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March in Folly & War

As this astonishing era in history unfolds, we continue to be amazed at the lack of foresight by the Bush administration.

It is as if they know nothing of Islam or Middle Eastern History. Well, maybe that should not be surprising considering an educational system that caters to text books narrow in view and too often designed for the express purpose of politicizing any of religion, history, or science.

Local school boards in just two large states have far too much to say about textbook content and therefore what teachers can teach nationwide. Radio and TV too often replicate the bias of the classroom, catering to those who sponsor advertising. Attempts at balanced reporting exist, but all reports are limited by the accuracy of first-hand information and the perspectives of the event.

The shortage of wisdom in the White House mirrors that of the nation at large. We are spoon-fed distortions of current events that we used to simply call bias and propaganda; nowadays it is called spin and more spin. Where does credibility still have to be earned? In the trenches that's where. Pennsylvania Avenue appears to believe itself exempt, and so do too many corporate boardrooms.

Too few of us are insightful to any deep level regarding national politics, not to mention history. We tend to react and shoot-from-the-hip, following our emotions. With information now so widely available, it is easy to develop a reasonable profile for each candidate. One basic problem is that our minds are made up by our emotions, instead of by the logic our minds are capable of. Responding on the basis of emotion and closed minds go together.

Incumbents and opposition candidates alike typically escape close scrutiny by the electorate, if not from the press. Recognizing candidate's propaganda often is so easy that we wonder why the electorate at large can remain so unaware that we are being taken in. We know a young person who voted for Bush because he would preserve his girl friend's right to have abortions; he heard the candidates all right, he just got them mixed up in his wishful thinking, like so many people do.

Somewhere along the line, Iraq became the focus, not terrorism. None of the candidates for the presidency in 2004 have shown the wisdom or even the charisma to find the root causes of violence in our time (read violence = terrorism). More on all that below.

This is not to say one candidate is not better than the others. But none has demonstrated the perspectives it will take to throttle terrorism. Of course, politics governs here. Taming terror is the work of a generation or two--five to ten presidential terms. The American electorate wants answers in the here and now, whether or not that is possible. Politicians promise quick action and decisive leadership in an effort to win elections. By electing them we foster more of the same.

Nevertheless, taming terror has more than one starting line. The American electorate can surely recognize some wisdom in the following approaches.
  • First, logical usage of the lessons in global history and social trends can avoid resource draining morasses, like the one in Iraq has become.
  • Second, applying our knowledge of violence and of individual human development would have immediate bearing on reducing and eliminating events that radicalize young folks in our age.
  • Third, making use of what we know about collective action and group development, such as the work of Varshney, by itself, can go a long way toward taming terror during just one administration.
  • Fourth, being patient; two generations may be needed before children raised with internal loci of control become an adult majority with the ways of peace built into their psyches.
  • Fifth, we must recognize what much of the world already knows; peace is not achievable by wars motivated by religious beliefs or exploitation. Our time is not Armageddon even though the monotheisms are certainly at war. If peace comes it will be via secular routes and by encouraging monotheisms to become more tolerant of one another.

We fully support our armed-service personnel and hope for the best. But our research, in a broad perspective, indicates we can expect multifaceted problems in our present course. What follows is among them. Given the vagaries of war, the list can never be inclusive. Because cultural changes come slowly, history, more often than not, repeats itself.

What we are doing. What will likely happen if we continue our ways.
Handing off a complex problem of governance to a people with little experience in democracy and who are not unified ethnically or in any other way. The Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds have never hit it off. To expect them to suddenly embrace each other is naive; a three-way war could yet reignite to the benefit of no one.
Trying to mop up after a war. Iraq is no ordinary war; in fact it is more an exercise than war. The Baathists and terror groups retain a lot of clout. Casualty rates have escalated since Mr. Bush's declaration of victory. A mop up in the WWII sense cannot happen.
Misreading the Shiite element. There is substantial animus among themselves as a sect as well as with the other ethno-religious groups. The assassination of a moderate Shiite mullah should tell us something. A power struggle is going on within one of the largest Iraqi societies. It is likely to continue.
Gilding the lily; limiting the freedom of our own press in Iraq. Freedom of the press was key to making this country great. The gap between the press and the Administration will continue to widen to the benefit of no one unless Bush can learn to live with more candor.
Failing to foster a middle class and infrastructure. Throwing money at an infrastructure does not provide individual safety or national security.
Stable democracies require a stable middle class pulling the levers of industry and governance in personal safety. Without this and a free market economy, the possibility of a hostile Islamic state arising as soon as we withdraw becomes more likely, not less.

