Saturday, March 17, 2018

Law without Science is Injustice in a Society of Unreflected Anxiety

[For] Justice must always question itself, just as society can exist only by means of the work it does on itself and on its institutions. - Michel Foucault, in Liberation (1991)

The following is an example of poor and hollow "research" by the legal system documented by The New York Times in "The 'Frightening' Myth about Sex Offenders".

The modern legal framework of harsh standing laws targeting sex-offenders (sex-offender registry and other matters imposed of sex-offenders) is justified on an erroneous recidivism rate ("frightening and high" cited by the Supreme Court) that is twenty times greater than the current plethora of peer and evidenced-based research.

This examples provokes the question: what other legal decisions and laws are decided on public perceptions of fear and pop, pseudo-science and remain in great disparity with the current truth--the empirical, scientific, actuarial truth?

Val Jonas, a Florida civil rights attorney, who appears in the New York Times Op-Doc video, details the false and misleading information upon which the US Supreme Court based landmark decisions about sex-offender punishment. Her question, "What kind of measures do you take to secure yourself against these risks and at what cost to your society and your values as a society?"

My Disclaimer: This brief example is designed to challenge weak minds and weak society, the kind of "sense certainty" that drives fear and anxiety and feeds public perceptions, absent reason that is capable of approaching the complexity of an important issue at hand. In this example, the subject (law and society) do not in their development of laws seem to really know the object (the sex-offender) via real science.

“Distrust everyone in whom the impulse to punish is powerful!” - Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra,  2.29 .

The disparity in this example is a difference between
 - The criminal act being punished and the criminal identity being punished
 - Punishment occurs at one concentrated point (justice with the offering of reform--empowering tretment) and punishment that happens in multiple nodes (unending and shaming)

Let us have compassion for those under chastisement. Alas, who are we ourselves? Who am I and who are you? Whence do we come and is it quite certain that we did nothing before we were born? This earth is not without some resemblance to a gaol [jail]. Who knows but that man is a victim of divine justice? Look closely at life. It is so constituted that one senses punishment everywhere.”
- Victor Hugo,  Les Misérables,  4.7.1 (1862)

Saturday, February 17, 2018

A litany of the 'BS' against the Perpetrators: Republicans and NRA

Follow the Yellow in “How Have Your Members Of Congress Voted On Gun Bills?”

This is Virginia; go to article link below for your state. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

James Baldwin Speaks on this Great Day

J Baldwin and M L King
I have been reading James Baldwin during the last several weeks, reading Nobody Knows my Name and The Fire Next time.  Since the 60’s Baldwin has been the most recognizable African-American writer in the U.S. and the de facto spokesperson and leading literary voice for the Civil Right Movement. Baldwin was a complex person who has and continues to challenge the individual to know oneself. In her 1963 thesis, Eliza Young summarized,
[T]o find and to know oneself whether on a personal or social or religious level is not simply a problem among Negroes (though they so drastically need it), but a problem for white Americans and to an extent for Europeans.[1]  
This prophetic message is heard in “Down at the Cross” when Baldwin wrote,
To accept one’s past—one’s history . . . is learning to use it. An invented past can never be used; it cracks and crumbles under the pressures of life like clay in a season of drought. How can the American Negro’s past be used? [I add the white person too] The unprecedented price demanded . . . is the transcendence of the realities of color, of nations, and of altars.[2]
Received from reading Baldwin are his deepest insights as a writer and a black man of his day--his  unique, awareness of the psyche, the cultural challenges with integration, the "great American illusion", and the ultimate challenge and need of human beings for self-examination where there is a . . .
. . . collision between's one's image of oneself and what one actually is is always very painful and there are two things you can do about it, you can meet the collision head-on and try and become what you really are or you can retreat and try to remain what you thought you were, which is a fantasy, in which you will certainly perish. [Moreover,] I didn’t meet anyone in the world who didn’t suffer from the very same affliction that all the people I have fled from suffered from and that was that they didn’t know who they were.[3]
For me and we on this great day, recall the cause and dream of Martin Luther King, and allow James Baldwin spur us on to tackle the ultimate human challenge.
Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death—ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible to life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return. One must negotiate this as nobly as possible, for the sake of those who are coming after us. But white Americans do not believe in death, and this is why the darkness of my skin so intimidates them.[4]

