Saturday, December 11, 2010

China Diaries: Part I

Growing up, I think I had OCD. Wait, I know I had OCD. I spent my life as child, contemplating the issues that faced humanity under the 150 foot Poplar trees. The next chapter of my life, was taking charge.

The Hero's Journey.August 16, 2009

Out of Mao's Shadow. $16.00, would this be enough to keep me occupied for the entire 12 hour plane flight? Granted I would sleep, and talk for a few hours in between. What if they search my bags? Is this a form of contraband in China? Screw it, I threw it I could brush up on Chinese history and maybe impress the tour guides.

I was determined to sit next to Vanessa, and with Trevir on my Left hand side, this was bound to be a hilarious trip.

As the overhead lights dimmed as the plane made a 180* on the tarmac. A feeling came over me. I looked at the screen ahead of me, as I felt the engines revved up. It was scene with my Uncle Jack at my Grandma Murphy's house. Two different things were happening. One in my mind, one in the physical world, and I was completely conscious of both. There were no housing developments, the trees in the backdrop were smaller and you could actually see Mt. Rainier. But I was innocently lost, but curious. Like I was coming to the realization of what it meant to be conscious in the world. No longer were my actions just a response to my surrounding environment, but rather a conscious decision. My mind had been blown and I was looking in the direction across my Grandmother's yard. My Uncle Jack must of picked up on this, because in the next scene, he leaned over and whispered, "Welcome to the Beginning of the Rest of your life." I never Life, up to that point, consisted of who called "Shotgun", lazily eating otter pops in Grandmother's vast field.

What is the purpose of life? Why I am able to comprehend the words in ink before my eyes? Why eyes? Why do I exist in this specific time and this specific place? What does it mean to be a human? How would you describe life to someone that has never lived before? This is the question of my life.

What have we become? What are we becoming? What does it mean to be human? The dual nature keep my mind in abeyance, and will it take a lifetime to discover the answers to these questions? The trip to China, at the last moment, became more of a journey of personal discovery, than an experience in another culture, on behalf of the sudden and startling revelation. Relaxation, no. Tyler time, no. There's a world to experience and questions that need to be answered. Nobody ever helped me out or was looking over my shoulder helping me plan for the trip. What did my family know about China?

I dropped the cantilevered tray table, and before the ink touched the pages of my journal, Trevor was already at it. "Murphy, Murphy" I almost chocked on the Seaweed Soup when he told me that won "Most likely to get get kicked" He'd say, "God damn you Tyler Murphy" with the justification. Holy crap, this was going to be a long trip, compounded by the four hours of sleep the night before, the sleepless night of traveling half way around the world, and the stressful morning that followed after I found out our dog, Lady, had been attacked by a porcupine and was covered in blood, and needles fifteen minutes before I was to the house. The only thing I wanted to do was journal and in between sleeping sessions. What is that much to ask for?

When I arrived at Skagit Valley College that morning, Trevor walked over to our truck and began talking., and he never stopped. For two week he never took a breath. He just. Kept. Talking. I was interested in learning if he spent the night before gathering the last minute essentials. Nope, he was at a friends house where he stayed up to 3am playing video games. I asked him about where his Permethrin process, he forgot it, his netting, forgot. Jesus, I spent the entire night spraying my clothes and sleeping bag down, and double checking everything.

The ceiling was light green. The room felt taller than it was wide. The light from the hallway lightly lit up the room. In my buzzed state of mind.

Trevor talked about what he'd do protect the ladies. The two weeks that I spent with Trevor, I grew to really like him. Something inconceivable two weeks earlier. The tables turned, I came with a lot of baggage and returned with a lighter load, while Trevor returned with a handmade sandals, a pheasants hat, and 11 foot bamboo shoot. Is this symbolic? Maybe, I'd like to think so.

The Chinese, as citizens do not pose a threat to the United States in any form. The Chinese as any other culture, just want to live their lives, raise their children, and be happy."

Free Marketers.

"What has been undermined was the wisdom of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal reforms that capitalism needed to be saved from its own excess in order to survive, that the free market would remain free only it was properly regulated in the public interest. The great and terrible irony of capitalism is that if left unfettered, it inexorably engineers its own demise, through either revolution or economic collapse.


The guardians of capitalism's survival are thus not the self proclaimed free marketers, who, in defiance of the pragmatic Adam Smith himself, wanted to chop away at all government restraints on corporate actions, but rather liberals, at least those in the mode of FDR, who seek to harness its awesome power while keeping its workings palatable to a civilized and progressive society." (The Great American Stickup-pg 18-19)

Chris Hedges in his novel, the Death of the Liberal Class, writes the liberal class has abandoned its core principles and has "become a useless and despised appendage of corporate power."(Death of the Liberal Class pg.9) The irony remains, according to Mr. Hedges, that "In killing off the liberal class, the corporate state, in its zealous pursuit of profit, has killed off its most integral and important partner. Corporate power forget that the liberal class, when it functions, gives legitimacy to the power elite."(Death of the Liberal Class pg. 12) The Liberal Class recognizes the social-economic hierarchy of human nature and tries to work within that framework to allow for some social mobility for those who given the opportunity. It doesn't call for a idealist society, but one that works with the current system to help those who are at disadvantage.

Allow me to take this one step further with help from Joseph Heath's Economics without Illusions, "The commitment to "limited government" and "laissez faire" capitalism turns out to be not so much a principled defense of individual liberty as an arbitrary privileging of the interests of those with money to invest (whom we may refer to, for convenience, as the "wealthy"". The right wing call for "less government" therefore becomes a call to "keep those programs that benefit the wealth-scrap everything else." And this simply doesn't qualify as a political philosophy. When spoken in the mouths of the privileged, it's just a fancy way of saying, "More free stuff for me, less for you"

Capitalism is not a spontaneous order. The compositional fallacy, however, makes it tempting to believe that is is. Since it is in everyone's interest to have a system of property rights, or to have the orderly exchange of goods, won't people just natural tend to organize their affairs in that way? Who needs the government to step in? Yet as it turns out, we do need government step in, even to secure the most basic conditions for a functioning market economy. Two boys trading marbles in the schoolyard may constitute a spontaneous order, but the capitalist economic system is a highly artificial construct, based upon an elaborate set of social programs that have been refined and tweaked over the course of centuries.

Do I need to say more?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Pinnacle of Globalization

I came here in the sixties to see the land of the free. I was living in Greenwich village, going through the counterculture, the culture of love, going to an Irish bar at the end of the day and getting the New York Times at three in the morning. I was able to go anywhere, accepted anywhere, nobody cared where I was from, what religion have. It was a fantastic experience. I thought this is what the world as it ought to be.

-Mohamed Elbaradci
Former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency

Friday, November 26, 2010

American Psychosis

What happens to a society that cannot distinguish between reality and illusion? I want your feedback.

American Psychosis By Chris Hedges

"Resistance movements will have to look now at the long night of slavery, the decades of oppression in the Soviet Union and the curse of fascism for models. The goal will no longer be the possibility of reforming the system but of protecting truth, civility and culture from mass contamination. It will require the kind of schizophrenic lifestyle that characterizes all totalitarian societies. Our private and public demeanor will often have to stand in stark contrast. Acts of defiance will often be subtle and nuanced. They will be carried out not for short term gain but the assertion of our integrity. Rebellion will have an ultimate if not easily definable purpose. The more we retreat from the culture at large the more room we will have to carve out lives of meaning, the more we will be able to wall off the flood of illusions disseminated by mass culture and the more we will retain sanity in an insane world. The goal will become the ability to endure."

Monomyth

I am an adherent to the "Monomyth" philosophy as proposed by Joseph Campbell. The Mono myth is the story of a hero's "Departure, Fulfillment, and Return". These ??? levels are brought about through through the "death and resurrection" of the hero. The hero must die to himself to "find the source of life to bring you to a new position of life." The hero is defined by Mr. Campbell by "achievements beyond the normal realm of achievements." To which the Hero has often "Given himself to something beyond himself."

The mono myth has manifested itself throughout the course of history. In Buddhism, the Buddha witnesses the cruel reality of life, and returns into the forest. On returning the Buddha has a solution to the problem of suffering. In Christianity, Jesus departs into the desert, for forty days and nights. These spiritual journey aren't without their share of hardships either. Hungry and thirsty is tempted by the devil to eat and drink for the pleasure of material pleasures. Upon returning Jesus too has a solution for humanity. "To love God, and your neighbor as yourself" In Islam, we learn that the Prophet Mohammad journey into the desert to mediate in solitude. After years of mediation he received a revelation from the Angel Gabriel that would later form the basis of Islam, "There is no god, but God."

These stories and revelation changed the course of human history and continues to give us hope. Spiritual teachings can be traced back to this essential mono myth touted by these spiritual leaders. His call is for everyone to become their own hero's, and give themselves to something beyond themselves.

Stories of religious leaders are the expression of these "heroic myths" throughout the history of time. Joseph Campbell begins the "Hero Journey", of the six video series the Power of Myth, with "We have not to even risk the adventure alone for the heroes of all times have gone before us. The labyrinth is thoroughly known, we've only to follow the hero path. Where we thought to find an abomination we shall find a god. Where had thought to travel outward, we shall travel to the center of our own existence. Where we thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves. Where we thought to be alone, we shall be with the entire world"

"Eternity isn't some later time. Eternity isn't a long time. Eternity has nothing to do with time. Eternity is that dimension of here and now which thinking and time cuts out. This is it. And if you don't get it here, you won't get it anywhere. And the experience of eternity right here and now is the function of life." Finally I was able to fully appreciate the moment and of the sun rising out my window. It has taken billions of years for this moment to be possible, unknown paths were taken by pioneers and still your existence has been made possible. You shouldn't be here, but you are, is that not a miracles itself.

