Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Quiet Spirit of Frugalness

                               The quiet spirit of frugalness
                               promises a better premise
                               of a future of less debt
                               and a better bet against the facade. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Is America Exceptional? Check your Response

As one born in the United States (specifically a small city in southern Ohio), the influence of various rich traditions, and being someone who is fairly open-minded and respectful of the vast diversity that is all around me in the world, I have grown to find objectionable the notion of exceptional-ism as it is conventionally attached to the United States. Much has happened since Alexis de Tocquevill (Democracy in America, 1840) first attached this term to describe the America he witnessed. Much has changed since Whitman’s Democratic Vistas, which read, “Other lands have their vitality in a few, a class, but we have it in the bulk of our people.”

Our democracy is weakened, especially on the over-bearing federal level, where it seems to be boiled down to a vote of two rascals every four years who have their coffers filled from the real power, the corporations that embody the few and reap the most (i.e., a plutocracy). Our political culture has declined into a massive pit, far from the rich tradition and ideas of America’s past, e.g., liberty, egalitarian, individualism,  republicanism, populism and  laissez-faire. The problem is not solely government; it is government in the
hands of corporations and vice-a-versa.

Marx warned about capitalism at its worst and unchecked. The higher return on capital means that the share of profits rises and the share of wages falls, and soon the mass of the population is not earning enough to buy the goods capitalism produces. And that’s exactly what’s been happening over the past years: ever increasing income inequality, leading to ever weaker aggregate demand – temporarily disguised by an unsustainable credit binge – leading to collapse. You don’t have to be a communist to see that this is so. We should all be Marxists today.

Of course, the argumentum ad ignorantiam is the “belief” that American is exceptional because it’s the “most powerful” nation on earth with reference to its military. I guess so, when you spend 10 times more than the second highest spending nation, China. The US is like the small king in the movie Shrek with the super-sized castle, “over-compensating for something.” Since 9/11/2001 it has been apparent that the US is exceptional in its anxiety. Of course, we cannot see this. Case in point is the recent revelations about the NSA who have steeped so low as to gain access to almost all digital communication of its own citizens—that’s pretty desperate—outright neuroses. Will we ever come to terms with the fact the world has always been dangerous. We must grow up.

One way to take back America is by one kind of purchasing power at a time. Dump the corporation; realize advertisements are deceptive (typically propping superficial motivations such as image and convenience)—at what price? A good place to start is growing your own food and/or buying local. Another is using alternative transportation, especially in urban/city trips. The U.S is the least exceptional country when it comes to the percent of all urban trips by type of transportation and probably one of the most exceptionally overweight and unhealthy counties in the world.

Source: John Pulcher, “Public Transportation”, in Susan Hanson and
Genevieve Giuliano, The Geography of Urban Transportation, third
edition. (New York: The Guilford Press, 2004). p.216. Data are from 1995
and cover all trip purposes

Of course, it is more dangerous to ride a bicycle when our communities are filled with cars that are lethal weapons. Turning the tide on the decline of our democracy means taking control one purchase, one step, one pedal at a time. It requires doing the harder thing, which in the long run is the “better” thing. Walking verses driving means breathing “better”. Riding the bus to work means “better” relaxation (e.g., time to read or to talk to someone). Riding a bicycle means “better” time (think about it). Taking such bold steps mean changing our practices so that we have more power over our lives and the corporations less.

Tocqueville was right, “The health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by private citizens. . . The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.”  

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A 9/11 Reflection: Responding Intelligently

"Respond intelligently even to unintelligent treatment." ~ Lao Tzu

To respond thoughtfully takes intentionality and time, e.g., to calm, find rest, or the collecting of ourselves so as to move beyond reactivity or impulsivivity.

What might this look like in every-day life?

·         The cultivation of full human capacity vs. patterns of emotive arousal and reaction (such as dependence on technology, retaliation and war).

