Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Can We Avert Calamity

One hundred and ninety-five countries recently reached a consensus at the end of an historic meeting in Paris regarding the need to lower carbon emissions and thereby diminish our dependency upon fossil fuels as the predominant source of energy for human activity.  This, in itself, is a major breakthrough in that it represents a nearly universal recognition of the reality of climate change and its very real threat to the future of the species upon planet earth.  

However, there is a wide chasm between recognizing the threat and collectively implementing the degree and intensity of change that is required to meaningfully address the problem.  The enormity of the issue cannot be understated.  The level of CO2 in the atmosphere has already breached 400 parts per million (ppm).  This compares to ~ 270 ppm that was the measure of CO2 in the pre-industrial age.  The current level compares to eras in the earth’s distant past in which the climate conditions were of such extremes that human existence would be seriously constrained.  The effects of climate change are very much in evidence around the planet.  It is not within the scope of this article to attempt to enumerate the details.  Human activity is literally transforming the earth’s climate – no manner of obfuscation or denial can alter this reality.

The degree of political, social, cultural and religious unrest that seems to infest human communities throughout the world provides suggestive evidence that human beings are collectively unable to face the enormous challenges posed by the seemingly ineluctable “progress” of climate change.  In reality, there is no threat to the future viability of the human species greater than this issue.

In order to successfully and radically diminish the production of greenhouse gases to a degree that would obviate the threat to humans in the near and more distant future, action is required on a scale of unheard proportions.  This level of global cooperation will not be possible or even conceivable if we persist in responding to real or imagined threat with violence and irrational behavior; if we continue to value the self at the expense of the larger community; if we insist on showing little or no compassion for the hundreds of millions of our species faced with dire circumstance in everyday life and if we put the immediate interests of the State above the well-being of humanity.

Simply put, in my judgment, without true and lasting peace of mind and spirit both individually and collectively, the solution(s) to the problem of climate change will elude us.  In the final analysis, it is up to us – the viability of future generations of human beings is in in our collective hands.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Guns in America

We as a people need to accept the deep-seated social malaise that plagues us, if we are to ever resolve the issue around gun violence in America.  It goes deeper than the fact that murderous weapons are widely dispersed within the general population. 

There are many individuals within the fabric of this culture that suffer needlessly.  There are many men, women and children who live without a home and find themselves without sufficient resources to live a “normal” life.  There are many who are stricken with severe mental illness and have no recourse to adequate and sustaining care.  There are many people of color who feel the constant weight of intolerance; who bear the burden of unequal treatment under the law; who endure the unrelenting pain of racial prejudice.  There are many women who are subjected to derision simply because they seek to exert control over their own bodies.

As a society, we have chosen a path where the individual has been elevated to predominant position while the commons is being dismantled and those aspects of living that are essential to successful living such as access to adequate nutrition, shelter and health care are denied on a regular basis to so many in need.  We have, in essence, become a people without the necessary degree of compassion that would lead to an alleviation of this degree of suffering.

We have allowed the voices of ignorance, intolerance and in many cases sheer and unmitigated stupidity to secure a hold on the national psyche.  For example, in the face of unrelenting gun-related violence, there are suggestions – taken seriously – that the real solution to this issue is for everyone to carry guns.  This idea is absolute madness; for, it envisions a future where the social contract that is a necessary component of a sane society is completely obliterated. 

We have permitted illogical and spurious ideas to come to the forefront of serious national debate without being sufficiently challenged.  The most of egregious of these is, in my opinion, the contention that climate change is not real and of no consequence.   

In essence, if we do not collectively use reasoned judgment and a basic trust in reality-based information to fashion public policy grounded in compassion and a view towards a sane and sustainable future, we will effectively rob the future of possibilities for our descendants.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Climate Change Revisited

Despite the anti-science rhetoric that seems to have broad representation in the US Congress, climate change is a very real phenomenon that if unchecked will put the world's people in peril. If our collective behavior in regards to burning of fossil fuels continues unabated it will necessarily have a dramatic impart on peace and security in the world populated by future generations of human beings. The question we must pose to ourselves is, "Is this the legacy we want to leave behind?"