Life is a continuing cycle of self discovery. A cycle of improving yourself though hardships and everyday trials. About continuing to achieve a inner peace, that no one can steal from you. Joseph Campbell said "the promised land isn't someplace out there, it's the place where you can return to time and time again and achieving personal peace."

Some questions will forever be unanswerable. This philosophy take that into account. It accepts religion as an attempt to understand a world beyond this, accepts science, and justice as a progressive system that is achieved in leaps and bounds to humanity.

What's your story? Whats your fight? What's your Jihad?

Economic Bill of Rights

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, introducing the "Economic Bill of Rights”
Excerpt from President Roosevelt's January 11, 1944 message to the Congress of the United States on the State of the Union
 
"For unless there is security here at home, there cannot be lasting peace in the world"




It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.
This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.


As our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.


We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.
In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.


Among these are:
The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation.
The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
The right of every family to a decent home;
The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.



America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens.
For unless there is security here at home, there cannot be lasting peace in the world

United States of Illusion

Israel

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Martin Luther King Jr.





"The public debate about the Gaza attack engages in the absurd pretense that it is Israel, not the Palestinians, whose security and dignity is being threatened. This blind defense of Israel's brutality towards the Palestinians is a betrayal to the memory of all those killed in other genocides in other times." Chris Hedges



The United States has the ability to influence Israel's actions toward the Palestinian people. The Gaza Strip's economy is at the mercy of the Israeli government as nothing gets in or out of the Gaza Strip without Israel’s knowledge and acceptance.

 In 2005, the United States gave over $154 billion in economic and military aid, more than any other U.S. foreign recipient. Israel doesn't have to necessarily disclose where the money goes. The money could go to bulldozing homes in West Bank () It could go to destroying Palestinian homes, and we'd never know. Building walls around the Palestinian people in the name of national security, and taking away Palestinian homes, and lifestyle, and job opportunities...and Israel doesn't expect any kind of repercussions? What the hell are they stupid? 

The United States ought to make the playing field more fair. But nobody dares criticize Israel. Ahmadinejad talks about denying the holocaust, if you place what he said into context, he asking how can the people of Israel, a very broad question, have gone through the holocaust and now inflict that horror onto the Palestinian people?? We're talking about a genocide right in front of our very eyes. American's tend to have a naive perspective in large part because we sympathize with the Jewish people during the holocaust, and we share the same values with Israel. We have all the right to sympathize. I'm not talking about the Jewish people; I'm talking about the Israeli government. Most would argue that this conflict in the middle east has been occurring since "time first began", that's not true, this is not a religious war, this is a war about land. (Religion defiantly influences their decisions though, most Americans do not criticize Israel is because in the Bible it says in Deuteronomy that Israel is god's chosen nation, and in sum, those who don't support Israel will be eternally doomed) Anyways, I'm going to stop. It's a very complex issue with many different dimensions but it's definitely one that gets me going, as you can tell.
We must understand the difference between the government of Israel, and the people that follow the Jewish tradition. I do not support the Israeli government
Israel’s action have been excessive. In December of 2008, Israel attacked the Gaza Strip , killing innocent children and women. Understanding that civilians will be killed in any form of warfare. However, the targets chosen were specifically.
Christian organizations across  the United States completely support Israel and their actions regardless of the consequences. The continuing to supporting Israel while it simultaneously committs atrocities towards the palestiaians people in the Middle East will come with harsh repercussions to the U.S. image, and only undermine our efforts to dwarf terrorism.


The Palestinian people are treated like animals for the sake.


Israel’s strategic alliance with the United States was useful throughout the Cold War. Now in turbulent times that are ahead, the best move would be to distant ourselves from the atrocities of the Israeli government.
Our alliance with Turkey remains at stake. The United States has vital interests in the Turkish region.
The United States needs to continue to move to oppose the current regime’s actions towards the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The consequences of the Gaza Strip and West bank are expected if you continue to deny the
I cannot support a regime that continually supports unwarranted violence on a group of individuals that are unable to defend themselves.
Recently, the boats

You are not supporting God, and the way of life through supporting state sponsored terrorism. You are not supporting  God through unwarranted raids, and the excessive deaths of thousands of women and children. Folks have the principles of Judaism and Israel and God so tightly intertwined in their heads, it doesn’t make sense. I would classify you as an ignorant two headed snake.  For your continued support to a nation that carries out unprecended attacks against a people that have no formally recognized state, and

This is the genocide of our time.


Bet Selem http://www.btselem.org/English/index.asp 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Only the Young

Brandon Flowers, lead singer for the Killer's has become a one man show. His new rhythm is great, and Reverence for the past often goes without words.

I've read different interpretations of the song suggesting that only the young can break away from the past the past. I beg to differ. Only the young at heart, only those who live life with the same passion they did as they were young can continue to break away. It's a perpetual liberating cycle.

If I could somehow capture the beauty of this moment, raw and new, I would. If I could describe the simplicity of life associated without technology I would. If I could describe in great detail the highlights of my life to this very day, and with a verse or two about the personalities I've had the privilege to accompany me, I would. If I could describe what it feels like and what it means to be human, and what it means to be alive and well, I would. But instead, I surrender myself to the Greats-what has to be said has already been said.


















 
Only the Young Lyrics

Look back in silence
The cradle of your whole life
There in the distance
Losing its greatest pride
Nothing is easy, nothing is sacred, why?
Where did the bow break?
It happened before your time

And there were people there
Lovely as you'd ever care
Tonight, maybe you can start again
Laughing in the open air
Have yourself another dream
Tonight, maybe we can start again

Only the young can break away, break away
Lost when the wind blows, on your own
Only the young can break away, break away
Lost when the wind blows, on your own

Mother, it's cold here
Father, thy will be done
Thunder and lightning are crashing down
They got me on the run
Direct me to the sun
Redemption, keep my covers clean tonight
Baby, we can start again

Only the young can break away, break away
Lost when the wind blows, on your own
Only the young can break away, break away
Lost when the wind blows, on your own

And the sun will shine again
And the sun will shine again
Are you looking for a sign?
Or are you caught up in the lie?

Only the young can break away, break away
Lost when the wind blows, on your own
Only the young can break away, break away
Lost when the wind blows, on your own

Friday, October 22, 2010

It's the Occupation, Stupid

Extensive research into the causes of suicide terrorism proves Islam isn't to blame -- the root of the problem is foreign military occupations.

BY ROBERT A. PAPE | OCTOBER 18, 2010

Although no one wants to talk about it, 9/11 is still hurting America. That terrible day inflicted a wound of public fear that easily reopens with the smallest provocation, and it continues to bleed the United States of money, lives, and goodwill around the world. Indeed, America's response to its fear has, in turn, made Americans less safe and has inspired more threats and attacks.

In the decade since 9/11, the United States has conquered and occupied two large Muslim countries (Afghanistan and Iraq), compelled a huge Muslim army to root out a terrorist sanctuary (Pakistan), deployed thousands of Special Forces troops to numerous Muslim countries (Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, etc.), imprisoned hundreds of Muslims without recourse, and waged a massive war of ideas involving Muslim clerics to denounce violence and new institutions to bring Western norms to Muslim countries. Yet Americans still seem strangely mystified as to why some Muslims might be angry about this situation.

In a narrow sense, America is safer today than on 9/11. There has not been another attack on the same scale. U.S. defenses regarding immigration controls, airport security, and the disruption of potentially devastating domestic plots have all improved.

But in a broader sense, America has become perilously unsafe. Each month, there are more suicide terrorists trying to kill Americans and their allies in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other Muslim countries than in all the years before 2001 combined. From 1980 to 2003, there were 343 suicide attacks around the world, and at most 10 percent were anti-American inspired. Since 2004, there have been more than 2,000, over 91 percent against U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries.

Yes, these attacks are overseas and mostly focused on military and diplomatic targets. So too, however, were the anti-American suicide attacks before 2001. It is important to remember that the 1995 and 1996 bombings of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen were the crucial dots that showed the threat was rising prior to 9/11. Today, such dots are occurring by the dozens every month. So why is nobody connecting them?

U.S. military policies have not stopped the rising wave of extremism in the Muslim world. The reason has not been lack of effort, or lack of bipartisan support for aggressive military policies, or lack of funding, or lack of genuine patriotism.

No. Something else is creating the mismatch between America's effort and the results.

For nearly a decade, Americans have been waging a long war against terrorism without much serious public debate about what is truly motivating terrorists to kill them. In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, this was perfectly explicable -- the need to destroy al Qaeda's camps in Afghanistan was too urgent to await sober analyses of root causes.

But, the absence of public debate did not stop the great need to know or, perhaps better to say, to "understand" the events of that terrible day. In the years before 9/11, few Americans gave much thought to what drives terrorism -- a subject long relegated to the fringes of the media, government, and universities. And few were willing to wait for new studies, the collection of facts, and the dispassionate assessment of alternative causes. Terrorism produces fear and anger, and these emotions are not patient.

A simple narrative was readily available, and a powerful conventional wisdom began to exert its grip. Because the 9/11 hijackers were all Muslims, it was easy to presume that Islamic fundamentalism was the central motivating force driving the 19 hijackers to kill themselves in order to kill Americans. Within weeks after the 9/11 attacks, surveys of American attitudes show that this presumption was fast congealing into a hard reality in the public mind. Americans immediately wondered, "Why do they hate us?" and almost as immediately came to the conclusion that it was because of "who we are, not what we do." As President George W. Bush said in his first address to Congress after the 9/11 attacks: "They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other."

