Mandela and a need for greatness

Mandela gazing through bars at former prisonThere is no need to add to the chorus of praise for Nelson Mandela. He deserves it all. I wonder, though, if some of the fervent singing is due not to who Mandela was, but to a sudden fear that the breed of politicians who rise to the rank of great statesmen has passed with him.

Mandela by his own insistence was not a saint. None of us are, of course, but his acknowledgment seemed a deliberate attempt to discourage a personality cult. While that puts him all the closer to sainthood, I’ll honor his self-assessment and merely accuse him of humility and wisdom.

Sadly, however, he undermined his claimed unsaintliness by refusing to serve more than one term as president. Perhaps he was just old enough to know better at that point, but even that would amount to uncommon wisdom. Not uncommon for an average person, but tragically uncommon for a politician.

It is that distinction, between common people and politicians, that grabs hold of me when I think of Mandela and his legacy. Without in any way detracting from his achievements, it is worth reflecting on the fact that Mandela knew firsthand what he was fighting for. Naturally he knew the oppression that black South Africans faced, and his 27 years as a political prisoner gave him intimate knowledge of the demoralizing reality of incarceration. But he also knew poverty, and life far from the conveniences of the comfortable, the life of most of his fellow South Africans.

I don’t think any US presidents or senators of the last few decades grew up poor and oppressed. Maybe I’m wrong. And I don’t think many Supreme Court justices or, for that matter, congressional representatives (statistically speaking) fall into that category either. I think the United States is being and has long been run by fairly well-off people.

It is easy enough to make the case that democracy in this country is dysfunctional at best, having been replaced by an oligarchy with the means and resources to manipulate public opinion almost at will. But I don’t think we need to debate that, because a more basic dysfunction is at work. Continue reading

Fracking protest focuses on Earth, life

MiKmaqStopSignThe opposition of native Mi’kmaq people to fracking exploration in New Brunswick puts a sharp focus on the bond that links us to the Earth. Their shameful treatment at the hands of Canadian authorities puts an equally sharp focus on the need to stop rushing to exploit our world, sacrificing our humanity in the process.

The basic story has received little mainstream coverage, so I’ll summarize it before looking at the bigger clash of world views. SWN Resources Canada, part of Houston-based Southwestern Energy (SWN), has been conducting exploratory operations in New Brunswick since 2010 aimed at extracting shale gas through fracking, or hydraulic fracturing. Mi’kmaq people in the area claim stewardship over the land and reject the project. Their blockade of an SWN camp led to a violent confrontation on Oct. 17 when heavily armed Royal Canadian Mounted Police moved in to enforce an injunction against the until-then peaceful protest. Police arrested 40 protesters, all of whom were released except for six members of the Mi’Kmaq Warrior Society.

APTN, the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, presented the police explanation for the action without any prejudicial comment in a commendable act of journalistic integrity: Death threats, brandished weapons, forcible confinement triggered raid: RCMP. Following the release on bail of two Warrior Society members, two weeks after the raid, the network also published their account of abuse in detention, abuse they said was continuing against the four members who were still in jail: Mi’kmaq Warrior Society members say they were beaten, roughed-up after arrests – APTN National News.

One of the two who were released was subsequently interviewed and said, among other things, that they were kept in solitary confinement 24/7 except for court appearances.

I cannot say what did or didn’t happen concerning the events reported, and some protesters seemingly resorted to violence on the day of the crackdown, but I do know who I think was threatened with harm and, in fact, harmed. Perhaps truth and justice will out before too much time passes, but something deeper is showing through here. Continue reading

Dialogue: more than just listening

blue-redThe government shutdown, which had most people wondering what has happened to American politics, has spurred laments over the lost art of dialogue. How have we reached the point that the people elected to govern the country cannot sit down and talk to each other?

In many ways, this situation reflects the wider situation in the country, where name-calling and self-righteous posturing have replaced debate. Many people are talking, and all too often parroting the same words that their comrades are copying and pasting all over cyberspace, but who is listening?

Sadly, however, the problem goes even deeper. More than just listening, people can dialogue only if they are open to being changed by what other participants say. Continue reading

Memorial Day: In memory; In hope?

USMC-10856It’s Memorial Day again, and as good a time as any to reflect on the lives of so many people who died or were seriously disabled, mentally and physically, trying to make the world a better place. And each has my great respect and thanks for acting so selflessly.

At the same time, I’d like to tell anyone ready to follow in those footsteps: Please, don’t do it. At least not unless you are personally sure that it is absolutely necessary: that it will indeed make the world a better place and there is no other way. Otherwise, I, for one, would rather have you with us, working to make the world a better place in so many smaller but perhaps more effective ways, day by day by day.

A friend recently wrote a moving post after the dedication of a memorial to local residents killed in service. Continue reading

A new start

All of The Logic of Compassion is available to read online. For now I will keep earlier posts tagged “Core” only because of some insightful comments. But as soon as I figure out how to migrate the comments to the appropriate chapters, I will delete those posts, since they just recycle material better read as part of a whole. So as of May 2013, posts will take the material in the main menu link “The Logic” as a starting point and roam over a wider range of connections. I look forward to hearing from you!

The primacy of love, and the benefit of the doubt too

The key to answering the nagging question of utilitarianism – to the extent that it can be answered – lies in the primacy of love. As outlined in the last post, love is the momentum of unity. It is not chosen or willed. The experiential encounter of life with other instances of life can bring it to the fore if it has been hidden beneath layers of self, but it is always present even if not known or recognized. Justice, on the other hand, is a reflection on unity. Experience comes before reflection, and hence love before justice, even the expanded sense of justice we developed.

The concrete question we were struggling with at the end of that development was whether it would not be in the interest of life as a whole to remove “flawed” instances of consciousness – people who for one reason or another can’t or won’t cooperate, who insist on harming others or place great burdens on available resources. Let’s begin by asking another question: acting out of love, can we destroy life? Continue reading

No choice but to love

There is much more to discuss about the self, but we left something hanging at the end of the second Justice post – whether or not the concept of justice as outlined tended toward a utilitarian justification of anything “for the common good,” or the perceived advantage of the many. I said then that we first had to look into what love means, and I think it is better to do this sooner rather than later. Continue reading

No justice for Trayvon or anyone else

The concept of justice outlined in the last two posts grew out of the preceding discussion on the self.  It deals with life as a whole, but does it apply on the scale of life as we live it day-to-day? Does it have anything to say, for instance, about the Trayvon Martin case, which is attracting so much attention?

I say “case” in particular, because whatever it is all about, it is not about justice for Trayvon. It is sadly too late for that, as it was all along. Continue reading

Justice (part 2): Beyond the Golden Rule

So where is justice when people “get away” with crimes, or when one community profits at the expense of another? Obviously there is none from the individual point of view: some individuals and communities/tribes/countries win, and some lose. As a whole, however, we lose. How? Because neither the winners nor the losers are well placed to carry the grand experiment of life forward. Continue reading

Justice (part 1): A simpler Golden Rule

Picking up the thread from We, myself and I, we are exploring an alternative understanding of who we are. We (I’d vote to include any life form capable of self-consciousness, but I’ll leave that for another time) are life becoming aware of itself. This happens through individual life forms, which exist for relatively short periods of time. But a conscious mind trying to make sense of the world while learning to function through a particular body and brain could easily confuse this individualized manifestation of life with individual existence. Continue reading