The Cost of the Club

I was reading Glenn Greenwald’s article in The Intercept today, and he makes an interesting point about how support for wars of adventure in the United States do not line up along any principled lines. The lines they tend to track are political party lines.

I have long thought that the fundamental disconnect in the worldview of the United States conservative is trying to square the circle of having both “small government” with “low taxes”, however defined, and a global war-fighting capability. You obviously cannot have both.

But, I realized today that this is also a criticism that could be levied against the United States liberal as well. If you believe that it is the responsibility of the state to provide education, healthcare and so forth, you have to prioritize those things above global war-fighting. The “Third Way”, “Blue Dog” and other, so called “centrists” of the Democratic Party don’t. It’s only on the fringe “far left” where conversation of limiting our military involvements around the world gets some play, and often very little there.

Spending trillions of dollars fighting wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and proxy wars around the globe means that you have to tax to pay for those conflicts. It also means you cannot use that money to provide services to your population.

Fighting wars abroad is a project with bi-partisan support in the United States. Obama started with the rhetoric of getting out and then reversed himself once he got into office. Trump’s declaration that he was going to pull troops from Syria is another example. He made this announcement, and now, it is being walked back by the establishment.

Without a doubt, pulling troops from the Middle East, Africa and Asia lessens the influence of the United States in these countries. It also has real consequences for people living there, such as the Kurds in Syria and Iraq. But, the question is rarely asked about whether the amounts we are spending on global security are appropriate to the goals we aim to achieve.

Often, there are no goals. When a rare stated objective is in the mix, it is never subject to rigorous, open debate factoring in competing values. Instead, it comes down to party affiliation. Democrats and Republicans support their party’s politicians. The only thing they can seem to agree on is war, and the wars, with their spending, continue. Reducing government/taxes or increasing services to the population be damned.

The Poor Man Sells Peace

The central idea of Buddhism is that human beings are driven by ego which tends to be dissatisfied, or when satisfied, fears change, which always comes. But, we can always choose to be satisfied, to walk our path and accept what comes our way. It’s wanting things our way that creates karma, or things we’re going to have to learn to accept by bumping into it in life more often. The The Five Daily Recollections help us to keep in mind the facts of life. We are going to grow old, get ill, die, lose people we love, lose things we own, and the wanting the world to be different than it is creates karma for us to encounter more of each.

Mick Jagger can’t get no satisfaction because the world around him is always trying to get him interested in possessing new things, keeping things as they are or joining some team. But, no one is selling contentment or peace. There’s no money to be made in either.

Openness & Discernment

“The undiscerning mind is like the root of the tree, it absorbs equally everything it touches, even the poison that would kill it.”

—Kung Fu (television series)

Recently, I got into an online discussion where someone was trying to convince me that I should listen to some podcast that explained some current conspiracy related to the United States government. I told them that I was not interested.

Then, they encouraged me to have an open mind and listen to both sides of the argument. They also claimed to listen to the “other” side and offered as evidence that they watched CNN.

It’s a strange perspective. The reality is that there are an infinite number of sides. Our perspective is shaped by our lives, and by virtue of that, all of them are unique. We lose this uniqueness when we try to narrow and conform our view to just two possibilities.

Of course, it is important to keep an open mind and to be open to new perspectives. But, it is equally as important to screen your influences. Obviously, if you are screening your influences to limit them to perspectives close to yours or to just two, you are creating a filter bubble (or two) and are losing out on all the variety and opportunities for growth that exist in the world.

But, on the other hand, some ideas are simply bad and do not lead to growth, except in reaction. After getting the basic idea behind notions of racial superiority and judging it bad, it is unnecessary to evaluate every instance of this phenomena. Whether it is Christian Identity in the United States, Hindu Nationalism, notions of the “Original Black Man” and so forth, these ideas are about building a sense of self-worth from one’s racial identity.

Taking pride in being a part of a race is just as much of a part of racism as being prejudiced against people because of their race. One feeds into the other, the yin/yang that perpetuates itself through the generations and forms in and out groups.