An example of what the future may have in store is what changes are occurring in the lives of the peoples of the Marshall Islands.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Tragedy of Forced Migration

It is currently estimated that approximately 60 million human beings have been forced to leave their homeland propelled by the ravages of war, extreme poverty and hunger.  This is said to be the greatest mass migration in human history even when compared to World War II and its aftermath. 

The media is being inundated with images of the desperate acts made daily by men, woman, children and the elderly in order to find a new home – a place where they might find some stability and chance for the future.  These individuals and families are so determined that they are willing to risk their lives and accept unimaginable hardship rather than endure the daily terror they face remaining in the place where are all their ethnic and cultural ties lie.  It is a profoundly traumatic decision that they feel compelled to make in the hope of finding some degree of peace and security.

The predominant motivation that is driving these remarkably desperate acts is the horrific consequences of violence and war.  They are fleeing from what have become so-called “Failed States” that include the countries of Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Yemen, the Sudan and a list of countries with increasing instability that include Nigeria and the Congo, for example.

For the most part, these States and their boundaries were created as a direct result of the occupation and economic exploitation by the colonial empires of the past – British, Dutch and French for example. These areas of the globe possess important resources for the developed world and are of immense geopolitical importance as demonstrated by the military and economic involvement and intervention of current day superpowers such as the United States and Russia.

The current state of unrest in these countries reflects severe and seemingly intractable religious, ethnic and cultural differences that reside within national borders that were previously held in check either by a powerful colonial presence or a strong and autocratic leader or both.  Once these factors were no longer present, it left a power vacuum and its inevitable chaos.

This situation is no longer contained within the boundaries of the countries involved but is spilling over into the developed world – it has become a worldwide problem of immense proportions. If peace and social justice is to ever be attained, the world community needs to find creative and imaginative ways to bring warring factions together with the aim of establishing some kind of dialog to help diminish the level of violence so that human suffering can be abated.  This is a daunting problem with no easy solution; for, it requires that the peoples of this planet begin to think and act globally.  The human species on plant earth is becoming more and more tenuous; this state of being is also being threatened by the looming consequences of climate change.  It is the choices we make now that will profoundly influence the future.   

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Lessons Never Learned

A current snapshot of the human world would reveal a very troubled, beleaguered and often deadly place for millions upon millions of humans.  If I were to create a partial listing of areas on the globe where human-inspired conflagration was evident, it would look something like this –
·         Millions of Syrians have already fled their country as innocents are being besieged and slaughtered by their own government and by pseudo Islamic State referred to as The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) led by a group of Islamic fundamentalist involved in atrocities of a most unsettling nature that are supposedly sanctioned by their Creator – behavior reminiscent of the early Crusades under the banner of Christendom.  This forced emigration is having an unsettling impact on the neighboring countries of Jordan, Lebanon and Europe.
·          The people of Northern Yemen are being killed in large numbers by aerial bombardment from Saudi fighter planes as a part of a coalition effort to derail the growing influence of the Houthis.  It seems that the United States is part of that effort supplying armaments including bombs and cluster devices.
·          The people of Gaza have lived under horrific conditions for years.  The entire population of this rather miniscule strip of land has been kept as virtual prisoners by the Israeli government that periodically uses deadly force to control and constrain them.
·         The African continent has many hotspots where regional conflict abounds including Nigeria, The Congo, Kenya, Libya and Tunisia.  The specific cause(s) for violence and aggression in each of these regions have different explanations, but the end result remains the same – horrific suffering and death endured by many.

The unsettling reality that underlies all of these examples of human discord, mayhem and destruction is the fact that even though we are in the midst of the twenty-first century – a time of remarkable change inspired by technological innovation and scientific exploration regarding the nature of reality – the lessons that human history should have taught us remain unlearned.

While historians and political scientists attempt to find the immediate explanations for these regional conflagrations as they should; for, that is nature of their work, an important point is missed.  What individuals who have the good fortune to live in sovereignties with stable governments under the rule of law and with sustainable economies fail to recognize is that the history of these countries is replete with blood, savagery and needless death in order to accommodate the will to power and dominance.  This to me is an inescapable truth.  All the sad and reckless behavior that typifies the current state of humanity is nothing new.  We, as a species, have been there many times before.

