Thursday, October 11, 2012

On the Hypocrisy of Church and State: Genes, Souls and Reefer Madness

          The Nobel prize for Physiology/Medicine has just been awarded to J. B. Gurdon of Britain and S. Yamanaka of Japan. Their works span fifty years of research designed to answer one of the most fundamental questions of Biology--how does an embryonic cell, with potential for turning into any cell-type in the body, lose its flexibility and mature into a narrowly specialized skin, blood, nerve, bone, lung, muscle, egg or sperm cell? More vexing yet, can such specialization be reversed to turn any mature cell-type back into a flexible embryonic cell? Dr. Gurdon answered the second question in the affirmative in the 1960s, taking the nucleus out of a mature intestinal cell of a frog, injecting it into a de-nucleated frog egg-cell and producing a neonate tadpoles. Dr. Takayama later elucidated the gene-expression control mechanism that turns this process on or off.
          The Nobel award could not have designated more seminal studies, sitting as they were at the crossroads of genetics, the rigid evolutionary endowment of a species, and development, the more flexible context-sensitive unfolding of each individual life. But for those of us who live in Colorado, the work of Professors Gurdon and Yamanaka also intersects with the politics of pseudo-science--the Myth of the Fertilized Egg.
          For the third election-cycle in a row, a group of religious zealots are trying the cram down our throat state-mandated designation of the fertilized egg as a person, endowed with full civil and legal rights. But what the just-Nobeled studies reminds us is that every cell in the body of a biological organism, human or otherwise, comes with a full complement of genes (DNA) that specify the full design of both embryo and adult and, more to the point, the developmental trajectory from one to the other. Every such cell can, in principle, be induced to mature into a full- fledged organism. The zealots pushing the "human rights"--a.k.a. "personhood- begins-at-conception"--ballot measure had better amend their amendment, so that it may endow every cell in the human body with civil rights and personhood.
          But it gets better. The Person in Whose name these zealots presume to speak must now revise His procedures too. Not only must He leap into action every time a human egg is fertilized on this planet and insert a soul into the just-created fully-nucleated zygote, a fete of incredible vigilance and invasion of privacy; but He must now endow every cell in the human body, upon every instance of cell division--millions per person per hour--with the same God-given soul and personhood previously reserved for the fertilized egg. For if one wishes to partake in the game of science, one had better play by the rules, especially if one is the Heavenly One reputed to have set up the rules.
          Now speaking of pseudo-science, the hypocrisy of our anti-marijuana laws continues to defy both science and common sense, let alone common decency. We have been allowing two of the most destructive, addictive chemical agents known to man, nicotine and ethanol, to be legally produced and hawked and pushed--and profited from. We let giant corporations snare our young and vulnerable into life-long dependency and untold suffering. To add insult to injury, we collect hefty taxes off the misery and havoc wreaked by tobacco and alcohol.
          And then we have the temerity to outlaw, criminalize and severely punish the use of one largely non-addictive, mildly euphoric, benevolent weed--with no scintilla of scientific evidence to back up our Reefer Madness fantasies. Indeed, our Governor, who made a respectable Vulture Capitalist living producing and dispensing one of those addictive poisons, is now, in a fit of utter hypocrisy, urging us to not legalize the ol' weed.
          Just once, for the sake of truth in packaging, let me recount the life experience of the generation I happen to belong to. We earned our multiple graduate degrees in the Sixties; we had 40-year professional careers; we loved our families, raised our children, worked out butts off; as your friends and neighbors we are still productive contributors to our society, community and -- yes--Church. And all the while, on the sly, in our spare time, we have been indulging in the good weed; peacefully, disrupting neither life nor work nor family.
          True, we turned our backs on our parents' use of the twin demons tobacco and alcohol. No wonder, as children we witnessed the havoc. But our lives taken together are a silent if eloquent testimony to the insanity--indeed the utter imbecility and above all flaming hypocrisy--of Reefer Madness and the legal nightmare it has spawned. As one of our old songs ("Where have All the Flowers Gone?") has observed, Oh Will They Ever Learn?

Tom Givón ranches near Ignacio.
His next novel, "Downfall of a Jesuit", is slated to come out later this month. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Slouching Toward Bethlehem

          In this season of our discontent, as we slouch toward another dread November, reliable prophets are few and far between. Perhaps a poet might do then, for the clangor of soul-numbing campaign ads surely brings to mind W.B. Yeats' timeless poem, The Second Coming:
          "...The center cannot hold;
          mere anarchy is loosed upon the world...
          ...the best lack all conviction,
          while the worst are full of passionate intensity..."
          Are we doomed, one wonders, to re-enact, again and again, Adam Smith's dire depiction 
of our Government and Laws?
          "...Laws and Government may be considered in this case and indeed in every case as a combination [contraption] of the rich to oppress the poor, and preserve to themselves in inequality the goods which would otherwise be soon destroyed by the attacks of the poor..." (Lectures on Jurisprudence, 1751)
          Our species' nearest kin,
Pan troglogytus (Chimpanzee) and Pan panicus (Bonbobo), share 98.5 percent of our DNA. As condescending as we have been to these kissin' cousins, and as reluctant as we remain to concede the relevance of their experience to our own exalted life, perhaps the way they handle conflict could shed some light on our current predicament.
          Chimpanzee social life is marred by ceaseless conflict and rude aggression, instigated mostly by younger males. While the ultimate target may be the reigning alpha male, the most conspicuous victims are, invariably, females young and old and their immature progeny. The powerless, the poor. A complex and fluid system of war coalitions, alliances and personal ties barely suffices to make this harsh arrangement half-way workable. And the carcasses of innocent victims bear testimony to the fragility of the social contract.
          While Adam Smith, founding prophet of free-market Capitalism, was not a Hobbesian (Homo hominem lupus est, 'A man is like a wolf to his fellow man'), his vision of the more repressive aspects of our social institutions was tinged with the violence of a zero-sum game:
          "...[the poor] who if not hindered by the government would soon reduce the others to equality with themselves. The government and laws hinder the poor from ever acquiring the wealth by violence which they would otherwise exert on the rich..." (Lectures on Jurisprudence, 1751).
          Smith took it for granted that aggression will be there, and that it must be countered with state- sanctioned brute force. That is, the Chimp social model.
          Bonobos, in contrast, handle conflict by unmitigated love and unbridled sex. Share and share alike, male or female, forever hugging and kissing and--perish the thought--copulating. Now here is the rub: compared to Chimps, the Bonobo social order is a harmonious lovefest, a win-win game. So much so that one wonders--have they per chance been listening to Bobby Dylan: "love is all there is, it makes the world go round"?
          Our kin the Bonobos seem to know something that we, true vulture capitalists that we are, have apparently forgotten: that we are all our brothers' keepers. This in spite of repeated exhortations from our last reliable prophet, who is reputed to have said:
          "...This is my commandment, that ye love one another as I have loved you... No one has greater   love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends..." (John, 15:12-13).
          When I asked my scriptural adviser, a renowned Jesuit scholar in Rome, whether all species 
of love were equally redeeming, whether they all shared a common thread--say, granting your fellow human the status of kindred spirit, just as deserving of love and compassion as yourself--I was fended off with this observation: John, thus Jesus, did not really speak of 'love' in our coarse, mundane, flesh-tainted sense. Rather, what He meant by the Greek agapein was 'loyalty', the commitment that comes from pacting with each other and keeping our oath. What is more, our love for each other is only akin to our love for the Divine if it remains untainted by the flesh, if it is part of our pact with the Divine. Has my adviser, I wondered, ever watched a pigeon mourn its lost mate, or a mare grieve for her dead foal? Has he ever basked in the unconditional love of a dog?
          What of the Bonobos then, who seem so blithely ignorant of the Divine and yet are such experts at love and its conflict-resolution magic? True, they cannot tell us beans about their love; but they hug and kiss and caress and gaze as if they knew all about it. And they tend to their sick, raise their downcast and comfort their grieving. Sure, what they have in mind is often-- shades of the Original Sin--unredeemed raw sex. But don't we know, from long histories and to our everlasting delight, how sex may engender love? And didn't our Old Testament observe:
          "...And Adam said: This one is a bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh, she will be called she-man, for she was fashioned from a man; and for this a man would leave his father and mother and cleave to his woman and they shall become one flesh..." (Genesis, 2:22-24)
          In this season of our disaffection, as the contending armies clash in the night and the

