Spritzophrenia

humour, music, life, sociology. friendly agnostic.

Posts Tagged ‘war’

Escape from New York, or What Happens When The Good People Leave the USA?

Posted by spritzophrenia on September 7, 2011

Is the US Republican Party “becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult, or one of the intensely ideological authoritarian parties of 20th century Europe“?

These are the words of Mike Lofgren who retired on June 17 after 28 years as a Republican congressional staffer. It’s not often I come across an article on politics that I really want to share. This is one of them.

Here are a few more gems:

Both parties are rotten… But both parties are not rotten in quite the same way. The Democrats have their share of machine politicians, careerists, corporate bagmen, egomaniacs and kooks. Nothing, however, quite matches the modern GOP. To those millions of Americans who have finally begun paying attention to politics and watched with exasperation the tragicomedy of the debt ceiling extension, it may have come as a shock that the Republican Party is so full of lunatics. …

“…the “respectable” media have been terrified of any criticism for perceived bias. Hence, they hew to the practice of false evenhandedness. Paul Krugman has skewered this tactic as being the “centrist cop-out.” “I joked long ago,” he says, “that if one party declared that the earth was flat, the headlines would read ‘Views Differ on Shape of Planet.’

escape from new york

[The] tactic of inducing public distrust of government is not only cynical, it is schizophrenic. For people who profess to revere the Constitution, it is strange that they so caustically denigrate the very federal government that is the material expression of the principles embodied in that document. This is not to say that there is not some theoretical limit to the size or intrusiveness of government; I would be the first to say there are such limits, both fiscal and Constitutional. But most Republican officeholders seem strangely uninterested in the effective repeal of Fourth Amendment protections by the Patriot Act, the weakening of habeas corpus and self-incrimination protections in the public hysteria following 9/11 or the unpalatable fact that the United States has the largest incarcerated population of any country on earth. If anything, they would probably opt for more incarcerated persons, as imprisonment is a profit center for the prison privatization industry, which is itself a growth center for political contributions to these same politicians. Instead, they prefer to rail against those government programs that actually help people. And when a program is too popular to attack directly, like Medicare or Social Security, they prefer to undermine it by feigning an agonized concern about the deficit. That concern, as we shall see, is largely fictitious. ”

As for what they really believe, the Republican Party of 2011 believes in three principal tenets I have laid out below. The rest of their platform one may safely dismiss as window dressing:
1. The GOP cares solely and exclusively about its rich contributors. The party has built a whole catechism on the protection and further enrichment of America’s plutocracy. Their caterwauling about deficit and debt is so much eyewash to con the public…”

2. They worship at the altar of Mars. While the me-too Democrats have set a horrible example of keeping up with the Joneses with respect to waging wars, they can never match GOP stalwarts such as John McCain or Lindsey Graham in their sheer, libidinous enthusiasm for invading other countries. … To borrow Chris Hedges’ formulation, war is the force that gives meaning to their lives…”

3. Give me that old time religion. Pandering to fundamentalism is a full-time vocation in the GOP. Beginning in the 1970s, religious cranks ceased simply to be a minor public nuisance in this country and grew into the major element of the Republican rank and file… around us is a prevailing anti-intellectualism and hostility to science; it is this group that defines “low-information voter” – or, perhaps, “misinformation voter.”

The GOP cult of Ayn Rand is both revealing and mystifying. On the one hand, Rand’s tough guy, every-man-for-himself posturing is a natural fit because it puts a philosophical gloss on the latent sociopathy so prevalent among the hard right. On the other, Rand exclaimed at every opportunity that she was a militant atheist who felt nothing but contempt for Christianity. Apparently, the ignorance of most fundamentalist “values voters” means that GOP candidates who enthuse over Rand at the same time they thump their Bibles never have to explain this stark contradiction. And I imagine a Democratic officeholder would have a harder time explaining why he named his offspring “Marx” than a GOP incumbent would in rationalizing naming his kid “Rand.”

For the rest, you’ll have to read the article .

Among other things, it got me thinking about the number of US people who have emigrated to places like New Zealand because “they were tired/scared/disgusted about the direction the USA was going in.” I can count at least eight that I know personally. These are nice, liberal people who couldn’t wait to leave George Dubya’s paradise. But even with Obama in power, they are still coming. I met another couple who arrived recently for the same reasons just last week.

What I’m wondering is, what will happen if all the nice highly educated and skilled people leave the USA. Who will be left? And what will happen?

My title is from a 1981 apocalyptic film. When do you think this might become reality?

