Friday, July 21, 2017

The Happy Curmudgeon: Dreams of Peace

Moral Good 1:21
“Happy is the man…”



Photo Credit: ©2017. Eli G. Greenbaum




















“Of all our dreams today there is none more important—or so hard to realise—than that of peace in the world. May we never lose our faith in it or our resolve to do everything that can be done to convert it one day into reality.”
Lester Bowles Pearson Acceptance Speech
Nobel Peace Prize, Oslo, Norway, December 10, 1957

“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer,
to treat everything as if it were a nail.”
Abraham Harold Maslow,
Toward a Psychology of Being (1962)


We are far away from peace today, since we read everywhere and all the time that conflict is all around us, the same conflicts for the same reasons that have started conflicts for thousands of years (i.e., land, resources, power, greed, etc.). Truth be told, politicians from the same countries have a knack for starting conflicts they cannot end, for making messes they cannot clean up. There are no stories of peace breaking out, but many of war and conflict and the threat that each pose for humanity.

We seem to be at a phase where we cannot find a way to get people together to end it; well, we are always stuck at this phase for one reason or another. So, peace cannot come until there is a serious effort to end the many conflicts around us. This will only take place when humans have exhausted their will to continue conflicts, to act violently, to feed their “impure,” albeit normal and common, impulses.

On one hand violence is abhorred; on another it is applauded. For many, “the hammer” seems the only tool to use, since everything under the sun—every human problem, every human himself—can be reduced to “a nail.” Some might call this a natural state of being, a part of practical politics. I call it madness. Most would agree if they would consider this statement, but most do not, since they are indifferent, asleep, fearful. Some, however, believe that war and violence are necessary; that the earth needs to be cleansed of all that is evil.

Religions, notably the three Abrahamic faiths, would suggest that peace is achievable by giving oneself over to the norms of the religious life, adhering and following its traditions and its restrictions. In other words, peace is found only by leading a life devoted to the religious ways first told and taught thousands of years ago by a founding religious and spiritual leader. Some, perhaps many, find comfort and truth in such teachings and attempt such a way.

Others do not, including many who have tried and left the religious way of life; and view the idea of peace as living a moral life devoted to good that is not necessarily bound up in ideas primarily found in religious teachings and instructions. It might be better and far more beneficial to read Maslow’s book, notably his astute observations on the “higher human motives.” There is also a video interview from 1968 here.

Human ideas on the place of man in the universe have evolved over the centuries and decades. One example of such changing moral views is on slavery; another is on our views on animals; while another is on extending individual freedom. All three hold views that confer humans the right to think and act independently, with dignity, but also to treat animals fairly and justly, without violence.

It is a modern idea that both humans and animals have the inalienable right to live without fear, to live without repression, to live with dignity, to live in freedom in accordance to their essential being. In many places and during many times, regimes have, as Vaclav Havel says, “reduced man to a means of production and nature to a tool of production.” That they have done and much worse; and this continues unabated today and in the foreseeable future, until we decide that we’ve had enough.

Nature will survive man’s indifference and cruelty, since it is itself indifferent and is often harsh, if not seemingly cruel and violent. Nature lacks a morality, a moral center, but despite this can offer beauty.  Americans talk about conquering nature, likely as a way to achieve order. (Canadians, on the other hand, would rather accommodate themselves to nature.) Our own human natures are another matter; the most ambitious among us have taken on the role of political leaders.

As for these modern humans who rule over us, they have often failed to see the necessity of goodness, truth and justice clothed in humility and have made legit hatred, lies and deception bound in the large cloth of expediency and personal gain. The acquisition of wealth for wealth’s sake is the clarion call today; it sounds absurd, no doubt, but such is the way it is today and for the foreseeable future. Pile it higher and higher and make a cathedral of money.

Greed in all of its forms and faces is at the center of it all; this is better left unsaid. It might make the greedy uncomfortable. After all, they are not a outwardly violent lot. Their tools are pen and paper or digital versions of it. Can one call it violence if no one is physically hurt? if no one lays hands on your person? if it only leaves permanent marks on your psyche? on your ability to work? There is that kind and there is the everyday greed called normal business practices that does lead to great loss of life.

Whom does it profit? Financially and economically, it profits many, it seems, with very little consequence (whether legal, social or moral) to their perfidious and unethical ways (“all things are lawful” when you are the ones who make the laws). After the public outrage subsides, there is often a public inquiry, a few are fined, even less are indicted and even less go to jail, but no real or significant changes are ever made. Things return to “normal.”

A good part of normal in the world of economic transactions is to follow the Objectivist principles of Ayn Rand (a proponent of laissez faire capitalism, or pure capitalism, and an opponent of altruism), and apply these to business, at least superficially. Never really a good idea, since there is much more to business than reason, including human relations, which often defy cold, calculating reason. Yet, this fact alone is sufficient to make her the hero of extreme libertarians, who view reason and self-interest as solely sufficient to conduct their lives.

