Ch 1: Imagine, An Introduction
Imagine there’s no heaven./It’s easy if you try;
No hell below us;Above us only sky.
Imagine all the people/Living for today.
Imagine there’s no countries./It isn’t hard to do;
Nothing to kill or die for/And no religion, too.
Imagine all the people/Living life in peace.
You may say I’m a dreamer,/But I’m not the only one.
I hope someday you’ll join us/And the world will be as one.
Imagine no possessions./I wonder if you can;
No need for greed or hunger;/A brotherhood of man.
Imagine all the people/Sharing all the world.
You may say I’m a dreamer/But I’m not the only one.
I hope someday you’ll join us/And the world will live as one.
– John Lennon
It might be easy if we tried. However, we don’t want to try. It’s more comfortable where we are: in almost perpetual warfare against real or contrived “enemies”; in almost constant fear; in disharmony between various religious groupings – even within the same basic religion; and the entire world organized into a concerted effort to make extra money for the major benefit of the wealthiest among us who have the least need of it. We are so caught up in this insanity that we cannot see outside the cocoon of luxury and self-congratulatory nonsense in which we’ve been wrapped for at least the last two millennia: in greed, both personal and systemic; in nationalism; in dogmatism; and in the unwarranted belief in violence as an instrument of justice, equality, and freedom.
The truth is there if we look for it. We, as a world society, have had some amazing breakthroughs.
Two thousand years ago, a spiritually-aware being proposed a nonviolent resistance to the juggernaut that was the Roman Empire. He suggested we should love our enemies; be humble, contrite, generous and compassionate; treat others as we wish to be treated; think primarily of the common good; and seek harmony and good will. I’m talking about Jesus of Nazareth and his spiritual doctrines.
The Twentieth Century saw some surprisingly effective examples of this spiritual philosophy in action.
Even against the religious doctrines of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, women and allied men were able to secure the start of equal rights for women, securing for women over much of the Industrialized World the right to vote in elections, the right to hold public office, the right to be heard and not just seen. After close to seventeen centuries of social, political, intellectual and religious oppression, half of our citizenry were belatedly given roughly the same status, the same rights, and the same respect as the other half. Please note that before this, we considered ourselves the paragon of political, religious, and social equality. At the same time we freed the slaves but denied the vote to half of our population, we praised our government as “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
The same man who wrote, “all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights …” owned slaves and emancipated less than 1% of them who were, it turns out, his own children (proven by DNA testing). The same men who wrote our Constitution and Bill of Rights didn’t emancipate slaves or include women in their deliberations. At the same time they were framing the most progressive political system of its day, they were creating second-class citizenship for their wives and daughters because they were blindly loyal to centuries of religious doctrine and social custom. Not until the Twentieth Century did we begin to repair this injustice.
This persistent loyalty to custom and tradition was caused by spirituality. Spirituality is instinctual and comes from our animal ancestors who lived in groups and sacrificed themselves for the health and well-being of the family. Because it isn’t cognitive, it easily short-circuits the higher human brain and allows us the illusion of logical thought without actually thinking logically. This is such a blind spot in humans that it has created pockets of irrational thought and behavior in a number of areas, some of which are scientific. Modern theories of human behavior don’t acknowledge this motivation to our actions. Even the pure sciences of physics, astronomy and cosmology may have fallen into this trap, led by blind loyalty.
Spirituality isn’t as much an idea as it is a retreat from ideas. Traditional beliefs center in the brain but persuade us through a localized logic with a truncated view of the issues. With a widened awareness, spirituality might extend empathy and inclusion to everyone and everything. Spirituality is about belonging, about whom we think “we” are and whom we think “they” are; about whom we include and whom we exclude; about who gets empathy and who gets enmity.
John Lennon is talking about imagining a world with a more inclusive spirituality when he asks us to change the world to one without greed, without dogmas, without armies, without exclusions and without violence. He envisions universal cooperation and “a brotherhood of man.”
To achieve that which Lennon imagines, we must give up traditional concepts and loyalties. Why? They haven’t been working. Yes, they made us feel special. Yes, they allowed us to take more than our fair share. And, yes, they gave us the illusion of being better than others whom we got to disrespect, demean, and steal from with impunity. However, they haven’t led to peace or cooperation. Instead, they have created fear, distrust, and enmity. These blind loyalties have kept our human family arbitrarily divided and in perpetual conflict.
It never seems to occur to us that the fairness, kindness, and freedom we enjoy within our borders might apply to others outside our borders as well, or, if it does occur to us, we believe our military will secure that freedom for others even though they rarely have. We sometimes see the error of our choices but usually after the fact, often fleetingly, and rarely with enough clarity to stop the next unjust incursion into neighborhoods and villages thousands of miles away from our homeland whose leaders have somehow angered and displeased us and whom we’ve given a blanket condemnation to over the actions of others somehow associated with a recent crime or injustice done to us.
This book may still have a few small inaccuracies and it certainly won’t tell the whole story. But if we subscribe to the goal “peace on earth;” if we want a happy future for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren; if we dare to turn around centuries of tyranny and injustice; then we must educate ourselves; we must open our eyes to a wider truth and a bigger cause than those which we champion to the detriment of others; the wars against the latest threat, insult or injury incurred in an endless chain of actions and reactions.
