Water Man Spouts

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Four Directions

Introduction: Four Directions

"I have noticed no definite progress in any religion. The world would not be the shambles it has become if the religions of the world were progressive. " -- Gandhi

Three days ago, I posted an essay on how the neoconservative movement influenced US policy in the Middle East. It is interesting for me to consider the range of responses I get from the three political forums that I participate on. The Middle East, and US policy there, can be emotional topics. People can have very different ways of viewing the same thing; for example, I have had different people tell me that they believe I am either pro-Israel or anti-Israel, based upon the same post.

There is an old saying that when two people think just alike, only one is thinking. Because progressives and democrats tend to think for themselves, I'm aware that people will see things differently than me. I often have serious differences of opinion with my best friends when we discuss political and social issues. Thus, when a lady on one forum questioned what she believed was my focus on the religious/ethnic background of some neoconservatives, I was more than happy to discuss it. While on some issues, she and I will probably always disagree, I respect what she had to say. And in response to her suggestion that I might do well write something that more clearly expresses my view, rather than simply provide a well-documented history of the neoconservatives, I've given it some serious thought.

This essay is a result of her suggestion. As always, some will agree and others will disagree with my opinions. And that's the way it should be.

Part One: The White Roots of Peace

"All people whose minds are healthy can desire peace, and there is an ability within all people, especially the young, to grasp and hold strongly to the principles of righteousness."
-- The Peacemaker; Haudenosaunee

One of the issues that can create difficulties in discussing topics such as the Middle East is ethnocentricity, or the human tendency to be of the opinion that "one's own group is superior." (Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary) And history is filled with examples of the confusion that has resulted when people face facts that do not fit well with their previously held beliefs. An obvious example would be the "New World" that Columbus "discovered."

There is a wonderful book (The White Roots of Peace, by Paul Wallace; University of PA; 1946) that documents the political philosophy of the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois Confederacy. In a prologue to the 1985 edition of the book, John Mohawk notes that not "many writers on anthropology or oral history have found rational thought a prevalent theme among their subjects. Many professionals in this field operate on an expectation that rational thought is found only in the West." Yet those White Roots of Peace are a tradition based upon rational thought that go back approximately 2000 years.

As Mohawk explains, the political -social system of the Haudenosaunee dates back to an actual time in human history where society was under great stress. It was a period where there were blood feuds between distant peoples, which brought about violence between neighboring communities, and eventually within those communities. There was a break-down in the extended families, and this lead to violence within families. I'm reminded of Ecclesiastes 1:9, "The thing that has been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done; and there is no new thing under the sun." We are at that time Mohawk described, again.

A man known today as the Iroquois prophet, the Peacemaker, began to travel throughout the territory that we call the northeast of the USA. He saw that each incident of violence created an atmosphere where there would be more hatred and acts of revenge. The violence spread like a disease. He recognized that spread of violent thought and behavior as irrational. It was irrational because it only led to a "spiral of vengeance and reprisal which found assassins stalking the Northeastern woodlands in a never ending senseless bloodletting."

Mohawk's description, which is the same as is taught by other Faith- and Wisdom Keepers in the Longhouse, tells of the Peacemaker seeking out the most violent clan leaders, and teaching a system based upon rational thought. Mohawk writes that "his words required considerable thought and understandably much discussion before his first students could take ownership of the ideas. He is not saying that human beings do not possess the potential for irrational thought. He is saying that all human beings possess the potential for rational thought. Unless we believe that all human beings possess rational thought, we are powerless to act in a way that will bring peace short of the absolute destruction of the other. We cannot negotiate with irrational human beings. In order to negotiate with other human beings, we must believe in their rational nature. We must believe they are not suicidal or homicidal by nature, that we can reason with them. "

This thought system recognized that rational thought was based on the common interests that held forth the promise of a bright future, in which people would put their minds together to attempt to resolve differences and deal with problems that arise in life. It is based on peace, justice, and righteousness. There is a focus on the welfare of the younger generation.

It recognizes that irrational thought is the result of pain, of fear, and of hatred. Irrational thought keeps us from working together with others in order to secure that bright future. It leads to violence that denies the possibility of peace and justice. It leads to what is known as self-righteousness.

I know that many people consider these ideas quaint, but unrealistic. Yet we find that Native American thinking has influenced our country and society in many ways. Jefferson, Franklin, and Madison were very familiar with the Iroquois Confederacy, as many of the ideas expressed in the Articles of Confederation shows. Jesuit diaries provide evidence that the Iroquois were practicing a form of group analysis of dreams for centuries before Sigmund Freud was born. The causes and consequences or rational and irrational thought are the same today as they were 2000 years ago.

Part Two: Reminiscences of War

"The guerrilla fighter is the Jesuit of warfare." -- Che Guevara; Guerrilla Warfare; page 12

One of the potential directions that we can head towards as human beings is warfare. At this time, I would like to examine the activities that are going on in Lebanon in the past few weeks. My use of some material from Che Guevara, to compare these events with, is not an endorsement or indictment of him; rather, it will be used to shed some light on what I believe is happening in Lebanon.

My goal is not to deny that human beings have a right to self-defense when attacked. I strongly believe that Israel has the right to exist without having the integrity of its borders attacked. I am repulsed by the suicide bombers that have killed and maimed the Israeli people. These attacks are examples of the irrational thought that Mohawk described. This form of violence, which includes kidnappings and missiles, is absolutely part -- though not all -- of the cause of the recent Israeli attacks on Lebanon.

Yet the Israeli response is also irrational. Even from a tactical viewpoint, it does not make sense. There is a chapter titled "War and the Peasant Population" in Guevara's book "Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War." It describes the "benefits" to a guerrilla force of causing a larger state to react to a provocation by heavy-handed tactics. These include everything from indiscriminate killings to forced relocations. Such actions always cause a population to come to hate the state, and to identify with the rebel force.