In my mind, the tragedy of the human experience is that we, as a species, have collectively failed to develop a new paradigm for living.  We seem to continue to embrace a world view in which differences in religion, political belief, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, cultural identification and economic status are paramount and provide sufficient reason for enmity, suspicion, hatred and violence.

We have failed to recognize that all members of the our species are worthy of living a full and fruitful existence deserving; of equal treatment and equality of opportunity and justified in the expectation of equal access to that which is essential to life – adequate nutrition, housing, healthcare, peace and social justice and security.  Without this all-inclusive mindset we are doomed to repeat this cycle again and again

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Gordon Hirabayashi - a Study in Courage in the Face of Extraordinary Obstacles

Gordon Hirabayashi was one of the few Japanese Americans who had the courage and tenacity to challenge the legality and constitutionality of the curfew and exclusion orders imposed upon Japanese Americans during World War II following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor - December 7, 1941.

The following is a brief and concise biography authored by Cherstin M. Lyon from the California State University in San Bernardino, CA and published by the Densho Encyclopedia.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Pope Francis’s Comments on the, “Idolatry of Money” delivered on July 11, 2015 in Asuncion, Paraguay

The following are the comments made by Pope Francis in a speech delivered in Asuncion, Paraguay given on July 11, 2015 during his tour of South America.  This speech was given in order to address some of distressing issues surrounding social and economic injustice that plague so many of the poor worldwide.  He wished to draw the attention of world leaders to the degree to which the global economy is seriously out of balance - tilted in favor of wealth and profit resulting in a severe unequal distribution of wealth that is responsible for a great deal of human misery experienced by so many of the world's people.

His ideas and comments are certainly worthy of intelligent examination and discussion. 
"In our time humanity is experiencing a turning-point in its history, as we can see from the advances being made in so many fields. We can only praise the steps being taken to improve people’s welfare in areas such as health care, education and communications. At the same time we have to remember that the majority of our contemporaries are barely living from day to day, with dire consequences. A number of diseases are spreading. The hearts of many people are gripped by fear and desperation, even in the so-called rich countries. The joy of living frequently fades, lack of respect for others and violence are on the rise, and inequality is increasingly evident. It is a struggle to live and, often, to live with precious little dignity. This epochal change has been set in motion by the enormous qualitative, quantitative, rapid and cumulative advances occuring in the sciences and in technology, and by their instant application in different areas of nature and of life. We are in an age of knowledge and information, which has led to new and often anonymous kinds of power.

Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.

"Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”.

"In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and na├»ve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.

One cause of this situation is found in our relationship with money, since we calmly accept its dominion over ourselves and our societies. The current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person! We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf (cf. Ex 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption.

"While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. Debt and the accumulation of interest also make it difficult for countries to realize the potential of their own economies and keep citizens from enjoying their real purchasing power. To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.

Behind this attitude lurks a rejection of ethics and a rejection of God. Ethics has come to be viewed with a certain scornful derision. It is seen as counterproductive, too human, because it makes money and power relative. It is felt to be a threat, since it condemns the manipulation and debasement of the person. In effect, ethics leads to a God who calls for a committed response which is outside the categories of the marketplace. When these latter are absolutized, God can only be seen as uncontrollable, unmanageable, even dangerous, since he calls human beings to their full realization and to freedom from all forms of enslavement. Ethics – a non-ideological ethics – would make it possible to bring about balance and a more humane social order. With this in mind, I encourage financial experts and political leaders to ponder the words of one of the sages of antiquity: “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs.'

"A financial reform open to such ethical considerations would require a vigorous change of approach on the part of political leaders. I urge them to face this challenge with determination and an eye to the future, while not ignoring, of course, the specifics of each case. Money must serve, not rule! The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor. I exhort you to generous solidarity and to the return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favours human beings.