·         Being reflectively thoughtful and collaborative with others

·         Openness to ambiguity, mystery, and uncertainty resulting in mindfulness and imagination opening up the way to serendipity and hope vs. fixation on concreteness

·         Acknowledgement of human and systemic fragility, rigidity, anxiety; ergo self-differentiation resulting in compassion

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Ethics and War: The Syrian Question

The US being thoughtful via Just War Theory is like a functional alcoholic using the 12-Step process. Its addiction to war makes it almost impossible to consider the "12" other strategies that make more sense. Before you know it, it will head to the store (consumer militarism) and open the bottle.

Some thoughtfulness from a few who are able to see the forest and trees is provided today in the Washington Post. Here are some excerpts from The Ethics of a Syrian Military Intervention:The Experts Respond.

The just war tradition is based on a series of arguments to be tested before using force against another population. Legitimate and competent authorities must logically argue that the use of force will end or limit the suffering of a people and these forceful actions are the last options after all diplomatic, social, political, and economic measures have been exhausted. (Stanley Hauerwas)

My problem is that I don’t see why this kind of chemical attack matters so mightily when 100,000 civilians have been killed in Syria already. It seems to me that you’ve had massive attacks on civilians — with the world standing aside — that should have been the reason for intervention. But there’s also a question of proportionality and success, and I think that there are good reasons to think you might make things worse by a military attack. (Rev. Drew Christiansen)

From a moral perspective, it appears that observers see killing civilians with chemical weapons as somehow different from killing civilians with conventional weapons. I don’t know why there would be any distinction. Egyptians who are killed are just as dead as the Syrians who were killed, and though it appears that dying of a chemical weapons attack is an awful experience, frankly bleeding to death from a gunshot wound to your chest or stepping on a mine that blows off your leg is equally awful. So anyone who makes an argument that there’s a moral obligation to act has to address that question: Why here and not there? (Andrew J. Bacevich)

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Andrew J. Bacevich - Are Manning and Snowden patriots? That depends on what we do next.”

Andrew J. Bacevich lays out important insight and question in “Are Manning and Snowden patriots? That depends on what we do next.”

“ . . . By taking technology that the state employs to manufacture secrets and using it to make state secrecy Iran’s nuclear program. Forget the rise of China. Manning and Snowden confront Washington with something far more worrisome. They threaten the power the state had carefully accrued amid recurring wars and the incessant preparation for war. In effect, they place in jeopardy the state’s very authority — while inviting the American people to consider the possibility that less militaristic and more democratic approaches to national security might exist.
impossible, they put the machine itself at risk. Forget al-Qaeda. Forget

In the eyes of the state, Manning and Snowden — and others who may carry on their work — can never be other than traitors. Whether the country eventually views them as patriots depends on what Americans do with the opportunity these two men have handed us.”

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Pentagon Papers Leaker Daniel Ellsberg Praises Snowden, Manning, Scott Neuman, NPR News

Here's a reflective, connective story and personality that helps us to see the need for leakers when democracy at large is asleep. 

'Daniel Ellsberg, the military analyst who in 1971 leaked the top-secret Pentagon Papers detailing the history of U.S. policy in Vietnam, tells NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday that unlike Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, he "did it the wrong way" by trying first to go through proper channels — a delay that he says cost thousands of lives. 

. . . Asked whether he thinks Manning and Snowden, the CIA contractor who leaked details of secret U.S. electronic surveillance activities to The Guardian newspaper, had been discerning in what they chose to release publicly: "Yes, that's obvious with Snowden," he says.

. . . Since The Guardian's exposés, based on information obtained from Snowden, first broke in June, "the whole focus has been on the risks of truth telling, the risks of openness, which are the risks of democracy, of separation of powers," Ellsberg says. 

"I've really heard nothing at all about the risks of closed society, of silence, of lies," he says.”'

