Sunday, September 21, 2014

#265 / WIN

I affiliated myself with the War Resisters League in the middle of the 1960's, as I sought the company of those seeking to stop the War in Vietnam. More than fifty years later, I am still reading WIN magazine. I still like the way they present themselves: 

If you think that major, fundamental, important changes need to be made in the world that we create, changes that could really be called "revolutionary" changes, then the WIN tagline may speak to your condition. 

Any truly revolutionary change can be achieved ONLY by nonviolence. 

That means "dying" for your country, your principles, your party, your cause, and the truth. 

Not "killing" for them. 

That would be a real change. That would be a revolution. It has happened. It can happen again.

You could say Gandhi. But don't say "kill for peace."

You could say King. But don't say "kill for freedom and equality."

You could say "WIN through revolutionary nonviolence."

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

#264 / At Home

This year's anniversary of the 9/11 attacks has come and gone. On September 11th, I happened to pick up the summer 2014 edition of WIN, the War Resisters League magazine. WIN quoted Martin Luther King as follows: 

Bombs that are dropped abroad explode at home. 

Smart guy, that Dr. King. 

On September 10th, the day before I read what Dr. King had to say about the topic, President Obama announced that he would be dropping a lot more bombs.

Abroad, he said. The President will be dropping those bombs abroad. In various new locations. In places where he is not already dropping bombs.

The President's decision to drop bombs abroad is generally considered to be made on behalf of the American public. While the President is giving the orders, and deciding what to do, common parlance says that WE are doing the bombing.

Wouldn't you like to count yourself out? Or at least have your elected representatives in Congress vote on the issue?

According to Dr. King, a bomb abroad means a bomb right here!

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Friday, September 19, 2014

#263 / Heroic Individuals

Angela Davis (pictured) recently contributed to a Q & A page in The Nation. Here is one important observation, contained in her interview with Frank Barat

Even as Nelson Mandela always insisted that his accomplishments were collective—also achieved by the men and women who were his comrades—the media attempted to sanctify him as a heroic individual. A similar process has attempted to dissociate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from the vast numbers of women and men who constituted the very heart of the mid-twentieth-century US freedom movement. It is essential to resist the depiction of history as the work of heroic individuals in order for people today to recognize their potential agency as a part of an ever-expanding community of struggle.

I couldn't agree more. We are all in this together. We don't create the human world by individual actions.

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

#262 / As Time Goes By

Click here, or on the image of the record, to hear the famous song from Casablanca, as sung by Rudy Vallée. Here are the lyrics, too, for those who may be unfamiliar with this song (i.e., younger people, among whom I really do feel like including myself, since this song was written the year before I was born, and my memory of it is basically from having heard my father sing it, during the time I was growing up): 

As Time Goes By 
Music and words by Herman Hupfeld   
This day and age we're living in
Gives cause for apprehension
With speed and new invention
And things like fourth dimension.  
Yet we get a trifle weary
With Mr. Einstein's theory.
So we must get down to earth at times
Relax relieve the tension 
And no matter what the progress
Or what may yet be proved
The simple facts of life are such
They cannot be removed. 
You must remember this
A kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh.
The fundamental things apply
As time goes by. 
And when two lovers woo
They still say, "I love you."
On that you can rely
No matter what the future brings
As time goes by. 
Moonlight and love songs
Never out of date.
Hearts full of passion
Jealousy and hate.
Woman needs man
And man must have his mate
That no one can deny. 
It's still the same old story
A fight for love and glory
A case of do or die.
The world will always welcome lovers
As time goes by. 
Oh yes, the world will always welcome lovers
As time goes by. 
© 1931 Warner Bros. Music Corporation, ASCAP

I looked up this song because I have been thinking, recently, about time "going by." A few weeks ago, I realized that I am now in a "20/20" position. I served on the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors for twenty years (from 1975 to 1995), and at the end of this year I will have been "off" the Board for twenty years. Since those first twenty years are still vividly with me, I was surprised when I realized that I have now been "retired" from the Board for just about the same amount of time I served on it. 

I don't feel I've changed that much. It's still the "same old story."

But time goes by!

FOOTNOTE: Just as a point of historical interest, Rudy Vallée is not the only performer to have sung this song. Click here for what I am sure must be only a "partial list" of those who have performed it. According to the notes, Bob Dylan even sang "As Times Goes By," on January 9, 1959, at the Jacket Jamboree in Hibbing Minnesota. 

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

#261 / Mind & Matter

Erwin Schrödinger must surely be one of the most famous of physicists. If you haven't heard of Schrödinger, I am somewhat surprised. Perhaps you have heard of Schrödinger's cat, a very famous feline in his (or her) own right. Getting the specifics on the cat is what makes that cat famous. As a matter of fact, it's even hard to know whether the cat is dead or alive, and while that seems to be a pretty basic question, Schrödinger said it could go either way, and he wasn't actually sure.

At any rate, my brief comment here, stimulated by a column in the September 6-7, 2014 edition of The Wall Street Journal, is not really about Schrödinger's cat. In fact, my comment is only incidentally about Schrödinger. He got into my comment by way of having written an essay called Mind and Matter. That happens to be the title of that Wall Street Journal column I read. 

The author of the column was Robert M. Sapolsky, who is a professor of biology, neuroscience, and neurosurgery at Stanford University. His column is headed Mind & Matter. I am betting that Sapolsky chose that title as an implicit homage to Schrödinger. Even though Schrödinger was a physicist, he wrote about genetics, and that is what Sapolsky is writing about, too.