On the optimistic side, if war in Iraq happens to trigger appropriate reformations in Islam, the UN, and the rest of the world, it may ultimately become a stepping stone toward a permanent world peace instead of a barrier. That would indeed be a strategic event. It is just very unlikely and cannot happen soon. How many dictators voluntarily give up their power? How many religions have remade themselves? How many American politicians are willing to make the hard choices in the Truman mold?

There are some positive accomplishments in Iraq. Saddam is gone, well not quite. His trial appearance enhanced his reputation! Some oil is flowing again. But to whose real benefit? An Iraqi government exists--behind an Iron Wall. How much internal respect has it earned?

There are literally dozens of tribes in each of Iraq and Afghanistan. They may be feudal remnants from a failed era, but they are the local powers that be and must be dealt with one-by-one. This "patchwork" complicates efforts to establish central governments responsive to their own citizens as well as the world order. Some of the war lords are radical and terroristic in mood.

Finally, Iraq, like Palestine, is like a magnet for Arab radicals elsewhere to come and fight the infidel.

A fully peaceful resolution in Iraq is not likely in our generation. This is a reality. Missteps now equal treble-damages later, to use a term understood by Plutocrats. For precedence, one only needs to look at the Zionist experience in Palestine. We are using the same tactics Israel has used fruitlessly for fifty years in Palestine--destroying homes of suspects.

On the political level, how can an Islam, ruled by mullahs, view us any differently than they view the Zionists? This is aside from their very real defects as leaders of a society. But it is also especially true that we now are destroying homes just as the Zionists did. This can destroy the individual bonds that have developed among Muslim, Christian, and Jew on the ground in Iraq.

Equating America to Zion, justified or not, is a fact in the Islamic mind and that mind set is what we have to deal with. We are playing into Muslim belief by acting like the Zionists did. How many Americans can even speak a Middle Eastern language? The vast majority of those who do are immigrants. How many of such speakers are in the armed services. Pathetically few, even on the new teams whose job it is to run down the terrorists.

We are dealing with fundamentalist leaders who cloak themselves in the robes of Allah. We are dealing with a people who do not appreciate invaders of their homeland, who exploit their natural mineral wealth. We are dealing with a people who feel their very religion is being challenged, as indeed it is. We are dealing with a virtual empire of nearly two billion people, many of whom obey the calls to jihad from wherever they live.

On yet another level, we are dealing with Authoritarian Personalities, even as we ourselves are so infected. As Americans, why do we permit the Neocons and Evangelists to dictate war when they are in fact such a minority? That event was brought about because the authoritarian voters among us bought into their propaganda. As voters we put a handsome face, a pretty dance, and a smooth delivery ahead of wisdom or even ability. Will Florida become a metaphor for the demise of American democracy? We can only hope not.

There is no such threat to democracy in Europe. Why not? Europe is much less caught up in that special interest otherwise known as plutocracy. And most of Europe evolved into a parliamentary system of democracy where leaders have to prove their worth before they can ascend the throne. Not so in America. Californians elected a fitness-buff/actor as governor with no experience whatsoever in politics. Minnesota did the same thing earlier. It was pure luck that in each case they each did well--at first. This also speaks loudly of our political system. Rank outsiders can be better than career politicians. But not always, certainly not assuredly.