                                                                                                                    Scott Neuman, NPR News / August 03, 201312:16 PM

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Brief Musing from Qohelet - Joy in the Fray: a Subversive Work Ethic

Odium tremendum
morally slanted—frayed,
mysterium tremendum
hidden in the mundane.
~ DJ Seifert (from "Holy Irony")

But yield who will to their separation,
My objects in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really ever done
For Heaven and the future’s sake.
~ R. Frost,  (from “Two Tramps in Mud Time”)

The legendary sage in the ancient Hebrew text, Ecclesiastes, is known for his gentle to almost gloomy cynicism. Yet interspersed within a diversity of life-giving expressions in the form (genre) and tradition of lament and complaint, there are peaks of commendations that assist the human quest against the futility, meaningless and absurdity experienced by thoughtful beings. The primary question of this text seems to revolve around the question. “What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun?"

The sage provides several responses to this common yet troubling question. One such response takes on the subject of work itself, which is a radical, ruthless testing of the traditional views in light of reason and experience.

The sage finds enjoyment and intrinsic value in work itself; he commends devotion to one’s work, for toil resides exclusively in the land of living (9.10); so the positive values of labor are set within the formative context of rest, refreshment, and fellowship (4.9).

Moreover, the sage, rather than disparage work, redefines it by dislodging it from the realm of the marketplace and setting it within the ethos of enjoyment. This “work ethic” is profoundly subversive and relevant in our modern monetary, capitalistic culture, it is necessary for the those who seek to live more fully human.

The commendation of enjoyment (seven times) is seemingly at odds with the stark sobering, if not down-right pessimistic, view of life (2.24; 3.12-13, 22; 5.18; 8.15; 9.7-10; 11.8-10). The sage’s tensive reflection makes existential sense, saying that enjoyment has the power to redeem the notion of toil amid (verses over and against) the vicissitudes of life, the elusiveness of gain, and the ravaging power of death.

Perhaps the sage was a self-pronounced “minimalist” when it comes to discerning what is ultimately worthwhile in human existence. The examples of the “good life” are simple, unpretentious, and consistently commonplace: eating, drinking, and finding some shred of satisfaction in one’s toil.

The value of enjoyment (defined negatively in relation to a valuative scale: “there is nothing better than”) carries superlative force and set against the bleak landscape of life that is impenetrable to human discernment (1.15; 3.11), governed by God’s inscrutable will (e.g., 9.11-12) and devoid of gainful purpose or progress. These commendations are embedded in examples of absurdity: the arduousness of toil (2.23), the impenetrability of time (3.11), the fragility of life and ignorance about the future (3.21), the tragic loss of gain (5.13-17), and the overturning of moral standards (8.14). Set against these absurdities, joy becomes absurdly minimal yet remains redemptively significant. “There is joy in the fray.”

   William P. Brown, “Whatever Your Hand Find’s to Do”, Interpretation, 55.03 (2006), 280-281
   Robert Frost, “Two Tramps in Mud Time”
   DJ Seifert, “Holy Irony” (2013)
   Image: Andrew Wyeth, Pentecost, 1989

Sunday, February 3, 2013

“When we cheer for our team, do we have to cheer for America, too?”

Washington Post,Op-ed piece, “When we cheer for our team, do we have to cheer for America, too?” by Tricia Jenkins, January 31,2013, wrestles with this alarming, cultural merge of coliseum sports and the nationalism that has historical markers that should alert us to its danger.

Think about it! Coliseum sports plus nationalism equals empire, which presumes the need to unify a people (although more subtle in the U.S. because of our constitution vs. historical versions of government) and support its interests: e.g., a military that is funded ten times greater than any other country in the world (yes! China). Why is this?

So here we have a giant worship service with football, a sport now known for accelerating brain damage, and the military of which twenty vets per day commit suicide. What’s to cheer about? Where’s the good news? It’s time to lament and complain in Hebrew fashion and follow the lead of the real heroes fighting day-to-day combat with the American myth that numbs and blinds. In the words of Walter Brueggemann, “That script of military consumerism cannot make us safe and it cannot make us happy. We may be the unhappiest society in the world.”

[Added] See "Local Opinions" article 'Why I sit out "God Bless America"'

'Asking for God’s blessing for “us” or “me” ignores greater needs in our world. We should ask a bigger question: How can we get this blessing to all? I want God walking with and standing beside every single person on this Earth — and every country.' - James P. Marsh Jr., Published: May 31