Second Coming draws ever more remote, shouldn't we concede that the Bonobos' gospel--do unto others as ye shall have them do unto you--is not all that removed from Christ's? As we deal with our enemies resolutely and effectively, perhaps we should remember that hate is a sword that rebounds upon its wielder. And that our fellow citizen, however profoundly he/she may disagree with us on policy and politics, is still flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

White Cloud Publishing

The best venue to access my recently-published books, both fiction and non-fiction, is the website of our publishing house -- You can check out my recently-published Boz Trilogy:

1. "Seadock, or The Last Battle of Berkely" (2011)
2. "Sasquatch" (2011)
3. "Blood" (2012)

Also out now is my just-published  (2012) long-in-the-works translation of Lao Tse's Tao Teh Ching (Book of the Tao), which includes an extensive commentary ('retroduction').

With the printers now and expected out in the Fall of 2012 is the historical novel Downfall of a Jesuit. It is about a then-notorious sex-scandal in the Church in Toulon (the Provence; France) in 1731, where a  prominent Jesuit priest was accused of seducing one of his young devotees. The scandal embroiled the Church hierarchy in the Provence, Paris and Rome, as well as the religious orders, who all ganged up on the Jesuits. It also pulled in the central government in Paris (King Louis XV, his Prime Minister Cardinal Fleury, the Parliament in Paris), as well as the King's Governor (Intendant) and the Parliament of the Provence in Aix. Ultimately, the scandal led to the expulsion of the Society of Jesus from France (1761); it  was also one of the cataclysmic events leading to the French Revolution (1789). The case (Le Proces Girard-Cadiere) was never resolved, remaining a classic he-said-she-said (or, for the Kurosawa fans among you, another Rashomon); whereby lies the challenge for the novelist. Did he enchant, seduce and debauch her? Was she an ambitious, conniving hussy? The book is based on extensive contemporary records, blending choice morsels into the fiction. Did I solve the puzzle? You gotta read it to find out.

Lastly, the best way to reach me fast is through <>. I answer all questions promptly and definitively. For, as someone who knows me only too well is fond of saying, "He is often wrong but seldom in doubt". Let me hear from you,  TG


          In a recent review of a biography of the late Howard Cosell, David Remnick writes: "Sports, not religion, is the opiate of the people. Think of it in terms of time. Mass takes about an hour. You're lucky if a Monday Night Football game is over in three. The average Yankee-Red Socks game last year ran about the length of the Second Vatican Council..." (The New Yorker, 11-28-11, p. 75).
          At first blush, the story of Jerry Sanduski, Joe Paterno and Penn State is about crime and punishment. The justice system will grind its wheels, and will bring some closure to both alleged perp and alleging victims. On further reflection, the story appears to be about the institution and how it put its political and financial expediency above civic justice and human ethics. But how about those of us who partake in institutions? Or in the politics that makes institutions possible?
          There's a sweet old lady who attends San Ignatius Catholic Church with me. Her comment on the Penn State story was telling--if chilling: " they are lifting a page from the Church's book, aren't they..." Does sitting silently in the pews make one complicit?
          The individual level will sort itself out somewhere at the intersection of law and morality. We are all prone to sin and temptation. The Old Testament recognized this early on in God's warning to Cain: "...for whether you do good or do not do good, sin is forever lying at your door, and you will crave it but you must control it..." (Gen. 4:7). Likewise, the Gospels warn us: "...why beholdeth thou the mote in your brother's eye, but consider not the beam in thine own eye?..." (Matt. 7:3). And later on: "...he that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone..." (John 8:7).
          What worries me most is our complicity, as citizens and voters, in what institutions do. In the case of Penn State, the top of the hierarchy--president, vice president, athletic director, head coach--conspired to suppress the evidence of crimes in the interest of institutional survival. But what exactly is an academic institution? Its appointed Governing Board? The state legislators that appoint them? The teaching faculty that meekly goes along with the primacy of athletics over academics? The poor students who rioted in the streets over the firing of their beloved coach? Or is it us, parents and voters, who put up with over-crowded, under-financed schools for our children?
          A respected past president of a well-known public university whose owner state pays but 5% of its budget but retains 100% control over its affairs told me recently: "...I am quite sure I raised more money for academic purposes in the President'...Skybox than in any other geographic place in the world, from people who enjoy a game as a bonding event, but who give to the academic side exclusively or primarily... [a billionaire alumnus] gave our first major academic gift, the [endowed] professorships to every School and College..."
          Fair enough, but here is what the president of the student body at the same university had to say more recently: "...the culture at this university [is that] a stronger emphasis is put on athletic success than on academic success..." The students apparently know this, as do the faculty, who-- deeply, viscerally-- resent the crushingly dominant status of athletics on their campus. Could it be that the generous private endowments and their putative trickle-down effect merely paper over the state's virtual abdication of support of its nominal "startship" research university?
          Closer to home, we go along with the state of Colorado's massive disinvestment in the education of its children and the working conditions of their teachers. My local school district, and the parents who pay the bills and vote the Board in, put up with sub-standard education for their children, but cheer in the bleachers. Sports is one thing they--and I--can be proud off. I suspect sports is the distractor that allows them to vote for school boards that divert attention, if not resources, from academics. Will we re-elect our state representative, an ex-school-board president, if he came out for decent school funding and--God forbid--the requisite level of taxation?
          An old friend of mine has fallen from grace and is paying for his sins, having been tried and convicted in a court of law. I could hardly condone what he is reputed to have done, even as I am bound to uphold his right to repentance and redemption. But his transgressions took place, I am told over years, in a little town that has no secrets. Shouldn't his nominal supervisors, the elected politicians, have known? Was the workplace atmosphere inside their town-hall so hostile that the victims just couldn't afford to complain? For fear of job-loss or other manner of retribution? And who is responsible for that?
          If there is one thing we can learn from the recent financial crises, it is that when you give anyone in authority--be they politicians, bankers, administrators or coaches--too much power, the temptation to abuse it is nigh overwhelming. This is the old story of emperors and dictators, indeed of human nature. But in a democracy, aren't we who vote our politicians into office, and let them appoint our institutional administrators, also obliged to watch over them like a hawk? And if we tire, or are distracted, or given inducements to turn a blind eye, aren't we then complicit in their misdeeds? Could it be that, to quote a classic Pogo, I have seen the enemy and it is us?

