Sunday, February 15, 2015

Needed: A REAL Sharing Economy

Consider these two statements: The economy is working just fine. The economy is not working at all. Which of these statements rings more true to you probably depends a lot on your socio-economic position in our society. If you are in the privileged class that has been raking in enormous piles of money from tech-company expansions, stock investments or high-level financial maneuverings like mergers and acquisitions, you probably feel we are living in a wonderful time, as you are practically swimming in wealth. However, if you are a member of this privileged class, you are not at all representative of the vast majority of people in our society who are finding it increasingly difficult to get ahead, or even feel comfortable, not only financially,but generally, because the stress of financial insecurity is chipping away at their general well-being, making it hard for them either to plan ahead for a better tomorrow or to enjoy the here and now.

Perhaps you dream that by some lucky stroke of fortune, you will find a way to join the techno-financial elite, and live a life of privileged splendor like a feudal baron of old, comfortable in your castle, well-fed, well-positioned, expensively equipped, and surrounded by fawning subordinates, separate from the suffering masses, who you will now feel free to scorn as lazy losers, even though your own business ventures very likely depend both on the labor of such people and your capacity to deny them a decent paycheck and any measure of security. However, you probably realize on some level that you are highly unlikely to ever attain such a privileged position. For you and most Americans, and an increasing number of people in other places as well, in places like Greece and Spain, for example, the economy is not working very well at all.

Furthermore, you may feel quite powerless to do anything about this situation other than moan and grumble, work harder and harder at your current job to make sure you do not lose it, and seek to pick up extra money at a second or third job, because that is, quote, "the way it is." However, this "way that it is" is not some sort of basic structure of reality that has been in place on earth forever like the periodic table of basic elements or the law of gravity. The aggregate of buying, selling, banking, working, living and legal and financial arrangements that structure our lives, as well as the underlying understandings, expectations and beliefs that together constitute what we term "The Economy" is a totally man-made thing that is entirely subject to fluctuation and transformation due to pressure from any number of factors... including human will and collective pressure.

There are, after all, many more of "us" poor and working people than there are of "them" in the techno-financial elite. One of the main hurdles that prevents our current economy from changing for the better for the majority is the sad truth that too many people have accepted that the current kind of economy that we have is in fact "the way it is," something natural and immutable, as far beyond human analysis,control, question or challenge as an asteroid, an earthquake or a hurricane. If ordinary people do not conceive of the possibility of change to the current economy and undertake to pressure the current arrangement to become more conducive to a more secure and happy life for ALL people, not just the fortunate elite, then there really is no hope for the future. The majority of people will increasingly live their lives as hard-laboring serfs with little hope of security or advancement, while the fortunate, greedy few will live lives of privilege and splendor--a brave new world of techno-financial feudalism.

One of the key differences between those in the techno-financial elite and the rest of us is one of attitude toward the current reality. Those in the elite, with the most obvious example being the carbon-based, anti-environmentalist, ultra- conservative life forms known as the Koch Bros., expect to be allowed to control and shape the future of economic arrangements in ways that will continually improve their level of wealth, degree of personal and political power, and quality of life, like the right to own multiple expensive residences while many others go homeless or live in constant fear of losing their homes, and make every effort to maintain or even increase their influence and control over future economic structures and conditions. The suffering masses do not expect to have any influence on the shape of things to come, and make no efforts to achieve any control or influence. And so one group ends up with all the power, influence and control, and the other does not.

This "way that it is" is not democratic at all. It is economic oligarchy. It is not a "free" market. It is a market shaped and controlled for the elite, for the few, not the many. For the many, the main "freedoms" in our supposedly "free" society and "free" market economy are the freedoms to toil increasingly long hours at increasingly less secure employment, to worry with good reason about the future, to fall into debt for basic needs like housing, education and health care, and to experience unending stress and anxiety, which many are only able to imperfectly escape from through activities and products, from Hollywood films, sports competitions, Reality TV programs and ultra-violent video games to pharmaceutical concoctions, that are largely owned and operated by the techno-financial elite, who encourage dependence on such escapism and mind-dulling pursuits and discourage any challenge to the existing order, which works so very well.... FOR THEM.