[1] Eliza Marcella Young, “The Search for Identity in the Works of James Baldwin”, MA Thesis, Atlanta University, 1967, 53.
[2] James Baldwin: Collected Essays Ed. Toni Morrison. “Down at the Cross” of The Fire Next Time. New York: The Library of America, 1998, 333.
[3] _________, Nobody Knows my Name (first published in 1954) Paperback, Vintage, 1992.
[4] Collected Essays, 339. 

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Beholden by Forces and Shapes that Form a Life

I am grateful for a growing circle of influences within the inner river of life which include narrative, poetry, theories, schemas and manners of learning and organizing knowledge such as religious,
Möbius strip
science and philosophical readings—material broadening my vision to more elusive territory while calling me to learn, challenging my current orientation with respect to awareness, assumptions—love, hope . . .

Psalm 5

Lord of dimensions and the dimensionless,
Wave and particle, all and none,

Who lets us measure the wounded atom,
Who lets us doubt all measurement,

When in this world we betray you
Let us be faithful in another.

Mark Jarman, “Five Psalms” from To the Green Man. Copyright © 2004 

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Lies We Tell Ourselves: Exposing Inconvenient Truths and Devalued Reality of the Military Complex

Major Danny Sjursen, a U.S. Army officer and former history instructor at West Point exposes the primary societal lies the illogically sustain the American industrial-military complex and justify perpetual war.

"War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today."  - President John F Kennedy

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Price of Freedom? Child Sacrifice and the American Gun Cult

Reading the first paragraph of “ThePrice of Freedom? Child Sacrifice and the American Gun Cult” by John J.Thatamanil, immediately triggered my memory of the ancient practice of sacrificing children to idols; and lo and behold, this is where Thatamanil went in his article.  The ancient god of Moloch, for which idolaters “caused their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire unto Moloch”[1] is appropriated to America in this way: “Every year, we offer up our children up to the [more subtle] god of the gun and to the NRA - the high priests of the American gun cult.” Think of the many catastrophic events where innocent children/individuals/human beings are killed by guns and the response of so-called evangelical-minded people. Just on a daily bases 46 children and teens are shot resulting in 6 deaths by way of murder (4) and suicide (2). In the lens of history, when Israelites followed Yahweh’s warning about Moloch or any other national cult, they would refrain, stay apart and live counter culturally. It’s no different today. If we are to live apart from the idolatrous influences, we must view ourselves as exiles, living in a sort of the Diaspora culturally, not relying on nationalism to make any real change without outside, grassroots influence.

Perhaps the day will come when the living vision uttered many years ago will be realized.

Yahweh [the I am having my way] shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war any more.[2]

The "Guns Into Plowshares" sculpture, dedicated Oct. 10, will be at Eastern Mennonite University for two to three years before returning to its original exhibition site in Judiciary Square outside the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Department. The sculpture contains several thousand handguns, including 10 from the Harrisonburg Police Department. Esther Augsburger, wife of President Emeritus Myron Augsburger, and son Michael created the sculpture in the late '90s.[3]

Close up view of a section of the above sculpture: handguns dismantled and welded into the larger whole. 