Tom Givón ranches near Ignacio.
His novel "Sasquatch", vo. 2 of The Boz Trilogy, has just come out. 

Sleepless in Beijing

          I landed in Beijing in Mid-March just as two cataclysmic events exploded--the Tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Japan, and the third installment of the Arab uprising in Libya. I spent the first week talking to people in Beijing, then went on two pilgrimages, first to the Shaolin Temple in Henan province 200 miles south, then to the hallowed Tai Shan (Big Mountain) in Shandung province. What I saw was a country in the throes of massive transformation, determined to catch up in 30 years with the Industrial Revolution that took us 300. Oppressive high rises, bumper-to- bumper traffic, uprooted rural population pressed into the industrial cities on the eastern strip, and eye-burning, throat-choking pollution. In an uncanny way, we have succeeded beyond our wildest dreams in passing on to the Chinese our most crass values--unbridled development, planetary despoliation, and rapacious capitalism. In short, we have sold them on Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations" minus his "Theory of Moral Sentiment", that oft-ignored preamble that makes our own free-market Capitalism just bearable.
My pilgrimage afforded no escape either. Both Shaolin and Tai-Shan turned out to be teeming tourist traps, where the formal rituals and mundane trappings of Buddhism are hawked from mini-shrines and concession booths loaded with plastic junk. Does the old spirit linger on underneath? Perhaps, if you could somehow block out the noise, the crowds, the relentless hustle.
          In talking to members of the educated elite and reading the government-controlled English -language press, I was struck repeatedly by the love-hate relation they have with us, how they see us in the same breath as both a model to emulate and a grave existential threat. And how, in a curious way, their view of us mirrors our view of them; how we both seem to have constructed a largely fictitious view of each other, vis-a-vis which we then reassert our cherished self-image.
          1. Libya: The subversive siren song of freedom
However much they may love our capitalism and computers, our Big Mac and KFC, whatever we do is perceived by Chinese officialdom as a hostile conspiracy. Here is a quick sampler of what they had to say about our reluctant entanglement in Libya:

"...China accused the allies yesterday of causing civilian casualties and called for an immediate cease-fire in the war-torn North African nation. "The purpose of the UN Security Council resolution is to protect...civilians, but the military action taken by certain countries are causing civilian casualties" China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Jiang Yu said..." (Battle for Misrata Kills at Least 40 People: Witness, Global Times, 3-21-11)

"...[it] is the third time that some countries have used force against a sovereign state in this century after the Afghan War and the Iraq War... [it] violates the UN charter and also [is] a[n] interference in peace and development... some people are still stuck in Cold War mentality and are keen to use
force..." (War Not Long-Term Solution to Libya Crisis, Zhong Sheng, commentator for The
People's Daily, reprinted in Global Times, 3-21-11)

          Our motives remain forever suspect, most emphatically our--surely false--concern for human rights. Above all, a well-entrenched view of history colors the Chinese perception of our motives:

"...The West has dominated the world for centuries, and clinging to world dominance still remains its major strategy. The air assault against Libya is partly motivated by sympathy toward Libyan civilians. Nevertheless, it is primarily a political decision taken by a few Western powers, and the very first message it delivers is that these Western powers are still the judge and executioner on a global level... China is still a weak player in the realm of ideas. Western countries have been our mentors over the past decades. However, we should clearly understand that these mentors maintain their own interests. We ought to learn from them; but at the mean time, we should never be deceived by them in certain areas..." (ibid.)

          Here is what a well-vetted academic panel has to say about our policy in the Middle East:
"...The US is ostensibly bombing Libya for humanitarian reasons. But US President Barack Obama refuses to condemn the repression and government killings of protestors in Bahrain using US-made tanks and weaponry, because that is where the US 5th Fleet is stationed..." ( Libyan Quagmire Could Drag More US Forces In, Prof. Marjorie Cohn, Thomas Jefferson School of Law, Global Times, 3-24-11)

"...Western intervention will lead to a long internal war in Lybia. The West started the air strikes partly out of humanitarian sympathy toward Libyan civilians. However, the coalition later refused Gaddafi's call for cease-fire and continues to exert pressure on him. This exposed that the West still has other purposes. .." (Prof. He Wenping, Chinese Academy of Social Science; ibid.)

"...if the West continues to conduct the military intervention, some Arab countries that support [it] may change their attitude later. The military intervention into Libya will become a risky precedent, and it may be abused by the West to interfere with the internal affairs of other developing countries..." (Prof. Shi Yinhong, School of International Studies, Renmin University of China

          Logical contradictions and ultimate motivation (oil) aside, what really brings our Libya
adventure close to home is the Chinese's obsessive fear of our intervention in the internal affairs of other countries:

"...In the eyes of these Western countries, they morally justify themselves in dethroning the decades-long autocrat who is accused of carrying out a civilian slaughter... Even the League of Arab States (LAS) has chosen to side against him, though the defection of the LAS is also a result of the West's strategy to divide the Arab world... Gadhafi's ruthless attack on opposition forces is no excuse for Western countries to use military means to push forward their power politics in a sovereign nation... It is France that has taken the lead in advocating military intervention. The Libya crisis is seen as a chance for Paris to break Washington's strategic chessboard in the Middle East and gain the initiative in the struggle among the world's power for dominance in the region..The intervention by outside powers into the internal affairs of a sovereign nation means a big step backwards in the world's pursuit of democracy and peace, and demonstrates the double standard some Western countries have adopted toward the social unrest that has occurred in various Middle East countries... But like the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, the ultimate goal the West hopes to achieve via military action in Libya is to exploit its rich oil resources... The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have already shown that [the] West's claim that "human rights stand higher than sovereignty" is only a fallacy..." (Li Qingsi, Bombs Aim for Regime Change, China Daily, 3-25-11)

          2. Tibet: The integrity of the Han empire
The Han Chinese fanned out of the Tibetan plateau perhaps 5,000 years ago, spreading east, then south and eventually cobbling up an empire that absorbed, gradually but relentlessly, the various indigenous Austro-Asiatic peoples. To this day, Chinese is the odd-man-out in the Sino- Tibetan language family, bearing the indelible marks of interaction with the conquered substratum. Two most conspicuous pieces at the extreme west of the Han empire, Xin-Jiang and Tibet, remain undigested, being the empire's most recent acquisitions. Tibet has been part of the Han empire only since the 13th Century AD, courtesy of the Mongol conquest of both. Official Chinese historiography ever since the re-absorption of Tibet by Mao in 1951 and the suppression of an indigenous rebellion in 1959 furnishes both the most recent kinks in the Imperial grand design and the appropriate self-serving narrative of brotherly liberation:
"Lhasa. Padma Choling, Chairman of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, delivered a speech on Sunday to the Tibetan people in celebration of the Third Serf Emancipation Day and promised more efforts for a new Tibet that is stable, united, democratic and well-developed... During the past 52 years since the end of the serfdom, the autonomous region has seen great achievements in economic and social development, the chairman said... At the end of last year, Tibet's population had increased to 2.93 million. And the life expectancy of the Tibetan people reached 67 years, almost double the 35.5 years that is was prior to the liberation of Tibet... The autonomous region has almost eliminated illiteracy among juveniles... 