Thus was unleashed the "war on terror."

The narrative of Islamic fundamentalism did more than explain why America was attacked and encourage war against Iraq. It also pointed toward a simple, grand solution. If Islamic fundamentalism was driving the threat and if its roots grew from the culture of the Arab world, then America had a clear mission: To transform Arab societies -- with Western political institutions and social norms as the ultimate antidote to the virus of Islamic extremism.

This narrative had a powerful effect on support for the invasion of Iraq. Opinion polls show that for years before the invasion, more than 90 percent of the U.S. public believed that Saddam Hussein was harboring weapons of mass destruction (WMD). But this belief alone was not enough to push significant numbers to support war.

What really changed after 9/11 was the fear that anti-American Muslims desperately wanted to kill Americans and so any risk that such extremists would get weapons of mass destruction suddenly seemed too great. Although few Americans feared Islam before 9/11, by the spring of 2003, a near majority -- 49 percent -- strongly perceived that half or more of the world's 1.4 billion Muslims were deeply anti-American, and a similar fraction also believed that Islam itself promoted violence. No wonder there was little demand by congressional committees or the public at large for a detailed review of intelligence on Iraq's WMD prior to the invasion.

The goal of transforming Arab societies into true Western democracies had powerful effects on U.S. commitments to Afghanistan and Iraq. Constitutions had to be written; elections held; national armies built; entire economies restructured. Traditional barriers against women had to be torn down. Most important, all these changes also required domestic security, which meant maintaining approximately 150,000 U.S. and coalition ground troops in Iraq for many years and increasing the number of U.S. and Western troops in Afghanistan each year from 2003 on.

Put differently, adopting the goal of transforming Muslim countries is what created the long-term military occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Yes, the United States would almost surely have sought to create a stable order after toppling the regimes in these countries in any case. However, in both, America's plans quickly went far beyond merely changing leaders or ruling parties; only by creating Western-style democracies in the Muslim world could Americans defeat terrorism once and for all.

There's just one problem: We now know that this narrative is not true.

New research provides strong evidence that suicide terrorism such as that of 9/11 is particularly sensitive to foreign military occupation, and not Islamic fundamentalism or any ideology independent of this crucial circumstance. Although this pattern began to emerge in the 1980s and 1990s, a wealth of new data presents a powerful picture.

More than 95 percent of all suicide attacks are in response to foreign occupation, according to extensive research that we conducted at the University of Chicago's Project on Security and Terrorism, where we examined every one of the over 2,200 suicide attacks across the world from 1980 to the present day. As the United States has occupied Afghanistan and Iraq, which have a combined population of about 60 million, total suicide attacks worldwide have risen dramatically -- from about 300 from 1980 to 2003, to 1,800 from 2004 to 2009. Further, over 90 percent of suicide attacks worldwide are now anti-American. The vast majority of suicide terrorists hail from the local region threatened by foreign troops, which is why 90 percent of suicide attackers in Afghanistan are Afghans.

Israelis have their own narrative about terrorism, which holds that Arab fanatics seek to destroy the Jewish state because of what it is, not what it does. But since Israel withdrew its army from Lebanon in May 2000, there has not been a single Lebanese suicide attack. Similarly, since Israel withdrew from Gaza and large parts of the West Bank, Palestinian suicide attacks are down over 90 percent.

Some have disputed the causal link between foreign occupation and suicide terrorism, pointing out that some occupations by foreign powers have not resulted in suicide bombings -- for example, critics often cite post-World War II Japan and Germany. Our research provides sufficient evidence to address these criticisms by outlining the two factors that determine the likelihood of suicide terrorism being employed against an occupying force.

The first factor is social distance between the occupier and occupied. The wider the social distance, the more the occupied community may fear losing its way of life. Although other differences may matter, research shows that resistance to occupations is especially likely to escalate to suicide terrorism when there is a difference between the predominant religion of the occupier and the predominant religion of the occupied.

Religious difference matters not because some religions are predisposed to suicide attacks. Indeed, there are religious differences even in purely secular suicide attack campaigns, such as the LTTE (Hindu) against the Sinhalese (Buddhists).

Rather, religious difference matters because it enables terrorist leaders to claim that the occupier is motivated by a religious agenda that can scare both secular and religious members of a local community -- this is why Osama bin Laden never misses an opportunity to describe U.S. occupiers as "crusaders" motivated by a Christian agenda to convert Muslims, steal their resources, and change the local population's way of life.

The second factor is prior rebellion. Suicide terrorism is typically a strategy of last resort, often used by weak actors when other, non-suicidal methods of resistance to occupation fail. This is why we see suicide attack campaigns so often evolve from ordinary terrorist or guerrilla campaigns, as in the cases of Israel and Palestine, the Kurdish rebellion in Turkey, or the LTTE in Sri Lanka.

One of the most important findings from our research is that empowering local groups can reduce suicide terrorism. In Iraq, the surge's success was not the result of increased U.S. military control of Anbar province, but the empowerment of Sunni tribes, commonly called the Anbar Awakening, which enabled Iraqis to provide for their own security. On the other hand, taking power away from local groups can escalate suicide terrorism. In Afghanistan, U.S. and Western forces began to exert more control over the country's Pashtun regions starting in early 2006, and suicide attacks dramatically escalated from this point on.

The research suggests that U.S. interests would be better served through a policy of offshore balancing. Some scholars have taken issue with this approach, arguing that keeping boots on the ground in South Asia is essential for U.S. national security. Proponents of this strategy fail to realize how U.S. ground forces often inadvertently produce more anti-American terrorists than they kill. In 2000, before the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, there were 20 suicide attacks around the world, and only one (against the USS Cole) was directed against Americans. In the last 12 months, by comparison, 300 suicide attacks have occurred, and over 270 were anti-American. We simply must face the reality that, no matter how well-intentioned, the current war on terror is not serving U.S. interests.

The United States has been great in large part because it respects understanding and discussion of important ideas and concepts, and because it is free to change course. Intelligent decisions require putting all the facts before us and considering new approaches. The first step is recognizing that occupations in the Muslim world don't make Americans any safer -- in fact, they are at the heart of the problem.

URL Link: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/10/18/it_s_the_occupation_stupid

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Solitude and Leadership.

I recognize this next piece is a long article, but I've found it to be particularly interesting read as it discusses the initially two contradictory ideas. Achieving internal peace through recognizing the truths of our world can often be the best way to address the problems we face. Here, have at it.

Solitude and Leadership.
Written by William Deresiewicz
My title must seem like a contradiction. What can solitude have to do with leadership? Solitude means being alone, and leadership necessitates the presence of others—the people you’re leading. When we think about leadership in American history we are likely to think of Washington, at the head of an army, or Lincoln, at the head of a nation, or King, at the head of a movement—people with multitudes behind them, looking to them for direction. And when we think of solitude, we are apt to think of Thoreau, a man alone in the woods, keeping a journal and communing with nature in silence.

Leadership is what you are here to learn—the qualities of character and mind that will make you fit to command a platoon, and beyond that, perhaps, a company, a battalion, or, if you leave the military, a corporation, a foundation, a department of government. Solitude is what you have the least of here, especially as plebes. You don’t even have privacy, the opportunity simply to be physically alone, never mind solitude, the ability to be alone with your thoughts. And yet I submit to you that solitude is one of the most important necessities of true leadership. This lecture will be an attempt to explain why.

We need to begin by talking about what leadership really means. I just spent 10 years teaching at another institution that, like West Point, liked to talk a lot about leadership, Yale University. A school that some of you might have gone to had you not come here, that some of your friends might be going to. And if not Yale, then Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and so forth. These institutions, like West Point, also see their role as the training of leaders, constantly encourage their students, like West Point, to regard themselves as leaders among their peers and future leaders of society. Indeed, when we look around at the American elite, the people in charge of government, business, academia, and all our other major institutions—senators, judges, CEOs, college presidents, and so forth—we find that they come overwhelmingly either from the Ivy League and its peer institutions or from the service academies, especially West Point.

So I began to wonder, as I taught at Yale, what leadership really consists of. My students, like you, were energetic, accomplished, smart, and often ferociously ambitious, but was that enough to make them leaders? Most of them, as much as I liked and even admired them, certainly didn’t seem to me like leaders. Does being a leader, I wondered, just mean being accomplished, being successful? Does getting straight As make you a leader? I didn’t think so. Great heart surgeons or great novelists or great shortstops may be terrific at what they do, but that doesn’t mean they’re leaders. Leadership and aptitude, leadership and achievement, leadership and even ex­cellence have to be different things, otherwise the concept of leadership has no meaning. And it seemed to me that that had to be especially true of the kind of excellence I saw in the students around me.

See, things have changed since I went to college in the ’80s. Everything has gotten much more intense. You have to do much more now to get into a top school like Yale or West Point, and you have to start a lot earlier. We didn’t begin thinking about college until we were juniors, and maybe we each did a couple of extracurriculars. But I know what it’s like for you guys now. It’s an endless series of hoops that you have to jump through, starting from way back, maybe as early as junior high school. Classes, standardized tests, extracurriculars in school, extracurriculars outside of school. Test prep courses, admissions coaches, private tutors. I sat on the Yale College admissions committee a couple of years ago. The first thing the admissions officer would do when presenting a case to the rest of the committee was read what they call the “brag” in admissions lingo, the list of the student’s extracurriculars. Well, it turned out that a student who had six or seven extracurriculars was already in trouble. Because the students who got in—in addition to perfect grades and top scores—usually had 10 or 12.