Sapolsky's column in the September 6th-7th edition of The Wall Street Journal is titled "Sperm Can Carry Dad's Stress As Well as Genes." If I am following him correctly, Sapolsky is asserting that "behaviors" can be transmitted to the next generation, so that you not only inherit based on the DNA you receive from your parents; you inherit based on the behavior patterns your parents pursue.

In my Two Worlds model, that seems to say that "our" world, which we create by our own actions (you could call them "behaviors") can modify the World of Nature, at least to the extent that future generations may be "changed" from what genetics might otherwise dictate, based on "the environment." As Sapolsky puts it: "The environment can alter biology with multigenerational influences."

For good or ill, that seems to elevate the importance of what we do in the human world for which we are directly responsible.

Maybe the outrageous willingness of human beings to perpetrate violence on others is not the result of a "biological determinism" that can never be escaped.

That could provide a bit of hope.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

#260 / Brackets

The Democracy Center "works globally to advance social, economic and environmental justice, by helping citizens understand and influence the public issues that impact their lives." It's a group well worth knowing. 

Recently, because I subscribe to bulletins from The Democracy Center, I found out about another group, Earth In Brackets. The image above is from the [Earth] Facebook page. As you can see, [Earth] thinks that "Another World Is Possible." They don't mean the World of Nature. They mean the world that we create. Here is how [Earth] presents itself on Facebook: 

College of the Atlantic students involved in the environmental and sustainable development politics arena. We tweet, we blog, we shout: 
Rabble rousing. [Earth] is student run and aims to inform and support the existing youth movements in environmental and social politics. Another world is possible, and we want to amplify the voices of those struggling for and celebrating that world. 
Brackets are used during international meetings to denote text that's controversial. If countries can't agree, the bracketed text is removed. The Earth is now in brackets until our governments put aside self-interest and agree on a way forward.

The College of the Atlantic is physically located in Bar Harbor, Maine. Seems like an unlikely place for a global revolution to originate. 

Not, however, an impossible place. Pick a place; any place. Pick Santa Cruz, California. Pick your own current location. A global revolution can begin right there, too! The Democracy Center was founded by Jim Schultz, originally from Whittier, California, President Nixon's home town. It is now based in Cochabamba, Bolivia

[Earth] / [The Future] / [Human Civilization] / [The Lives of Our Grandchildren]

It's up to us. We can all start removing those brackets. 

Anywhere we happen to be.

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Monday, September 15, 2014

#259 / Touching The Wall?

The image shows a boy touching the east side of the former Berlin Wall, and was used to illustrate an essay in The Atlantic titled, "It's Still Not the End of History."  According to the photo credit in The Atlantic, the picture was taken by Markus Schreiber of the Associated Press.

The article was written by Timothy Stanley and Alexander Lee, and was published on September 1, 2014. The point of the article was to critique the announcement by Francis Fukuyama, twenty-five years ago this summer, that we had reached the “end of history,” and and that the triumph of liberal capitalist democracy was assured. 

In 2014, this is apparently not so clear, at least to Stanley and Lee. Their critique seems well-merited.

I think both the original essay and the recent "refutation" are worth reading, and I commend them to you. Here is the statement in the Stanley and Lee article that first caught my attention: 

The connection between capitalism, democracy, and liberalism upon which Fukuyama’s argument depended has ... been broken. ... It has become increasingly clear that prosperity is not, in fact, best served either by the pursuit of laissez-faire economics or by the inexorable extension of economic freedoms. ... Liberal capitalist democracy hasn’t triumphed. Instead, the failures of capitalism have turned democracy against liberalism.

Note in this statement, if you will, an assumption that the "purpose" of democracy (or liberalism) is "prosperity." The statement assumes that the production of wealth (and perhaps its "liberal" distribution in society) is inevitably what our political systems are supposed to be all about. I, personally, don't concede that this is actually true, though I will admit that this idea about the purpose of politics might well receive a majority vote.

I do agree with Stanley and Lee, as they pursue their argument, that "determinisms" of any kind are always offensive (and wrong):

The idea that there is a “historical law” guiding the development of societies is fanciful. Even if there were some weird sort of pattern which suggested that “liberal” ideas did indeed “win out” in the past, it wouldn’t be anything more than a mere curiosity. It wouldn’t prove anything about liberalism in itself, nor would it say anything about the future. It would just tell us what happened before. To read meaning or predictive power into any pattern in the past is, in fact, about as intellectually respectable as reading tea leaves. ... If liberalism is to survive and flourish, it has to be rescued from Fukuyama’s grasp and from the perils of historical determinism. It has to be defined and defended all over again.

In the end, Stanley and Lee are arguing for "morality" in politics, and that concept, for them, consists in a necessary deference to the individual:

Liberalism is defined by a commitment to liberty. At root, liberty is a concept grounded in the individual. It is the freedom to be all that one is, to actualize the fullness of one’s potential as a human being endowed with the capacity for creativity and the ability to make autonomous value judgments for ourselves.

My perspective, I must say, is somewhat different from that of Stanley and Lee, though I am sympathetic to much of what they say. Material "prosperity" is a worthy social goal, particularly if the wealth we create is a benefit generally shared, and that wealth is distributed equitably within society. A commitment to individual liberty is critical as well, but so is a commitment to our ability, together, to construct whatever world we want, the best world we can imagine and conceive. That, more general goal, not "prosperity," is the true objective of our politics. 

But I do agree with Stanley and Lee that there is no "wall." There is no "end to history." The wall the little boy touched came down. Whatever walls we face can be removed, but only when we act together.

As my favorite political philosopher, Hannah Arendt, says, we can, each day, begin our world anew.

Sometimes, this is called a "Revolution."

High time for some new history.

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