"All the achievements should be attributed to the socialist system and the leadership of the Communist Party" said the chairman..." (Hu Yongqi & Dachiog, Tibet's Achievements Celebrated, China Daily, 3-28-11)

          The villain of this idyllic set piece is the retrograde champion of feudal restoration-- the Dalai Lama. What is at issue is the territorial integrity of the Han empire, and this is the real import of Western intervention in Libya:

"...In 1959, the 14th Dalai Lama and his supporters staged a rebellion. The central government foiled it and initiated a democratic reform to end the slavery system in Tibet. "The democratic reform conducted 52 years ago abolished the cruel brutal serfdom that existed to exploit the Tibetan people for thousands of years. The reform freed 1 million serfs and allowed the Tibetan people to enjoy legal rights and interests" Padma Choling said. "Tibet belongs to China. But the Dalai Lama and his supporters have been attempting to separate Tibet from China and restore the feudal serfdom. His conspiracy is doomed to failure. The sky in Tibet will forever belong to the Tibetan people and Tibet will always be part of China as it has been". This year marks the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Tibet...marking the date on which about 1 million of serfs in the region were freed half a century ago...In 1959, the central government dissolved the aristocratic local government of Tibet and replaced it with a preparatory committee for establishing the Tibet Autonomous Region..." (ibid.)

"...March 28 is "Serf Emancipation Day", a day celebrated by more than 2.9 million people of all ethnic groups in the Tibet autonomous region. On this day in 1959, a democratic reform was carried out, under the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC), which overthrew the theocratic feudalism and freed millions of serfs and slaves, and heralded a new era in the history of the region.... But the Dalai Lama and his political group, the chief representatives of old Tibet's serv- owning class, have never ceased their attempt to split the motherland and undermine region's progress and ethnic unity. They have been trying, unsuccessfully, to restore feudalism in Tibet..." (Yi Duo, a commentator based in Tibet, Come See the Real Tibet,, China Daily, 3-28-11)

          The message is hammered in relentlessly, with the list of blessings that accrued the Tibetans upon their re-absorption:

"...A look at the history of Tiber before 1959 reveals a political system that was more brutal, barbaric and backward than feudalism in medieval Europe. The serve-owning class, comprising less than 5 percent of Tibet's population, owned nearly all of Tibet's means of production. The serfs lived a life of dire misery and poverty, and the theocratic system prevented development and pushed the local economy into a labyrinth of stagnation... Tibet's GDP soared from 174 million yuan ($26.5 million) in 1959 to 34.22 billion yuan in 2007, a 59-fold increase with an average annual growth of 8.9 percent at comparable prices. Since 1994, the local GDP has grown at an average annual rate of 13 percent, higher than the national average... The average life expectancy in Tiber is 67 years, 31 years more than it was in 1959. And Tibet's population has increased to more than 2.9 million, 1 140 percent increase over the 1959 figure of 1.228 million..." (ibid.)

          History must be told and re-told again from the right--righteous--perspective:

"...In the spring of 1959, Tibetan people took of the reins of a new socialist region after overthrowing the feudal lords, and started enjoying all the rights enjoined in the country's Constitution. Today, they are no longer subjected to political an religious persecution, and are free of slavery and serfdom. Nor are they subject to corporal punishment, heavy taxes and exploitation... People in Tibet have ushered in a new society, and treasure their hard-won political, economic and social progress, and are now eager to build a socialist Tibet... But after the violence in Lhasa on March 14, 2008, some Western media outlets splashed fabricated reports, with a few of them even doctoring photographs to substantiate their falsity. The facts have ultimately nailed their lies, and it's time they stop giving credence to rumors and publicizing distorted reports on Tiber... For years, some Western media outlets have been publishing and broadcasting fabricated reports and spreading misinformation on the pretext of freedom of the press. If they really values the well-being of the people of Tibet, they should learn to respect Tibetans' choices and look at the achievements of new Tibet, instead of trying to glorify feudal Tibet as heaven... History proves that unity and stability bring prosperity and happiness, and separation and turbulence are the source of disaster..." (ibid.)

          In talking to educated young professionals in Beijing, one is struck repeatedly by how uncritically they have absorbed the Han imperial narrative. That the story is different abroad mystifies and vexes the Party. Here is how one of its foreign hired guns attempts to explain to them their predicament:

"...When you meet Westerners who have never visited Asia or are unfamiliar with China and ask them about Tibet, many say it is a place of horrors where the Chinese government ruthlessly cracks down on Tibetans. Such Westerners assume Tibetans do not have any freedom to practice their religion, they are forced to live in poverty and the Chinese government has created a "concentration camp" atmosphere under the control of the People's Liberation Army (PLA)... these Western assumptions are based more on fantasy than facts.... Nevertheless, Beijing has not done a good enough job to dispel the myth and prove that in reality the social, economical and cultural life of the Tibetans is a lot better in the Tibetan autonomous region today.." (Tom McGregor, China Radio International commentator, Chronicle of the Region Needs to be Retold, China Daily, 3-28- 11)

          The culprit in this propaganda failure is, once again, the dastardly Dalai Lama, that cunning wolf in sheep's clothes masquerading as a lovable, spiritual man of peace:

"...To overcome misconceptions, the central government has to play a more efficient role in leading a renewed public relations campaign to explain how it is enhancing, not harming, the quality of life in the Tibetan autonomous region... But this is not going to be easy because the Dalai Lama holds sway over the Western mind and has been very successful in his public relations blitz. The Dalai Lama has been so effective at playing the game that to imagine this separatist leader living in India's hill town of Dharmasala as anything but an angelic figure would be deemed as "heresy" by most Westerners. The Dalai Lama is a genius at public relations... How can you criticize a man who travels the globe and tells the world he loves "peace, harmony and compassion" and glosses over the fact that Tibet was never the utopian paradise before 1951, when China liberated the region? The truth is that the Tibetans were subjected to egregious human rights abuses before 1951, because Tibetan rulers imposed a harsh Theocracy on the people where only Buddhism was the permissible religion... Yet casting aspersions on the Dalai Lama will not garner the support of the West. Instead, China must talk about its achievements in Tibet in terms of the progress that the region's economy and society has made. Beijing has to show that the new Tibet is better than the old, feudal Tibet..." (ibid.)

          3. Stability, Security, Happiness: Confucius and the Imperial State
The official media--the only media tolerated in China--is besotted with the Confucian ideals of stability, security and happiness. It is as if the 6th Century BC ideologist of the Middle Kingdom has become the official sage of the Communist Party. The obsession with Western interventionism under the patently-bogus pretext of human rights, and the relentless suppression of political dissent and independent media, can all be traced back to the teachings of the old Imperial sage. Thus consider:

"...Happiness became a new term of discussion during the annual meeting of the National People's Congress (NPC) and Chinese People Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). As NPC deputy Cheng Jing said, people will be happy only if the have a sense of security. Only if a country is prosperous, strong and socially stable can its people feel safe and happy. What Cheng meant to say is that people cannot be happy if their country is not stable, says an article in People's Daily...Deng Xiao-Ping's emphasis on social stability is still relevant as China moves forward on the road to modernization, reform and opening-up..." (Appreciate the Country's Stability, unsigned editorial, China Daily, 3-28-1)

          Conveniently, the disruptive mayhem of the Cultural Revolution are cited as a warning, never mind who precipitated the disaster:

"...Turmoil leads a country toward disaster an creates hurdles in the life of its people. The "cultural revolution" (1966-1976) retarded economic development and created shortages of goods and services..." (ibid)

          And the evils of instability and turmoil are projected back to the current events in Libya:

"...The people, all of about 36,000 Chinese citizens who have returned from the uncertainties of

Libya to China, can better understand what safety and stability in China means..." (ibid.)