We who are the majority of humanity need a NEW economy, one that better distributes the proceeds of economic activity for the benefit of all. The response of those in the elite and of conservatives, libertarians and free-market fundamentalists is to scream, "Impossible!" "Heresy!" "Communism!" and of course, "That's not the way it is!" However, we can look around the world and into societies of the past and discover that there are indeed other models for how to structure the economy, how much power to allow to corporations and wealthy elites, how much power to give workers and citizens to make decisions about pay, benefits, location of business facilities, like whether a factory should be in Buffalo or Beijing, how much executives should be paid compared to what workers are paid, and many other such factors. If we raised the pay of workers in huge companies and lowered the pay of executives, the executives would bitch and moan, and the businesses might have to reorganize, but guess what: businesses are constantly having to adapt to new conditions and reorganize. Having to adapt and reorganize to treat their workers better might be a real "challenge" and might cause some serious "disruption" in the way things now work, but I believe it is quite common in techno-financial circles to talk about adapting to changing conditions and "challenges" and "disrupting" the status quo.

OK, business geniuses, you supermen and superwomen, darlings of the stock market, deity-like entrepreneurs and CEOs and CFOs. You are so smart, so wise, so techno-savvy. Here is a "challenge" to you, an invitation to "disrupt" current conditions. Let's see if you can find ways to employ MORE people, not fewer, provide better pay and MORE security, not less, to the greatest number of people, not the fewest, not just you and your techno-elite friends. Are you up to the challenge? Or do we have to hire someone else?

To be continued, with reflections on how the attitudes and values of ancient Pagan traditions can be applied to this situation, to clarify the kind of economy that would be better for the human race and better for the natural environment as well. It's funny how taking care of the one often involves taking care of the other too. Perhaps they are related... :)

Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Little Poem: To Remember What is True Forever

we come together
to remember what is true forever

On this dark
and frozen night
we dedicate ourselves to light

In the ice
and in the wind
we are warmed by a fire within

That is why
we have come together
to remember what is true forever

In the cold
and in the dark
we will raise a timeless spark

On this longest
night of all
we will answer that ancient call

That tells us
to come together
to remember what is true forever

And to hold
in our hearts the light
that will see us through the darkest night

Though the ground
is frozen hard
we know the skies are filled with stars

And that is why
we have come together
to remember what is true forever

The wind that now
cuts our face
will return to a gentler place

And the light
that we find within
will grow stronger as the year begins

And so it is
we come together
to remember what is true forever

(for reading or chanting tonight, the night of the Winter Solstice)

Friday, December 19, 2014

Free Speech, Hate Speech, and "The Interview"

For the last few days, there has been a lot of media hubbub about the hacking of the SONY Film corporation by agents either in or from North Korea or acting on its behalf who have objected to the release of the Seth Rogen-James Franco film, The Interview, a comedy which depicts the assassination of North Korea's dictator, Kim Jung-un, by two bumbling journalists guided by America's [paramilitary intelligence service, the CIA. Today it was announced that the film, which was scheduled to open on Xmas Day, will not be released in the immediate future, and possibly not ever, owing to fears about what further actions, such as terrorist attacks, might be visited upon SONY and American theaters were the film to be shown. The general reaction in the American media has been to denounce North Korea for daring to threaten American freedom of expression and SONY for its cowardly surrender to North Korean threats.

There is much that I find lacking in this collective and apparently unanimous response among my countrymen. Few have paused to ask whether it was ever a wise idea, let alone a tasteful choice, for American filmmakers to craft a major studio Hollywood comedy around the theme of US assassination of foreign leaders, considering that America has, through its CIA as well as other means, overthrown and/or assassinated quite a few foreign leaders over the last century, not to mention the numerous times we have unleashed our military force on other countries,or imposed embargoes and sanctions that caused economic devastation and massive hardships among the population of countries on the receiving end of our policies. I don't think the citizens of the countries which have been through these events are clamoring for a Hollywood laugh fest about something that has actually happened to them. Such a film is a grim reminder both about the many times that the USA, despite its often-trumpeted role as "leader of the free world" and a champion of "freedom and democracy," has violated international law and human rights to impose its will on other countries, and about America's jaw-dropping lack of historical memory and self-awareness and chronic incapacity for moral self-reflection.

