district and state, and an ethical passion to get necessary things to happen for their constituents. Voters are tired of the rhetoric; they just want a straight-talking representative with the integrity to do the job.

Me too.

Know anyone that fits the bill? Vote for them. Know anyone that doesn't? Vote against them.

That's the self-correcting feature of our system that ex-President Jimmy Carter recently talked about.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

"Submission to You [God] feels like self betrayal."

Ayaan Hirsi Ali calls herself "a dissident of Islam" because, given what Allah supposedly enjoins and what she knows is right, "the cognitive dissonance is, for me, too much." In the 11-minute film "Submission," for which she wrote the script, the main character says: "Faith in You, Submission to You [God] feels like self betrayal."

Now Ali is living as a dissident here in the US and the filmmaker, Theo van Gogh, was killed by an Islamic extremist who slit his throat with a machete. The murderer (in whose room was found a disc containing videos of "enemies of Allah" being murdered, including a man having his head slowly sawed off) used another knife to pin a long letter to van Gogh's chest. The letter was to Hirsi Ali, calling her a "soldier of evil."

The film's title is a direct translation of the word "Islam." The film suggests the mistreatment of women born to Muslim families. The film was shown on the Dutch public broadcasting network (VPRO) on August 29, 2004. It portrays a Muslim woman as having been beaten and raped by a relative. The bodies are used in the film as a canvas for verses from the Qur'an.

George Will writes of her:
Slender, elegant, stylish and articulate (in English, Dutch and Swahili), she has found an intellectual home here at the American Enterprise Institute, where she is writing a book that imagines Muhammad meeting, in the New York Public Library, three thinkers -- John Stuart Mill, Friedrich Hayek and Karl Popper, each a hero of the unending struggle between (to take the title of Popper's 1945 masterpiece) "The Open Society and Its Enemies." Islamic extremists -- the sort who were unhinged by some Danish cartoons -- will be enraged. She is unperturbed.

Neither is she pessimistic about the West. It has, she says, "the drive to innovate." But Europe, she thinks, is invertebrate. After two generations without war, Europeans "have no idea what an enemy is." And they think, she says, that leadership is an antiquated notion because they believe that caring governments can socialize everyone to behave well, thereby erasing personal accountability and responsibility. "I can't even tell it without laughing," she says, laughing softly. Clearly she is where she belongs, at last.
The west has "the drive to innovate." But Europe is invertebrate. Great phrases for a desperate situation. But I ask again, who out there amongst our political candidates is willing to stand up and confront this issue intelligently? Perhaps Russ Feingold. Jimmy Carter [but he can't run again]? Madeleine Albright? Can you name somebody - anybody - who is willing to take the yoke and run with it? Who has the strength of character and intelligence to open and sustain the dialogue? The integrity to keep it up until something positive happens? And the charisma and ability to debate with humor and compassion?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

God, Elvis, Sam Harris, and George Bush.

The president of the United States has claimed, on more than one occasion, to be in dialogue with God. If he said that he was talking to God through his hairdryer, this would precipitate a national emergency. I fail to see how the addition of a hairdryer makes the claim more ridiculous or offensive.

Sam Harris, Ph.D., Letter to a Christian Nation, Random House, 2006

A person who believes that Elvis is still alive is very unlikely to get promoted to a position of great power and responsibility in our society. Neither will a person who believes that the holocaust was a hoax. But people who believe equally irrational things about God and the bible are now running our country. This is genuinely terrifying.

Sam Harris, Ph.D., Letter to a Christian Nation, Random House, 2006

I listened to Sam Harris talk about religion recently and couldn't help but worry for his safety. He's a 21st Century heretic. But he's basing his thesis on facts. He's saying that we are almost beyond rectifying our present confrontational situation and that conversation is the only way we're going to break the deadlock. Faith trumps rational argument. Common-sense ethical intuition is blinded by religious metaphysics. That's got to stop. And soon!
We have no reason to expect to survive our religious differences indefinitely. Faith is intrinsically divisive. We have a choice between conversation and war. It was conversation that ended slavery, not faith. Faith is a declaration of immunity to conversation. To make religious war unthinkable, we have to undermine the dogma of faith. The continuance of civilization requires not moderation, but reason.
Strong but timely stuff. Harris, Richard Dawkins, Madeleine Albright, psychologist Robert Firestone and others are discussing the topic. But who out there amongst our political candidates is willing to stand up and confront this issue intelligently? Perhaps Russ Feingold. Jimmy Carter [but he can't run again]? Madeleine Albright? Can you name somebody - anybody - who is willing to take the yoke and run with it? Who has the strength of character and intelligence to open and sustain the dialogue? The integrity to keep it up until something positive happens? And the charisma and ability to debate with humor and compassion?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