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? What do you think?
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REM | It’s The End of the World

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Religion and War. Or, “What Makes Me Happy”

Posted by spritzophrenia on August 23, 2011

Which is the most violent religion in the world?”, I asked my class recently. No doubt you have your opinions, but these people say that the religion now responsible for most wars is in fact Nationalism. That’s right, they argue that government-sponsored promotion of our “nation” is actually a religion that commits blood sacrifice by sending our young men and women to war. Sound crazy? Gaddaffi’s Libya is currently being taken over— by nationalist causes?— with the support of NATO powers. We’re near the 10th anniversary of 9/11, closely followed by the anniversary of ten years of US-sponsored war. Maybe we should consider what they say?

Here are some excerpts:

Americans live in a culture that is as religious as any that exists. In this article we contend that nationalism is the most powerful religion in the United States, and perhaps in many other countries. Structurally speaking, nationalism mirrors sectarian belief systems such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam and others that are more conventionally labeled as religious. It happens that nationalism also satisfies many traditional definitions of religion, but citizens of nation-states have religious reasons for denying it. We argue that both sectarian and national religions organize killing energy by committing devotees to sacrifice themselves to the group… Although our examples come mostly from the United States and its majority sectarian faith, and although generalization is risky, the principles we describe are broadly applicable to other enduring groups, defined as groups for which members are willing to give their lives.

… The familiar claim that a religious view of the world is characterized by a moral opposition to violence ignores a more complex reality in which faiths that most deeply bind the commitment of devotees are structures for organizing killing energy. This is true both for religions that aggressively kill the Other in the name of a deity or deities and those that pledge their devotees to self-sacrifice when confronted with violence. We shall argue that violent and so-called non-violent religions are structurally indistinguishable from a certain perspective.

click to enlarge

Click to see bigger pic.

what is really true in any community is what its members can agree is worth killing for, or what they can be compelled to sacrifice their lives for. The sacred is thus easily recognized. It is that set of beliefs and persons for which we ought to shed our own blood, if necessary, when there is a serious threat. Rituals that celebrate this blood sacrifice give expression and witness to faith. Sacrificial death thus defines both sectarian and national identity. This is the first sense in which both are species of religion…

On the whole, we misunderstand the genuinely religious character of American patriotism and the violent character of genuine religion. What distinguishes nationalism from sectarianism is not group logic, for both are religions of blood sacrifice. What distinguishes them is historical location. In the West Christianity once could kill and ask others to die in the name of its particular god. In some places it does this still. But in general in the West the power to compel believers to die passed from Christianity to the nation-state, where it largely remains…

Americans traditionally regard the nation-state as the domain of unassailable force and religion as the domain of unassailable truth. This separation of faith and force is markedly unstable and collapses completely in wartime…

If nationalism is religious, why do we deny it? … [The nationalist] god is inexpressible, unsayable, unknowable, beyond language. But that god may not be refused when it calls for sacrifice. …

Some citizens openly speak of the American flag as sacred. Can we disregard the impassioned testimony of others that it is not, and neither is the nation it represents? …

To understand how war is ritual sacrifice, recall that the raw material of society is bodies. Organizing and disposing of them is the fundamental task of all societies. The social is quite literally constructed from the body and from specific bodies that are dedicated and used up for the purpose. The enduringness of any group depends at least partly on the willingness of its members to sacrifice themselves for the continuing life of the group. The creation of national or sectarian religious sentiment depends on a common secret, which is that the underlying cost of all society is the violent death of some portion of its members. …

Does that push any buttons for ya? Respond below.

These ideas don’t make me happy, but the picture above right does. It’s the bookshelf in the study after one of my biweekly trips to the library. As Happygirl will testify, I pretty much jump up and down with glee when I have a pile with such titles as Stupa: Art, Architechtonics and Symbolism, Critical Discourse Analysis and Language Cognition or Foucault, Psychology and the Analytics of Power. I can see your eyes glazing over already 😉

There are 87 books in that photo, my current reading for two papers I’m writing. One is a Foucauldian reading of Western Buddhist meditation. A second is a paper on “civil religion”, the New Zealand state and nationalist wars. My interest in investigating civil religion and war was stimulated by Marvin and Ingle’s highly provocative article Blood Sacrifice and the Nation: Revisiting Civil Religion, excerpted above.

Civil religion is an established, though contested, concept in sociology of religion. Very simply, it can be several related ideas, either a) a religion becomes a supporter of the state/political system or b) the state uses religion & religious symbolism to promote its agenda -think state prayers on Memorial Day/ANZAC day or the anniversary of 9/11. Or c) the state itself becomes a religion. The theory is debated, of course. I’m not sure I agree with it, but it provokes some interesting thoughts.