So what I saw around me were great kids who had been trained to be world-class hoop jumpers. Any goal you set them, they could achieve. Any test you gave them, they could pass with flying colors. They were, as one of them put it herself, “excellent sheep.” I had no doubt that they would continue to jump through hoops and ace tests and go on to Harvard Business School, or Michigan Law School, or Johns Hopkins Medical School, or Goldman Sachs, or McKinsey consulting, or whatever. And this approach would indeed take them far in life. They would come back for their 25th reunion as a partner at White & Case, or an attending physician at Mass General, or an assistant secretary in the Department of State.

That is exactly what places like Yale mean when they talk about training leaders. Educating people who make a big name for themselves in the world, people with impressive titles, people the university can brag about. People who make it to the top. People who can climb the greasy pole of whatever hierarchy they decide to attach themselves to.

But I think there’s something desperately wrong, and even dangerous, about that idea. To explain why, I want to spend a few minutes talking about a novel that many of you may have read, Heart of Darkness. If you haven’t read it, you’ve probably seen Apocalypse Now, which is based on it. Marlow in the novel becomes Captain Willard, played by Martin Sheen. Kurtz in the novel becomes Colonel Kurtz, played by Marlon Brando. But the novel isn’t about Vietnam; it’s about colonialism in the Belgian Congo three generations before Vietnam. Marlow, not a military officer but a merchant marine, a civilian ship’s captain, is sent by the company that’s running the country under charter from the Belgian crown to sail deep upriver, up the Congo River, to retrieve a manager who’s ensconced himself in the jungle and gone rogue, just like Colonel Kurtz does in the movie.

Now everyone knows that the novel is about imperialism and colonialism and race relations and the darkness that lies in the human heart, but it became clear to me at a certain point, as I taught the novel, that it is also about bureaucracy—what I called, a minute ago, hierarchy. The Company, after all, is just that: a company, with rules and procedures and ranks and people in power and people scrambling for power, just like any other bureaucracy. Just like a big law firm or a governmental department or, for that matter, a university. Just like—and here’s why I’m telling you all this—just like the bureaucracy you are about to join. The word bureaucracy tends to have negative connotations, but I say this in no way as a criticism, merely a description, that the U.S. Army is a bureaucracy and one of the largest and most famously bureaucratic bureaucracies in the world. After all, it was the Army that gave us, among other things, the indispensable bureaucratic acronym “snafu”: “situation normal: all fucked up”—or “all fouled up” in the cleaned-up version. That comes from the U.S. Army in World War II.

You need to know that when you get your commission, you’ll be joining a bureaucracy, and however long you stay in the Army, you’ll be operating within a bureaucracy. As different as the armed forces are in so many ways from every other institution in society, in that respect they are the same. And so you need to know how bureaucracies operate, what kind of behavior—what kind of character—they reward, and what kind they punish.

So, back to the novel. Marlow proceeds upriver by stages, just like Captain Willard does in the movie. First he gets to the Outer Station. Kurtz is at the Inner Station. In between is the Central Station, where Marlow spends the most time, and where we get our best look at bureaucracy in action and the kind of people who succeed in it. This is Marlow’s description of the manager of the Central Station, the big boss:

He was commonplace in complexion, in features, in manners, and in voice. He was of middle size and of ordinary build. His eyes, of the usual blue, were perhaps remarkably cold. . . . Otherwise there was only an indefinable, faint expression of his lips, something stealthy—a smile—not a smile—I remember it, but I can’t explain. . . . He was a common trader, from his youth up employed in these parts—nothing more. He was obeyed, yet he inspired neither love nor fear, nor even respect. He inspired uneasiness. That was it! Uneasiness. Not a definite mistrust—just uneasiness—nothing more. You have no idea how effective such a . . . a . . . faculty can be. He had no genius for organizing, for initiative, or for order even. . . . He had no learning, and no intelligence. His position had come to him—why? . . . He originated nothing, he could keep the routine going—that’s all. But he was great. He was great by this little thing that it was impossible to tell what could control such a man. He never gave that secret away. Perhaps there was nothing within him. Such a suspicion made one pause.

Note the adjectives: commonplace, ordinary, usual, common. There is nothing distinguished about this person. About the 10th time I read that passage, I realized it was a perfect description of the kind of person who tends to prosper in the bureaucratic environment. And the only reason I did is because it suddenly struck me that it was a perfect description of the head of the bureaucracy that I was part of, the chairman of my academic department—who had that exact same smile, like a shark, and that exact same ability to make you uneasy, like you were doing something wrong, only she wasn’t ever going to tell you what. Like the manager—and I’m sorry to say this, but like so many people you will meet as you negotiate the bureaucracy of the Army or for that matter of whatever institution you end up giving your talents to after the Army, whether it’s Microsoft or the World Bank or whatever—the head of my department had no genius for organizing or initiative or even order, no particular learning or intelligence, no distinguishing characteristics at all. Just the ability to keep the routine going, and beyond that, as Marlow says, her position had come to her—why?

That’s really the great mystery about bureaucracies. Why is it so often that the best people are stuck in the middle and the people who are running things—the leaders—are the mediocrities? Because excellence isn’t usually what gets you up the greasy pole. What gets you up is a talent for maneuvering. Kissing up to the people above you, kicking down to the people below you. Pleasing your teachers, pleasing your superiors, picking a powerful mentor and riding his coattails until it’s time to stab him in the back. Jumping through hoops. Getting along by going along. Being whatever other people want you to be, so that it finally comes to seem that, like the manager of the Central Station, you have nothing inside you at all. Not taking stupid risks like trying to change how things are done or question why they’re done. Just keeping the routine going.

I tell you this to forewarn you, because I promise you that you will meet these people and you will find yourself in environments where what is rewarded above all is conformity. I tell you so you can decide to be a different kind of leader. And I tell you for one other reason. As I thought about these things and put all these pieces together—the kind of students I had, the kind of leadership they were being trained for, the kind of leaders I saw in my own institution—I realized that this is a national problem. We have a crisis of leadership in this country, in every institution. Not just in government. Look at what happened to American corporations in recent decades, as all the old dinosaurs like General Motors or TWA or U.S. Steel fell apart. Look at what happened to Wall Street in just the last couple of years.

Finally—and I know I’m on sensitive ground here—look at what happened during the first four years of the Iraq War. We were stuck. It wasn’t the fault of the enlisted ranks or the noncoms or the junior officers. It was the fault of the senior leadership, whether military or civilian or both. We weren’t just not winning, we weren’t even changing direction.

We have a crisis of leadership in America because our overwhelming power and wealth, earned under earlier generations of leaders, made us complacent, and for too long we have been training leaders who only know how to keep the routine going. Who can answer questions, but don’t know how to ask them. Who can fulfill goals, but don’t know how to set them. Who think about how to get things done, but not whether they’re worth doing in the first place. What we have now are the greatest technocrats the world has ever seen, people who have been trained to be incredibly good at one specific thing, but who have no interest in anything beyond their area of exper­tise. What we don’t have are leaders.

What we don’t have, in other words, are thinkers. People who can think for themselves. People who can formulate a new direction: for the country, for a corporation or a college, for the Army—a new way of doing things, a new way of looking at things. People, in other words, with vision.

Now some people would say, great. Tell this to the kids at Yale, but why bother telling it to the ones at West Point? Most people, when they think of this institution, assume that it’s the last place anyone would want to talk about thinking creatively or cultivating independence of mind. It’s the Army, after all. It’s no accident that the word regiment is the root of the word regimentation. Surely you who have come here must be the ultimate conformists. Must be people who have bought in to the way things are and have no interest in changing it. Are not the kind of young people who think about the world, who ponder the big issues, who question authority. If you were, you would have gone to Amherst or Pomona. You’re at West Point to be told what to do and how to think.

But you know that’s not true. I know it, too; otherwise I would never have been invited to talk to you, and I’m even more convinced of it now that I’ve spent a few days on campus. To quote Colonel Scott Krawczyk, your course director, in a lecture he gave last year to English 102:

From the very earliest days of this country, the model for our officers, which was built on the model of the citizenry and reflective of democratic ideals, was to be different. They were to be possessed of a democratic spirit marked by independent judgment, the freedom to measure action and to express disagreement, and the crucial responsibility never to tolerate tyranny.

All the more so now. Anyone who’s been paying attention for the last few years understands that the changing nature of warfare means that officers, including junior officers, are required more than ever to be able to think independently, creatively, flexibly. To deploy a whole range of skills in a fluid and complex situation. Lieutenant colonels who are essentially functioning as provincial governors in Iraq, or captains who find themselves in charge of a remote town somewhere in Afghanistan. People who know how to do more than follow orders and execute routines.

Look at the most successful, most acclaimed, and perhaps the finest soldier of his generation, General David Petraeus. He’s one of those rare people who rises through a bureaucracy for the right reasons. He is a thinker. He is an intellectual. In fact, Prospect magazine named him Public Intellectual of the Year in 2008—that’s in the world. He has a Ph.D. from Princeton, but what makes him a thinker is not that he has a Ph.D. or that he went to Princeton or even that he taught at West Point. I can assure you from personal experience that there are a lot of highly educated people who don’t know how to think at all.

No, what makes him a thinker—and a leader—is precisely that he is able to think things through for himself. And because he can, he has the confidence, the courage, to argue for his ideas even when they aren’t popular. Even when they don’t please his superiors. Courage: there is physical courage, which you all possess in abundance, and then there is another kind of courage, moral courage, the courage to stand up for what you believe.