There have been leaders that championed the cause of nonviolent resistance and saw a spiritual path to resolution, reconciliation, and mutual benefit. It is with trepidation that I call what is thought of as religious leaders by this new label. All too often good ideas get tainted with exclusions and limitations, pride and prejudice, common social inequalities added through political expediency or personal bias. And it is precisely these additions that bedevil us, cause us to falter, and mislead us into the traps of schisms, deep hostilities, self-aggrandizement and charismatic self-serving leadership.
And it is also clear to me how easy it is to slip into such traps and how close to slipping I get personally. I can’t claim perspicacity or inerrancy. I can’t claim divine inspiration, though it sometimes feels compelling as ideas line up over and over in my head. It is merely the only way out we human beings have left. If we maintain minority control of politics, laws, property and productivity; if we continue our wasteful and spiteful ways; if we squander Earth’s bounty without a thought for future consequences; if we continue a blind eye to the suffering and enmity our “superpower” status earns us in the Third World; the self-regulating, equalizing, terrorizing agencies of the planet Earth itself will chastise us and bring us to our knees!
Ch 2: Spirituality and Inclusion
I studied psychology for over ten years. It didn’t even begin to explain this irrational behavior common to all humanity. The breakthrough came when I studied spirituality, a hidden and unexplained link between all humans, living and deceased that seeks to unite us into one group. We are driven to belong by a force stronger than life itself. Belonging is a primary and essential part of our natural desires. It is stronger than our will to procreate. The intense desire to belong overwhelms even our ability to think logically. It takes us to war where we throw ourselves against real or imagined enemies without regard to anything but love and loyalty.
Our need to belong makes shunning and excommunication powerful. No army could sustain itself without this aspect of human nature. Few dogmas could survive without the threat of not belonging. Spirituality may be at the root of our squabbling, but, ironically, it may also be the solution to it.
In our adolescence, we’ve taken the win-lose paradigm. We believe we must exclude to be included. It isn’t true, but it appears true and it is exacerbated with fear, threats, and seeing ourselves as separate from others. This type of thinking has dominated Western Civilization. It has overwhelmed gentler, more humble cultures. It has taken us to the pinnacle of success. However, our short-sighted focus is on immediate gratification. We’ve lost sight of what is truly important. The spiritual costs of this myopia are considerable.
In the long run we all win or lose together, the progeny of enemy and ally, rich and poor, strong and weak forming new families and new alliances but all of us thriving or perishing as one family; one colony of organisms, Gaea if you will. We live in an interdependent world where all life is linked: the soil, the air, the plants, the animals, and us, the people, succeeding or failing as a single entity headed by the brightest, most industrious beings ever to have lived here.
What is unequivocally true when looked at with a spiritual perspective is that we are all in this together. My daily life is intimately linked with farmers in Peru, oil workers in Saudi Arabia and day laborers in China and Indonesia. The banana I ate for breakfast came from Central America. My car came from Japan. Even the words I use are the work of hundreds of generations piecing together effective communication and common understanding.
One or two thousand years from now, virtually everyone on Earth will be a direct descendant. This will include all races, all religions, all nationalities, and all sexual identities and preferences. It will include geniuses and idiots, heroes and felons, the wealthiest and the poorest, foot soldiers and their generals. We are one family. We sink or swim as one. This gives us a real and immediate stake in ending the cycles of fear, enmity and violence.
This book is an attempt to help us move toward peace and prosperity. It relies on the work of others, but it must break with traditional beliefs and conventional thinking. I see no other way to “peace on Earth;” no alternative path to “good will to all men.”
It isn’t easy to break with the past. If it were, we would have done it already. As history shows, we have made serious attempts. We had Woodstock. We had the flower children and the anti-war generation. We had Jimmy Carter and a chance for peace in the Middle East and serious reductions to the major nuclear arsenals. Then we turned a corner. We abandoned the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty. We believed a man who told us that Corporate Capitalism and a stronger military would solve our problems. We elected him President – twice! Even though none of his promises came to fruition, even though almost all of his policies were clearly ineffective, we still believe in a strong wealthy class, the right of corporations to unlimited power in our political process, and violence as a panacea. Even as our military adventures overseas create the terrorism they were sent to eradicate, we believe in violence and we thank our men and women in uniform for “keeping the world safe for democracy” while this could not be farther from the truth.
Clearly, I’m not a conservative. But conservatism isn’t the issue. The false belief in force as an effective instrument of change is the issue. Any competent historian can show that violence doesn’t actually provide real solutions to real problems. The violence usually ends eventually, but rarely does it solve the problems it pretends to solve. It isn’t the panacea we believe it is.
Nations begin and end in violence. They include and exclude arbitrarily. They garner wealth and power for the few at the expense of taxes, conscription, and other sacrifices by ordinary citizenry. In past generations, everyone in a nation worked unceasingly to increase the wealth and power of their sovereign and his close family and friends … while fighting and dying to ostensibly wrest wealth and power from his royal relatives in nearby nations. Underneath, rulers secured their wealth and power through galvanizing their nation against a contrived threat or injustice … a game as old as history.