The wisdom of making a film which so merrily speculates about killing the leader of North Korea is particularly questionable considering that the USA and many other nations have a very tense and unfunny relationship with this country. North Korea is a traumatized,isolated and impoverished yet highly militarized country whose people are suffering and starving while the government devotes the greater part of the nation's resources to equipping and maintaining a huge army capable of invading South Korea and causing massive carnage and desolation at the drop of a hat. In recent years, North Korea has engaged in such actions as shooting missiles that killed people living on small islands off the Korean coast, and test-fired missiles that came dangerously close to Japan, causing massive fear and anxiety in Japan and raising the specter of war. Provoking such a dangerous, unstable country is not funny. It is reckless and stupid, morally bankrupt and simply disgusting when you consider that it is all being done for the benefit of Hollywood egos and profits. There is a long-standing, common-sense notion that freedom of speech should not extent to crying "Fire!" in a crowded theater, for fear of causing a panic and bodily harm. Same principle here, and on a much larger scale, you Hollywood narcissists!

There is also a long tradition of engaging in political satire that comments on actual persons and situations while not naming them directly. When Charlie Chaplin made "The Great Dictator" mocking Hitler and the Nazis' anti-Semitism, he did not use the name of Hitler for the character obviously modeled on the Nazi Fuhrer. When the film "All the King's Men" was made about the American governor Huey Long, Long's name was not used. One reason for all of this indirection is to avoid lawsuits and legal conflicts, as well as an artistic impulse to make the situation more universal and less bound to specific times and places by placing the persons and events on a fictional pedestal for us to contemplate. There also is, or at least used to be, a sense of respect and decency that restrained the makers of mass market entertainments from creating films or other such spectacles that would appear to endorse assassination or murder of public figures. Those who defend Seth Rogen and SONY want us to think that is now perfectly fine to entertain the public through fictionalized killings of actual public figures.

Yet there is a definite double standard here. When American films or TV shows dramatize or satirize American Presidents and politics, from "The West Wing" through "Scandal," they usually create fictitious Presidents and politicians to function as stand-ins for actual Presidents and politicians. Please show me an actual American film or television program that shows us the killing of a living American President. More to the point, I don't think Americans would find it quite so amusing if, say, a film maker in some country that America has a tense, unfunny relationship with, like Iran, Iraq, or Afghanistan made a film or viral video that offered the same scenario as "The Interview" applied to America, with two foreign journalists coming to America and assassinating presidents Bush or Obama. I think you would see a massive outcry, accusations of "terrorism," investigations by committees in Congress, and some even calling for economic sanctions or military strikes against that country.

There is also somewhat of a bullying dynamic here. It is hard to imagine anyone making a film about killing the top leaders of "major" countries such as the UK, Germany or China (David Cameron, Angela Merkel, Xi Jinping). That is because these countries are respected in the United States and no one wants to get on their bad side, particularly China, since it is now seeming like the world's next superpower both economically and militarily. Even the film "Borat," which made fun of Kazakhstan in a quite disrespectful and vicious manner that was either brilliant or boorish, depending on your point of view, did not go so far as to suggest it would be yuk-yuk funny to kill the leader of the country. North Korea, being one of the world's most poor and unfortunate countries, a status that our decades-long embargo and sanctions have contributed to considerably, is a country that people find easy to make fun of and mock even to the point of laughing about killing its leaders. The strong beating up on the weak. Is that really such a novel idea? Is that comic brilliance, or just a very old, very sad and sick joke?

America, and Hollywood, please look in the mirror, and not just into the camera or at your profit margin. "The Interview" is not a wonderful example of free speech. It is hate speech, an incitement to violence that caters to our worst impulses and threatens to pour unnecessary accelerant on an international situation that is already smouldering. The film deserves to be suppressed. There are better ways to make funny films and political satire, and I hope Seth Rogen and his associates will work on them.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Denouncing American Authoritarianism

It has been a dispiriting time in the United States, which feels more and more like a dis-united, deeply divided and disturbingly dissociated society. Again and again we see the same sad drama being repeated of unarmed African-American men being killed in our cities by heavily armed, highly militarized, and seemingly trigger-happy police who are then exonerated by a very forgiving and police-friendly court system for murdering members of the very society who they are duty-sworn to protect. Opinion polls, journalistic and sociological investigations and, I would add, discussions in my own classes reveal that white Americans tend to trust and support the police and excuse what they do as necessary and proper, whereas black Americans are outraged and ready to explode in grief, anger and the cumulative weight of trauma and stress at decades of abuse and threat, living in a violent, hypocritical land where black lives don't seem to matter. This is why many people marching to protest the police's long history of violent actions against African-Americans have taken up the slogan, "Black Lives Matter."