          The discerning reader will not fail to hear the unmistakable mellifluous tongue of the old

Imperial sage:

"...A stable country is akin to a stable family, which signifies harmony and camaraderie among all. As CPPCC National Committee member Ye Xiao-Wen said, harmony and stability are just like air. We may not know it's there, but we realize its importance soon as it becomes thin...Stability is as important for a family as it is for a country. Without stability, a society can never be happy. Hence, we should value the stability and harmony that Chinese society enjoys today. Moreover, we should appreciate the improvement in people's livelihood made possible because of the country's economic development..." (ibid.)

          Veiled criticism of the Party, intermingled with dread of an uncontrolled Internet, amplifies Confucius ' familiar preoccupations:

"...After more than 60 years of the Communist Party of China being in power, China's economic strength, national defense capabilities and public recognition of the national path are at peak, which has formed the basic conditions for China's overall development. However, social discontent is spreading among certain people, with the Internet intensifying this trend. Chinese society still lacks enough ability to handle instability..." (CPC Must Keep High Public Satisfaction, unsigned editorial, Global Times, 3-24-11)

"...The ruling party should work hard toward improving social stability. Social stability rests on people's satisfaction with the ruling party. Therefore, the most important is constantly improving public satisfaction with the CPC... The CPC's popularity could well be highest among ruling parties in other countries worldwide. However, due to the long-term one-party governance, it is often questioned. To deal with these doubts, the CPC must always maintain a higher level of public support, which is why the central government always reacts quickly to any dissatisfaction, no matter how small...It is very difficult for the ruling party to maintain high support rate. In Western countries, the support rate of the ruling party often drops after one or two years in power. This must be prevented in China. As information becomes increasingly available, the CPS's ruling environment also becomes more transparent. Public satisfaction must be substantial..." (ibid.)

          Like a benevolent patriarch, the Imperial state is responsible for its people's happiness, and must therefore be sensitive to public disaffection:

"...Bickering over old trees [in the path of a new subway] in Nanjing also reflects the urgency of improving public representation in political life. The in Internet age, this dilemma is amplified. The online world grants people an easy tool to magnify their voice, but also makes is more difficult to truly gauge public opinion. The majority could be highjacked by a minority-yet-present voice. Ignoring public opinion is harmful, but overly representing one voice is risky..." Gauging Public Opinion Essential for Policy-Making, unsigned editorial, Global Times, 3-24-11

          While in the state-controlled media Confucius is not openly acknowledged, Chinese scholars abroad have no trouble tracing the signs to their source:

"...Zhong-yong zhi-dao [The Middle Way]: For all the radical attempts of the past century to sweep China's "feudal tradition" into the dustbin of history, Confucianism--with its emphasis on benevolent rule, refinement, and social harmony--is enjoying a major revival here. You see it in popular TV lectures on the Analects, in best-selling books on Confucianism and Taoism, in the vogue for reading classics among children and adults. It's in the new government slogans of "building a harmonious society", in Premier Wen Jiabao's penchant for peppering his speeches with classical quotations, in the state-funded establishment of Confucius Institutes abroad. So much of the contemporary culture of the state--the bureaucracy, the power hierarchy, the theatricality and sonorous rhetoric--represents a return to an old imperial manner..." (Zha Jiang-Ying, Servant of
the State, The New Yorker, 11-8-10)

          The Analects has never been my favorite Chinese classic. Still, having come back from China massively jet-lagged, I pulled off the shelf Arthur Waley's scholarly translation (NY: McMillan 1938; Vintage ppbk 1989). What I got was a refresher course in the ethos of the paternalistic, hierarchic, Imperial state:

"The Master said, In serving his father and mother a man may gently remonstrate with them. But if he sees that he has failed to changed their opinion, he should resume an attitude of deference and not thwart them; may feel discouraged but not resentful". (IV-18)

"Of Tzu-Ch'an the Master said that he found the four virtues of the Way of the true Gentleman: In his private conduct he was courteous, in serving his master he was punctilious, in providing for the needs of the people he gave them even more than their due; in exacting service from the people he was just". (V-15)

"The Master said, A gentleman who is widely versed in letters and at the same time knows how to submit his learning to the restraints of ritual is not likely, I think, to go far wrong". (VI-25)

"When gentlemen deal generously with their own kin, the common people are incited to Goodness. When old dependents are not discarded, the common people will not be fickle". (VIII-2)

"The Master said, The common people can be made to follow; they cannot be made to understand". (VIII-9)

"The Master said, he who hold no rank in a State does not discuss its policies". (VIII-14)

"The Master said, I can claim that at Court I have duly served the Duke and his officers; at Home my father and elder brother..." (IX-15)

"The Master said, First and foremost, be faithful to your superiors, keep all promises, refuse the friendship of all who are not like you..." (IX-24)

          4. In the mirror of the other
China's love-hate relation with the West mirrors our own obsession with China ever since Marco Polo. What we both saw in each other as desirable was not just trade and technology. What attracted generations of Western intellectuals to China--from Fr. Matteo Ricci, SJ in the late 1500s to Arthur Waley in the early 1900s to Alan Watts in the 1960s--was not Confucius' orderly Imperial state, but rather the elusive anarchy of classical Taoism and the sparse beauty of Chang (Zen) Buddhism. What captivated a savvy Communist like Deng Xiao- Ping in our Capitalism was not love for our rambunctious freedom of inquiry and its handmaiden, eternal doubt. Rather, he was seduced by our can-do technology, engineering and entrepreneurial spirit that somehow, mysteriously, bloom in the wake of doubt-based inquiry. In gazing longingly upon each other, China and the West have been picking and choosing. Our respective foreign policies seem to be predicated on near-blindness to the spiritual concerns and mundane fears of The Other. What we seem to be seeking in the eyes of The Other is reaffirmation of our own self-image, as we grapple with each other like two blind wrestlers--or lovers. Here is how Voltaire put it, somewhat overblown but still illuminating:

"Four thousand years ago, when we couldn't even read, the Chinese knew all the absolutely useful things we boast about today".
The Philosophical Dictionary, 1764

          If China and the West are ever to come to terms with each other, we will both have to pierce through the veil of our mutual misconceptions and learn to see both ourselves and The Other through The Other's eye. 

Is History a Binding Precedent?

          It was George Santayana--Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás--who said "Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it"; to which Karl Marx presciently appended "the first time as a tragedy, the second as a farce". During the late 1960s, many of us were convinced that our Vietnam misadventure was but a re-enactment of Thucydides' tragic account of the self-immolation of Athens in the Peloponnesian war. The analogy seemed compelling: Persia = Nazi Germany, Athens = USA, Sparta = Soviet Russia, Syracuse =Vietnam.
          Our recent entanglement with Islam in South Asia and the Middle East has left me wondering whether it is a tragedy we are re-enacting or a farce. What is more, are the lessons we extract from history just a matter of unearthing the right analogy, or is there more? The unfolding "Jasmin Revolution" in Tunisia and its presumed domino-effect in Egypt and beyond suggest there is indeed more.
          On the face of it, our national ethos of freedom, democracy and equality pegs our sympathies irrevocably on the side of the rebelling masses. But rebellious masses in the Middle East and South Asia have protracted histories, in the midst of which we have now inserted ourselves in three missionary expeditions--Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. What is more, recent history suggests two more links--Iran and Turkey. Can we learn anything from all these precedents? And if less-than-binding, are they still instructive?