Today, we work to increase the wealth and power of our major stockholders. As of 2009, over 87% of the wealth was concentrated in 25% of the population. This left 13% of the wealth for the other 75% and this inequity is getting worse because 50% of the world’s capital is owned by less than 1% of the world’s population, and 70% of the world’s population owns less than 3% of the wealth and far less capital! So the system runs on the wealthy owning the means of production and controlling the economy. Through their boards of directors, the wealthy create conglomerates and Special Interest Groups which generally own or control news outlets as well as the electoral, legislative, judicial, and executive processes of our government. Wholly owned by corporate stockholders and unlimited in their ability to influence the electoral process, Special Interest Groups write most of our legislation and strongly influence our elections and our attitudes towards anything having to do with profit or politics. Industries regularly change “styles” and invest in massive advertising, exhorting us to go into debt in order to satisfy an artificially-created demand.
We are “free” to make up our own minds. However, we are bombarded by a barrage of misinformation or biased, one-sided information. Additionally, our leaders have a trump card. Whenever they want us to oppose something, they merely call it “evil” and pretend it is a direct threat to our country, our families, or our freedom. They call on us to be patriotic and we flock to blindly support whatever they have decided to do. There is never any meaningful national debate over such issues. We aren’t given enough valid information to engage in such a debate and our loyalties are so strong that we wouldn’t listen if such information were available.
This particular phenomenon was exemplified when 99% of our Senators and 73% of our population supported our unwarranted and illegal invasion of Iraq (see Ch ##)! A generation earlier, we attacked a nation of subsistence farmers in a backwater colony of France that was artificially created by NATO, a wartime alliance of colonizing nations. We bombed them with more ordinance than used by both sides in the Second World War (also a war about colonial perquisites) and we killed or maimed several million people who could not possibly pose a serious and severe threat to the United if they wanted to and who, when left alone, almost immediately fought the other opposing colonial powers we accused them of being allied with! We were terribly, ruinously wrong – twice!
All this is true and verifiable. All this is logically indisputable. Yet we don’t want to know it. We don’t want to hear it. And we definitely don’t want to think about it. We can’t see it and won’t admit it! Maybe you think I’m just making this up. After all, if it were true, why hasn’t anyone told us before this? I think that it’s because it sounds disloyal and it’s not what we want to hear. It doesn’t sell. It isn’t popular. But it IS the truth and, if you care to check, all the information is there. And the whole thing started with us believing another religion (a mixture of truth and absurdities) was a real and serious threat. Of course, communism came and mostly went in a single century, it’s big lie being that such a thing as the Dictatorship of the proletariat is possible and that a bureaucracy with unlimited power could actually keep the welfare of the average person as their goal.
We must re-examine our blind loyalty to our country and its military and economic dominance in the world. If we cannot accept the mistakes our country has made and is making, if we cannot seek a perspective broader than a persistently-biased nationalism, we will, as we have been doing, continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. We will continue to live in fear … of “savagery” or “totalitarianism” or “communism” or “terrorism” or whatever threat our leadership conjures next.
From pre-logical early childhood, we have said religious and national rituals such as the Lord’s Prayer, the Nicene Creed and the Pledge of Allegiance. We have been encouraged by persistent persuasion to look at things a certain way. We are comfortable with it. As long as we believe it or say we believe it, we get to feel smug. We are addicted to this smugness, this blind loyalty, this persistent bias.
Changing our thinking will be difficult. It is, however, necessary if the human race and dependent species are to survive the modern era. We cannot continue the errors of the past much longer. Our science and technology which brought us this wealth has also brought us a host of ways to destroy ourselves. The threats are real. Our own nuclear weapons alone have the capacity to eradicate or drastically alter all life on our planet. Through religiously-supported overpopulation, we are inadvertently evolving biological threats that surpass the destructive capability of the Medieval plagues that killed a majority of the populations in the major cities of Europe and the native Americans in the “New World.” We are stuck in endless cycles of provoking conventional war. And we have now created ecological threats to the entire planet due to excessive greed and unwise business, economic and social practices worldwide.
A world without enmity and war; without vast economic inequalities generation after generation; without “superpowers” and less entitled, less important, less prepared, less educated, and less valued people; a world “of the people, by the people, and for the people” isn’t a pipe dream. It’ll take dedication, but we can make it happen.
Ch 3: How Spirituality Works
“Father Mother God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
– my version of The Serenity Prayer
“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom,
I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
– Nelson Mandela
The statement by Nelson Mandela is a classic spiritual statement. First, it is about the self and not about his guards or the racist politicians that imprisoned him for 27 years. Second, it shows the alternative path and its normal and natural spiritual consequences; to leave behind bitterness, hatred, recrimination and retribution. It doesn’t praise God or self but looks forward to the next spiritual step, which, it turns out, is to save blacks and whites both from a bloody, hateful and destructive civil war and to find the unseen and improbable path towards reconciliation and a slow but peaceful and productive restructuring of their racist society.
Another example of spirituality is the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Spirituality is about empathy for others, even “enemies” and adversaries, people who have harmed us, and people with different customs, attitudes or behaviors.
Spirituality is about what is good for everyone. In 12-step groups, no religious views are required, no personal beliefs excluded. There are no leaders and no absolutes; only “trusted servants”, guidelines and traditions. Everyone is equal. A group conscience is not a majority vote but a discussion that ends only when there is essential unanimity and all sides of a question respectfully heard and considered. When a vote is called, it is about what each person thinks is best for the group as a whole, not personal preferences. Of course, not all 12-step groups operate in this manner, but when they do, when decisions are held off until it is clear what is good for the whole group, everyone accepts and supports the outcome.