And things may be more dangerous than they seem. A Supreme Court packed with Neocons for a generation might well distort our legal interpretations to the point where the Constitution itself would no longer mean what it says or was meant to say. You see, the Supreme Court really does have the last word. Would Congress impeach any Supreme Court Justice? Not with a Senate itself full of Neocons holding the balance of power. This is all conjecture of course and we do not think it will happen. But a young Muslim woman from Bosnia we know, speaking of this, said: "You just don't know, it could happen here. My friends from high school were shooting at me, trying to kill me."

There is meat here for a novel. Would it sell? Of course--unless the Neocons achieve their dream of total power; they would simply burn it.

Do the authoritarians hope to destroy democracy? Not consciously, of course. True authoritarians are not even aware of their condition; they simply follow their love-hate emotions and narrow views of things, not bothering to test their logic. This has become our culture, and why we too need a reformation.

From an early individual age, like two or three, or as soon as we can think, we should be encouraged to think and to practice thinking independently for ourselves. We should never be taught that all is known and has been captured in some particular scripture, literature, history, or scientific piece of work. We should be taught the basic reasons why most people feel a need for religion, and give our young people free choice in accepting religion or not.

Monotheists would argue that this would destroy our society. History itself speaks otherwise. First of all, atheists are just as "moral" as believers. Where is the evidence to the contrary? Were the Crusades moral events? Was the conquest of Islam a "moral" event? What about the Inquisition? Was Manifest Destiny a moral event? What about the Zionists pushing the Palestinians aside and bulldozing entire villages? What was our hurry in going into Iraq? (Where was bin Laden hiding? Not in Iraq. But where? We know roughly where he must be hiding, so why are we sitting on our hands?)

All of these events were brought about by the sons and daughters of Abraham. Well, Abraham's Islamic daughters never have had any real say in Islamic history, so they happen to be blameless. Think about it.

Monotheists and atheists makeup a pair that can be tested for their violent activities. The former hate the latter, sometimes with a vengeance. So which is more violent? We decided to find out. See: Religion and Violence for a not-so-surprising, yet stunning, answer.

Plutocrats, even if they profess otherwise, exploit others in true authoritarian style. Look no further than Enron, or Microsoft for that matter. Most of these folks too are monotheists.

On the individual level, who can say Newton, Spinoza, Russell, Feynman, and Hawking were/are immoral. None could/can accept the scriptures literally. There are more atheists in the US today, than there are Mormons. Where is the evidence that the ethical behaviors of atheists are in any way as harmful to society as monotheistic behavior has proven to be? The answer was none in Russell's time, and it is still none. See Religion and Violence for more.

Modernism is defined by a world moving away from feudalism governed by royalty. Aside from traditions, a problem for an Iraq-optimist is that Islam is still mostly feudal and certainly not monolithic. Modernization cannot happen at once. Look at what happened to the first two "dominos," in spite of neocon predictions and Bush's continuing claims to the contrary.

Peace in our time is quite unlikely, given the ability of Authoritarians on both sides to grab power and hang onto it.

A world reformation of individual temperament in all societies is clearly needed.

A prime example of an authoritarian view of things comes courtesy of Major General Boykin. Lost on the general is the fact that religious wars have never been "won" in history, however smug and sure he may be that Iraq could be such an example. Is it realistic to expect a Muslim to become a Jew, a Jew to turn to Islam, or a Christian to embrace either? The authoritarian view, that s/he and s/he alone is right, permeates all three societies descendant from Abraham. Boykin has courage to flaunt his authoritarianism. The word courage was selected (instead of "naiveté" born of unawareness) to give him due credit for the courage he is known to possess. Historically, authoritarians also impeded developments in science, and they still do, in whatever ways they can.

Discovery of the inner-self requires even more courage than does the battlefield where only your life is at stake for a noble cause. Self discovery is hard because the process opens up long repressed memories that were so terrifying that the mind just put them underground in the subconscious.

