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While We Still Have Time

In spite of the grimness of the times in which we live, there is still hope. If you feel, like I do, that the usual discourse about matters of critical concern tends to be superficial, misguided, and false, then you might find some solace and inspiration here. I will try to offer insight and a holistic perspective on events and issues, and hopefully serve as a catalyst for raising the level of dialogue on this planet.

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Location: Madison, Wisconsin, United States

I was born in 1945, shortly before atom bombs were dropped on Japan. I served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1971. I earned master's degrees in Economics and Educational Psychology, and certificates in Web Page Design and as a Teacher of English as a Second Language. I followed an Indian guru for eight years, which immersed me in meditative practices and an attitude of reaching a higher level of being. A blog post listing the meditative practices I have pursued can be seen here.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Holographic juxtapositions

Torture is its own rewardIt's juxtaposition time again, and today's news provided an abundance. I narrowed it down to two items, holographic in nature - the parts revealing the whole. The first is about the desire, nay, zeal, of some politicians for reviving the death penalty in Wisconsin. The other is a report that people around the world don't like Americans so much anymore.

Neither of these stories should come as much of a surprise. There is great zeal in the United States of America for killing people. The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were met with rousing enthusiasm. And, self-delusions and self-congratulations aside, Americans aren't particularly likeable people. Aggression and violence are highly valued here, manifest mostly in our entertainment media, video games, spectator sports like football, hockey, boxing, wrestling, and car racing. Our roadways are studies in aggressive behavior. I find it difficult to even converse with people, because there's nearly always something else going on. After a very few sentences I find I'm having to deal with people's angular needs, and even simple exhanges of information are clouded by agendas, typically involving dominance-submission gambits. I have a friend who is a member of a plains tribe, and he and his family's exceptions to this rule serve to prove it.

The horrors and excesses of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, the murderous invasion of Iraq, extraordinary rendition, the illegal government spying on American citizens, and the proliferation of hate media have not exactly caused massive outrage or demands for impeachment. Even revelations about the planned bombing of Iran haven't aroused much outrage or interest.

In studying the zeal for the death penalty, the entire pathology of American character can be understood. Capital punishment in ancient times was consistent with the general level of civilization, and for practical as well as philosophical reasons was the norm. Nowadays it is seen as neither a deterrent nor as a useful punishment. It is a form of revenge.

There are two reasons a politician might advocate for capital punishment: demagoguery and a genuine desire to kill people. A lower-level being who attains political office will tend to be stuck in the lower levels of needs fulfillment: sex, power, and money. By inciting people with revenge/blood lust fantasies, he (typically) can get a double rush: power feedback from the mob and the self-rewarding delusion of moral superiority.

When the campaign is successful, the supporting politicians get a third rush: killing people. The essence of capital punishment is killing people, and that is the fundamental motivation behind its promotion. Advocates of the death "penalty" want to kill people.

Just the use of the term "death penalty" should give us some pause. Everyone dies. So if there is a death "penalty," then it is something we all eventually suffer. An inevitable and integral part of life is considered a "penalty." Since it is no longer done by use of the gallows, firing squad, or electric chair, the "penalty" is not so shameful, painful, and horrendous. It's clinical, with all the skill and efficiency of a medical procedure.

For one reason alone, I can demonstrate the wrongness of capital punishment. Someone has to be hired to commit premeditated murder. In the era of George W. Bush that may not seem so unusual, but when a nation approves of such a practice it is already warmed up for more killing.

From zeal for the death penalty, it is not hard to see that Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo aren't much of a step into the deep. All credible research on torture indicates that it is ineffective in eliciting valuable information. So why is it done? For the pure pleasure of torture itself. To have power over other people. To inflict terrible pain and suffering on them. To scare them out of their wits, to terrorize them. Those who terrorize other people are terrorists by definition.

Another purpose served by torture for the Bush crime family is that it "proves" to the folks back home that the BCF is serious about the "War on terror." Terrorizing people around the world is our main weapon in the "War on terror." If that's the case, then we are at war with ourselves. It's like a dog chasing its own tail. Except the dog isn't hurting anyone, and is just being a dog, having fun. Using terrorism as a weapon against terrorism may be fun for the sociopath, but it is far from innocent fun.

So the old line about people in other countries loving the American people, but hating our government has outlived its usefulness. They know us all-too-well. When I was in the Army in Germany it was funny to watch the American tourists hit the town. The men (at least the middle-aged, moneyed ones) tended to walk around like they owned the place, chest out, stomach too, arrogant, rude. We always had fun with them because they were so dumb they couldn't tell we weren't Germans, even when we spoke English, which was all we spoke. We were the only people around with short haircuts, but they still couldn't tell. We wore civilian clothes whenever we were off-duty, but the local people knew immediately who we were.

Americans also walk differently, and even though the people I ran with weren't your typical Americans, there still is a Yankee body-English that foreigners can spot a veritable mile away.

Our cowboy-who-is-afraid-of-horses president is planning to bomb another country, as likely as not with nuclear weapons. This will make people around the world hate us even more. This does not bode well. No man is an island, and no nation can live in isolation. We are on the verge of economic collapse, and we are going to sorely need the cooperation of the rest of the planet.

Which brings up another item in today's news. The stock market is finally starting its slide downward. Who knows if it will rebound, but it will fall again. As economists are wont to say, the "secular trend" will be downward. The reason for the long-term downward slide is that we have an unsustainable economic system. The collapse has only been hastened by the irresponsibility and lawlessness of the Bush crime family, but it is inevitable that that the collapse would come at some point. Bush merely accelerated the process.

We have an infinite growth, nature destroying, greed-based, rapacious, pathological way of providing goods and services, on a finite planet. It is fueled by non-renewable carbon-based minerals extracted from beneath the surface of the Earth. It is inevitable that we finally have to face these facts and deal with them intelligently. That day is fast approaching.

And the rest of the world doesn't like us anymore.

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