It wasn’t always easy for him. His path to where he is now was not a straight one. When he was running Mosul in 2003 as commander of the 101st Airborne and developing the strategy he would later formulate in the Counterinsurgency Field Manual and then ultimately apply throughout Iraq, he pissed a lot of people off. He was way ahead of the leadership in Baghdad and Washington, and bureaucracies don’t like that sort of thing. Here he was, just another two-star, and he was saying, implicitly but loudly, that the leadership was wrong about the way it was running the war. Indeed, he was not rewarded at first. He was put in charge of training the Iraqi army, which was considered a blow to his career, a dead-end job. But he stuck to his guns, and ultimately he was vindicated. Ironically, one of the central elements of his counterinsurgency strategy is precisely the idea that officers need to think flexibly, creatively, and independently.

That’s the first half of the lecture: the idea that true leadership means being able to think for yourself and act on your convictions. But how do you learn to do that? How do you learn to think? Let’s start with how you don’t learn to think. A study by a team of researchers at Stanford came out a couple of months ago. The investigators wanted to figure out how today’s college students were able to multitask so much more effectively than adults. How do they manage to do it, the researchers asked? The answer, they discovered—and this is by no means what they expected—is that they don’t. The enhanced cognitive abilities the investigators expected to find, the mental faculties that enable people to multitask effectively, were simply not there. In other words, people do not multitask effectively. And here’s the really surprising finding: the more people multitask, the worse they are, not just at other mental abilities, but at multitasking itself.

One thing that made the study different from others is that the researchers didn’t test people’s cognitive functions while they were multitasking. They separated the subject group into high multitaskers and low multitaskers and used a different set of tests to measure the kinds of cognitive abilities involved in multitasking. They found that in every case the high multitaskers scored worse. They were worse at distinguishing between relevant and irrelevant information and ignoring the latter. In other words, they were more distractible. They were worse at what you might call “mental filing”: keeping information in the right conceptual boxes and being able to retrieve it quickly. In other words, their minds were more disorganized. And they were even worse at the very thing that defines multitasking itself: switching between tasks.

Multitasking, in short, is not only not thinking, it impairs your ability to think. Thinking means concentrating on one thing long enough to develop an idea about it. Not learning other people’s ideas, or memorizing a body of information, however much those may sometimes be useful. Developing your own ideas. In short, thinking for yourself. You simply cannot do that in bursts of 20 seconds at a time, constantly interrupted by Facebook messages or Twitter tweets, or fiddling with your iPod, or watching something on YouTube.

I find for myself that my first thought is never my best thought. My first thought is always someone else’s; it’s always what I’ve already heard about the subject, always the conventional wisdom. It’s only by concentrating, sticking to the question, being patient, letting all the parts of my mind come into play, that I arrive at an original idea. By giving my brain a chance to make associations, draw connections, take me by surprise. And often even that idea doesn’t turn out to be very good. I need time to think about it, too, to make mistakes and recognize them, to make false starts and correct them, to outlast my impulses, to defeat my desire to declare the job done and move on to the next thing.

I used to have students who bragged to me about how fast they wrote their papers. I would tell them that the great German novelist Thomas Mann said that a writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. The best writers write much more slowly than everyone else, and the better they are, the slower they write. James Joyce wrote Ulysses, the greatest novel of the 20th century, at the rate of about a hundred words a day—half the length of the selection I read you earlier from Heart of Darkness—for seven years. T. S. Eliot, one of the greatest poets our country has ever produced, wrote about 150 pages of poetry over the course of his entire 25-year career. That’s half a page a month. So it is with any other form of thought. You do your best thinking by slowing down and concentrating.

Now that’s the third time I’ve used that word, concentrating. Concentrating, focusing. You can just as easily consider this lecture to be about concentration as about solitude. Think about what the word means. It means gathering yourself together into a single point rather than letting yourself be dispersed everywhere into a cloud of electronic and social input. It seems to me that Facebook and Twitter and YouTube—and just so you don’t think this is a generational thing, TV and radio and magazines and even newspapers, too—are all ultimately just an elaborate excuse to run away from yourself. To avoid the difficult and troubling questions that being human throws in your way. Am I doing the right thing with my life? Do I believe the things I was taught as a child? What do the words I live by—words like duty, honor, and country—really mean? Am I happy?

You and the members of the other service academies are in a unique position among college students, especially today. Not only do you know that you’re going to have a job when you graduate, you even know who your employer is going to be. But what happens after you fulfill your commitment to the Army? Unless you know who you are, how will you figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life? Unless you’re able to listen to yourself, to that quiet voice inside that tells you what you really care about, what you really believe in—indeed, how those things might be evolving under the pressure of your experiences. Students everywhere else agonize over these questions, and while you may not be doing so now, you are only postponing them for a few years.

Maybe some of you are agonizing over them now. Not everyone who starts here decides to finish here. It’s no wonder and no cause for shame. You are being put through the most demanding training anyone can ask of people your age, and you are committing yourself to work of awesome responsibility and mortal danger. The very rigor and regimentation to which you are quite properly subject here naturally has a tendency to make you lose touch with the passion that brought you here in the first place. I saw exactly the same kind of thing at Yale. It’s not that my students were robots. Quite the reverse. They were in­tensely idealistic, but the overwhelming weight of their practical responsibilities, all of those hoops they had to jump through, often made them lose sight of what those ideals were. Why they were doing it all in the first place.
So it’s perfectly natural to have doubts, or questions, or even just difficulties. The question is, what do you do with them? Do you suppress them, do you distract yourself from them, do you pretend they don’t exist? Or do you confront them directly, honestly, courageously? If you decide to do so, you will find that the answers to these dilemmas are not to be found on Twitter or Comedy Central or even in The New York Times. They can only be found within—without distractions, without peer pressure, in solitude.

But let me be clear that solitude doesn’t always have to mean introspection. Let’s go back to Heart of Darkness. It’s the solitude of concentration that saves Marlow amidst the madness of the Central Station. When he gets there he finds out that the steamboat he’s supposed to sail upriver has a giant hole in it, and no one is going to help him fix it. “I let him run on,” he says, “this papier-mâché Mephistopheles”—he’s talking not about the manager but his assistant, who’s even worse, since he’s still trying to kiss his way up the hierarchy, and who’s been raving away at him. You can think of him as the Internet, the ever-present social buzz, chattering away at you 24/7:

I let him run on, this papier-mâché Mephistopheles and it seemed to me that if I tried I could poke my forefinger through him, and would find nothing inside but a little loose dirt. . . .

It was a great comfort to turn from that chap to . . . the battered, twisted, ruined, tin-pot steamboat. . . . I had expended enough hard work on her to make me love her. No influential friend would have served me better. She had given me a chance to come out a bit—to find out what I could do. No, I don’t like work. I had rather laze about and think of all the fine things that can be done. I don’t like work—no man does—but I like what is in the work,—the chance to find yourself. Your own reality—for yourself, not for others—what no other man can ever know.

“The chance to find yourself.” Now that phrase, “finding yourself,” has acquired a bad reputation. It suggests an aimless liberal-arts college graduate—an English major, no doubt, someone who went to a place like Amherst or Pomona—who’s too spoiled to get a job and spends his time staring off into space. But here’s Marlow, a mariner, a ship’s captain. A more practical, hardheaded person you could not find. And I should say that Marlow’s creator, Conrad, spent 19 years as a merchant marine, eight of them as a ship’s captain, before he became a writer, so this wasn’t just some artist’s idea of a sailor. Marlow believes in the need to find yourself just as much as anyone does, and the way to do it, he says, is work, solitary work. Concentration. Climbing on that steamboat and spending a few uninterrupted hours hammering it into shape. Or building a house, or cooking a meal, or even writing a college paper, if you really put yourself into it.

“Your own reality—for yourself, not for others.” Thinking for yourself means finding yourself, finding your own reality. Here’s the other problem with Facebook and Twitter and even The New York Times. When you expose yourself to those things, especially in the constant way that people do now—older people as well as younger people—you are continuously bombarding yourself with a stream of other people’s thoughts. You are marinating yourself in the conventional wisdom. In other people’s reality: for others, not for yourself. You are creating a cacophony in which it is impossible to hear your own voice, whether it’s yourself you’re thinking about or anything else. That’s what Emerson meant when he said that “he who should inspire and lead his race must be defended from travelling with the souls of other men, from living, breathing, reading, and writing in the daily, time-worn yoke of their opinions.” Notice that he uses the word lead. Leadership means finding a new direction, not simply putting yourself at the front of the herd that’s heading toward the cliff.

So why is reading books any better than reading tweets or wall posts? Well, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes, you need to put down your book, if only to think about what you’re reading, what you think about what you’re reading. But a book has two advantages over a tweet. First, the person who wrote it thought about it a lot more carefully. The book is the result of his solitude, his attempt to think for himself.

Second, most books are old. This is not a disadvantage: this is precisely what makes them valuable. They stand against the conventional wisdom of today simply because they’re not from today. Even if they merely reflect the conventional wisdom of their own day, they say something different from what you hear all the time. But the great books, the ones you find on a syllabus, the ones people have continued to read, don’t reflect the conventional wisdom of their day. They say things that have the permanent power to disrupt our habits of thought. They were revolutionary in their own time, and they are still revolutionary today. And when I say “revolutionary,” I am deliberately evoking the American Revolution, because it was a result of precisely this kind of independent thinking. Without solitude—the solitude of Adams and Jefferson and Hamilton and Madison and Thomas Paine—there would be no America.

