Monday, September 5, 2011

endless war, reliable peace

After China reasserted its presence in Tibet in 1959, a Buddhist monk was asked what scared him most during the sometimes-violent occupation. He replied, "I was afraid I might lose my compassion."

To those inclined towards ooey-gooey declarations, the monk's assessment has a beckoning and angelic ring to it. How wonderful and kindly and empathetic and bold. It's nice to make nice. Compassion, from this standpoint, is a kind of hybrid, high-octane altruism. About the best that can be said for it is that it is better than kicking baby robins.

But I think perhaps the monk was referring to something more consequential than gold-stars-for-goodness. I think he may have been referring to our basic humanity -- an imperative decency without which we commit not just homicide, but, more noticeably, suicide. The imperative is expressed not by some outside, on-high agency that will hit us on the nose with a rolled up newspaper if we do not comply, but rather from within: Everyone wants to be happy. Neglecting our own deepest best interests simply doesn't work. Screw the morality -- it just doesn't work.

Unfortunately, in order to understand that sticking a hand in the lawnmower is a bad idea, many require the inevitable experiment of sticking a hand in the lawnmower.

It brought me up short yesterday to read in The Washington Post an article stating what is plainly obvious: My children have grown up in a time when there was always war.

Today, radical religious ideologies, new technologies and cheap, powerful weapons have catapulted the world into “a period of persistent conflict,” according to the Pentagon’s last major assessment of global security....
By this logic, America’s wars are unending and any talk of peace is quixotic or naive.

The merchant mentality is on the rise and my children are the beneficiaries. In an Aug. 4, 2011, interview on The Daily Show, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) commented about his Republican brethren:

“Many of them have said they like war. They like waging war. They like the notion of staying in war. They think we should spend a lot of money in war.”Durbin said that when President Obama needed to borrow money to support wartime expenditures, Republicans then said “No way. I’m just for war when I don’t have to vote for the debt ceiling.”
Host Jon Stewart responded “To be fair, though, I don’t think anyone would say, ‘I like war.’ Do you mean that metaphorically?”
“Metaphorically,” Durbin answered. “They like the notion that we would engage our troops in combat to assert America’s position in the world.”

And, to be fair, I doubt that the Republicans are the only ones. The merchants are on the rise and my children are the beneficiaries.

Bit by bit in economic hard times, the need to feed overwhelms all other considerations. George Orwell was right when he observed that there is no philosophy on an empty stomach. And where stomachs growl, it is easier to place the blame elsewhere ... anywhere else ... on the 'bad guys,' for example.

An article on Slate addresses the question of whether social issues are a lost cause along the political circuit. Specifically, Slate asks the question of the Republican camp but I see no reason to limit it in that way since political affiliation does not directly affect hunger:

Polling shows us that voters are far, far more worried about the economy—debt, taxes, jobs, health care, everything—than about social issues. Republicans have followed suit.

The merchants are coming. Or perhaps the merchants have arrived, depending on the point of view. The merchants are teaching my children and there is no counter-teaching I can offer outside a few feeble hints. As much as I may hate it and as much as I can see the self-immolation that merchants promote and sustain, still, in good times and bad, there is always the reliance on others and the upshot that....

Every (wo)man must find her or his own mirror. I would dearly love to save my children the trouble and strife, but, as when Joseph Goebbels swayed Nazi Germany, the only option, when it comes to serious happiness, is to find and look into a very personal, intimate mirror.

In South Korea, the suicide rate has doubled in the last 10 years ... despite bright economic times. No one knows why.

Being wounded and depressed and cranky and wildly intelligent or fabulously ignorant is not enough.

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