Spirituality is inclusive. Nobody is excluded except when disruptive and then the door is never fully locked. Behavior might be “effective” or “ineffective” rather than “good” or “bad.”
Spirituality embraces and accepts what is. Spirituality attempts to improve the self by identifying and correcting certain ineffective behaviors, thoughts, or beliefs … within ones self. Whenever possible, we refrain from judgment or derogatory criticism.
A spiritual person takes responsibility for his or her part. Spirituality attempts to see the entire picture and to discover for ourselves new and creative ways to improve what we do and how we do it.
The word “humble” seems to best highlight the difference between the religious and the spiritual. Religions generally claim to know a universal truth and expect that others will come to see things the same way. Doubt is not really acceptable once one joins a religious group.
Spiritual people aren’t so sure of things. For one, they usually don’t dictate a prescribed perception but seek new ways of seeing old problems. They are eager to discover reality and each new perspective adds to the overall understanding; a closer approximation to what is real.
In a spiritual group, the experiences and life lessons are what they are. There is no “slant”, and, if there is, to that extent, it is a religious group and not a spiritual group. Spirituality is experienced intimately and personally. It is about the self, not about others. What is in common is great. What is not in common is accepted. There is no particular need for conformity.
This being said, there are common threads to spiritual work which, while not necessarily universal, are seen over and over. For instance, effective spiritual solutions almost always involve reconciliation: victim with perpetrator, victor with vanquished, and families reunited. While voluntary exclusion sometimes works as a temporary solution when the perpetrator is not yet remorseful or the victim not yet forgiving, the fully satisfying and lasting solutions are uniting and conciliatory.
The words “good” and “evil” aren’t useful in spiritual work. My personal belief is that these two words have created as much mayhem and mischief as any two words in the English language. They assume an absolute scale on a subjective issue. The words “good” and “evil” rely on a biased point of view.
If Jesus of Nazareth did suddenly acquire a third life, he might enjoin us to turn the other cheek, to treat our “enemy” with compassion and understanding, and to be humble and contrite in accepting our part in the current enmity. The word “evil” blocks that. It inhibits compassion and understanding. It locks our hearts to those so labeled and brooks no ameliorating circumstances. It prevents the understanding and the spiritual miracles that might otherwise ensue.
There have been a number of spiritual leaders throughout history. I don’t intend to enumerate them, but their numbers most probably include Buddha, Jesus of Nazareth, Mohandas Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King, Jr. They all seemed to have lived according to their philosophies. They were all non-violent and, if not entirely conciliatory, then inclusive and non-reactive.
I have a favorite quote from the man who lived 500 years before Jesus of Nazareth in an area then quite isolated from Europe but currently very close. Guatama Buddha is said to have said, “Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But, after observation and analysis, when you find anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.” If only our world had been as small and interconnected then as it is now….
I believe that Jesus of Nazareth started a spiritual movement aimed at standing up to Greco-Roman violence with non-violence and humility. In 325, this movement, at the behest of the non-Christian Roman emperor, Constantine, acquired the Nicene Creed, a non-spiritual set of required religious beliefs which centered on a fictional Christ, the only-begotten son of God, God-in-human-form, and ritual sacrifice to atone for our sins. The spirituality was still there, but the nonviolence disappeared and in its place was dogma and persecution of any and all who might say otherwise. Furthermore, absolution is somewhat pernicious in that it grants us freedom from guilt without actually looking at the damage we’ve caused or altering our behavior. For a being (whether man or God) to change so drastically in the final days of his first life and the few (and possibly fictional) days of His second life is an academic exercise best left to better-qualified Biblical scholars. Never before did he claim godhood or great powers. Never before did he demand adherence to misogynistic and bigoted beliefs. And never before did he try to split the World into “good” and “evil” people based on superficial, somewhat irrelevant and often circumstantial criteria.
The Twentieth Century saw an amazing rebirth of this old spirituality, the nonviolence and the rejection of enmity and arbitrary differentiation.
Women’s suffrage was led by many different women and supported by many men. It made its way through the modern world starting in Wyoming and New Zealand toward the end of the Nineteenth Century, gaining an unrestricted right to vote in the US in 1920, and finally gaining voting rights for women in France, Italy, and Greece after the Second World War. It is telling that Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant, created and enforced this unequal injustice wherever they ruled for a millennium and a half.
Mahatma Gandhi led a nonviolent and successful revolution against both British colonialism and the traditional caste system. He died before achieving his third goal: solving the enmity between Hindu and Muslim segments of his population exacerbated by British Colonialism; a schism that has led to two nuclear powers poised on the brink of war over the Kashmir Valley, an area of princely wealth coveted by all three of its powerful neighboring countries.
Alcoholics Anonymous started a landslide of Twelve-Step programs where people in the throes of addiction found relief by forming small spiritual groups which sought remission a day at a time and were helped but not governed or controlled by any other entities – self-governing, independent entities ruled by “group conscience,” a virtually-unanimous decision as to what may be best for the group as a whole.
Nelson Mandela led his nation, South Africa, nonviolently around an impending racial civil war and into a period of harmony and good will – and shared peace and prosperity. An almost miraculous transformation from enforced, violent racism to interdependence and increasing opportunities for education and wealth by all who earnestly work for it.
