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Dark times and the allure of evil solutions

http://exm.nr/NyCcj4 by Choctaw Doc

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Many Voices, One Song

At the heart of each of us are 3 primal drives that give rise to and inform most, if not all of the human behavior (Individually and collectively).  Click here to read http://14ushop.com/wizard/3PrimalDrivesEssay.html. In science and many other fields, reductionism of this sort helps us see what is fundamental to many aspects of reality. However, while “unified field theories” in physics, psychology, or what-have-you make explicable what was previously inexplicable, unveiling a beauty and simplicity beneath the surface that is awe-inspiring and even fruitful at many levels, it isn’t always possible to take mechanism (however meaningful or purposeful) and forge tools or methods from it that advance human culture. We can take physical elements and build skyscrapers on the one hand, and thermonuclear bombs on the other. And with words we can fashion social orders that champion freedom, fairness and tolerance on the one hand, “empire and death camps on the other, “and many permutations in between.

However, knowing the underlying or fundamental mechanisms or laws from which our world proceeds can favorably influence the social, political and economic tapestry we weave.  Consider the 3 primal drives: All of us want to acquire certain basic things crucial to survival (and more), preserve what we manage to gather about us, and perpetuate it so as to benefit our progeny and the community that nurtures and protects them. We can do this using rational and moral means so that fairness and mutual benefit are emphasized, or we can opt for something else entirely. 

However, they all deal with meeting or satisfying some aspect of the human condition, and this most often through the allocation and judicious use of material and/or human resources.

In a way, all these various local entities and networks of entities (state, national or transnational) are functional algorithms of a sort– means of solving problems and/or meeting needs and/or helping folks cope — through semi-invariant procedures.  Some merely point the way to viable solutions and are thus more heuristic in nature.  And some combine elements of both (Known as a “heuristic algorithm” or of being “algorithmic” in scientific parlance).

 A church, synagogue or mosque that provides money or food to the disadvantaged often adds a needed “human touch” missing from government offices.

 Somehow we hope that between local efforts and national ones, the resultant symphony will be a harmonious and beautiful.

Of course, in order to create a wondrous symphonic work, the members of the orchestra (people and the society they comprise) must agree on how the orchestra will be run, how the music will be written and revised, and who will set the pace for the ensemble (The orchestra leader).   In the United States, we advocate specific mechanisms for both preserving individually, maximizing creative freedom, and yet steering the whole towards a harmonious work as opposed to a raucous “noise fest”.  The American way, as it were, is built on democratic principles and capitalism. The Japanese way, on the other hand, embraces democracy and capitalism, but has a strong element of conformity to what “the group” (society) deems in the best interests of all.  Many countries in the EU favor a social democracy approach that offers varying degrees of “cradle to grave” care for its citizenry. Singapore is authoritarian in orientation.  Iran embraces an Islamic theocracy.  Cuba has a dictator. 

The American system appears poised to fulfill Karl Marx’s prediction that capitalism corrupts, implodes, and then collapses (This is not to argue that necessarily offered a better set of devices for meeting a peoples needs and potentialities. But his extrapolations – his predictions – do seem uncannily accurate).

The Japanese democratic experiment, on the other hand, has managed to create and sustain a middle class that encompasses 95% of her people, made comprehensive national health care available to most, and has forged a social order that has one of the lowest crime rates in the industrialized world.  There are signs that these devices are beginning to falter, but even so the Japanese willingness to adapt to contingency coupled with the group-driven ethic of their hardworking people may patch up and keep the Japanese sociopolitical engine running far into the future.

Most of us belong to a local band (Think back to the symphony analogy)  – a small collective or branch of a larger one whose devices we utilize or become a part of in order to achieve certain ends (Material and otherwise).  So long as these bands do not inflict harm or violate the laws the citizenry has agree to live by, such devices thrive and fulfill the purposes ordained by their constituency (They are “moral”).   Up to and including providing meaning in life or facilitating finding such meaning. They may be playing different tunes, yes, but as they compete in the “marketplace of ideas” most wisely choose not to play a tune that attracts rather than offends those outside the band (If not for the sake of tolerance, then to keep from scaring off prospective converts or members).

 The question arises, could all the bands (peoples) of the world tool together a musical piece that would be played by all – without sacrificing or compromising their individual, favored anthems and tunes?  Can the world community achieve a utopian harmony and maintain it?

 I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing

During 1971 Coca Cola launched a commercial that featured a musical group called “The New Seekers” singing a cheery, upbeat tune titled “I’d Like To Teach the World To Sing (In Perfect Harmony).”  The lyrics include ones that beautifully capture the appeal of a utopian kind of harmony: 

I’d like to teach the world to sing
In perfect harmony
I’d like to hold it in my arms and keep it company
I’d like to see the world for once
All standing hand in hand
And hear them echo through the hills “Ah, peace throughout the land”

Exactly what is involved in collectively writing (as it were) a global song of harmony?  Which is to say, transcending the many differences, xenophobic and ethnocentric tendencies, religious quarrels, and such within and between nations and groups, in order to achieve a peaceful, peace-loving and peace-preserving global community?

 Too,well,utopian?!   I’m sure the creation of an enduring democracy in a land of people boasting a multitude of languages, cultural traditions, and religions must have seemed just as unlikely back in the 18th century.   But the American experiment took root and flourished.   How did a nation of diverse nations succeed in forging a viable social and political order that basically (though gradually and haltingly) subsumed and bound together all its constituents, worked to transcend differences (though not without great pain), and maintain a species of harmony that (though often frayed) has yet to come unraveled?

