Welcome to the February 28, 2016 edition of the UWAA Peace/Justice action email!
While this newsletter contains some typical actions, a primary concern this time has been a pervasive sense of fear (and despair) encountered these past many months. Previously mentioned, fear is a primal emotion and is why we survived as a species - we learned to fear truly fearful situations. But these disturbing trends need to be raised: (a) Acting directly on the basis of fear (even when genuine) generally makes the whole dynamic worse; and (b) Fear is clearly being manipulated and that always diminishes the possibility for sane choices and outcomes.
If you do not have time for the reflection be sure to consider the action section, focused on preventive genocide support, and on revising the terribly flawed Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.
ANCHORING 2016: FEAR MUST NOT RULE (Instead, A Well-Anchored Vision)
[Editor: Most of this was written at the beginning of 2016. I could not get a full newsletter out, but I wanted this published as an opening concern for the year. To be clear while Part I deals with U.S. politics (though "fear and despair" have global concerns, and Part II will look more at one global topic), it is not written to endorse any party or candidate. Apart from not knowing positions well enough since I am not American, its value is simply meant as a piece for reflection for whatever value it brings, and regardless of perspective].
Fear and despair have stalked the land (fortunately so have courage, hope and tenacity; a separate topic). While I could list the simmering conflicts around the world, this section will focus on the dynamics affecting most of this readership (Western world and primarily the U.S., given the global reverberations such responses would have). [Addendum: Human Rights Watch just produced its annual report, entitled, "Politics of Fear", reporting on 90 countries].
PART I: The Ominous Symptom of "The Strong Man"
The first fear dynamic surrounds Donald Trump. The focus is not Trump himself - commentaries abound - but the glimmer of insight arising from Trump's supporters. The caricature by some is that Trump's followers are crazy. I disagree. These people are responding quite normally within the framework of how they view the world. People would not respond that way in such numbers for so long unless it really was grounded in something deeply distressing.
In that context I feel I am witnessing an extremely disturbing phenomenon with the following broad contours:
There exists a substantial seam of society whose sense of marginalization / disenfranchisement is so deeply felt that the normal recourse is considered futile. Thus the only viable option they see is the archetypical "strong man" who will make things right.
While this sense can have layers and many factors and even be illusory, in this case its primary source is a disconnect from the American dream (defined as the opportunity for meaningful work which results in societal progress and standing). Part of it is the debilitating widening income gap. Part of it is an "elite Washington" - either political party - disconnected from normal people's reality. Part of it is fueled and even manufactured by hidden money (see 3-i below). Part of it is the continued globalizing trends (oversea jobs, reduced sovereignty; see TPP). In such dynamics there is a sense of loss of control and thus easily a diminishment of one's sense of worth.
Futile normal recourses: (i) Government is part of the elite and is lobbied and shaped by the elite - corporations, etc. (for example, Koch Brothers' "Dark Money" [CBC], and the resulting right shift that disgusts traditional conservatives [Patheos]); (ii) In a reverse "Occupy Wall Street" sense (where OWS was a great groundswell which arose from the 2008 economic collapse, yet accomplished nothing, zero), the rage against the machine is seen as futile. Thus the only recourse is the "strong man."
A side-effect is that the thin veneer of civilization erodes , and thus racism and xenophobia increase. It also seems to bring a diminished desire for dialogue, engagement with the other and empathy.
In smaller degrees the above dynamics have played out over the years. But this time the dynamics are potentially seismic in nature. Three points:
For the first time in my life I feel I am witnessing parallels in North America to what gave rise to the "strong men" of the past like Hitler and Mussolini. To be clear my entire focus in not on the strong men nor suggesting similarities (I find those claims quite wanting; although I find Trump's statements often reckless and inflammatory), but rather entirely focused on the ferment beneath;
While I do not think this will be a tipping point, the fermentation will continue until the underlying issues are addressed, specifically until those areas of well-being that have withered, are restored;
For all the wonderful people who are attempting to tilt dynamics in sound directions, or who still uphold the core value of dialogue, listening and empathy, may you remain steadfast. This will lessen any pendulum swing and will reinforce or more quickly re-anchor solid societal grounding.
For anyone wanting an introduction to the notion of the hidden layers of power and what some consider the gutted notion of democracy in America, Sheldon Wolin's (Princeton prof., died 2015) Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism work is briefly explored in Inverted Totalitarianism [TruthDig]
While many people warn of the demise of any form of substantive democracy, others point to some aspects that can start to strengthen democratic tendencies. The hope here is that this is not a cache-22 limit on human aspirations - this list does deal with the rather intractable need to devolve power - but rather will be seen a century from now simply as a particularly thorny epoch. A brief list includes:
In the end, the high drama may fizzle, normal political discourse may return for the time being. But without change to the disturbing undercurrents, the "strong man" catastrophe will remain waiting for the next person able to capitalize in a twisted fashion to the genuinely disturbing undercurrents.
[To comment on this section, please use the original blog].
PART II: Fear and ISIS
An essay on the overall topic of ISIS (or sometimes preferably called Daesh) will be posted in the near future. This section will provide a brief summary, related to fear.