But the majority of humanity is pro-social and wants to be helpful and get along; altruism is not only normal, it is normative. That some don’t view the world and human relations in this way is not only exceptional, it is an exception to the way that most people view the world, an exception to most people's ideals. The sad fact is that the opposite appears true today; that one must think only of one’s self and no one else.

When this seems the norm, which it is in many cases, you have unthinking, thoughtless man “scratching and fighting” his way to the top of the pyramid, which is what it takes to be at the top of a system built solely for financial gain. Such a model is unsustainable, yet it continues along the same fault lines of human greed and human self-interest (without any enlightenment to moderate it). Most, however, will fail in their climb to the top, despite putting in great and many years of effort, but some will no doubt “succeed.”

It’s truly nasty brutish stuff. I hardly think that it’s worth the effort, even in my younger years it was a turnoff. I found it far better to work on other things that can elevate or at least better the human condition. An example is becoming a self-actualized individual, which is a lifetime devotion, a way of thinking and of being.

This used to be religion’s calling and strength, its universal appeal, while also providing both answers and comfort to all of humanity. Yet, how can it be so when religion gets into bed with politics, despite dire prophetic warnings of long ago of what would occur in such a relationship. And politics with big business. “What a tangled web we weave…;” religion has not only welcomed big business, it itself has become big business, thus making a mockery of all that it ought to be. The rich are admired much more than the poor, no matter their personal ethics or morality.

Is it any wonder that the union of religion and politics can provide no real answers for any of the problems it has created, even if such were their chief desire, which today seems more doubtful than ever. The “business as usual” approach offers little consolation. I guess that it is never too late to return to what it should be saying and doing, but this will take great effort in apprehending and understanding, with the risk of offending the rich and powerful. Toward this effort. I recommend an excellent opinion piece, by Prof. George Yancy, in The New York Times entitled “Is Your God Dead;” June 19, 2017.

As much as this is important, there are deeper concerns that need airing; it is about another side of Christianity, notably as practiced in America, one that does not speak about peace and love. It is true that in a large and established religion like Christianity, one can find many sets of beliefs; one that I find particularly problematic is Armageddon, a violent showdown, in Israel, to end the world, which takes literally the prophetic passages in the New Testament’s book of Revelation and the Old Testament’s books of Daniel and Ezekiel. Such a worldview informs the everyday thinking of many Christians (notably dispensationalists, a group who make up about one-third of America’s 40–50 million evangelical Christians) in so many ways—this is hardly a recipe to end conflict and bring peace to the world.

But it might explain America’s preoccupation with Israel (e.g., Christian Zionism), and how it views its relationship, one that is based in the end on a final battle of good versus evil—one in which one-third of the earth is destroyed and two-thirds of Israel. It is important to say that there is no mention of America in the Bible, since America did not exist and was not known to exist when the Bible was written and codified. Yet, Americans view their nation (as well as Russia) playing a prominent role in what is referred to as “end times prophecy.” This might explain, on some level, why the U.S. (and perhaps also Russia) cannot acknowledge the need to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

In such a way of thinking, part of God’s plan to redeem mankind is to destroy a large part of it and rebuild a new kind of people, one that would be more obedient and faithful. After all of the death and destruction, there would be a thousand-year messianic reign of peace; the third temple will be rebuilt and animal sacrifices will begin again for reasons that are not entirely clear. There are many problems with such a scenario, not least of which is “the need” for billions of people to die, including children and babies—all necessary to satisfy and placate a vengeful and angry God. Is there no other way?

This sounds as it were right out out of the annals of modern sci-fi, part of what is called dystopian fiction, but it is in the Bible, a story that is thousands of years old. After all, what such describes is a nuclear holocaust of unprecedented proportions. There is nothing good about it. The future will show that holding on to nuclear weapons is the wrong decision, the wrong choice. If the fear of annihilation doesn’t work to convince world leaders, what will? The world is in a very nervous state, full of anxiety. Some would say despair, given the direction that we are going.

Here’s a thought. It is time for nations like Canada, which has no nuclear weapons, to take a greater leadership role in world affairs, taking to heart the words of Lester B. Pearson almost 60 years ago. This is the model that the world can now apply. It is about dreams of peace. I know that it is an impossible dream, but it is a dream about a future the now does not exist or seem possible. But it might, if only …

*********************
Lester B. Pearson was prime minister of Canada between 1963 and 1968. He was a member of the Liberal Party.

Abraham H. Maslow was an American psychologist, best known for his hierarchy of needs, which culminates in an individual who has reached self-actualization. 

—Perry J. Greenbaum, July 21, 2017

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