  • Iran: To those of us who supported the Iranian opposition's anti-Shah struggle in the 1960s, the Homeini revolution of 1979 was an eye-opener. The liberal democrats at the forefront were rudely booted out. What began as a fight for freedom and democracy bloomed into a repressive dictatorship of the Ayatollas, where the rights of women, minorities, religions--and indeed of the voting majority and of Islamic and non-Islamic neighbors alike-- are trampled daily by regressive, exterminatory Shi'a Islam.
  • Turkey: A benevolent military dictatorship overthrew of the Ottomans, with Gen. Mustapha Kamal Ataturk--Father-of-the-Turks, exterminator of the Armenians--laying the foundations for this most wonderful of oxymorons--secular Islam. Transparently anti- democratic, with the bulk of the Anatolian peasantry left out of the game, the government was dominated by the Western-inclined Istanbul elite, with the Generals pulling the strings and, periodically, the plug. By righteous instincts, we agitated for democracy in Turkey--till we got it; with an Islamist government that believes neither in the separation of church and state nor in the rights of women and minorities, and whose nostalgic foreign policy tends towards Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah and the Alawi (Shiite) Syrian dictatorship.
  • Iraq: We booted out Saddam and made the place safe for democracy. What we got for our pai--and our dead--is a Shiite-dominated regime closely linked to Iran's Ayatollahs, with scant commitment to our cherished values and not an ounce of gratitude.
  • Afghanistan: Behold a county that has never been unified linguistically, ethnically or culturally--except under repressive thugs, into which we moved in all our innocence to settle scores with Al Qaeda. We wound up staying over for a delusional nation-building mission. But what are the building blocks for an Afghani nationhood? Ten major tribes that never got along? The repressive past, endogenous or Imperial, with nary a trace of civil, pluralistic rule-of-law? A country whose sole unifying force remains, as it has been for over one millennium, Islam? In the present context, to which our anti-Soviet adventure in the 1980's contributed mightily, the common denominator of Afghanistan are the Taliban.
  • Pakistan: An educated, colonially-trained Punjabi minority, our presumed allies, has been ruling the country since independence; a repressive, corrupt, thinly disguised military dictatorship. Now we are after them to democratize. But who will inherit the coming democracy? The Pashtun Taliban of North Vaziristan? Their Baluchi brethren in Quetta and Karachi?
          This is, in part, the historical context that illuminates Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and the entire Arabian Peninsula. It is a context where electoral democracy has so far translated into Hammas in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon. In the name of our cherished ideals, shall we now lean harder on our faithful allies to rid their downtrodden masses of all the corrupt, repressive dynastic cliques--themselves? And then?
          The sad truth about the oppressed masses in the Middle East and South Asia is that their rebellions are just as dynamic and unpredictable as any other social upheaval. The spark that ignited Egypt in Tahrir Square seems to have been supplied by a distinct minority-- young, educated middle class who appear ro share our commitment to civic, non-theocratic society, equality of gender and caste and the guaranteed rights of minorities. This is, substantially, the very same visionary minority that ignited both the French (1789) and Russian (1917) revolutions--and was summarily liquidated for its trouble. But the truly oppressed Moslem masses in South Asia and the Middle East live, largely, in a countryside that is profoundly infused with, and dominated by, the mullas and their Kur'an. And the mullas' searing vision of the future is of a repressive Medieval Islam, a vision that bears little resemblance to our civic, pluralistic, democratic ethos.
          When democracy only means majority rule; when it is shorn of the redemptive power of constitutional guarantees and equality under the law; when it is devoid of our secular civic tradition that harkens back two and a half millennia to the crucibles of Greece and Rome and the European Enlightenment; what is the revolution likely to hatch in the current Islamic context? The truth is, we don't know. But the truth is also, we have seen some ugly recent precedents.
          Are historical precedents binding? And if not, can we still learn from history? I suspect we can, in spite of our own checkered historical record. But if we are to finally extract some coherence, to our profit, from the dusty record of the past, we had better concede that history is a meandering, confusing, oft-contradictory account of how we all got to where we are today and of how deeply the present is rooted in the past.