Martin Luther King, Jr. and quite a few dedicated souls, both black and white, ended the economic and social slavery that the Civil War was supposed to have ended – and they did it without much bloodshed. Within 50 years, we had blacks on the Supreme Court, in Congress and the Senate, leading our military, and even in the White House. In the previous 100 years few of the promises of freedom were actually delivered by the Civil War and its Emancipation Proclamation. And, though there have been setbacks, the majority seems to have accepted other races as citizens with rights exactly equal to our own.
Of course without education, money, or capital, 40 acres and a mule is in invitation to borrow money for seed, for feed for the mule, for food for the family, for building materials to build a shelter and so forth. Without any practical training, without capital, without money, freedom was an empty promise that just pulled a fast one on the southern slaveowners AND the people just “freed.” Despite all the rhetoric that anyone who works hard can get out of poverty, the rules and the solidarity of whites and the “justice” system against the newly “emancipated” people of color made the next hundred years almost as intolerable as the slavery that preceded them.
While the United States succeeded in eliminating the various European colonialists from ruling us, we retained their lack of empathy or concern for people such as Native Americans and freed slaves, disadvantaged by abject poverty or killing off their food supply for short-term profits, ignoring reality and clinging to mythical and mystical stories “proving” that anyone may succeed if they work hard — and, in the rare cases when minorities worked together to achieve success, would find violent ways to keep the “inferior” races and classes from being “uppity” and reach for something beyond their assumed station in life.
We elected Jimmy Carter as President and he worked diligently at creating peace in the world, refraining from going to war when our embassy in Iran was invaded and negotiating between the two sides of the Palestinian crisis. At the end of his single term in office, every one of the 500 hostages in the Iranian embassy were returned safe and sane. Is there even the slightest chance that a war with Iran could have ended so well? But Americans wanted to be “right.” We wanted to be feared. And we wanted immediate gratification. Peace was too slow, too indecisive, and far too humble for us.
We voted for policies which took us back on the path to war, conflict, and bankruptcy. We’re still on this path which ensures ongoing wars overseas. We unilaterally invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, which led to more violence and an escalation of the Mideast crisis and helped radical factions who opposed both us and our colonial competitor, the Soviet Union. Furthermore, we’ve chosen violence as a response to terrorist attacks! This choice has been studied scientifically and there is near certainty that it will lead to more terrorism. Our soldiers overseas are causing terror and terrorism, both overseas and within our borders. They have no chance of winning a better life for themselves, for us or for our allies overseas and they have not and will not gain anyone’s “freedom.”
Spirituality works, make no mistake about that. It is amazingly fair and effective. All that is needed is an open heart, the hope of an open mind and lots of patience.
Violence, despite all the movies and video games in which violence “wins,” is almost never effective – certainly not in the long run. Religion and nationalism are also anti-spiritual forces. To the extent that we allow the distinction to matter, race and sex and sexual preferences have also splintered our society. If the result is an “us” and a “them,” the process is NOT likely to be spiritual.
So, looking back to Ch 1, we have an answer to John Lennon’s Imagine. The fierce loyalties we have to our nations, our races, our religions, and our other traditions which set us apart from others and make us feel special also cause us to falter and fail in the spiritual realm. We lose sight of our common interests and actual kinship with others.
Those old prejudices still linger. Many of us still want to shun homosexuals or the transgendered or illegal aliens or abortionists or communists or socialists or atheists or Arabs or some race, religion, creed, affiliation or attitude. To give up prejudice isn’t easy. It is generally given to us at an early age and held in the depths of our psyches, tied by love and loyalty to our family. It’s also what makes us special in our own minds, a source of pride as well as prejudice.
Exhorting others to think spiritually isn’t done lightly. It isn’t easy, but it is absolutely necessary if we are to continue to share this fragile Earth with each other and the rest of our highly-interactive, strongly reactive ecosystem.
In a thousand years, all the differences between each and every faction of our fractured social, cultural, national and racial divisions will have disappeared. But if we have an all-out nuclear World War III or escalating terror and terrorism or rising incidences of pandemics or some other as yet unseen existential threat, our distant progeny, if any survive, will not have lives as gracious and blessed as the least of us today. Our economy, our ecology, our existence depends on cooperation instead of all-out, to-the-death competition; on hope instead of fear; on a new set of values that does NOT put ownership as the most cherished and supported arbiter of influence and control; that increases the value of universal, international civil rights; and that finds nonviolent ways to settle or compromise our differences.
Ch 4: Blind Loyalty
“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the republic for which it stands;
one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
– Francis Bellamy, 1892
This vow was created to be first used on Columbus Day, 1892, to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ first trip to the New World; beginning Europe’s armed invasion of the Western Hemisphere. In 1942, at the 450th anniversary, the US Congress adopted a new version: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands; one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all.” This is the pledge I said from kindergarten until fifth grade, when the words “under God” made their way to California from Illinois. I remember knowing that these two new words weren’t or shouldn’t be true but deciding not to further alienate myself from my fellow students.
It is almost inevitable that we should be loyal to a symbol of our conquests. And it is also almost inevitable that this symbol should sooner or later be linked with religious belief. It isn’t, however, completely inevitable; and this gives me some hope that a breach can be made between blind loyalty and a more accurate view of events.