Sadly, this proud assertion bears within it the anguished accusation that black lives may NOT matter to many Americans, a fear that seems borne out by the lack of compassion many white Americans show for the growing numbers of African-American human beings gunned down without mercy by "public safety" officers. Apparently, to some, only authority figures like police and soldiers deserve respect and compassion, and there is plenty of concern on the right wing side of American society that police officers who commit such killings of black Americans might suffer any consequences for their actions. The right-wing defenses of the police range from the hackneyed old favorite, "They were just doing their job," a reliable rehash of the old Nazi Nuremberg defense, to a sense that those who were killed deserved to die because of their own improper conduct. After all, Michael Brown had grabbed some cigars out of a convenience store before his run-in with the police officer Darren Wilson, and young Tamir Rice had dared play around with a toy pellet gun on an empty playground. Clearly, the extermination of such dangerous individuals by our heroic police is not to be questioned or lamented, but applauded and held up to a warning to all African-Americans that they should be more careful about their behavior. I am reminded of Nazi Germany, where the abuse and even slaying of Jews and other "undesirable elements" by Storm Troopers and other uniformed forces would be held up as exemplary. I am also reminded of the Ku Klux Klan, whose ranks have often been known to include police and justice system officials.

The dying words of Eric Garner, "I can't breathe," have also been echoed across the land, including by some leading athletes, showing a moral courage and ethical compass lacking in some previous generations of American sports stars. I find this phrase extremely poignant, even prophetic, because America is becoming a place where many of us feel we can no longer breathe--or speak--or think--freely. Everywhere you turn, rising authoritarianism, what might even be characterized as 21st century Fascism, is stifling the freedom that our society supposedly aspires to. I want to believe in this country's ability to be a place where people can live in peace and security and have a decent life, but that belief is being constantly tested by what I see around me. In addition to the mistreatment of African-Americans, we have the continual grinding down of poor and middle-class Americans by a cold and uncaring corporate economic structure, which expects people to work harder and harder for less and less of a share of the wealth that their labor produces, under harsher and harsher conditions as labor unions and anything else that might give the workers a better shot in life are dismantled. And, with the scarcity of good-paying jobs and the lack of job security even for those with decently-paying positions, the corporate state runs a reign of terror over its labor force, whose members are understandably worried that they will lose whatever security and prosperity they now possess. Many people are too scared to speak out. They "can't breathe" either.

Remember what happened to the Occupy Wall Street protests of Fall 2011? On the very same day in November of 2011, the mayors of many cities activated their police in a coordinated, nation-wide effort to sweep the protestors out of the public spaces where they were conducting their peaceful protests. What was their crime? Were they really a threat to public order? No. They were a threat to Wall Street, our true seat of government. They were challenging the right of the financial order to dictate the terms of life in our society. On that day when the police swept those protestors away, we got to see who the police really work for. And in the pools of blood that congealed around the dead bodies of Michael Brown and Tamir Rice, among others, we have been provided a vivid demonstration of who the police see as expendable enemies.

Occupy Wall Street withered away because of its unfocused leadership structure, which was admirably open and democratic but open and democratic to the point of confusion and disorganization. Nonetheless, the Occupy movement did succeed in raising issues of financial impropriety and income inequality that leaders like Elizabeth Warren are now elevating in the public forum. The new "Black Lives Matter" protest movement seems better organized for the long haul, and I believe it will endure and serve as the backbone of a new civil rights movement that is very much needed in a country sliding backwards into old patterns of discrimination against minorities and indifference by the majority.

As a Pagan who has been striving for some years to oppose racist and militaristic strands in Modern Norse Paganism/Asatry/Heathenry, and in other forms of Paganism as well, I find my resolve hardened and my fighting spirit roused by these recent events. Pagans who like swords and guns and weapons and armies and soldiers may find themselves siding with the police in regards to the situations unfolding in Ferguson, Cleveland, NYC and elsewhere, but I am very proud and clear in my opposition to police brutality and the cult of weapon-love and soldier-worship that can blind us to the inhumanity that soldiers, police and other armed authority officials and state security figures can be tempted to engage in, a temptation that may then come to be seen as a virtue and shut off from rational critique and consideration. I respect policemen, policewomen, soldiers and others who carry out their work with respect for the public and who do not believe that because they wear badges and uniforms and carry guns that they are some kind of master race that society should respect, accept and never question, no matter what they do. As a teacher, I too have power and authority and accept that if I were ever to abuse my power and cause harm to my students, I would be questioned about my actions, disciplined for any misbehavior, and even released from employment and put on trial in the most extreme case. I want to see the same standard applied to police across this land.