It's Really a Choice Between Life and Death

Yesterday I saw a comparison of Nixon and Bush when I watched the new movie/documentary The U.S. vs. John Lennon. The movie begins with Lennon singing: "Nobody told me there'd be days like these" and was summed up by Gore Vidal who said:
Lennon represented life... and Mr. Nixon and Mr. Bush represent death.
The similarities between then and now are so evident: the misuse of the government to coerce, misdirect and scare; the purposeful misdirection of the media; the outright lies; the usurption of the Constitution and international law; and the specifically personal traits: the meanness, stubbornness and outright lies. Mario Cuomo said in the movie:
Their distortion of the Constitution was the greatest disloyalty to this country.
From a purely historical perspective the old axiom below has never been more true.
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it
From a personal point of view, many things affected me: seeing people in the film that I knew and admire(d) age; remembering myself back in the Beatle days - how I was defiantly against my own best interests and how I didn't become a Beatles fan - or a more socially conscious independent person until much later; understanding how I, like many others, chose painkillers instead of integrity when confronted with the meanspiritedness of what we thought and hoped to be our representative government.

All that and more came up as I watched this movie. It is very timely even for those of you young enough not to have known who he was on a day to day basis. The message throughout, however, wasn't really about the US versus Lennon. It was about what he lived and preached: Give peace a chance.

PS: John Lennon's songs like "Imagine," "Nobody Told Me," "Instant Karma (We All Shine On)," "Happy Xmas (War is Over)," and "Power to the People," and the chants "Give Peace a Chance," and the Beatles' "Revolution" were all included in the film including two previously unreleased songs -- "Attica State," recorded live at 1971's John Sinclair freedom rally, and an instrumental version of "How Do You Sleep." It'll be a great soundtrack when it comes out.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

What's It Gonna Take? Words from Mario Cuomo.

What is it going to take to counter voter apathy - to rally Democrats to vote - to inspire Democrats to support their candidates with their dollars, their energy and their votes. What came to mind was a person that could persuade me. So I listened to Mario Cuomo's speech at the 1984 Convention in San Francisco.

I was in tears. He was passionate, exuded honesty, and made clear sense -- with a poet's sense of integration, timing and color.

His speech had great one-liners (for which I'm quite jealous):
  • "The lucky and the left out" referring to rich Republicans and the trickle-down (or supply-side) theory of economics for the rest of us.

  • "Divide and cajole" about their campaigning tactics. Certainly Rowe and Bush are graduates of this one.
I excerpted three of his comments from that speech which are as relevant today as they were then.
  • About Iraq and our relationship with our allies.
    Click the arrow to listen.      

  • About what it means to be a Democrat.
    Click the arrow to listen.      

  • And finally, the question that I think should become the question asked from every podium during this campaign cycle.
    Click the arrow to listen.      

Let's all ask that question: Are we safer, stronger or better off than we were before George W. Bush became president?

No? Than let's change the players, election by election, candidate by candidate.

This has been, truly, the do-nothing Congress of all time!

Neither side deserves to be reelected.

Great quotes from Dick Morris. [I wish I had the knack for one-liners like that!]

Turnout is the key to this fall's elections -- and the low, apathetic turnout in yesterday's primaries suggests that, unless there's some real meat in the runup to the November elections, the results will favor the Republicans.

Why? Because low turnouts favor the passionate few that do vote... and they tend to be the rightious, religious, conservative, issue-based, homophobic portion of the Rep registered voter base. Dems just don't have those types of groups. Moderate Reps and across-the-board Dems who feel embarrassed by their government, their president, their foreign policy, their legislators, just pull up their collars and avoid the whole process. They don't vote, thus, in low turnout races they lose.

DNC Chair Howard Dean is right (and courageous) to run a 50-state program to drum up new voters, include and encourage past voters, and provide issues and reasons to vote. These efforts don't fully show up in the primary elections because the DNC doesn't support particular primary candidates. But they will show up in the Fall but it may all be for naught if voters - particularly swing Reps and loyal Dems - see it like Dick Morris does: that Congress did nothing and why should they think that new players will do any better? Low turnout figures for yesterday's primaries seem to indicate that this attitude is prevalent.

My fear is that public awareness doesn't coorelate with the DNC's (and the other campaign committee's) efforts.
  • A third of Californians vote 5-15 days before the peak of the advertising campaign. That's true in every state that has absentee voting. Since people gather most of their information from TV, and don't really pay attention until just before the election, absentee voters fall into a catch-22 of missing information (and the rising passion for change) yet voting nevertheless.