The flag of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a white sword and letters on a green background which translate, “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His prophet,” the Islamic Creed, a message spread by warfare from this desert country through much of the African Continent into Spain and through south Asia all the way to the Philippines. My father had a large Saudi Arabian flag given to him by King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud and proudly displayed in his office. Since it proclaims their religious creed, this flag has both secular and religious symbolism and is considered holy.
Blind loyalty may not be the perfect term. We aren’t completely blind. We see current events; we are eyewitnesses to wars and returning troops. Our blindness is the complete and utter loyalty to our rhetoric, our excuses and our point of view along with total disinterest in the other side’s perspective. Even when the truth is before our eyes, we don’t see it; we can’t see it.
On 11 June, 1963, a Buddhist monk burned himself to death at a busy Saigon intersection to protest persecution by the South Vietnamese government. We saw this suicide on television, but loyalty prevented us from seeing the underlying implications. When we lost the war to empower a succession of unrepresentative dictators in Saigon, the “Red Tide” didn’t advance. Instead, it was blocked by the same government in Hanoi which we had presumed to be part of it. After winning Vietnam’s Civil War, our “enemy” was an immediate and unambiguous ally, fighting the spread of Communism.
This event can only be understood by viewing the Cold War as a series of superpower campaigns against Third World sovereignty and self-sufficiency. All three superpowers carried out numerous invasions and supported various arbitrary factions in a continuation of the imperialism and colonialism of previous centuries but masked in ideology. One might use surrogates or send massive weaponry instead of invading. It was still exploitation of a less-modernized country and the ordinary citizenry of ones own country to gain power and wealth at the expense and suffering of others, an ongoing racket7 that has its roots in ancient history.
On 11 September, 2001, nineteen people gave their lives to send a message to the American electorate, a desperate, urgent, heart-felt message; a message which was drowned out by calls for vengeance and lies about who these men were and why they did this. This is again the blindness I’m talking about. Our hearts have no room for the perpetrators, no sympathy, no understanding, no forgiveness. Christians and non-Christians alike couldn’t turn the other cheek; couldn’t ask what part we had in this tragedy; couldn’t look at or understand the other side.
Blind loyalty isn’t a new thing. Throughout history, it has created great chasms of misunderstanding between people who might otherwise have had vast areas of common interest and mutual benefit.
Inevitably, blind loyalty will come up against civil rights.
At the height of its power, the House Unamerican Activities Committee8 used intimidation and threats of guilt-by-association to pressure the film industry to fire non-compliant employees and to make propagandist films which glorified the United States and its wartime exploits. This wasn’t a flash in the pan but a concerted, long-term effort to force others to present a biased, one-sided picture of events. It used the legal system, the press, and its own bully pulpit to silence anyone who disagreed with a prejudiced view. The American Civil Liberties Union, whose sole mission was to uphold the civil rights of US citizens, was labeled a Communist front organization when it opposed tactics which, in hindsight, were clearly not consonant with the freedoms we purportedly cherish.
During the same period, an otherwise undistinguished Senator from Wisconsin named Joseph McCarthy began a diatribe against communism and socialism which was vitriolic and highly inflammatory. He accused the President and other high-ranking Democrats of treasonable acts of disloyalty and again used his position to intimidate and slander others who disagreed with his narrow perspective.
It is the right of every citizen in the United States to be a socialist or a communist. Many of us, in the privacy of our own homes, practice the basic communist principle: from each according to ability; to each according to need. We don’t charge young children rent. Our communities provide schools, roads, policing and fire protection for everyone. Socialism and communism are all around us. In the early days of the West, barn raisings were common. Neighbors would band together to welcome economic competitors and help them start their businesses. My cousins in Minnesota regularly helped each other harvest crops and used co-ops to package and sell them.
Idealism isn’t the problem. In a short time, both China and Russia morphed into capitalist countries without really changing much. What changed is our attitude toward them. The irrational fear went away — for a time. Of course, the underlying colonial behaviors on both sides continued unabated, so new labels or the old, misused labels are being used to mask the same old enmity from the same old game. By keeping us upset about what the other “superpowers” are doing in the rest of the world, we’re given the illusion that our own violent incursions into foreign neighborhoods thousands of miles from our borders are somehow justified, appropriate and effective. Without any cognitive effort, we are led to believe that our attacks are a part of an important, existential struggle: “good” versus “evil,” “making the world safe for democracy,” and somehow sanctified because our nation is “under God.”
This kind of thing isn’t new, but our leaders keep inventing new ways to sell it. Almost universally, we’ve adopted a new strategy of tying the mayhem we create overseas with something useful, helpful, of service to the nation when burning the money used to fund these idiotic and disruptive overseas campaigns would be far more effective than sending armed and dangerous troops into neighborhoods for the purpose of creating “a lasting peace.”
The problem isn’t even our love and loyalty. The problem is our blindness in the face of that love and loyalty. It is this inability to think rationally which has been exploited for millennia by those whose love and loyalty has been to wealth and power. Even the children of the wealthy and powerful have been exploited. This blindness precludes us from seeing the spiritual nature of our universe; from embracing our common interests and mutual concerns; and from finding win-win solutions where most needs are met and everyone prospers.