And, when I see how racialized perceptions of African-Americans as unreasoning, dangerous beasts seem to have led the police officers involved in the Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice incidents to conclude that these black males had to be subdued with maximum force as quickly as possible, I am all the more committed to advocating for forms of Asatru and Paganism that are not merely non-racist, but anti-racist. We cannot just look away and say, "Too bad about those race problems... now let's enjoy our all-white fellowship." We should actively seek to invite non-white, non-European individuals into our ritual activities and fellowship groups to ensure that our Paganism is most emphatically not a modern form of racism disguised as spirituality with a bit of medieval lore camouflage sprinkled on top. Let us all be conscious of these matters to ensure that our religious groups uphold the highest moral and spiritual values that we can aspire to rather than catering to the most base and regrettable tendencies that continue to haunt our world.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Resist the Rush to War

Ah, don't you feel it in the air? Americans of all political stripes coming together, the blues and the reds, Democrats and Republicans, liberal-oriented MSNBC and conservative cheerleader FOX News, all singing in the same chorus, calling for military action against the Sunni Islamic political-military movement ISIS (or ISIL or "the Islamic State" as it is various known) that has risen up out of the civil war in Syria to become a military menace to Iraq as well. Such unity of mind, heart and purpose! There is no patriotism like military patriotism, and in fact some would say there is no other kind! How wonderful! Yes, the reaction to ISIS's awful killing of two American journalists, James Foley and Steven Sotloff, by beheading has brought the country together like nothing since 9/11! And since we have been down this road before with our actions after 9/11, which led us to invade Afghanistan, then Iraq, and then to engage in drone warfare in Pakistan, Yemen and more recently Somalia as well, causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and the disruption of life for millions more, including what must be post-traumatic stress disorder on an absolutely epidemic scale--unless you think that PTSD is only a problem when it affects American soldiers and not the people that our soldiers move and fight among--we can certainly rest easy and be fully happy and confident that our military actions will not only give us the gut satisfaction of violent revenge against persons or groups that killed Americans, but also provide many benefits to the people of the Middle East, ensuring that they will be forever in our debt and eager to cooperate with the American government and provide us all with peace, security and prosperity forever! Hip-hip-hooray! Whoo-whoo! YES-S-S!!! Uncork the champagne! Strike up the band! America is ready for WAR, baby, and it's all good!! Freedom and democracy all the way! Let's go kill Muslims! Let's show 'em what Western civilization is all about! Let's bomb 'em back into the stone age, like we did in Vietnam, Hiroshima and Nagasaki! Anybody got some Napalm that we can strap on the drones? Oh yeah, baby, can you say, "Middle Eastern BBQ?" Isn't that FUN? Can we watch it on ESPN? Is it a video game yet?

Hold on... hold on. Let's think this over a little bit. Yes, the killing of the two journalists is a horrible thing, its horror amplified and extenuated by the online streaming of video recordings of the beheadings, but this is only one small piece of the many awful things that have been happening in the Middle East ever since.... when? Well, the starting date of armed violence in the Middle East is certainly a debatable matter, but we undoubtedly gave violent chaos a major boost when we invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, as these actions overthrew governments, destabilized the existing order in the region, disadvantaged particular groups in Iraq and other nations, setting them up for persecution, resentment, and a burning desire to exact revenge and retribution against their perceived oppressors, including the USA, and opened the door for all kinds of militant and extremist groups to rise up and seek to plant their bloody flags wherever they could find a space for them. This is VERY important to remember because one would hope that whatever action is taken by our government and military in relation to ISIS, it should not be a course of action that will simply further inflame the angry passions and traumatized psyches of the Middle East and create more support for violent and extreme Islamist movements in the future.

Yet I fear this is exactly what is going to happen, because our leaders seem to have learned nothing--NOTHING!--from our recent disastrous interventions. They are ready to rush in again, drop tons of bombs on large numbers of peoples, causing massive death, destruction and suffering, with not a care in the world that this will simply set the stage for a new set of militants to arise and seek revenge and retribution.