The concept of civil religion was not original to Robert Bellah, as one text asserts, nor even Rousseau although he’s generally credited with it. Nope, it looks like “Augustine’s discussion in book 6 of The City of God of Varro’s category of ‘civil theology’ ” started it all off circa 410 CE (Grosby, 2001: 114). Sociological concepts are sometimes much older than commonly thought.

So apparently if we support our nation, we’re religious, regardless of our personal beliefs.

Respond

Does the idea of nationalism as a religion make sense? And, what makes YOU happy?
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One of my all-time favourite tunes, from a band I would see live ANY time.
Slayer | War Ensemble

Those of you who are curious to see the actual book titles can Click to see a bigger pic in yfrog.

References

Grosby, Steven. (2001). “Nationality and Religion.” In Guibernau, Monserrat and Hutchinson, John. (eds.) (2001). Understanding Nationalism. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Marvin, C. & Ingle, D. (1996). “Blood Sacrifice and the Nation: Revisiting Civil Religion.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion. (1996). 64(4), 767-780. http://www.asc.upenn.edu/usr/fcm/jaar.htm Web March 2011.

Posted in Sociology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

How Can We Stop The Killing?

Posted by spritzophrenia on November 3, 2010

Yesterday I couldn’t write. The violence of the world sickened me, and I was in shock.

In the news is the story of 58 people killed in a Baghdad church by attackers who systematically shot them, and detonated explosives when the security forces tried to free them. If that wasn’t enough, today scores more are killed in markets and workplaces by ten car bombs.

I’m so sick of the violence and evil of fanatics. They kill Muslims, Jews, Christians, Atheists, and even themselves.

The thing is, this is not new. Violence, death and hate have been going on for decades centuries, in many places around the world. I don’t know why the news yesterday affected me so much, but it did.

Muslims and Christians chant anti-terrorist slogans during a funeral of slain Christians in Baghdad, from here.

We can argue about whether religion ’causes’ this kind of violence, as some do. I think it’s a little more nuanced than that. “It’s all being blamed on the failure of Iraqi politicians to agree on the formation of a government”, according to Rawya Rageh, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Baghdad. Politics, not (just) religion. (For those interested, there’s evidence Al-Quaeda only grew in Iraq AFTER the invasion by Western forces)

But that’s not what concerns me here. Mostly, I just need time to grieve.

I could write a long piece analysing this and that, trying to create the definitive statement for peace. But in the end, others have done it far better than I and there’s really not much more to say. All of us hate the killing of innocents.

For me, the bigger question is: What can I do? How can I stop it? Can anyone tell me?

Here’s a few ideas:
* Join an organisation which works to bring peace. (Which one? Do they do any good?)
* Nuke Iraq out of existence (Military “solutions”.)
* Use my skills as a writer to change the world. (*cough*)

To repeat something I said on Crystal’s blog: I know that love is more important than belief. Sadly, I don’t know how that will ever get through to fanatics.

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What do you think we can do?
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Slayer | War Ensemble

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And No Religion Too

Posted by spritzophrenia on September 14, 2010

Imagine all the people, living for today. When I was a committed believer, I was very much living for today— a belief in an afterlife didn’t stop me trying to do good in this one.

“Imagine”, by John Lennon.

I said yesterday that I think it’s unlikely the world will become significantly less spiritual in the future, and suggested listening to each other as a possible solution. Maybe I’m too idealistic. Or maybe Lennon is.

Is Religion Dangerous?. I often think yes, this book says “no”. It’s in my city library, I might read it, but the link has a good summary.

Religion and superstition have perpetrated many horrors in our lifetime, let alone before. We’ve just had the anniversary of the September 11 bombings in New York. We could aim for an “atheist peace”, in the words of hardcore punks Bad Religion. Is the Lennon solution the best? He doesn’t suggest that atheism alone is what we need:

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I’m a dreamer

Would the world really be more peaceful if no-one believed in gods?

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? What do you think?

[Shout-out to Aswin for asking me to do a piece critical of religion. There will be more critical pieces at some point in the future.]

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Monks With Guns: Discovering Buddhist Violence

Posted by spritzophrenia on January 17, 2010

Not long I ago I wrote on the Dark Side of Buddhism. Michael Jerryson has just published a book on Buddhist violence and writes about it here. It’s not the only book on Buddhist warfare, reader Austin kindly alerted me to Zen at War, and Zen War Stories. A review says “Most don’t realize the extent of Zen Buddhism’s complicity with the Japanese war machine and the horrors it unleashed on Southeast Asia.Michael Jerryson writes:

The publication of Buddhist Warfare, a book I co-edited with Mark Juergensmeyer, is a bittersweet experience as it marks the culmination of a journey that began with an exploration of the peaceful aspects of Buddhism only to end up chronicling portions of its dark side. This journey, which consumed much of the last six years of my life, began in 2003 when my wife and I spent a little over a year in Thailand. It was then that I began to research Buddhist social activism which was going to be the topic of my dissertation.