It may be that there is a place for this type of thinking in a world with a history of subjugation, such as colonialism and slavery. It may, in some instances, serve as a corrective that at some point is no longer is necessary. Like women only transportation or classrooms, once society has progressed enough these measures can be dispensed with in order to transition to full equality. Although, they can also be obstacles to this kind of progression.

“Separate but equal” systems tend to perpetuate themselves and the very systems of subordination they are trying to address. Similarly, lifting up a race by focusing on the good qualities of the “race” has a similar effect. It is a dangerous crutch, and for me personally, racial identity is not an idea that would be a good lens for viewing the world. No amount of additional information is going to change my mind on this topic. This is a kind of virus meme, and it would cause an illness of character.

It is important to find our own path in this life, and it is impossible to do that if we allow every influence into our mind. Not being discriminating about our influences turns the pure water of our unmediated experience that we can use to live a unique life of meaning into a sewer of preconceived notions. It’s another form of colonization, just of the mind.

To paraphrase the great sage, George Clinton, “You got to free your mind, and your ass will follow.” There is no greater freedom than to choose what is good for you and to limit your exposure to the bad. The trick is not to think the new or different is bad.

The Temple of LiLoLa

From Catholicism, I learned the value of ritual, religious practice and the power of story to shape our understanding of the world. Years after hearing a homily from one Sunday, I still think of the need to leave a series of empty tombs. The resurrection applies not to some afterlife, it applies to this one, where we have to awaken new life within us, walk away from the old and to write new chapters to our stories.

From Quakerism, I learned of the testimonies I remember as PIES, i.e., peace, integrity, equality and simplicity. The need to be still and listen to the man of the heart and mind, which Quakers call the “Light Within”. This Light is in every sentient being. Knowing this we are called to peace, to follow the voice of our own hearts and to know others are following theirs. Simplicity is to cut through the desire for material things, which can cut us off from this voice within. You cannot serve both God and Mammon.

From Buddhism, I learned that the world is full of dissatisfaction. We assert ourselves against the world in ego delusion. We are dissatisfied, because we do not have what we want or are afraid to lose what we have. The living world is always changing and the best life is to live in each moment, experiencing it all without forming attachments to things as they are, things as they will be or to possessions, no matter how trivial.

When you ask, “What God do you worship?” Is there any better response than, “Life, love and laughter.” The Temple of LiLoLa is in our hearts. It is up to us to throw the doors open.

One and One Sometimes Equals Eleven

We often make assumptions that are reasonable in one context, abstract it into a guideline and apply that guideline to a new situation. Often, it is difficult to assess whether these situations are close enough to apply what we know to what we don’t.

At base, this is the problem of induction. There is no rational basis to argue from circumstances we have experienced to another situation we have not.

But, we’ve all done it. Life presents us with situations where we have to make an intuitive leap that is good enough to get us to a good outcome, better than if we made assumptions based on the probabilities of random chance. However, the post from today on How Not to be Stupid suggests elements that undermine our ability to make these intuitive leaps, such as:

  • We are applying it to something new. Hard to assess something that you have no experience with.
  • It is a high stress situation. When the stakes are high, it is easier to make mistakes.
  • We need to make a decision quickly. It’s just a form of stress.
  • We are invested in a particular outcome, i.e., it is hard to get someone to see something that their livelihood depends on them not seeing.
  • There is too much information to consider. When it is all noise and/or all signal it is difficult to figure out what to use to inform our intuitions and pare it down to what is essential.
  • There is social suasion in the form of individual and group dynamics that influence us in particular directions

When the whole enterprise is compromised, it is hard to realize when you have moved from a place to engage in reasonable guesswork and when you have come completely unmoored. The first indication that this is the case is when you are wrong more often than average, which means you need to track how well your decisions do and get feedback into your system. Otherwise, you might never realize the extent that you are cognitively compromised.

Blue Moon Human

If you don’t have time to do it right the first time, where are you going to find time to do it again?

Or, you could be complacent. Mediocre effort. Mediocre results. Mediocre life.

We all start out wanting to excel, to be good and do it right. When does the change creep in on us, the metamorphosis that turns us into the mangy werewolf only made human by a blue moon?