  • Bush and Rove have formulated an articulate argument for the Iraq war being an integral part of the war on terror. There's no arguing with them because every Rep speaker is in lock-step. The result, as they've planned, stirs fear and apathy to a place where the fervent vote and the frustrated shrink thereby echoing my turnout predictions.

  • No Dem speaker to date has controlled the news and people's interests with a poignant plea for honesty, integrity and a willingness to negotiate and get things done. Nobody has come to the forefront to lead the debate and say why we need to change the makeup of the House and Senate. Nobody has made the case that six more years of obstructionism will be in the way when a new Dem president takes over in 2009.

  • Worse yet is today's news that the RNC, RSCC and RCCC plan to outspend the Dems five-to-one. They plan to spend $60 million versus the Dems $12 million.

Still, even with all this bad news, elections are won one race at a time and every one is a local one. For me, I'll not shrink either from the rhetoric or from doing my duty to fund, discuss and vote for the candidates of my choice.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Self-Corrective Feature Of Our Country

Instutionalized corruption. Rampant temptations. Plutocratic tendencies. The coalition between Christian fundamentalists and the Republican Party. The creation of a class system. A congressional favorability rating lower than that for used car salespeople.

The 2006 mid-term elections are likely to reflect all of these perceptions with marching orders for incumbents and a sweep of new Democrat freshmen (hopefully).

I say hopefully because we Democrats shot ourselves in the feet often and at the worst of times (think no farther than Dukakis and Gore).

But besides electing new players who are more likely to steer clear of the many temptations and begin a severe housecleaning process, there are bigger issues that are making it neigh on impossible to effect meaningful change:
  • We don't have a vocal moral compass like Mario Cuomo or Jesse Jackson used to offer. Critics have poked so many holes in them personally that their words no longer make us cry out with passion and committment.
  • Our own social tendencies have been so verbally corrupted that we are fearful to even utter our desires for fear of indignant rebuttals (perhaps even harrassing reactions) from almost every front along with the distortion of our language, word by word, into meanings that we didn't intend.
  • In addition to this language disconnect, there is also a disconnect between overall economic growth and the growing squeeze on many working Americans. Like his father (and the barcode incident in the grocery store), our current President seems equally out of touch as he claims that the economy is doing well. This angers people who are suffering the truth: that the rich are doing well and the rest of us aren't. And it's that anger, along with our discontent with the situation in Iraq and the Middle East, that is propelling voters this fall to vote for anyone but the incumbent.
  • There's a disconnect in what we think is right and what we are offered as right. Health care is one such case in point. For the last 20 years or so, employers have slowly cut back benefits, passed on costs, limited coverage and generally made a mockery of employer-paid health insurance. Retirement plans are another case in point. More and more we're becoming convinced that we're on our own - without goverment or employer assistance.
  • Cagey and cynical aides to the President and his father before him, have changed campaigns and political discourse into adversarial, rightious trials with only one winner: the faithful, and only one way: their way. Altruism and brotherhood are nowhere to be seen. Gray isn't negotiable because it's neither black nor white.
Rather than cry wolf and feel ineffectual, we can correct today's situation by getting involved in this November's mid-term elections. And we can also do as georgia10 writes on Daily Kos:
Millions of us wait around for the 247 Democrats in Congress to speak up and stand up. Brilliant articles are penned about exactly what Democrats should say, and how they should say it. Other editorials rightly rail on "spineless" Dems who shrink from confrontation.

But we must never forget, my friends, that we are also Democrats. And every time we let a wingnut email go unanswered, we are the spineless Dems. Everytime we hesitate to jump in when our family or friends complain about politics, we are the cowards.

We're the front lines of progressivism, a 50-state army composed of millions of articulate, informed, and fundamentally right soldiers of truth. We're armed with facts, that weapon that deals a deadly blow to any Republican propaganda. And yet, in the chambers of our daily lives, I think we don't use them enough.

For example, why is it that my inbox is cluttered with right-wing chain mail but rarely any liberal forwards? And why is it that upon reading yet another email about "staying the course", my tired self is tempted to just click "delete" instead of "reply all"?

Because it's easier to let it slide, of course. It's easier to ignore than instigate. Too often, we are so afraid of getting into political fights that we shy away from having political discussions. But if we don't defend liberalism and our party, who will?

So let us not shrink from educating the ill-informed, from converting the conned with logic, and from building a new Democrat majority, one voter at a time.