Rather than look to archives, I decided to speak with Buddhist monks and nuns on the ground. I interviewed monks protecting the forests from big business and villagers from dangerous pesticides; I met and began to chronicle the activities of the first fully ordained Thai Buddhist nun, Dhammananda Bhikkuni; and I met with Thai Buddhist monastic intellectuals.

monk with toy gun
Monk with toy gun, Bhutan 2008

Military Monks

Then in January 2004, violent attacks broke out in the southern provinces of Thailand, some of which were directed at Buddhist monks. These attacks and the numerous ones to follow shocked the country. But, since contemporary issues and my research interests seemed to be converging, I thought: what better way to study Buddhist activism than to observe Buddhist monks engaged in peacemaking?

Unfortunately, I found very little of this.

During my visits between 2006 and 2008, southern Thai monks shared the challenges of living in their fear-infested communities. All but a few concentrated on survival; peacemaking was the last thing on their minds.

The constant fear and violence took a toll on them. Monks talked about the guns they had bought and now kept at their bedsides. Others spoke heatedly about the violent militant attacks on Buddhist civilians and monasteries. Although the cause of the violence is multilayered—owing much to corruption, drug trade, and corporatization—many monks also felt Islam was to blame. In their minds, the conflict was anchored to the larger discussion of religious violence: Muslims against Buddhists.

One day after teaching an English class for Buddhist novices at a monastery a young monk came over and pulled back the folds of his robe to reveal a Smith & Wesson. I later learned that he was a military monk—one of many covert, fully ordained soldiers placed in monasteries throughout Thailand. To these monks, peacemaking requires militancy.

Since my initial realization in 2004, I began to look critically at my earlier perspective on Buddhism—one that shielded an extensive and historical dimension to Buddhist traditions: violence. Armed Buddhist monks in Thailand are not an exception to the rule; they are contemporary examples of a long historical precedence. For centuries monks have been at the helm, or armed in the ranks, of wars. How could this be the case? But more importantly, why did I (and many others) hold the belief that Buddhism=Peace (and that other religions, such as Islam, are more prone to violence)?

Buddhist Propaganda

It was then that I realized that I was a consumer of a very successful form of propaganda. Since the early 1900s, Buddhist monastic intellectuals such as Walpola Rahula, D. T. Suzuki, and Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, have labored to raise Western awareness of their cultures and traditions. In doing so, they presented specific aspects of their Buddhist traditions while leaving out others. These Buddhist monks were not alone in this portrayal of Buddhism. As Donald S. Lopez Jr. and others have poignantly shown, academics quickly followed suit, so that by the 1960s U.S popular culture no longer depicted Buddhist traditions as primitive, but as mystical.

Yet these mystical depictions did not remove the two-dimensional nature of Western understanding. And while it contributed to the history of Buddhism, this presentation of an otherworldly Buddhism ultimately robbed Buddhists of their humanity.

Thupten Tsering, the co-director of “Windhorse,” encapsulates the effects of two-dimensional portrayal in a 1999 interview with the New York Times. “They see Tibetans as cute, sweet, warmhearted. I tell people, when you cut me, I bleed just like you.”

In an effort to combat this view and to humanize Buddhists, then, Mark Juergensmeyer and I put together a collection of critical essays that illustrate the violent history of Buddhism across Mongolia, Tibet, Japan, China, Korea, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and India.

Our intention is not to argue that Buddhists are angry, violent people—but rather that Buddhists are people, and thus share the same human spectrum of emotions, which includes the penchant for violence.

Although the book only arrived at bookstores last month, it apparently touched some nerves in the academic community before its release. Some have objected to the cover [image right], which they feel is not an appropriate subject for Buddhism. Ironically, that is the very reason this collection of essays is so important: to address the apparent and widespread inability to acknowledge the violent side to religious traditions. It is this inability that robs its adherents of their humanity.

In a way, I wish I could return to that dream of Buddhist traditions as a purely peaceful, benevolent religion that lacks mortal failures and shortcomings. But I cannot. It is, ultimately, a selfish dream and it hurts other people in the process.

Buddhist Warfare certainly contributes to the broader discussion of religious violence, but on a more intimate and local level, I hope this collection will effect some significant change in the way Buddhism is perceived in the United States. Only time will tell.

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Thanks to my new readers, you may enjoy my more positive story: If you see the Buddha on the road, kiss him.

tful hahaha! Slut spillage on CA road.
listening to Wizzy Noise | Abyss

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