Too few of us even realize our inner-selves have an authoritarian potential that can be enhanced by a society that modifies or dampens out our inborn natures. And too few of us have the courage to face this shortcoming even after it becomes apparent that what it has done to our psyches and manners of living has limited us in our thinking and being. We have substantially become robots, the kind that gets all their news from TV. As a society we are not in the habit of checking our facts. Our genetic tendency makes us susceptible to "radicalization" by TV commentators just as readily as by a mullah preaching in a Mosque. The only difference is the mode used by the society we happen to live in. For a similar issue see Locus of Control.

We can rationalize today's events as being God's will, and many do just that. But many people do manage to change, some to the good, some not. For every "born-again" Christian, there is a radicalized Muslim. Maybe that needs to be said the other way around to illustrate the point. For every "radicalized" Christian, there is a "born-again" Muslim.

Most authoritarians lead useful and meaningful lives. And many nations where history and religion are taught early on in context are quite peaceful not only with their neighbors, but within themselves. These societies also integrate minorities whether ethnic or religious, a key point in peaceful coexistence. See Hope and Solutions.

If there was ever one person who determined a course for history, it was Abraham. Where is the evidence that the societies descended of Abraham are morally better than the ones offered by descendants from Buddha or Confucius? The converse is true.

Although Buddhism is classed as a world religion, it is also in practice a philosophy of the living, by the living and for the living. Whether religion or philosophy, what can we believe? Human history heavily favors Buddhism as a more peaceful society than the sects descended from Abraham. We can find nothing in Buddhist history that compares with the genocides so common among the monotheisms or atheistic regimes. Buddhism says nothing at all about God; It addresses the questions of living. Buddhists live their philosophy.

From this brief comparison, it is also evident that despotism and religion too often go hand-in-hand as in modern Islam and earlier in most of Christendom. It is the Authoritarian personality that is the common thread. Buddhism as a culture is not much bothered by Authoritarianism. In the processes of meditation and dialogue, the Buddhists learn to think and to live in peace.

Buddhists practice dialogue in ways that would make Socrates envious. You can have a strong belief in God, but you can still be a Buddhist. Anyone up for dual membership? The Buddhists, really do not care if you are a monotheist, polytheist or neither, you are still welcome in their temples.

Simply put, the authoritarian personality believes peace comes from victory in war; the Buddhist personality believes peace comes from within the individual. It is obvious in which direction peace lies. Will the Western Cultures come to this realization and give the East its due? Can Western culture change by evolution? We can hope and we can pray. Those of us able to do so, can also get up and do something about it. Will we? We will know soon enough.

Can a world peace ever exist unless society values inner peace in the individual?

Back to General Boykin. Did Churchill and Roosevelt invoke religion as the way to victory? Each certainly had a faith. But each faced up to the fact that resources, bullets, and technologies could win. Prayers alone could not. Prayer has a place in the world; it just doesn't protect you from nature. The rare instances where prayers seem to be answered are statistical artifacts of nature, which itself is statistical, read that problematic if you will.

In another perspective, if prayer prepares a person for action, girds his/her psychological makeup, and motivates that person to action, then prayer reaches its highest expression. Prayer in this context will accomplish more than mere appeals for help from a deity.

Nature gave us abilities to respond to our environment, and it gave us the power of language and logic. We can think; we can meditate. If prayer can give you inner peace, then by all means pray. If prayer gives you personhood, then likewise.

However, Boykin (and millions of others) would say all events are God's will. This is an absolutist (fatalist?) statement if there ever was one. First of all, God is unknowable; even some scriptures say as much. If we believe God is knowable, then we better get on with that search. We can start with Spinoza, Russell, and Hawking, or we can do our very own research and come to similar conclusions.

If we accept the apparent fact that God is unknowable, then how can we know God's intent? Meanwhile, and whatever that situation, we better look out for ourselves, which is exactly what Churchill and Roosevelt did. Compare that with the drubbing Boykin took in Somalia. Pulling his plug was Washington's doing, not God's. The stakes were not yet high enough to risk the wrath we now encounter from the lands of Islam. Bin Laden, of course, changed all that.