White Cloud Ranch Ignacio, Colorado 2-11-11 

Reclaiming the Sixties

          Finger pointing is the ancient art of deflecting guilt towards a convenient target. It is an old ritual, also known as scapegoating, and is amply documented in scriptures from Abraham to Jesus. In a recent op-ed piece ("Almost Forgotten, Crime Wave Left Mark on Survivors and Society", NY Times, 5-18-10 ), David Brooks pointed his nimble finger at a convenient scapegoat, font of all our social ills since the dread 1960s: "...The crime wave killed off the hippie movement. Hippies celebrated disorder, mayhem and the whole Dionysian personal agenda. By the 1970s, the menacing results of that agenda were all around. The crime wave made it hard to think that special problems would be solved strictly by changing the material circumstances..."
          The Dread Decade's hippies are surely handy, having coincided with one of the most turbulent period of cultural change and social upheaval in our recent history. Old entrenched verities of race, sex, gender, class, education, music, technology and religion were being vigorously challenged and rudely dismantled. In the ensuing chaos, what would replace the old order was not always clear, neither to the participant nor to the observer. Given the undeniable ubiquity of the so-called hippie movement, one cannot but wonder who exactly were those evil scourges and what exactly was their so-called agenda.
From the hindsight perspective of a participant observer, the Sixties' hippie agenda, re-christened as The Seven Pillars of Hippidom, turns out to have been surprisingly traditional.
          1. Love: Our pied pipers, The Beatles, told us "all you need is love". Bob Dylan, beloved shining beacon, rejoined with "love is all there is, it makes the world go round". How great a departure is this from traditional preaching such as "...Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like onto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyswelf..." (Matthew, 22.37-39) or "...This is my commandment, That ye love one another as I have loved you..." (John, 15.12)? True, the Sixties de-coupled loving one another from loving God, a serious doctrinal conundrum. But loving one's fellow humans is still love.
          2. Sex: The best--most ancient, most effective, most enjoyable--love medicine ever devised by either God or Evolution is sex. Here is what the Bible has to say about it: "...Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave onto his wife, and they shall be one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed..." (Geneses 2.24-25). True, the Sixties de-coupled sex from procreation, guilt, control, repression and dirt. They also liberated sex from the patriarchy. It was not easy at the time to predict what the eventual effect of these new freedoms would be on marriage, family and child rearing (see (vii) below). But what is so reprehensible about the ancient premise that love is a pleasure, that it can be fun?
          3. Freedom: The Sixties' clarion call to freedom, America's bedrock, was indeed
ambiguous, spanning the range from Bob Dylan's over-optimistic "You can have your cake and eat it too" to Kris Kristofferson's (c/o Janice Joplin) dark, nihilistic, crypto-revolutionary "Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose". But the Sixties, with enthusiastic hippie participation, were also responsible for extending the American dream of freedom and equality across hitherto impenetrable barriers of race, religion, gender and sexual orientation. Rapid change invariably breeds chaos, strife and confusion. In 18th Century England and 19th Century Germany, rapid industrialization, rural de-population and urbanization engendered massive social disruption and moral chaos--crime, prostitution, poverty, greed, exploitation, homelessness and dissolution of the traditional family. Funny thing though--that period bears an uncanny resemblance to David Brooks' early 1970s New York. But freedom is hardly the culprit, being as quintessentially American as mom, God and apple pie.
          4. Work: The Sixties are often blamed for the demise of the proverbial work ethic. But whose work ethics was demised, and what came to replace it? Tim Leary's indulgent mantra--"turn on, tune in, drop out"--was certainly inimical to hard work and self reliance. It was woefully unrealistic, never transcending youthful antics. Someone had to put roof over heads, food on the table, pay child support, raise the kids. Many so-called hippies lived off daddy's largess, or drug dealing, or blatant exploitation of their fellow humans.
          But how long did this fools' paradise last? Soon, many of the wayward children went back to grad school, to eventual careers and marriage and family, turning into recognizable facsimiles of middle-class respectability--but with a peculiar, lasting sediment. What the Sixties taught them was that work could be enjoyable, spiritually rewarding, exciting or, God forbid, even creative. And that the compulsive workaholic pursuit of conspicuous consumption served neither sane personal goals nor cogent societal ends. The new environment-friendly ethics of "good enough, but enough" challenged the old rapacious ethics of "more, bigger, faster, flashier". But the new ethics is eerily reminiscent of older traditional wisdom--"What profits a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?"
          5. Mother Earth: One lasting legacy of the Sixties is the evolving environmental ethic that views us all as stewards of a fragile planet and children of one Mother Earth. The impetus may be religious, invoking God's creation. Or it may be evolutionary, observing the destructive potential that one predator species at the top of the food chain, Homo sapiens, wields over our fragile biosphere. But spiritual or scientific, there is nothing but traditional wisdom in this hippie legacy.
          6. Spirituality: The Sixties, with the hippies in the thick of the fray, saw a massive religious ground-shift. True, it began with rejection--of power hierarchies and empty rituals, of sectarianism and priestly monopoly, of patriarchy, misogyny and homophobia.
True, the Sixties wound up rejecting one central tenet of mainstream organized religion, the celebrated passage of John's Gospel: "...I am the way, and the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by me..." (John 14.6). This late-Gospel injunction was a sharp bone of contention in the Council of Nicea, convened in 325AD by the emperor Constantin for the purpose of making Christianity the streamlined, hierarchic state religion of the Empire. John's version of Christ won the day in Nicea against many competing early Gospels. Direct experience of God's Grace, unmediated by Christ or the clergy, was dumped.
          The Protestant Reformation was, among other things, a rebellion against John's proscription against direct access to Grace, an attempted restoration of the people's early church.
          Many other features of the Sixties' religious experimentation, however wild and wooly they seemed at the time, bore all the traditional marks of Christ's rebellion against the ritualistic, hierarchic, ethnocentric, misogynist, homophobic teachings of his contemporary Judaism. The Sixties' search for more clement alternatives, such as Buddhism, Taoism or Sufism, was not a rebellion against traditional values but rather their re-affirmation.
In the same vein, the Peace Movement of the Sixties, replete as it was with less-than- peaceful public display, may find its spiritual roots in the Prince of Peace's early, earthly preachings. While out in the streets it may have seemed politicized and bellicose, the peace movement's spiritual underpinnings were manifestly traditional.
          7. Family and community: Here, lastly, one wishes that David Brooks had read an op-ed piece by his fellow Times columnist Ross Douthat ("Red Families vs. Blue Families: How Social Views Affect Stability", NY Times 5-11-10), especially the following passage: "...First, the sexual revolution overturned the old order of single-earner households, early marriages and strong stigmas against divorce and unwed motherhood. In its aftermath, the professional classes found a new equilibrium. Today couples with college (and especially graduate) degrees tend to cohabit early and marry late, delaying childbirth and raising smaller families than their parents, while enjoying low divorce rate and bearing relatively few children out of wedlock... In the underclass--black, white and Hispanic alike--intact families are an endangered species..."
          Who exactly are Douthat's "professional classes" but the latest reincarnation the flower children? I see them all over the countryside, hard working, responsible, successful, but also loving, peaceful, considerate; communally inclined, spiritually awake and environmentally aware. I call them my Refugees from the Sixties. Whether certified hippies or fellow travelers, they bear the indelible marks of that turbulent, mind blowing, transformative decade.

White Cloud Ranch Ignacio, Colorado 5-25-10 

The 800-pound Gorilla in the Room

          My good friend Richard Grossman has written a rousing editorial essay in the Durango Herald (Durango Herald, Oct. 25th, 2009), an admirable piece of righteous thinking. Still, at the risk of sounding ungracious, I would like invite us all to inspect this 800-pound gorilla lurking in our midst, the one that everybody is so busy pretending isn't there. Indeed, I would like us to inspect two such gorillas. For however real global warming may be, and however urgent it is that we do something about it, focusing on carbon footprints, cap-and-trade, alternative fuels and energy-efficiency is but a distraction, deflecting us from facing the real issue--those twin 800- pound gorillas.
          Behold our first gorilla--the population bomb. Till ca. 10,000 years ago, we behaved like other natural species. We climbed slowly up the food chain to become the top predator, while remaining attuned to the feast-and-famine rhythm of nature. Our population size fluctuated wildly, ca. 70,000 BC we almost went extinct. After which we began our current expansion. By 40,000 BC we were in Australia; by 30,000 BC in Alaska; by 13,000 BC in Tierra del Fuego. By 10,000 BC, we exhausted the hunting-and-gathering carrying capacity of the planet, having become victims of our success. Then, ca. 8,000 BC, we got a reprieve--animal domestication, plant breeding and sedentary agriculture. An explosive rise in our population density soon followed, together with an unprecedented increase in the size of our social units, then the inevitable rise of coercive governance. We built cities and states and empires. We engaged in warfare on a hitherto unprecedented scale.
          But irrigated agriculture soon begat de-forestation, over-grazing and soil erosion. Our larger social units proved to be colossal energy drains. Wood burning powered our nascent industries. We built temples, monuments and castles. The changes often ascribed to the industrial revolution did not start in the 18th Century, they were inherent in the agrarian revolution. And it was our energy-intensive lifestyle, coupled with modern medicine, that has brought us to our current predicament. Ca. 10,000 BC we outstripped the hunting-and-gathering carrying capacity of our habitat; ca. 1,800 AD we outstripped its pre-industrial capacity; by 2,000 AD we exhausted its industrial-age capacity. Still, we keep breeding and curing.
          If you are looking for culprits, here are some: Poverty and illiteracy. Couple with modern medicine, they make an explosive brew. But poverty and illiteracy are egged on to fruit and multiply by fundamentalist preachers of all stripes--Catholic and Protestant, Moslem and Jew, Hindu and Mormon. So yes, we have met the enemy, and it is us. Here is what all fundamentalists hold sacred--the subjugation of women, keeping them ignorant, confined, compliant breeders. A chimp or a gorilla female breeds every 5 years. Our women have been giving birth every 2 years ever since Homo erectus. Before the advent of modern medicine, 10 birth over a woman's lifetime produced 2 surviving heirs. The logic of constant breeding was the natural logic of infant mortality and parental investment: You invest little in each child but produce many, of whom only a few make it to maturity. The hallmark of the educated modern family is just the reverse: You invest much in each child but bear fewer children, who all survive.
          There is the simple calculus to effective population control--liberated, educated women in charge of their own reproductive destiny. This is the key to slowing down our rampant over- breeding, and it is much cheaper than cap-and-trade, carbon consciousness and fancy-green technological panaceas. Technology is highly energy-consuming . Calories are measured in dollars. If it costs more, it burns more. When solar, wind and bio-diesel cannot compete with oil and gas, green energy consumes more than it produces. High tech is dirty tech. It is just that the dirt is tucked away somewhere else.
          Behold our second gorilla--the American Dream. Ever wondered why China, the most successful country in curbing population growth, has just overtaken us as the most carbon-burning nation on earth? Here's why--all those 1-billion Chinese want, desperately, to achieve our energy-intensive lifestyle. And the 1-billion Indians are right behind them, as are the Brazilians, the Mexicans, the Africans and Indonesians. We can go on preaching to them conservation, carbon consciousness and greenery till we are blue in the face. But our preaching will ring hollow as long as two of us occupy 3,000 square ft. $400,000 homes, eat expensive super-healthy food, enjoy air-born trips abroad, drive trendy economy cars and divert ourselves with the latest high- tech gadgets. For as long as this is how we live, we have forfeited the right to preach conservation and greenery to the teeming multitude who are dying to be just like us.
          There is a scary book by Jared Diamond, "Collapse". It documents how Homo sapiens, the only species on earth capable of long-term planning, has opted for the old evolutionary style of population control--periodic catastrophic de-population through famine, war and pestilence. It is a sad story, read it and weep. There is a sweet book by Sarah Hrdy, "Mothers and Others". It traces the evolution of our unique mode of child-rearing--cooperative child-care. This inspired invention, by Homo erectus ca. 1.8 million ago, made it possible for our women to roam free and contribute as near-equals, to match their men's hunting with their own gathering, to match animal herding with plant cultivation. It is a beautiful ecological account. Read it and smile.