A. Overall Anchoring Strategy :
As noted a year ago in the newsletter, bombs and bullets (and intelligence gathering and other tactics) may reduce some immediate threat, but they cannot dispel an idea that has gained such deadly traction. For that one needs the long-term classic nonviolent strategy of strengthening the reasonable voices on all sides (practically it also means such things as cutting the source of their funding, etc.).
In fact in the upcoming longer article, I make the claim we are dealing with the most potent type of idea - vision. Further, until one can see the appeal and moral nature (albeit in 7th century terms) of the vision that underlies ISIS, one's effectiveness will be lessened. Of course, that underlying vision has been contorted and grotesquely compromised by ISIS, and that is what we see in the media. So many differing dynamics - the better our understanding, the better the outcome. Stay tuned.
B. Legitimate Fears Versus Distorted and Manipulated Fear
The goal of Daesh is to establish and maintain a caliphate. People living in any land directly targeted by Daesh (Syria and Iraq; plus initiatives in Libya, etc.) have justified fear several orders of magnitude greater than any other.
In sum, most of what remains are at best slivers of legitimate concern which then become magnified via unintentional distortion or sheer manipulation. What most often happens is that either the slivers are completely dismissed or the resulting ballooned concerns are taken as reality. The latter resulted in almost 50% of Americans in 2015 feeling at least somewhat worried that someone in their family would be a victim of terrorism [ Gallup]. The Washington Post indicates that one is more likely to be killed by falling furniture, thus over-worrying by over one million-fold. Part of the astounding disconnect is psychological - 'worry' is linked to 'control'. Someone driving a car is in control and thus feels unlikely to be killed, even though 32,000 Americans were killed last year in car accidents. The concern here is that such hyper-worry percolates to the political level and can result in terrible strategies and decisions.
The alternative is to sift through all aspects to find the best anchoring. An example of what to expect in the upcoming article is found in Correcting Distortions Toward Muslims, written in 2014 and focused solely on Western attitudes towards Muslims and a few of the disconnects.
SUPPORT PREVENTIVE MEASURES AGAINST GENOCIDE
Preventive actions are essential to lessen the morass and horrors that occurs when tensions turn to conflicts and end up caught in multiple layers of self-interest and geopolitical implications. At its worst it can result in the form of paralysis that allows the genocidal dynamics that we witnessed in Darfur and yet can still not resolve.
As previously mentioned in this newsletter, there has been some elementary work done on preventive measures. But such work will always crawl along until as a society we back these early stages with substantial support. The following U.S. bipartisan bill is encouraging movement in that direction.
Take Action (US Citizens only):
Support the Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act
SAY NO TO THE TRANS PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP (TPP)
The TPP is a continuation of a type of international trade agreement that can sound good on the surface ("Who can be against increasing our country's trade?") but also can feed into the unease mentioned above in Part I.
The most disturbing aspects are:
Its secretive negotiations among select corporate elites allowed 600 lobbyists to see or draft the text while both US Congress and Canadian
governments were kept in the dark. It also completely lacked the robust set of participants that make for sound agreements.
The dispute mechanism can override national sovereignty. I have worked for years in business. The assumption was always that business assumes the
risk, otherwise don't go into business. Yet the TPP transfers much of the risk onto governments. Once a deal is signed then if something comes up -
water levels drop or you want to raise the minimum wage - if it affects the company's profit, they can sue for compensation.
Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz and others feel these agreements are part of what is leading to the hollowing out of the middle class, again feeding the discontent of Part I.
The alternative is not protectionism but simply a deal that is not so skewed to the large corporations and the economic elites.
While the countries have voted for the TTP, nothing happens until it is ratified by enough countries. Therefore please consider taking action.
Canada: Tell the government what you think
Tech Companies Failing Child Labour
This newsletter has followed "conflict minerals" such as coltan, but cobalt was never on the list. It has now been identified as a severe child
labour issue by Amnesty International & Afrewatch:
Cobalt Mines for Tech Companies Using Child Labour
The Top 10 Insights from the "Science of a Meaningful Life" in 2015
I have followed the work of the Greater Good (U. Berkeley) for ten years when they first started reporting on the science of compassion, generosity, happiness-what they call "the science of a meaningful life". While intrigued I found the work not mature enough. But ten years later their research is acquiring ever more nuance and sophistication. Thus I feel comfortable introducing the work that is being done in these fields.
These nuances are clearly reflected in this year's list of the "Top 10 Insights from the Science of a Meaningful Life" - the fourth such list. Indeed, many of this year's entries could be described as "Yes, but" insights: Yes, as prior findings suggest, being wealthy seems to make people less generous, but only when they reside in places with high inequality. Yes, pursuing happiness makes you unhappy, but only if you live in an individualistic culture. And so on. The caveats and qualifications abound.
In addition they speak of the effects of concepts such as awe, gratitude, and how to make inroads on seemingly unbridgeable divides, etc.
Top 10 Insights from the "Science of a Meaningful Life"
Fourteen companies rated according to child and other labour standards plus whether organic and also GMO status.
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