Is the American system the end result of good geography, good ideas and good luck (As in seizing opportunities)?   In part, yes.   But from its birth there was laid a foundation without which the many strands would have been unlikely to be wound together to form the one strong rope it has become:  An express vision or template that all who call themselves Americans would embrace and defend. This vision or template included many elements such as the preeminence of basic articulated freedoms and rights for all; the rule of law; a democratically elected, representative government with constraints on the power exercised by its main branches; and so forth.

Now this is not to say that the success of the “American way” is a mandate for it to become the “Global Way”.   But there are principles and ideas that can be extracted from the American experience, as well as that of other successful nations and collectives, which could form the core of a global vision or template.

 If it is not a universal symphony,  “..it may well be a funeral dirge.

Submitted for your consideration on Memorial Day (USA) – a day for reflection and moving forward – by Dr. Anthony G. Payne  

Original copyright 2004 by Dr. Anthony G. Payne – All rights reserved.. This version copyright 2009 by Dr. Anthony G. Payne. All rights reserved.

Frankl & Custer: We are all headed to the Little Big Horn

MONTANA VALLEY TOO - Free MorguefileOne of the most beloved verses in the Hebrew Scriptures comes from the 23rd Psalms:

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: For you are with me”

In Japan, where I lived and taught for many years, a general sense of “gloom & doom” pessimism pervaded the lives of many folks. This was especially evident among my university students. Japan’s protracted economic woes had apparently sapped the vision and vitality out of many of these otherwise industrious, tenacious souls. A great many kids spoke of there being “no real future” for them. Needless to say, depression and despair reared its ugly head fairly often. 

Now reactive depression is a wholly expected and understandable response to intractable adversity or woe. We all have a tendency to get sorely vexed when our lives are turned upside down and held there by trials and tribulations. In such a situation, one tries to console and counsel the suffering as best one can. (A touch of satire and self-deprecating humor sometimes doesn’t hurt either). And this I ably extended to my angst-ridden student charges with varying degrees of success. But more was needed.

The “more”, I reasoned, had to lie in something that would get these kids to change their outlook or perspective on certain aspects of life. To do this I looked to a tried-and-true source for generating insight and encouraging change: history. Specifically, I had my students tackle and examine two notable chapters: Famed psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s account of his years of struggle in various Nazi concentration camps (as recounted in his timeless classic, “Man’s Search For Meaning”), and the saga of Gen. George Armstrong Custer.

Dr. Frankl and his imprisoned compatriots suffered cruelly at the hands of sadistic SS guards, all the while struggling with scarcity and living conditions so calculatingly appalling as to beggar the imagination. Mindful that he could not change his circumstances and that his Nazi tormenters could snuff out his life at any minute, Frankl nonetheless felt empowered by a single fact: They could take everything from him but his power to choose how he would react to their brutal actions! And it was this realization that essentially helped buoy up Dr. Frankl during his agonizing walk through the “valley of the shadow of death”!

Frankl emerged from Hitler’s reign of terror intact and went on to establish an influential school of psychotherapy called logotherapy (http://logotherapy.univie.ac.at/). He died in 1997 at the ripe old age of 92, having survived the Third Reich by 52 years.

While Dr. Viktor Frankl was the victim of totalitarian oppression and a state-sanctioned policy of malignant racism and genocide, Brevet Major Gen. George Armstrong Custer stood on the other side of the divide, so to speak. Custer played a somewhat pivotal role in the United State’s 19th century pursuit of lebensraum (“living space”) and its calculated program of conquering and containing indigenous peoples (American Indians). It was not Custer’s successes in the so-called Indian War that helped advance the narrow social and political agenda of his time, but rather his death along with that of over 200 of his soldiers at the Little Big Horn (June 26, 1876). The “massacre” of then Lt. Col. Custer and his troops elicited a massive military response that ultimately led to the total subjugation of American Indians during the early years of the 20th century.   

After my students had fully acquainted themselves with the lives and feats of Dr. Frankl and Lt. Col. Custer, I had them conduct an open comparative analysis of the two (men) for the purpose of extracting principles they felt to be especially insightful and personally meaningful.

Of course, these bright, eager young people came up with an illustrious roster of “goodies”. Among them: The power of choice; how evil seduces people by playing up to their basic desires and egos; the futility of life spent focused on narrow, self-serving and self-aggrandizing goals; the nobility of service to others informed by prior suffering; etc.

After we had reviewed their litany of ideas and comments, I asked them to sum up what we had learned from the lives of Frankl and Custer. The general consensus was that we must all have the power to make choices that will steer us through life; choices that may decide whether we end our days with a tally sheet that favors having achieved something worthwhile,…..or its opposite.

I had only one thing to add to what their conclusion, which was this:

“Each of us is headed into the valley…to our own “last stand”. Whether you get there as a young person or during middle-age or as a very old man or woman,….we all have to the enter the valley and depart this world. No one escapes this fate. But as you correctly surmised, it isn’t that final battle alone that determines the meaning and value of the life you have lived, but what you do in the days, weeks, and years leading up to it. And yes, the impact of your life and the ripples it sets in motion are determined by the choices and subsequent actions you take while en route to the valley.

“Now I have but one final point to make – an admonition, really – which is this:

“If Dr. Frankl could exercise choice in his dire circumstances and by so doing not only survive the fiendish horror that was Nazi Germany, but set in motion ideas that have transformed countless lives ever since,….then certainly you can lay hold of the promise that lies in the abundant choices and options you have in life.”

Of those students who have stayed in contact with me in the intervening years, most appear to have made prudent choices that have helped them forge personally meaningful, productive and fulfilling lives. 

How goes your journey to the valley? 

 http://www.examiner.com/article/frankl-custer

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