Remember: the first American invasion of Iraq in the Gulf War of 1990-91, and the attendant stationing of American troops in Saudi Arabia, the Holy Land of Islam, became the rallying cry of the original Al-Qaeda. The second American invasion of Iraq in 2003 led to the formation of "Al Qaeda in Iraq," formed of former members of the Iraqi army and Ba'ath political party, two institutions that were disbanded and criminalized under the American occupation and the subsequent American-backed Iraqi governments, as well as disgruntled Sunni Muslims who foresaw the threat of a pro-Shi'ite, anti-Sunni government taking control. Their fears of Shi'ite suppression of the Sunni minority in Iraq proved prophetic, as this is exactly what transpired under the government of the American-backed Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki. He is a Shi'ite politician who used the levers of government to disadvantage and persecute Sunnis and to convert the government and military into mechanisms for Shi'ite domination of Iraqi society. This helped lead to the rapid success of ISIS in Iraq, as ISIS is a Sunni-oriented political and military movement, which many Iraqi Sunnis are willing to support as the ONLY powerful force, however barbaric and vicious, able to protect Sunnis against Shi'ite domination. Prominent among the Iraqi Sunnis joining or supporting ISIS are many former members of the Ba'ath party and the old Iraqi military.

So, you can trace a long line of disaster here, with each successive US intervention simply leading to greater division, suffering, embitterment, and radicalization, empowering increasingly vicious and desperate groups whose agendas are rooted in resentment and anger over the effects of past US interventions and policies. By opposing Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait with military forces whose presence greatly agitated Arab Muslims, we helped to create Al-Qaeda. By invading Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein and to dispense with the imaginary threat of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, we created an actual Al-Qaeda in Iraq. By supporting Al-Maliki and enabling him to form a Shi'ite-oriented government that persecuted Sunnis, we have helped to create a group even more brutal than Al Qaeda, namely ISIS (or ISIL, or the Islamic State or whatever name it comes to be known by). So if we now pursue a policy of bombing the hell out of Iraq to dispense with the unproven threat of ISIS attacking America a la 9/11, we will create... who knows what new Frankenstein monster. We really could bring down a new 9/11 by doing everything we can to agitate angry Islamists against us. If we feel free to kill them at will, why in the world would they not want to return the favor?

And Obama seems determined to undertake this foolish and ill-considered action. He doesn't want to send American soldiers in to fight on the ground, but he is all too happy--in my view, much, much TOO happy--to rain down death from above via drones and missiles. He has become the "Drone King," the leader who relishes killing and conquering distant enemies by using high-tech weapons that slaughter from the sky.

Sadly, I think Obama knows better. I think he is intelligent and well-informed enough to know that this kind of push-button slaughter will serve no real purpose beyond giving him a temporary uptick in the polls, where he has been lagging bit lately, poor baby. Americans love military attack, and any President who makes a dramatic speech about sending our "brave men and women" to do battle against Evil Others is guaranteed a brief boost in popularity. So all Americans, let's go to war! Let's make Obama feel better! Let the death of two journalists, who went to Iraq of their own free will, knowing full well the dangers, be our justification for mass slaughter! Let's spend billions of dollars on military futility! Sadly, very sadly, this seems to be the only course of action that our Washington politicians can agree upon. Why use our resources and abilities to help rebuild a crumbling America when you can enjoy bombing another country into an even greater state of devastation? I can only shake my head and fight back tears knowing that this will only lead to worse things, both in the Middle East, and possibly here as well. If we embark on a campaign of mass murder half way around the world, against a movement that has NOT attacked the United States, don't be surprised if attacking the United States now becomes a top priority and a major recruiting tool for ISIS.

Finally, let me say that I do believe action needs to be taken to stabilize the Middle East, but I think it is not up to us to do this. Obama's strategy does indeed acknowledge this, as he calls on other countries such as Saudi Arabia to take action to clean up the mess in their back yard. However, our "minimal" involvement via air strikes and drone missions will still cause massive death and suffering and expose us to future blowback. Not worth it! Let those who live in the region deal with what is, after all, THEIR region... not ours. And, THE single most fundamental factor is the Sunni-Shi'ite division in Islam, something far, far beyond our competence to adjudicate or resolve!