Today in many places we hear a call for greater security. But until exclusion and inequality in society and between peoples are reversed, it will be impossible to eliminate violence. The poor and the poorer peoples are accused of violence, yet without equal opportunities the different forms of aggression and conflict will find a fertile terrain for growth and eventually explode. When a society – whether local, national or global – is willing to leave a part of itself on the fringes, no political programmes or resources spent on law enforcement or surveillance systems can indefinitely guarantee tranquility. This is not the case simply because inequality provokes a violent reaction from those excluded from the system, but because the socioeconomic system is unjust at its root. Just as goodness tends to spread, the toleration of evil, which is injustice, tends to expand its baneful influence and quietly to undermine any political and social system, no matter how solid it may appear. If every action has its consequences, an evil embedded in the structures of a society has a constant potential for disintegration and death. It is evil crystallized in unjust social structures, which cannot be the basis of hope for a better future. We are far from the so-called “end of history”, since the conditions for a sustainable and peaceful development have not yet been adequately articulated and realized.

"Today’s economic mechanisms promote inordinate consumption, yet it is evident that unbridled consumerism combined with inequality proves doubly damaging to the social fabric. Inequality eventually engenders a violence which recourse to arms cannot and never will be able to resolve. It serves only to offer false hopes to those clamouring for heightened security, even though nowadays we know that weapons and violence, rather than providing solutions, create new and more serious conflicts. Some simply content themselves with blaming the poor and the poorer countries themselves for their troubles; indulging in unwarranted generalizations, they claim that the solution is an “education” that would tranquilize them, making them tame and harmless. All this becomes even more exasperating for the marginalized in the light of the widespread and deeply rooted corruption found in many countries – in their governments, businesses and institutions – whatever the political ideology of their leaders."

Monday, May 25, 2015

Gandhi - You are Sorely Missed

GANDHI you are surely missed

You chose peace over the darkness,
you offered up some hope to a world
lost within its bloody escapades
and endless cycles of retribution.

You chose simplicity and
unraveled your opponents by the
strength of your will and the
sheer power of numbers.

You chose a path where
compassion reigns and
love is the insurmountable
lever of change.

The human world was not ready then
to follow your guiding steps
to a better place,
it is not ready now
so inured are we to the
alluring potency of the sword that
brings us nothing but grief.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Definitions of War

Human conflict continues to circle the planet and enliven the darkness within the human world.  War may have many definitions.

Put succinctly -

Humanity's black hole,
ultimate testimonial to human failure,
great wheel of despair,
end of reason,
abyss of the soul,
mother’s lament,
outrageous waste of the possible,
assassin of the future.

Monday, February 2, 2015

AJ Muste

AJ Muste was considered to be the number one peacemaker in America.  His involvement in peacemaking - both in words and action - had a substantial and lasting impact on the pacifist movement in America.

As a young boy in America, he was captivated by the image of Abraham Lincoln.  This initial interest inspired him to explore the life of this illustrious American president, and was deeply moved and influenced by what he had learned.  His family was conservative in politics and orthodox in religion.  Although his parents were devoutly religious, Muste was never exposed to hellfire preaching growing up in the church.  In spite of the fact that his father was not particularly happy with his son’s avowed political beliefs, Muste eventually persuaded his father to accept the idea of pacifism.

For half of a century, Muste was a radical activist with an untiring devotion to the causes of peace and social justice.  He was, in fact, one of the pioneers of non-violent resistance as a technique for social action.  He was so dedicated to non-violence that he was referred to as the “American Gandhi”; Gandhi was an inspiration to him.  Muste was so influential and charismatic that his followers were called, “Musteites.”  During his long personal history of social action, he went through a number of stages during the maturation of his personal philosophy.

As a young man, Muste entered Hope College in Holland, Michigan and ultimately pursued a career in the ministry, training at the Graduate Theological Seminary of the Reformed Church in America in New Brunswick, New Jersey and the Union Theological Seminary in New York City.  In 1909, he was ordained minister of the Reformed Church.  During his sojourn as minister, World War I broke out in Europe.  Despite intense pressure from his contemporaries, Muste stubbornly held on to his pacifist beliefs.  Ultimately, his convictions led to his ejection from the ministry; he was forced to resign from his church in Newtonville, Massachusetts.  The fact that the church sided with the government in this regard and abandoned what Muste believed were fundamental Christian principles left him considerably disheartened.