Ch 5: Human Motivation
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
- 1) Physiological needs: breathing, food, water, sex, sleep, homeostasis, excretion
- 2) Safety: security of body, employment, resources, the family, health, property
- 3) Love/belonging: friendship, family, sexual intimacy, social acceptance
- 4) Esteem: self-esteem, confidence, achievement, respect of others, respect by others
- 5) Self-actualization: morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, truth
Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs seems to see mankind as a pragmatist. It is taught in most introductory psychology classes without any caveats, quibbles or discussion. Like The Holy Bible, it has become part of Western Civilization’s accepted “truth”.
Love/belonging is in the middle below safety(2) and above morality(5). If mankind were a logical being, this might have been a valid structure. No logical person would voluntarily leave the safety of their homeland(2) and their family(2) to rejoin their buddies(3) in a foreign war that they know doesn’t respect others(4), won’t solve any problems(5), and is based on a number of glaring and obvious lies(5). They’ve seen others die(1). They know without any doubt that the task is dangerous(2) and the work ineffective(5). Yet they go again and again. When they don’t go, they’re often consumed with a feeling that they should have gone; that they should be there. Soldiers and sailors have been doing this in great numbers for millennia. If national pride or religion is involved, they rarely decline an opportunity to enlist or reenlist.
We champion war after war when this type of enterprise flies in the face of reason, logic, or actual self-preservation. Psychology has missed a vital piece of the puzzle that is human behavior.
Furthermore, the psychology profession doesn’t seem concerned that the “science” they’re practicing or teaching doesn’t accord with the facts(5). They go on teaching dogma that even a rudimentary perusal of history or a newspaper would exclude from consideration.
From a perspective of pure pragmatism, human behavior often makes little sense.
I have concluded that the desire for love and inclusion motivates most of our otherwise inexplicable behavior. Rather than being in the middle of the hierarchy, it sits near the very top and, like all the other level 1 “needs,” is instinctual and happens without conscious thought and, often, in place of conscious thought. We might explore this for a while.
Why would a person charge an enemy battle line having just seen others die trying? What would induce an otherwise normal and sane person to run toward death or severe injury?
What motivates a person to enlist and reenlist for hazardous duty?
What motivates firemen to rush into burning buildings, having seen injured and killed colleagues?
Why would a policeman charge after an armed suspect?
Why would a couple long for a child, knowing the pain and expense involved?
I have a clue to this perplexing behavior.
Above all else, more than life itself, we want to belong. The desire to belong supersedes all other motivations except breathing by a wide margin. We will walk through fire for love and loyalty! This desire drives much of human behavior and it is the clear and constant motivation behind countries, armies, churches, tribes, and especially families.
Furthermore, when belonging is threatened, it appears that man’s curiosity, our desire to know the truth disappears and, in its place, a terrible and tenacious loyalty blinds us and makes us easily deceived. This happens despite intelligence or education. It consistently ignores obvious facts and twists others to fit an “acceptable” paradigm that doesn’t threaten belonging. This didn’t come to me easily. Equally problematic, it isn’t easy to persuade others to look closely at what actually motivates them.
I grew up in a home with international connections. My father was born in Africa and worked in South America, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. I had friends who were Muslims and friends who were Buddhists, friends who were Hindus and friends who were Christians. Because of this wider perspective, I was able to maintain some distance from the mainstream which surrounded (and still surrounds) me.
I was intensely active in several twelve-step spiritual programs for twenty years. The traditions of these groups are unusual: there is no true leadership; decisions are made by consensus, deciding together what is best for the group as a whole. The precondition for membership is self-identifying with the problem. Membership is anonymous, non-political, and inclusive.
After that, I spent three years in intense and sustained training as a spiritual counselor under Bert Hellinger and several of his understudies. There I learned about problems in the human soul, and, experientially (coming from experience rather than theory or belief; discovered; non-theoretical), what causes them and what fixes them. Here I learned about the invisible connections we share with each other and about the empathy with which these connections can be sensed.
It dawned on me that I was looking at the work of our Creator. Please don’t take this as a religious assertion. I merely noted that there are “books” out there that could truly enlighten us if only we had the audacity to “read” them. Let’s just for the moment postulate that we don’t need to have someone else tell us who God is; that we can, if we make the effort, connect with a power greater than ourselves; a power that we don’t define or command; a power that doesn’t exclude; a power that has made us a permanent part of Creation – all of us, saints and sinners, wise men and fools, kings and peons.
I also took a different vantage point and considered myself in a larger context. I saw my ancestors by the thousands fighting among themselves but also cooperating; growing, hunting, gathering, and intermarrying. They didn’t necessarily know of each other. They were doing whatever mankind did – foolish or purposeful, benevolent or malicious. These myriad bloodlines coalesced in me – and everyone else on the planet. And then I looked at my children and grandchildren and off into the distant future where I am an ancestor to almost everyone on Earth – assuming, of course, that mankind doesn’t destroy itself and its environment in the meantime.
I saw the foolishness we have gotten ourselves into; the squabbling over -isms and dogma as if that is what matters. What matters is all of us; our whole family; not what we wish for or imagine, but the fragile and fleeting reality of our entire family as a whole; as a unit; something truly indivisible.