As a Pagan who wants to see more focus on the sacredness of the earth and nature, I furthermore regret that this kind of military madness will once again distract us from the greatest threat that we face, which is not instability in the Middle East that occasionally causes the deaths of American journalists, but the continual degradation of our natural environment, which threatens to poison and damage us all and even end the conditions for life on earth as we have known it. Where is the battle cry to save the earth?

Enjoy your war games, O Drone King, and all you pious worshippers of the American War God...history will judge you harshly, and so will the earth.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Peace Without Justice Is No Peace At All

The word "peace" has a pleasant ring to it, but it is thrown around much too easily, often without much thought as to what it really means and requires. When we think of peace as a desirable thing, it is not a "peace" floating in space, devoid of any social context or history or social obligations. It is a peace that makes people content to refrain from conflict because their needs have been satisfied to some extent, and because they feel respected and understood by those with whom they have been in conflict or disagreement.

In a couple of situations that have been very much in the news in recent weeks, the Palestinian-Israeli attacks, counter-attacks and ongoing animosity, and the tensions between protesters and police in Ferguson, Missouri following the police slaying of the unarmed, 18 year old young black man, Michael Brown, I note the tendency among many observers, commentators and politicians to plead for "peace," by which they mean an immediate cessation of violence. This make me reflect on how, for many people who do not think very often or very deeply about these matters, there is a very simple solution to such conflict situations: just stop fighting. Palestinians, stop shooting rockets and killing Israelis. African-Americans of Ferguson, stop throwing rocks and flaming bottles at the police. Embrace "peace." Lion and lamb, please come together, and all the surrounding sheep will BAAAAA in agreement!

This kind of quick, easy and empty "peace," a cessation of conflict without any resolution of the underlying grievances and injustices that drove the conflict in the first place, is not only simplistic, short-sighted and disrespectful to those who have risked bodily harm or even sacrificed their lives to voice their grievances in these actions, but often ensures that there will be more conflict and violence in the future, for the simmering grievances will not become less heated over time simply because "peace" has been declared or imposed.

In the two cases cited above, most of our news media and political leaders tend to side with whoever the dominant power in the situation is, and to show much more sympathy for their suffering and losses than those of the other side. So, in the violence between the Palestinians and Israelis, we hear much more about how the Israelis are justified in using force against the Palestinians than we do about why the Palestinians are rising up in the first place. If an Israeli civilian such as a mother or a child is killed by a Hamas rocket, this is lamented and dramatized, but less so when Palestinians are killed or have their homes and communities reduced to rubble by Israeli missiles and soldiers, even though many more Palestinians have been killed by Israelis than the reverse, in this and past conflicts as well. Still, the Palestinians are expected to accept the destruction of their communities, pick up the pieces and move on, and live happy, "peaceful" lives despite their poverty, trauma and despair, which Israeli policy enforces through such measure as the "Separation Wall" that seals off the Palestinian territories, the Israeli military-manned checkpoints that they have to pass through on a daily basis, to their great frustration and humiliation, and the Israeli-imposed economic blockade that strangles their economic life and ensures continuing poverty and desperation. Where is the sympathy and understanding for that? It seems to me that in much of our media and among many of our leaders, it is only the suffering of the Israelis that receives attention.

In Ferguson, though there is sympathy expressed for the death of Michael Brown, the protesters who have turned to violence are seen as unreasonable hooligans, unlike the "good" protestors, who march in the daytime in the streets holding signs and flowers without resorting to any violence. The state's governor, Jay Nixon, and senior senator, Claire McCaskill, have also embraced this narrative of "good" peaceful protestors versus "bad" violent ones who dare to threaten the police. When the state authorities send in National Guard forces and fire tear gas at protestors in the streets, this may be questioned as to whether it might be a bit excessive, but is still seen as understandable because something must be done to keep the protestors from getting out of control. This understanding attitude toward police use of force, coupled with an unwillingness to allow citizens to use force to fight back against the force used against them, overlooks the deeper reality that the violent protestors are not merely responding to the slaying of Michael Brown but expressing their burning resentment over months, years, and even decades of abuse and harassment that African-Americans in Ferguson have endured at the hands of the Ferguson police and other local and state authorities. There is the stubborn reality of decades of white flight, white-dominated government agencies, including the police, and economic disinvestment in the Ferguson area that have made the black community as poor and troubled as it is. So, when the African-American community here or elsewhere explodes in violence, it has to be understood as an explosion that was caused first and foremost by a long and continuing historical experience of injustice and suffering. Where is the sympathy and understanding for that? It is my impression that for many in our media and among many of our leaders, it is only the violence of the angry African-American protestors that is condemned, not the social conditions and police brutality that drove them to this point.