So solitude can mean introspection, it can mean the concentration of focused work, and it can mean sustained reading. All of these help you to know yourself better. But there’s one more thing I’m going to include as a form of solitude, and it will seem counterintuitive: friendship. Of course friendship is the opposite of solitude; it means being with other people. But I’m talking about one kind of friendship in particular, the deep friendship of intimate conversation. Long, uninterrupted talk with one other person. Not Skyping with three people and texting with two others at the same time while you hang out in a friend’s room listening to music and studying. That’s what Emerson meant when he said that “the soul environs itself with friends, that it may enter into a grander self-acquaintance or solitude.”

Introspection means talking to yourself, and one of the best ways of talking to yourself is by talking to another person. One other person you can trust, one other person to whom you can unfold your soul. One other person you feel safe enough with to allow you to acknowledge things—to acknowledge things to yourself—that you otherwise can’t. Doubts you aren’t supposed to have, questions you aren’t supposed to ask. Feelings or opinions that would get you laughed at by the group or reprimanded by the authorities.

This is what we call thinking out loud, discovering what you believe in the course of articulating it. But it takes just as much time and just as much patience as solitude in the strict sense. And our new electronic world has disrupted it just as violently. Instead of having one or two true friends that we can sit and talk to for three hours at a time, we have 968 “friends” that we never actually talk to; instead we just bounce one-line messages off them a hundred times a day. This is not friendship, this is distraction.

I know that none of this is easy for you. Even if you threw away your cell phones and unplugged your computers, the rigors of your training here keep you too busy to make solitude, in any of these forms, anything less than very difficult to find. But the highest reason you need to try is precisely because of what the job you are training for will demand of you.

You’ve probably heard about the hazing scandal at the U.S. naval base in Bahrain that was all over the news recently. Terrible, abusive stuff that involved an entire unit and was orchestrated, allegedly, by the head of the unit, a senior noncommissioned officer. What are you going to do if you’re confronted with a situation like that going on in your unit? Will you have the courage to do what’s right? Will you even know what the right thing is? It’s easy to read a code of conduct, not so easy to put it into practice, especially if you risk losing the loyalty of the people serving under you, or the trust of your peer officers, or the approval of your superiors. What if you’re not the commanding officer, but you see your superiors condoning something you think is wrong?

How will you find the strength and wisdom to challenge an unwise order or question a wrongheaded policy? What will you do the first time you have to write a letter to the mother of a slain soldier? How will you find words of comfort that are more than just empty formulas?

These are truly formidable dilemmas, more so than most other people will ever have to face in their lives, let alone when they’re 23. The time to start preparing yourself for them is now. And the way to do it is by thinking through these issues for yourself—morality, mortality, honor—so you will have the strength to deal with them when they arise. Waiting until you have to confront them in practice would be like waiting for your first firefight to learn how to shoot your weapon. Once the situation is upon you, it’s too late. You have to be prepared in advance. You need to know, already, who you are and what you believe: not what the Army believes, not what your peers believe (that may be exactly the problem), but what you believe.

How can you know that unless you’ve taken counsel with yourself in solitude? I started by noting that solitude and leadership would seem to be contradictory things. But it seems to me that solitude is the very essence of leadership. The position of the leader is ultimately an intensely solitary, even intensely lonely one. However many people you may consult, you are the one who has to make the hard decisions. And at such moments, all you really have is yourself.

URL: http://www.theamericanscholar.org/solitude-and-leadership/

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Stanwood/Camano News

Stanwood City Council unanimously approved Tyler Murphy's appointment to the planning commission Thursday night, to fill the position Roger Haskins vacated when he was selected to the council.

Murphy graduated Stanwood High School (SHS) in 2008. He's currently studying for his associates in arts and sciences degree at Skagit Valley College.

Murphy said he applied to the planning commission because his "family has deep ties to Stanwood and surrounding communities." I'd like to give back to a community that helped raise me, and participate in developing and contributing to the inevitable growth of Stanwood," he said. Murphy's term will only run through the end of the yea. After that, he may reapply for a full term. (October 19, 2010 Author: JHagan)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Network Quote

Howard Beale: I don't have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It's a depression. Everybody's out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel's work, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there's nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there's no end to it.

We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TV's while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that's the way it's supposed to be. We know things are bad - worse than bad. They're crazy. It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, 'Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone.' Well, I'm not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad!

I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot - I don't want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you've got to get mad. You've got to say, 'I'm a HUMAN BEING, Goddamnit! My life has VALUE!' So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell 'I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!'

I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell - 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!' Things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad!... You've got to say, 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!' Then we'll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: [screaming at the top of his lungs] "I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!"

Pale Blue Dot


"We succeeded in taking that picture [from deep space], and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.

The earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity -- in all this vastness -- there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us. It's been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."
Carl Sagan (1934-1996)
URL Source: http://www.bigskyastroclub.org/pale_blue_dot.htm

Christopher Hitchens "No reason to think there is a god"




Christopher Hitchens brings up an important point about the Abrahamic traditions, the totalitarian nature of Christianity.

The smashing of your individuality.


In the United States a notion exists that the government doesn't give rights to individuals, but rather the government is to protect these rights. The Declaration of Independence states the American creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

These rights cannot be taken by the government because they were not given by the government, the argument goes. Christopher Hitchens rebuttals saying that his ancestors didn't make it to the promise land without recognizing the respect for other's right.

In the Atheism tapes, Steven Weinberg says, "I don’t see religion as actually inspiring moral behavior. In fact, you very often hear people say well these people who blow themselves up for some reason in the middle east, or Hindu mobs who... destroy a mosque or Muslims who killed Hindus that they’re not really religious, that real religion doesn’t involve that kind of behavior I think what they are saying is that they have moral sense which allows them to distinguish what is religious from what is not. Instead of using religion to decide what is moral, they’re using their moral sense, which, fortunately is a perfectly good, reasonable moral sense to decide what is religious."

"Yes a college I will decree in the name of jesus that will respect God's will that sex is for marriage!!! Samantha...lighten up...College belongs to God....hows that...your heard it from The Bride of Christ...My land, my college, my Lord's rules...sorry."

Utter nonsense. But this is what Christianity requires of you.

Theists will often cite that if for a moment God didn't exist, Life would be meaningless. Nonsense. Absolutely nonsense. Because the arguments against God don't hold water, doesn't mean a higher being cannot exist, it just means those arguments don't prove it. Wake up and smell the coffee.
Mourn not the dead that in the cool earth lie, but rather mourn the apathetic, throng the coward and the meek who see the world's great anguish and its wrong, and dare not speak.

Monday, June 21, 2010

SVC Class of 2010 Remarks

Delivered amongst a full house in the Skagit Valley College Gymnasium with some folks even trickling out the door:

Hello Graduating SVC Students, Families and; Friends. My name is Tyler Murphy, and I served as the Vice-President on the Mt. Vernon Campus this past year. It truly is an honor to be among the Board of Trustees, Graduating Students, families and friends, and our wonderful faculty and administration as we celebrate your success.

I’d like to begin by congratulating everyone this afternoon. You’ve all come a long way in your academic and personal achievements. Secondly, Family and friends, I’d like to congratulate you as well for providing the inspiration and support for today's graduating students.

As I reflect on my life since starting Skagit Valley College, I have to admit that I fell into Student Government by accident; I was minutes away from not turning in the necessary application to run in the elections, in large part because I was afraid of rejection and disappointment that could follow. Now a year later, doors have opened that I didn’t think ever existed, and I find myself with opportunities I could only have imagined.

I say this to encourage you to take chances, don’t be afraid, and stare down your personal demons. Don’t compromise yourself; you deserve nothing less than your dreams. Never be afraid to take risks, Remember if you lose it all, and have nothing, you have nothing to lose. To echo the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, “I find the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand as in what direction we are moving: to reach the port of heaven, we must sail, sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it, but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor”

I hope that as you reflect on your time at Skagit, you will recognize the various obstacles you’ve overcome, and the personal achievements you’ve obtained. Many faces in this room are ready to face the "real world", I wish all of you my best. To those transferring to another institution of higher learning, don’t give up. To those who are here teaching, well, *Pause* good luck. As I look around the room, I am amazed at the turnout as we celebrate the success of our students. I’d like to thank you SVC for the opportunity to serve as your Vice-President. I hope that Skagit Valley College becomes a Stepping Stone to propel you into your future, and where ever life may take you Class of 2010, I wish you nothing but the best! Thank You!



My grandma came over tonight to drop off pictures she found of my first train ride. She went to visit my Great Uncle Stax earlier today, and somehow in the midst of the conversation Stax told her that an older gentleman was speaking highly of "tall, young good looking boy by the name of Tyler" and gave a "wonderful, and impressive speech." My Grandma told Stax I gave a speech at Skagit, to which Stax replied, "I knew it was Tyler" Small world.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Dear Theologian*

Written by Dan Barker, author of Losing Faith in Faith




Dear Theologian,

I have a few questions, and I thought you would be the right person to ask. It gets tough sometimes, sitting up here in heaven with no one to talk to. I mean really talk to. I can always converse with the angels, of course, but since they don't have free will, and since I created every thought in their submissive minds, they are not very stimulating conversationalists.

Of course, I can talk with my son Jesus and with the "third person" of our holy trinity, the Holy Spirit, but since we are all the same, there is nothing we can learn from each other. There are no well-placed repartees in the Godhead. We all know what the others know. We can't exactly play chess. Jesus sometimes calls me "Father," and that feels good, but since he and I are the same age and have the same powers, it doesn't mean much.