Let us seek the deeper truth; the unbiased and unvarnished essence of humanity, and let us treasure what we share rather than dispute the minor details of what should be a guardianship for our progeny.
Ch 6: War is Armed Robbery
“War Is A Racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest,
easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious.
It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which
the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.”
– Marine Corps Major General (Ret.) Smedley Darlington Butler, 1935
|Company|| Avg profits|
before WW I
| Avg profits|
during WW I
|Canadian Car & Foundry||$1,335,000||$2,201,000||165%|
|American and Brit Manufacturing||$172,000||$325,000||189%|
|Republic Iron & Steel||$4,177,000||$17,548,000||420%|
|Niles Bement Pond||$656,000||$6,146,000||937%|
This table comes from a little book, War Is A Racket, written after World War I by a 3-star general retired from the Marine Corps after winning the Congressional Medal of Honor twice and spending a career strong-arming the Third World on our behalf. It is available in its entirety on-line.
While ordinary citizens were being gassed in the trenches, shot, sold Victory Bonds, and put in debt by their government, obscene profits were given to anyone fortunate enough to have gotten a buddy elected to Congress and appointed to an appropriation committee. At the same time our young men were fighting and dying in the trenches overseas, we were looted by fellow citizens.
All kinds of equipment was manufactured and sold to the military but never needed or used. We, the taxpayers, paid for nine times the number of boots actually used and the rest were sold for pennies on the dollar back to the civilian market where Army Surplus Stores sold them at a discount well past the end of World War II. We paid for buckboard wagons which were never requisitioned and never needed, thanks to some thoughtful congressman at the behest of a faithful contributor and paid for with credit. Even Victory Bonds themselves were a racket.
Of course, a lot of stuff was actually used. Generally, it was transported to a Third World venue where it was blown up or otherwise destroyed in an attempt to wrest North Africa from German control, to protect the Suez Canal for our shipping or to gain control of massive oil reserves in the Middle East, recently “liberated” from the decaying Turkish Empire; black gold replacing yellow gold as the spoils of war and the fruits of colonial aggression.
After gifting hundreds of millions of dollars to the already wealthy during World War I while the average American family sacrificed physically, emotionally and economically, Congress delayed a small $1000 stipend to each returning serviceman for many years.
World War II was essentially a redo of World War I, with many of the same areas being contested again and the endgame morphing seamlessly into the Korean Conflict and the Cold War, a fight ostensibly with two of our former superpower allies but a fight carried out entirely in the Third World while the average Third World citizen just wanted to be left alone and the average American citizen was fed inflammatory rhetoric, historical myths, boldface lies about “fighting for our freedom” and quite a few lies about our various “enemies” in the Cold War.
Again, the wealthy benefited and the average citizen sacrificed.
In the Twentieth Century, while ostensibly “fighting for democracy,” we installed kings and dictators in the Middle East, in the Philippines, in Cuba, in South and Central America, and anywhere else we thought we could get away with it. We helped England take over Palestine and use this Arab land to pay a massive war debt to Baron Rothschild, leader of the Zionist1 movement.
Much later, we expended the lives of 68,000 Americans and 3,000,000 Vietnamese as well as massive amounts of materiel to support a succession of dictators and despots in Saigon in a civil war created by NATO and its wealthy South Vietnamese allies because we were ignorant of the thousands of years Vietnam had been an independent and united country.2 Immediately after we left, Vietnam deposed Communist China’s puppet government in Cambodia and repelled China’s invasion from the north. Had our goal been to stop the spread of communism, staying out of Southeast Asia would have been far more effective.3 Our goal wasn’t the end of communism. Our goal wasn’t freedom or democracy. Our goal was twofold: to control raw materials and consumer markets in the Third World and to spread warfare, wherever and whenever possible. For the corporate arm of the NRA and the numerous other Pentagon suppliers, war is an end in itself, a source of sales and profit unrivaled in peacetime.
Wars have always been used to create nations and empires; to garner wealth and power; and later, to justify maintaining that wealth and power; to keep others distracted from the hand in their pocket.
In modern times, the people who benefit from wars have used their power and influence to keep us fearful and glassy-eyed, to wave the flag every day and tie it to our religious beliefs, and to create a semblance of threat when the real threat is the distrust, violence, and selfishness which makes us foolishly gullible; which allows others to lie to and manipulate us; and which forces others around the world to build stockpiles of weaponry and make unfavorable alliances so that they might oppose our blatant and ongoing aggression, an example being the Hanoi government which we forced into a limited alliance with the Soviet Union to protect its airspace from both Chinese and US air power.
The really sad part is that we, the average people, know the threat isn’t real. We want that “defense” plant to stay open so we can keep our current job. We are fearful of another depression where nobody had a job and the banks took over everything. We like having gasoline prices lower than the rest of the world. And, saddest of all, we like bullying other countries. It makes us feel powerful and in control, an illusion we’ve come to cherish, an illusion which brings tears to our eyes as we pledge our allegiance and call ourselves “a superpower.”
1Zionism is a racist doctrine. This is indisputable, no matter what religion supposedly supports it.
2Vietnam’s history as a nation goes back to 2879 B.C.. During this history, they were occupied by other powers but their persistent enemy has been China. Like our own country, the industrial north dominates the agricultural south.
3Jane Fonda told us this at the time, but we shunned her mercilessly until she recanted.