If we could have "peace" of the sort that our media and politicians seem to be calling for in these situations, a cessation of violent actions before there is any resolution of the issues driving the violence, what an empty and horrible thing it would be. It would mean that people in such situations as the Palestinian territories or the African-American community in cities like Ferguson would have to accept a life as a disrespected, disempowered second class of people, with no effective ability to oppose those who oppress, brutalize and disenfranchise them, vulnerable at any moment to violent treatment by state authorities, with no means of redress. This would be similar to the kind of peace that the Nazis were hoping to achieve, a nice peaceful society of clean, orderly, white German people after all the dirty and disorderly Jews and Slavs and others had been done away with. It would indeed have been very peaceful, but not at all very just.

Though I regret violence and loss of life of any sort, I do not condemn those in harshly oppressed situations who turn to violence when they reach the desperate conclusion that they have no other way of asserting their needs and concerns. Since the creation of Israel, the grievances of the Palestinians pushed out of their homes and off their land to make way for the nation of Israel have never been fully addressed or resolved. Israeli groups continue to build settlements on land that still, according to international law, belongs to the Palestinians, and so the Palestinians, already disadvantaged by the way in which they were treated during the creation of Israel, see their lands further diminished by these continuing encroachments, while they endure such hardships as the checkpoints and embargoes mentioned above. Who can blame them for exploding into violence, as regrettable as its effects may be? And answer this: would the world pay any attention to the Palestinians, would many people outside Palestine actually know or care about their issues and grievances, if they did not occasionally attack Israel? Do the proponents of empty "peace" expect them to simply suffer and die in silence, so that Israeli communities can flourish in peace and security and never have to worry about the people living right next to them in abominable conditions that they, the Israelis, helped to create and now help to maintain, who live under constant fear of the Israeli police and military? When the Palestinians rise up out of their segregated areas to fire rockets at the Israelis, could this not be compared to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, when the disadvantaged, oppressed Jews decided to fight back courageously against their Nazi oppressors? This is indeed a most painful and horrible irony of the situation of the state of Israel and its troubled co-existence with its Palestinian citizens and neighbors.

And in Ferguson, if there were not violent protestors out in the streets at night throwing Molotov cocktails at the police, would anyone really know or care about the death of Michael Brown and the suffering of the black people of Ferguson? Would the national news media or politicians really pay much attention to quiet, peaceful protests? If the African-Americans there had only protested peacefully, without the drama of violence, would anyone really pay attention or care?

When the long-suffering, oppressed people of any location rise up in violence, it is only because they have been pushed to the brink by authorities that have often preferred to bury them than to care for them. If you want to stop the violence of tomorrow, start thinking about the disadvantaged, underprivileged, and either overtly or subtly oppressed people of today, and start thinking about how we and our institutions and authorities can help those people have a better life today and tomorrow, so that there will be no need for anyone to turn to violence to express the anger, sorrow, humiliation, bitterness and despair that we see in all too many places in our troubled and all too often indifferent world, and don't ask people to respect "law and order" when they have never seen any benefit or justice from that so-called law and so-called order.

Peace without justice is no peace at all. We need peace with justice and caring for the needs of all, not just for certain classes or colors of people, who get to live the good life while others have no life at all.

And to put a Pagan twist on this, I once again reject the narrow tribalism of ethnic division that some Pagans embrace. Just look at Ferguson and all the other communities in America where there is a sharp division between predominantly black and white communities. There are your clearly demarcated tribes, and there you have injustice and hate. Look at Israel and Palestine, and you find the same thing. We need to build bridges, not fences, and break bread together, and look for the good of all humanity, not just one enclave walled off from another and played off against it. Ethnic traditions such as songs, prayers, myths and forms of folk art that come to us from the past are beautiful things, but they are part of the common human heritage and should be respected and enjoyed as such. They should bring us together in moments of sharing and appreciation, and discovery of commonality across the range of diverse expressions of human spirituality and local culture, and not be used to separate us or inflame us against one another.

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