You are educated. You have examined philosophy and world religions, and you have a degree which makes you qualified to carry on a discussion with someone at my level--not that I can't talk with anyone, even with the uneducated believers who fill the churches and flatter me with endless petitions, but you know how it is. Sometimes we all crave interaction with a respected colleague. You have read the scholars. You have written papers and published books about me, and you know me better than anyone else.

It might surprise you to think that I have some questions. No, not rhetorical questions aimed at teaching spiritual lessons, but some real, honest-to-God inquiries. This should not shock you because, after all, I created you in my image. Your inquisitiveness is an inheritance from me. You would say that love, for example, is a reflection of my nature within yourself, wouldn't you? Since questioning is healthy, it also comes from me.

Somebody once said that we should prove all things, and hold fast that which is good. My first question is this:
Where did I come from?

I find myself sitting up here in heaven, and I look around and notice that there is nothing else besides myself and the objects that I have created. I don't see any other creatures competing with me, nor do I notice anything above myself that might have created me, unless it is playing hide-and-seek. In any event, as far as I know (and I supposedly know everything), there is nothing else but me in-three-persons and my creations. I have always existed, you say. I did not create myself, because if I did, then I would be greater than myself.

So where did I come from?

I know how you approach that question regarding your own existence. You notice that nature, especially the human mind, displays evidence of intricate design. You have never observed such design apart from a designer. You argue that human beings must have had a creator, and you will find no disagreement from me.

Then, what about me? Like you, I observe that my mind is complex and intricate. It is much more complex than your mind, otherwise I couldn't have created your mind. My personality displays evidence of organization and purpose. Sometimes I surprise myself at how wise I am. If you think your existence is evidence of a designer, then what do you think about my existence? Am I not wonderful? Do I not function in an orderly manner? My mind is not a random jumble of disconnected thoughts; it displays what you would call evidence of design. If you need a designer, then why don't I?

You might think such a question is blasphemy, but to me there is no such crime. I can ask any question I want, and I think this is a fair one. If you say that everything needs a designer and then say that not everything (Me) needs a designer, aren't you contradicting yourself? By excluding me from the argument, aren't you bringing your conclusion into your argument? Isn't that circular reasoning? I am not saying I disagree with your conclusion; how could I? I'm just wondering why it is proper for you to infer a designer while it is not proper for me.

If you are saying that I don't need to ask where I came from because I am perfect and omniscient while humans are fallible, then you don't need the design argument at all, do you? You have already assumed that I exist. You can make such an assumption, of course, and I would not deny you the freedom. Such a priori and circular reasoning might be helpful or comforting to you, but it does me little good. It doesn't help me figure out where I came from.

You say that I am eternally existent, and I suppose I would have no objection if I knew what it meant. It is hard for me to conceive of eternal existence. I just can't remember back that far. It would take me an eternity to remember back to eternity, leaving me no time to do anything else, so it is impossible for me to confirm if I existed forever. And even if it is true, why is eternal greater than temporal? Is a long sermon greater than a short sermon? What does "greater" mean? Are fat people greater than thin people, or old greater than young?

You think it is important that I have always existed. I'll take your word for it, for now. My question is not with the duration of my existence, but with the origin of my existence. I don't see how being eternal solves the problem. I still want to know where I came from.

I can only imagine one possible answer, and I would appreciate your reaction. I know that I exist. I know that I could not have created myself. I also know that there is no higher God who could have created me. Since I can't look above myself, then perhaps I should look below myself for a creator. Perhaps--this is speculative, so bear with me--perhaps you created me.

Don't be shocked. I mean to flatter you. Since I contain evidence of design, and since I see no other place where such design could originate, I am forced to look for a designer, or designers, in nature itself. You are a part of nature. You are intelligent--that is what your readers say. Why should I not find the answer to my question in you? Help me out on this.

Of course, if you made me, then I could not have made you, I think. The reason that I think I made you is because you made me to think I made you. You have often said that a Creator can put thoughts in your mind. Isn't it possible that you have put thoughts in my mind, and now here we are, both of us, wondering where we each came from?

Some of you have said that the answer to this whole question is just a mystery that only God understands. Well, thanks a lot. The buck stops here. On the one hand you use logic to try to prove my existence, but on the other hand, when logic hits a dead end, you abandon it and invoke "faith" and "mystery." Those words might be useful to you as place-holders for facts or truth, but they don't translate to anything meaningful as far as I am concerned. You can pretend that "mystery" signifies something terribly important, but to me it simply means you don't know.

Some of you assert that I did not "come" from anywhere. I just exist. However, I have also heard you say that nothing comes from nothing. You can't have it both ways. I either exist or I don't. What was it that caused me to exist, as opposed to not existing at all? If I don't need a cause, then why do you? Since I am not happy to say that this is a mystery, I must accept the only explanation that makes sense. You created me.

Is that such a terrible idea? I know that you think many other gods were created by humans: Zeus, Thor, Mercury, Elvis. You recognize that such deities originate in human desire, need, or fear. If the blessed beliefs of those billions of individuals can be dismissed as products of culture, then why can't yours? The Persians created Mithra, the Jews created Yahweh, and you created me. If I am wrong about this, please straighten me out.

My second question is this:
What's it all about?

Maybe I made myself, maybe some other god made me, maybe you made me--let's put that aside for now. I'm here now. Why am I here? Many of you look up to me for purpose in life, and I have often stated that your purpose in life is to please me. (Read Revelation 4:11) If your purpose is to please me, what is my purpose? To please myself? Is that all there is to life?

If I exist for my own pleasure, then this is selfish. It makes it look as if I created you merely to have some living toys to play with. Isn't there some principle that I can look up to? Something to admire, adore, and worship? Am I consigned for eternity to sit here and amuse myself with the worship of others? Or to worship myself? What's the point?

I have read your writings on the meaning of life, and don't misunderstand me, they make sense in the theological context of human religious goals, even if they don't have much practicality in the real world. Many of you feel that your purpose in life is to achieve perfection. Since you humans fall way short of perfection, by your own admission (and I agree), then self improvement provides you with a quest. It gives you something to do. Someday you hope to be as perfect as you think I am. But since I am already perfect, by definition, then I don't need such a purpose. I'm just sort of hanging out, I guess.

Yet I still wonder why I'm here. It feels good to exist. It feels great to be perfect. But it gives me nothing to do. I created the universe with all kinds of natural laws that govern everything from quarks to galactic clusters, and it runs okay on its own. I had to make these laws, otherwise I would be involved with a lot of repetitive busy work, such as pulling light rays through space, yanking falling objects down to the earth, sticking atoms together to build molecules, and a trillion other boring tasks more worthy of a slave than a master. You have discovered most of those laws, and might be on the verge of putting the whole picture together, and once you have done that you will know what I know: that there is nothing in the universe for me to do. It's boring up here.

I could create more universes and more laws, but what's the point? I've already done universes. Creation is like sneezing or writing short stories; it just comes out of me. I could go on an orgy of creation. Create, create, create. After a while a person can get sick of the same thing, like when you eat a whole box of chocolates and discover that the last piece doesn't taste as good as the first. Once you have had ten children, do you need twenty? (I'm asking you, not the pope.) If more is better, then I am obligated to continue until I have fathered an infinite number of children, and an endless number of universes. If I must compel myself, then I am a slave.

Many of you assert that it is inappropriate to seek purpose within yourself, that it must come from outside. I feel the same way. I can't merely assign purpose to myself. If I did, then I would have to look for my reasons. I would have to come up with an account of why I chose one purpose over another, and if such reasons came from within myself I would be caught in a loop of self-justified rationalizations. Since I have no Higher Power of my own, then I have no purpose. Nothing to live for. It is all meaningless.

Sure, I can bestow meaning on you--pleasing me, achieving perfection, whatever--and perhaps that is all that concerns you; but doesn't it bother you, just a little, that the source of meaning for your life has no source of its own? And if this is true, then isn't it also true that ultimately you have no meaning for yourself either? If it makes you happy to demand an external reference point on which to hang your meaningfulness, why would you deny the same to me? I also want to be happy, and I want to find that happiness in something other than myself. Is that a sin?

On the other hand, if you think I have the right and the freedom to find happiness in myself and in the things I created, then why should you not have the same right? You, whom I created in my image?

I know that some of you have proposed a solution to this problem. You call it "love." You think I am lonely up here, and that I created humans to satisfy my longing for a relationship with something that is not myself. Of course, this will never work because it is impossible for me to create something that is not part of myself, but let's say that I try anyway. Let's say that I create this mechanism called "free will," which imparts to humans a choice. If I give you the freedom (though this is stretching the word because there is nothing outside of my power) not to love me, then if some of you, a few of you, even one of you chooses to love me, I have gained something I might not have had. I have gained a relationship with someone who could have chosen otherwise. This is called love, you say.

This is a great idea, on paper. In real life, however, it turns out that millions, billions of people have chosen not to love me, and that I have to do something with these infidels. I can't just un-create them. If I simply destroy all the unbelievers, I may as well have created only believers in the first place. Since I am omniscient, I would know in advance which of my creations would have a tendency to choose me, and this would produce no conflict with free will since those who would not have chosen me would have been eliminated simply by not having been created in the first place. (I could call it Supernatural Selection.) This seems much more compassionate than hell.