Muste ultimately drifted away from religion and began to embrace political action in the area of social justice.  He became involved in the struggles of labor during the tumultuous era when workers were attempting to organize into labor unions as a way of forcing changes in the abysmal nature of labor conditions at that time.  This was also the era that saw the rise of interest in such politically diverse worldviews as embraced by communism and anarchism.  He became General Secretary of the Amalgamate Textile Workers.  He held this position from 1921 through 1933.
During this period, he became the Director of the Brookwood Labor College – an institution dedicated to the training of militant and progressive labor leaders.  In the course of his work he was attracted to Trotskyist-Marxist ideas in regards to the plight of workers and the need to organize labor.  At that time, the communists were very much involved in the early formation of labor unions.  He became involved in numerous strikes, including the Toledo Auto-Lite, GM and the Goodyear Tire and Rubber strikes.

Ultimately, Muste became disenchanted with communism; he found the tactics that the party employed were disingenuous and heavy-handed.  He came to see Trotsky as yet another dictator not unlike Lenin or Stalin.  In 1936, he rejected Marxist-Leninism and rejoined the non-violence movement.

In 1940, he became Executive Secretary of the Fellowship of Reconciliation in the United States.  He held this position until 1953.  Muste became convinced that in order to achieve a just society, major social dislocation is necessary.  In 1962, he wrote, “We are now in an age when men will have to choose deliberately to exchange the values, the concepts of security, and much else which characterizes contemporary society, and seek another way of life.  If that is so, the peace movement has to act on that assumption, and this means that the whole picture of our condition and the radical choice must be placed before people – not a diluted gospel, a program geared so that they are ready to “buy now.” 

Seeing the inevitability of the American entrance into what would be referred to as World War II, Muste refuted the argument that governments are sometimes called upon to resort to war to oppose an “aggressor” nation.  In his book entitled, Non-violence in an Aggressive World (1940), he claimed that “The line-up in the world is read in terms of “peace-loving” versus “persistently aggressive” nations. That is superficial and misleading. It is the same reading that brought us disaster twenty years ago. The real line-up is between satiated powers, determined to hang on to the 85 percent of the earth’s vital resources which they control, even if that means plunging the world into another war, and another set of powers equally determined to change the imperialist status  even if that means plunging the world into another war.”  He went on to caution that as soon as a nation finds itself on the path of war preparation, it strengthens the forces on the right and moves the society towards fascism.

In regards to war preparations prior to World War II, A. J. Muste further stated, “The United States is not ready for disarmament and war-renunciation. What then shall we propose?  A little war-preparation, purely defensive preparation, refined economic warfare which can be safely waged at a distance against supposedly sinful nations?  Surely they are no alternatives at all (such as moderate war-preparations in this day!), or they are alternatives which lead straight to disaster.”   As a result of these strong convictions, he advocated total draft refusal.  This was a remarkably courageous stand in terms of the powerful national sentiment that was skewed towards war and that accepted the inevitability of conflict.

Following the ‘Great War,” Muste became deeply concerned over what he perceived as a drift towards a nuclear holocaust.  He became the Chairman of the Committee for Nonviolent Action, a member of the executive committee on the War Resister’s League and a participant in Omaha Action, a group dedicated to nonviolent action against nuclear policy.  As a member of the latter group, he was arrested in 1959 for climbing over a barbed-wire fence at the Atlas missile base near Omaha, Nebraska.  He became an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War, and editor of Liberation Magazine.
In his life, Muste underwent a number of personal transformations, but maintained a tenacious adherence to the causes of peace and social justice that resided within the core of his being.  As a person of deep moral commitment, he was unafraid to openly express his viewpoint, take what he considered to be appropriate action and freely admit to his own personal errors in judgment.

A.J. Muste died on February 11, 1967.  One of Muste’s cohorts in the pursuit of peace through nonviolent action made the following comment, “A.J. is the spiritual chairman of every major pacifist demonstration in the country and often is the actual chairman.  He’s the number one peacemaker in America.”