Looking out for ourselves involves more than a strong military and political system. It involves each of us in our temporary niche in nature. There are logical reasons for moral behavior as well as non-religious avenues that lead to a sense of purpose and moral behavior. Too many people have done just that for it to be otherwise. The Evangelicals are consummate propagandists who play on fear. And so are the radical mullahs. And so is the politician who led America into a war whose stated purpose had no basis in fact. To his credit, that politician has not tried to manufacture data to the contrary, at least as far as we know. Not to his credit is his continued insistence that he was right and is still right, and that the lack of evidence is not evidence that Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction ready to deploy.

Look at it the morality question this way: on the one hand, a person behaves morally because s/he is so directed by an evangelist or a mullah; on the other hand another person behaves morally because s/he has studied behavior of both the person and society and history and concluded for him-herself that moral behavior is best and proper.

In which hand does the internal Locus of Control rest? Which person has the stronger set of morals? One arrived at his/her morality from personal experience, thought about with an open mind. Another bases his/her morality on words of an "authority", without questioning or even much thinking about it. This gives all teachers, mentors, preachers, mullahs, coaches and the like immense collective power to define morality. Boykin and Mullah Omar agree on this crucial point. They just disagree on what constitutes morality. The most troubling aspect of this is that absolute power can corrupt absolutely, even as there are exceptions.

Atheists think for themselves and still behave as morally as their believing brethren. So why is atheism so terrifying to the "Islamic radicals" or Evangelicals. Because they fear losing the control they now enjoy, the very driver under the Authoritarian Personality.

Let's translate the word "driver." The word itself, implies force and movement in response to that force. Underlying its meaning here is fear. Fear is a force; a resistive force; a force that resists any change of the status quo. It also fits conservative political beliefs. But it is anti-nature. Nature is all about change, not stasis. Evolution is change, it is fact, not illusion. Humankind has only another billion years or so to contemplate these questions.

Religion can serve a purpose, a very good one. It can give one faith that there is a purpose in existence. But where is the evidence that religion is the only way to find purpose? In fact, if folks like Feynman and Hawking can question the nature of God and still find purpose for themselves, we have evidence that religion is not the only way to find a purpose in life as authoritarians and atheist bashers alike would have us believe.

Can we all be a Russell, Feynman, or Hawking? Of course not. Their deeper insights set them apart from most people. Does that mean they are wrong on this issue? Or does it mean, that since we cannot all be of that intellectual level, we can only resort to one of the hundreds of monotheistic sects?

No, to both questions. Even some authoritarians among us have, or had, the capacity to understand what these wise men have said about the nature of God. With that understanding, we can take similar control of our own lives, and believe in ways that are right for us as individuals.

This is where Jefferson and Madison were in the 18th Century. They were each religious, and each had the wisdom inherent in the religious views of Russell, Feynman, and Hawking. Jefferson and Madison came before the scientific revolution. More than anyone else, they enabled the ascendancy of science in daily life by creating a political system that fosters independent thinking.

The quest for peace begins with each and every world citizen. Given the place of America in the world, and, until recently, our track record of setting good examples, each American has the particular responsibility to find peace within him/herself. Peace cannot come until this happens. Of course, Islam and all other peoples must do likewise. From the Far East, Buddha showed a way that works. He and his followers all carry the same genes we do, with all the same susceptibilities. Yet, they have found a way around war and it is called peace within one's self. All this can happen, but it will take time, a generation or more.

Achieving a state of inner peace takes more courage than fighting a war, especially a war fought by others than your own. Much of the wisest advice in our times comes from folks having firsthand experience with war. They know the awfulness first hand. That doesn't mean they see the roots any better than anyone else. But what success we have had in Iraq came from individual efforts on the ground by armed service personnel. Most of that success came in spite of Bush policy based on the neocon manifesto. That likely will not be enough in light of the foregoing.

Arrogance will not produce lasting peace.
Understanding the human condition has a chance. Wisdom of and for the ages will be needed.
Peace can only happen in time.

For more see Society and its Problems to add to the above and Neocons for a contrast.


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