[1] Hebrew Scriptures, Jeremiah xxxii.35; see
[2] Ibid., Isaiah ii.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

A Gentle Cynic Reflects on Genuine Citizenship

Who does the poet serve?
The poet serves poetry,
Whose form is the beloved,
Who asks not blood but love.
Gregory Orr, How Beautiful the Beloved[1]

Voting for one of two capitalist candidates once every 1,460 days, while it will have some kind of impact on the lives of people, certainly has proven to have little consequence on elevating the common good —and of late, not even close in terms of leading dynamic global issues that continue to create a huge divide in wealth and the current “ecocidal evil in power”.  Howard Zinn in “Election Madness” (2008) recognizes the almost futility of voting in this era without deeper impacting endeavors to shake the foundations of the electorate.  
The election frenzy . . . seizes the country every four years because we have all been brought up to believe that voting is crucial in determining our destiny, that the most important act a citizen can engage in is to go to the polls and choose one of the two mediocrities who have already been chosen for us. . . Would I support one candidate against another? Yes, for two minutes—the amount of time it takes to pull the lever down in the voting booth. . . But before and after those two minutes, our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools. Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, into changing national policy on matters of war and social justice.[2]
The first ever televised presidential debate in 1960 between Democrat presidential candidate Sen. John F. Kennedy and Republican presidential candidate Vice President Richard M. Nixon.
Why continue to delude ourselves thinking the political processes in Washington can really make a difference in the current ecocidal urgency, the upswing of racism, the growth of economic divide.  What literally actualizes change is every day, fed up people rising up out of their complacency, recognizing  they are being screwed, finding ways out of silence, developing connections—networks and engaging with others and their communities for a more common good. In the words and spirit of Martin Luther King,
These are the bright years of emergence; though they are painful ones, they cannot be avoided. . .  In these trying circumstances, the black revolution is much more than a struggle for the rights of Negroes. It is forcing America to face all its interrelated flaws—racism, poverty, militarism, and materialism. It is exposing the evils that are rooted deeply in the whole structure of our society. It reveals systemic rather than superficial flaws and suggests that radical reconstruction of society itself is the real issue to be faced.[3]

A deeply rooted, interrelated flaw in the American psyche is a myth of the Presidency.  I cannot conceive today how one individual and his or her administration can make much difference in my life of hopes and dreams, unless he or she has become for me a high priest of sorts in what could and has been tagged an "American civil religion." All the talk of faith with individuals running for the presidency informs this cultural notion and a clearly vibrant fight to keep it alive, which is a pattern of the collective capacity for self-delusion.

It needs to be argued that history has proven too many times that nationalism and religion do not mix well; for there becomes a strong tendency of religious influence on a national level or movement to produce a greater likelihood for discrimination and human rights violations. As Stjepan Gabriel Mestrovic argues, civil religious notions actually smack the genuine face of true religion. "Civil religion is neither bona fide religion nor ordinary patriotism, but a new alloy formed by blending religion with nationalism. If civil religions were bona fide religions then one would expect to find a soft side to them, teaching love of neighbor and upholding peace and compassion. But this is not the case."[4]

An observation over time has led me to an understanding that the religious right for the most part can only take on complex issues in simplistic terms. They need concrete, black and white solutions. There is little room for civil dialogue and an ear for even a basic literary exegesis of their religious texts. Add to this, they possess only a kind of simpleton, literal interpretation of the Constitution and miss the implications of it dynamic spirit. They are descendents of sola scriptura, the Protestant doctrine (heresy perhaps?) that holds the Christian Scripture as sole infallible rule of faith and practice. Unfortunately and lamentably, this notion over time has evolved into ideological formations through the creation of a democratic society that produced citizens that believed they could read religious text without moral guidance and spiritual formation (what is profoundly called discipleship), hence fundamentalism and large swaths of old guard and entrepreneurial evangelicals feel it’s part of their call to restore America to its rightful God.

By example, one of several major factors that shaped the behavior of the Christian Churches during the Nazi reign in Germany was the historical role of the Churches in creating or sustaining “Christendom” (Western European culture since the era of Roman Emperor Constantine), i.e., its advocacy of a Christian culture. In particular the German Evangelical Church (largest Protestant church in Germany) allegiance to the concept of Christendom was linked to a strong nationalism symbolized by German Protestantism’s ‘Throne and Alter’ alliance with state authority.[5]

Today we have the motto, ‘God and Country’ which has its confluence with the notion of American exceptionalism. While the numbers are decreasing, Life Way Research reported 53% of Americans agree that “God has a special relationship with the USA.”[6] And so it’s EASY for someone like a Donald Trump to seem and sound like a god-send when all you are listening for are ear-tickling biblical sound-bites. This rang true Obama on a unique level.