You can't have a love relationship with someone who is not your equal. If you humans don't have a guaranteed eternal soul, like myself, then you are worthless as companions. If I can't respect your right to exist independently, and your right to choose something other than me, then I couldn't love those of you who do choose me. I would have to find a place for all those billions of eternal souls who reject me, whatever their reasons might be. Let's call it "hell," a place that is not-God, not-me. I would have to create this inferno, otherwise neither I nor the unbelievers could escape each other. Let's ignore the technicalities of how I could manage to create hell, and then separate it from myself, apart from whom nothing else exists. (It's not as though I could create something and then simply throw it away--there is no cosmic trash heap.) The point is that since I am supposedly perfect, this place of exile must be something that is the opposite. It must be ultimate evil, pain, darkness, and torment.

If I created hell, then I don't like myself.

If I did create a hell, then it certainly would not be smart to advertise that fact. How would I know if people were claiming to love me for my own sake, or simply to avoid punishment? How can I expect someone to love me who is afraid of me in the first place? The threat of eternal torment might scare some people into obedience, but it does nothing to inspire love. If you treated me with threats and intimidations, I would have to reconsider my admiration for your character.

How would you feel if you had brought some children into the world knowing that they were going to be tormented eternally in a place you built for them? Could you live with yourself? Wouldn't it have been better not to have brought them into the world in the first place?

I know that some of you feel that hell is just a metaphor. Do you feel the same way about heaven?

Anyway, this whole love argument is wrong. Since I am perfect, I don't lack anything. I can't be lonely. I don't need to be loved. I don't even want to be loved because to want is to lack. To submit to the potential of giving and receiving love is to admit that I can be hurt by those who choose not to love me. If you can hurt me, I am not perfect. If I can't be hurt, I can't love. If I ignore or erase those who do not love me, sending them off to hell or oblivion, then my love is not sincere. If all I am doing is throwing the dice of "free will" and simply reaping the harvest of those who choose to love me, then I am a selfish monster. If you played such games with people's lives, I would call you insensitive, conceited, insecure, selfish and manipulative.

I know you have tried to get me off the hook. You explain that Yours Truly is not responsible for the sufferings of unbelievers because rejection of God is their choice, not mine. They had a corrupt human nature, you explain. Well, who gave them their human nature? If certain humans decide to do wrong, where do they get the impulse? If you think it came from Satan, who created Satan? And why would some humans be susceptible to Satan in the first place? Who created that susceptibility? If Satan was created perfect, and then fell, where did the flaw of perdition come from? If I am perfect, then how in God's name did I end up creating something that would not choose perfection? Someone once said that a good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit.

Here is the title for your next theological tome: Was Eve Perfect? If she was, she would not have taken the fruit. If she wasn't, I created imperfection.

Maybe you think all of this gives me a purpose--putting Humpty Dumpty back together--but it actually gives me a headache. (If you won't permit me a simple headache, then how can you allow me the pain of lost love?) I could not live with myself if I thought my actions were causing harm to others. Well, I shouldn't say that. Since I think you created me, I suppose I should let you tell me what I could live with. If you think it is consistent with my character to tolerate love and vengeance concurrently, then I have no choice. If you are my creator, then I could spout tenderness out of one side of my mouth and brutality out of the other. I could dance with my lover on the bones of my errant children, and pretend to enjoy it. I would be very human indeed.

I have a thousand more questions, but I hope you will allow me one more:
How do I decide what is right and wrong?

I don't know how I got here, but I'm here. Let's just say that my purpose is to make good people out of my creations. Let's say that I am to help you learn how to be perfect like me, and that the best way is for you to act just like me, or like I want you to act. You goal is to become little mirrors of myself. Won't that be splendid? I'll give you rules or principles, and you try to follow them. This may or may not be meaningful, but it will keep us both busy. I suppose that from your point of view this would be terribly meaningful, since you think I have the power to reward and punish.

I know that some of you Protestant theologians think that I give rewards not for good deeds, but simply for believing in my son Jesus who paid the punishment for your bad deeds. Well, Jesus spent only about thirty-six hours of an eternal life sentence in hell and is now back up here in ultimate coziness with me. Talk about a wrist-slap! He was not paroled for good behavior--he was simply released. (He had connections.) If my righteous judgment demanded absolute satisfaction, then Jesus should have paid the price in full, don't you think?

Beyond that, it is entirely incomprehensible to me why you think I would accept the blood of one individual for the crime of another. Is that fair? Is that justice? If you commit a felony, does the law allow your brother to serve the jail sentence for you? If someone burglarized your home, would you think justice was served if a friend bought you new furniture? Do you really think that I am such a bloodthirsty dictator that I will be content with the death of anyone for the crime of another? And are you so disrespectful of justice that you would happily accept a stand-in for your crimes? What about personal responsibility? It is tough to open my arms to welcome believers into heaven who have avoided the rap for their own actions. Something is way out of kilter here.

But let's ignore these objections. Let's assume that Jesus and I worked it all out and that evil will be punished and good rewarded. How do I know the difference? You are insisting that I not consult any rule book. You are asking me to be the Final Authority. I must simply decide, and you must trust my decision. Am I free to decide whatever I want?

Suppose I decide that I would like you to honor me with a day of my own. I like the number seven, I don't know why, maybe because it is the first useless number. (You never sing any hymns to me in 7/4 time.) Let's divide the calendar into groups of seven days and call them weeks. For harmony, I'll divide each lunar phase into roughly seven days. The last day of the week--or maybe the first day, I don't care--I'll set aside for myself. Let's call it the Sabbath. This all feels good, so I suppose it is the right thing to do. I'll make a law ordering you to observe the Sabbath, and if you do it then I will pronounce you good people. In fact, I'll make it one of my Big Ten Commandments, and I'll order your execution if you disobey. This all makes perfect sense, I don't know why.

Help me out here. How am I supposed to choose what is moral? Since I can't consult any authority, the thing to do, it appears, is to pick randomly. Actions will become right or wrong simply because I declare them to be so. If I whimsically say that you should not make any graven or molten images of "anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth," then that is that. If I decide that murder is right and compassion is wrong, you will have to accept it.

Is that all there is to it? I just decide, willy-nilly, what is right and what is wrong? Or worse, I decide based on whatever makes me feel good? I have read in some of your literature that you denounce such self-centered attitudes.

Some of you say that since I am perfect, I can't make any mistakes. Whatever I choose to be right or wrong will be in accordance with my nature, and since I am perfect, then my choices will be perfect. In any event, my choices will certainly be better than your choices, you feel. But what does "perfect" mean? If my nature is "perfect" (whatever it means), then I am living up to a standard. If I am living up to a standard, then I am not God. If perfection means something all by itself, apart from me, then I am constrained to follow its path. If, on the other hand, perfection is defined simply as conformity to my nature, then it doesn't mean anything. My nature can be what it wants, and perfection will be defined accordingly. Do you see the problem here? If "perfection" equals "God," then it is just a synonym for myself, and we can do away with the word. We could do away with either word, take your pick.

If I am perfect, then there are certain things that I cannot do. If I am not free to feel envy, lust, or malice, for example, then I am not omnipotent. I cannot be more powerful than you if you can feel and do things that I cannot.

Additionally, if you feel that God is perfect, by nature, what does "nature" mean? The word is used to describe the way things are or act in nature, and since you think I am above nature, you must mean something else, something like "character," or "attributes." To have a nature or character means to be one way and not another. It means that there are limits. Why am I one way and not another? How did it get decided that my nature would be what it is? If my "nature" is clearly defined, then I am limited. I am not God. If my nature has no limits, as some of you suggest, then I have no nature at all, and to say that God has such-and-such a nature is meaningless. In fact, if I have no limits, then I have no identity; and if I have no identity, then I do not exist.

Who am I?

This brings me back to the conundrum: if I don't know who I am, then how can I decide what is right? Do I just poke around in myself until I come up with something?

There is one course I could pursue, and some of you have suggested this for yourselves. I could base my pronouncements on what is best for you humans. You people have physical bodies that bump around in a physical world. I could determine those actions that are healthy and beneficial for material beings in a material environment. I could make morality something material: something that is relative to human life, not to my whims. I could declare (by conclusion, not by edict) that harming human life is bad, and that helping or enhancing human life is good. This would be like providing an operation manual for something I designed and manufactured. It would require me to know all about human nature and the environment in which you humans live, and to communicate these ideas to you.

This makes a lot of sense, but it changes my task from one of determining morality to one of communicating morality. If morality is discovered in nature, then you don't need me, except maybe to prod you along. I saw to it that you have capable minds with the ability to reason and do science. There is nothing mysterious about studying how humans interact with nature and with each other, and you should be able to come up with your own set of rules. Some of you tried this millennia before Moses. Even if your rules contradict mine, I couldn't claim any higher authority than you. At least you would be able to give reasons for your rules, which I can only do by submitting to science myself.

If morality is defined by how human beings exist in nature, then you don't need me at all. I am off the hook! From what I have read, most of you have your feet on the ground with no help from me. I could hand down some stone tablets containing what I think is right and wrong, but it would still be up to you to see if they work in the real world. I think we all agree that grounded reason is better than the whim of an ungrounded deity.

This is a wonderful approach, but what bothers me is that while this may help you know what is moral in your environment, it doesn't help me much. I don't have an environment. I'm out here flapping in the breeze. I envy you.

Nor does the humanistic approach help those of you who want morality to be rooted in something absolute, outside of yourselves. It must be frightening for you who need an anchor to realize that there is no bottom to the ocean. Well, it's frightening for me also. I don't have an anchor of my own. That's why I'm asking for your help.

Thank you for reading my letter, and for letting me impose on your busy schedule. Please answer at your convenience. I have all the time in the world.

Sincerely,

Yours Truly