White Cloud Ranch Ignacio, Colorado 9-11-09 

The Fundamentalist's Mind

          When calamity struck the Twin Towers on Sept. 11th, I was away on a remote mountain ranch in Colorado. No electricity, no TV, only a battery-opped radio on the blink, tuned to the Reservation's fading NPR station. For a week, I listened to my neighbors' reactions. What struck me most about those was their muted, matter-of-fact, coherent and yet utterly personal cast: Them guys didn't hit New York, they hit us. All of us, Indian, Spanish and Anglo alike. We were all in their gunsights now, together. So we had better wake up, get real, find our bearings--and get things done. Meticulously, tenaciously. Together.
          For the last three weeks, I have been listening to the loose talk emanating from my University and getting increasingly mystified by the utter incoherence of what I hear, and by its supreme detachment from reality, leastwise as I know it. What I have been hearing can be divided into four compatible creeds.
          One: "Turn the other cheek". Like Christ, like Gandhi, like Martin Luther King. For peace is a supreme, overriding value and must be maintained at all costs. I listen, and I wonder if it would be in good taste to remind my learned colleagues about some of the other practitioners of this ancient doctrine: the 50,000 Huguenots on St. Bartholomew's day in 1572; the 1 million Armenians on Mousa Dag in 1915; the 6,000,000 European Jews in the 1940s; the 600,000 Rwandan Ba-Tutsi in 1994. They all turned the other cheek.
          I am likewise tempted, sorely, to jiggle my learned colleagues' chain about what this world would have been like if we had all turned the other cheek to Hitler; to Tojo; to Stalin. Some of the people who didn't never had the luxury of a rich father, a safe Ivy League haven, or the right exculpatory ideology when they were called to serve. Poor slobs, it never occurred to them they had a choice. They just up and went, and we are eternally in their debt.
          Two: "Maintain all civil liberties at all costs, come what may". We all love our liberties, but liberty on rare occasions must be tempered with other principles equally vital to our survival. The dead, wherever their poor souls may come to rest, seem to be conspicuously deprived of all liberty.
          Three: "Discuss all available options in public, ad nauseam--a national teach-in-- before we take any action". Terrific, and let Osama Bin-Laden, al Qaeda and the Taliban watch it all on CNN.
          Four, and perhaps most disturbing: "We regret the tragedy, but we deserve it; for we have provoked the poor murderous buggers, the dear exterminating angels, with our rotten foreign policy and our support of Israel". What disturbs me most about this last one is how profoundly detached it is from who them guys are and what really ails them. That is, how utterly wide it falls of the Fundamentalist's mind-cast.
          So, let us refresh our collective memory about what drives the Fundamentalists bonkers, what really ails them--be they Christian, Jewish, Hindu or Moslem. What drives them to a pitch of exterminatory wrath is not what we do, but what we are and what we stand for:

  • our addictive freedom
  • our anarchic civil liberties
  • our confusing diversity
  • our free-wheeling commerce
  • our staunch separation of church and state !the 18th Century's Enlightenment
  • our Humanism, secular and otherwise
  • our science, founded on doubt and skepticism; and yes, including Darwin 
  • our women's right to go free, to work, to choose; and yes again, to be beautiful in public

          To our culture of restless inquiry, reality is complex and truth is contingent--on the

presently-available evidence, on the currently-defensible perspective. More facts and a more profound theory erode our truth, sooner or later, again and again. To the Fundamentalist, reality is simple, a searing vision, clear as a bell and governed by few immutable principles; truth is manifest and eternal, beyond doubt, beyond revision.
          Above all, the Fundamentalist's truth is cast in the harsh cement of Scripture, in articles of faith, from here to eternity. To question, to doubt, to change one's mind, are worse sins than fornication or adultery (which may be confessed and forgiven).
          What worries me most about my learned colleagues, I suppose, is how much they remind me of the Fundamentalist. How adept they seem to be at reducing enormous complexities to shining, eternal, single principles. How little they are inclined to change their minds. Like my ex-teacher Noam Chomsky, the pied piper of hectoring self-righteous dissent, they seem to have been frozen in time, still raging against the futility of Vietnam, the ubiquity of the CIA, the evil Military, the oppressive Government, the corrupting Media, the Molloch of Capitalism. The pantheon of their enemies, like that of the Fundamentalist's, is eternal and immutable. And just as inherently evil. Great Satan incarnate.
          There is nothing all that novel about Fundamentalists. The 6th Century BC sage Heraclitos of Ephesos pegged them rather neatly:

They raise their voices at stone idols
As a man might argue with his doorpost, Having understood so little of the Gods.

- (fragment 126)

          All this is not to suggest that I like everything my government does, or that our foreign policy has always been immaculate. Just for the record, I had protested our sorry adventure in Vietnam since 1954, and have supported the right of the Palestinians to a state of their own ever since before I can remember. But seeing as how we are under the gun, and all in it together in a complex and fog-shrouded world, the least one would expect of learned folk who are paid to think is a modicum of plain old Aristotelian common sense.

Eugene, Oregon 9-25-01