As a former evangelical and someone who has sustained serious intellectual honesty in the pursuit of becoming more fully human, I continue to see the need, e.g. of moral guidance and spiritual formation that leads individuals and communities to live out what it means to be a citizen in such perilous times. The very meaning or mean good of “citizen” is one connected and engaged with one’s community for the common good (of the people, by the people, for the people).[7] Its excess then would be having control or overrule by way of administration, wealth and military or self interest or gain—sound familiar?[8] Conversely, its deficiency is disengagement: privatization, individualization, isolation, being complicit and by consequence marginalized oppression.[9] The latter in this continuum is the behavioral of the masses while the former may well be characterized as hegemonic norms that feed the American script and hold them in blind abeyance and an illusion that promises to us safe and happy.[10]

In a personal effort to not lose heart, being highly self-governed, recognizing the need to have and sustain a counter script or narrative and to attain an inner voice that nurtures healthy resistance of the entertaining mechanisms that obscure and silence the surrounding harsh realities, I see more clearly the need to intentionally seek out local grass roots movements, voices and communities where people flesh out the peaceable, humble, uncompromisingly nonviolent traditions that while having perhaps their foundation in religious traditions (or not), they remain  genuinely and more fully humanly capable of civil dialogue, resistant against the current complacencies, corruptions and oppressions, and thus practice radical hospitality vs. the triumphalistic, militant, God-and-country Christianity of American theocracy that have retreated into fantasies embraced by those who prefer turning a blind eye. [11]

Hence, the work of a more genuine citizen is to manage our ambivalence--liberals, progressives, and conservatives alike--in generative ways in order to concede relinquishment of a failing script/narrative that continues to disappoint us and leave us empty. Managing our way means identifying and aligning ourselves with networks, organizations, communities that embrace new, alternative scripts/narratives that name and evoke the ambivalence, and “carve out a protected space for those who question and challenge national myths.”[12] They should possess energy to speak freely and with boldness; by implication a range of speech practice, not only freedom of speech, but the obligation to speak the truth for the common good, even at personal risk.[13]

Change up your intake. Read, listen, contemplate/think with your mind (Geist); import the wisdom of prophets, poets, writers, philosophers, musicians, theologians, sages of history and perhaps a tradition or community  versus the dominant scripts or myths peddled by popular media, Hollywood, politicians, military, sports, advertisers, big business. Seeks out and participate with others to work toward a vision of human flourishing (human centered) while differentiating what misses the mark (illusions both personal and societal).

It may sound elementary, but distinguish your wants from yours needs; i.e. simplify your life, seek to do with less—less nationalism, less consumption of goods that pollute and destroy the air, water and atmosphere, and the mind; less head-in-the-sand naiveté with respect to the conventional forces that dumb down the larger society (das Man) with its dominant scripts and narratives that feed racism, poverty, militarism, and materialism.

If we are to be citizens of the world, we will need to develop practices that acknowledge being-in-the-world that require more than mere survival or das Man (quiet conformity to the conventional world). Personally and collectively we need conscious  ways of existence in society that are aware that the masses follow a failed dominate script that promotes an illusion of safety, health and happiness; and pursue and practice ways of moving through (not stepping away from) tensions where there is a complex array of easy-to-get-to thin practices, answers and ideals on one side, while on the other, profound, thick sources of questions and insights that invite persistent souls toward the way of becoming more fully human (eudemonia).[14]

Nationalism has always and continues to be scary. Citizenship envisions a future that puts humanity first.  Some growing organizations that provide examples of progressive citizenship movement are below.

Sahne Claiborne 
There are various organizations informed by inter-religious and ecumenical roots: New Monasticism; 

See list of environmental justice movements at SocialMovement and Culture  

Global movements:
World Parliament Now       

See “20 Activists Who Are Changing America” and organizations of growing activism on economic, social, and environmental justice issues.

[1] Gregory Orr, How Beautiful the Beloved. Copper Canyon Press, 2009, 51.
[3] “A Testament of Hope,” 1969

[4] Quoted by Gerald A. Parsons, "From nationalism to internationalism: civil religion and the festival of Saint Catherine of Siena" in Journal of Church and State, September 22, 2004.
[5] Rittner, Smith, Steinfeldt, The Holocaust and the Christian World: Reflections on the Past Challenges for the Future (NY: Continuum, 2000), 55-58.
[6]  Ed Stetzer, “God and Country: Americans' Views of God's 'Relationship' with the U.S, Christianity Today (July 3, 2015)
[7] One way to consider movement from a complacent, oppressed citizenry to an engaged people seeking to regain or resurging of their humanity is a pedagogy that promotes nonviolent, peaceable rebellion that demands change while attempting to affirm human beings as the subjects of decisions, restorers of humanity. Influencers of humanization worth reading are available to all of us, such as Paulo Freire, Ivan Illich, Chris Hedges,  Bill McKibben, Parker Palmer, Wendall Berry, Shane Claiborne to name a few. I higher recommend a regime of listening to On Being with Krista Tippett (podcast).
[8] E.g., excessive rule of oligarchy (the rule of a few who are distinguished by royalty, wealth, family ties, education, corporate, religious or military control), more specifically, a plutocracy (ruled or controlled by the small minority of the wealthiest citizens). The deficit extreme might well be defined as the disengaged person, private, isolation the services as a dualistic realm of leisure to work.
[9] E.g., 1] a purely ‘private life’ or ‘home life’ as a means to an end, “a luxurious establishment, or to accumulate wealth for its own sake by trade. There is the well known argument of the social phenomena that occurred with the rise of the television resulting in a decline in social capital and civic engagement in Robert Putnam’s “The Strange Disappearance of Civic America” in Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (2000). Putman showed a decline in people’s connections with the life of their communities, not just with the political processes due to various suspects yet with main culprit being the television which is associated with low social capital (the technological "individualizing" of our leisure time via television, Internet and eventually virtual reality apparatus.) An antidote to this is identifying “third places” where one can engage with people in one’s community outside of work and home. This could well fit the complaint and gradual uprising of the masses against the slavery, Wall Street and banking industry that has sought its wealth in ways that have not contributed to the chief good of the nation at large. 2] The exclusive attention paid to military excellence, the industrial military complex that deteriorate profound aspects of human community and can never arrive at peaceful solutions that benefit the community at large evolutionarily.
[10] See Walter Brueggemann’s 19 Theses: Brueggemann posits the need for a “steady, patient, intentional articulation of an alternative [counter] script” that replaces the dominant script which feeds the masses and has infiltrated the everyday evangelical. This dominant script is the of therapeutic, technological, consumerist militarism that permeates every dimension of our common life.
[12] Chris Hedges, “How to Think”, TruthDig
[13] Parrhesia, the act of truth telling is at the heart of the life of ancient cynic. Parrhesia in its nominal form is translated (from Latin) "free speech". In ancient Greek its meanings conveys the meaning “to speak freely", "to speak boldly", or "boldness." (Liddell and Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon). See Michel Foucault, The Courage of the Truth (The Government of Self and Others II) LECTURES AT THE COLLÈGE DE FRANCE. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.
[14] Probably the ideal translated as “happiness” the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence; Heidegger’s “authenticity”; Maslow’s developmental realm of “self-actualization; Aristotle argued that eudaimonia is realized in virtuous (differentiated) living while having purposeful, authentic engagement with others and society.