A number of people have recognized that the recent events are not the Six Day War, when Israel rapidly defeated three enemies. This is a slower-paced war, and one in which we see Israel is losing the support of a growing number of people around the world. Blowing up ambulances and UN observers, no matter if done by "accident" or not, is very harmful in terms of public relations. Killing innocent women and children plants the seeds for generations of future violence.

There are people who believe that the actions of Hezbollah will reap positive rewards. There are others who feel that the Israeli's actions will make them safer. These are both examples of irrational thinking. This is what hatred, fear, and violence can do to people. As long as the cycle continues to spiral downward, both sides will experience more pain and suffering.

At some point, someone has to risk being creative, with a rational response. This is not to say that brave and sincere people from all sides of the struggle in the Middle East have not tried in the past. It is saying that the effort must be on-going, and requires a special dedication at times like these. More, it means that all people of goodwill must withdraw encouragement and support for the Jesuits of warfare. We cannot afford to invest energy into the cult of death. We need to look in a different direct.

Part Four: My Dungeon Shook

"Hate can only produce hate. That's why all these wars are going on, all this insanity. There's too much anger in the US. People are too afraid, too numbed out. We need to wipe out all this hatred, fear, distrust, and violence. We need to understand, forgive, and love."
-- Rubin "Hurricane" Carter

A few years back, I was able to assist a friend, who is a faculty member of the NY State University system, while she was writing a book on the power of forgiveness. She interviewed my friend Rubin, about how he found the need to forgive the people responsible for his being incarcerated for 20 years for a crime he did not commit. The above quote comes from that conversation.

Rubin's new book ("The Way of the One-Eyed Man") will be published in September. It will address the concept of the Power of the Good Mind. The message is the same as John Mohawk's, just in a slightly different cultural context. Quite a bit of that context is the American prison system. Many people know the basic story, from one of the four books or the movie about the Hurricane. I can tell a story that might be of interest in the context of this discussion.

Rubin lost the sight in one eye because of the medical neglect in prison. Now prison is a violent and dangerous place for any person, and losing an eye made Rubin feel more vulnerable to potential attack. In 1973, tensions in Rahway State Prison were on the rise, and part of it had to do with the neglect. There was a young man who was scalded to death, when a steam pipe broke in his cell in an isolation unit.

When tensions rise in a prison, everyone lives in the darkness. And when the danger of the darkness is the greatest, inmates begin to seek the safety of being part of a "group." In prison, those groups are also known as gangs. I was one of the people on the outside who Rubin discussed his concerns with, and I urged him to consider something he was hesitant to do. Shortly after the Attic riot, which had erupted into the infamous shoot-out, there was a riot at Trenton State Prison in New Jersey. At the time, Rubin was incarcerated there. During the riot, the Hurricane took steps to protect the lives of staff and inmate alike. Rubin and I discussed what steps he needed to take before the prison exploded.

In "Hurricane: The Miraculous Journey of Rubin Carter" (Houghton Mifflin; 2000; page 102), author James Hirsch writes, "Faced with these concerns, he decided to plunge into prison politics. Like most prisons, Rahway had conflicting factions -- Muslims, Italians, Hispanics, urban blacks, and others. Carter sought the support from the toughest man in each group, who collectively made up the leaders in prison. Promising to expand prisoners' rights and improve conditions, Carter was elected chairman of the Rahway Inmate Committee."

Rubin began a series of meetings with the Police Benevolent Union, church groups, and sociologists. He spoke out about problems including the lack of proper medical care, and drugs and weapons being smuggled into the prison. His efforts began to ease tensions between the guards and inmates. It was a heady time, when prison reform was a subject being taken seriously by the American public. I still have a large collection of the documents that Rubin sent me, mainly letters between the warden and Rubin.

The ability to get the most dangerous gang leaders in a violent atmosphere like a prison is the same type of power that must be harnessed in the Middle East. We will not find it in people like John Bolton, Condi Rice, or George Bush. There is an old saying that you can't teach what you don't know. The current "leaders" in the violence in the Middle East can only have their irrational thinking reinforced by the Bush administration, while being armed by the Cheney shadow government.

At this point, it will take leaders with the moral authority of a Nelson Mandela to deal with the current crisis. But it can be done. If it can be done in the ancient Iroquois woodlands, and in the jungle of a New Jersey prison, it can be done in the Middle East. In fact, it can be done in another important direction we might consider -- inside.

Part Five: The Search for Meaning

"To paraphrase what La Rochefoucauld once remarked with regard to love, one might say that just as a small fire is extinguished by the storm while a larger fire is enhanced by it -- likewise a weak faith is weakened by predicaments and catastrophes, whereas a strong faith is strengthened by them."
-- Viktor E. Frankl; Man's Search for Ultimate Meaning; MJF Books; 2000

Many years ago, Rubin introduced me to the power of Viktor Frankl’s thinking. Frankl (1905 – 1997) was one of the most influential psychotherapists of the past century. He believed that the basic drive of human beings was a “will to meaning.” Frankl was a survivor of the Nazi death camps; he recognized that people could transcend the horrors of life, and become stronger not because of them, but rather despite them.

Frankl’s works stand out as a wonderful example of rational thought. He could have been a bitter and hateful person. If any human being had the right to hate, Viktor Frankl did. But he refused to allow other people’s hatred to incarcerate his essence.

In the beginning of “Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning,” he tells of how people from prisons and mental institutions have shared stories of the drive he calls “will to meaning.” He discusses the human need to transcend one’s self. Clearly, that drive takes very different directions when fueled by rational or irrational thinking. In reading Frankl, I became aware that as difficult as it is to not hate, it is actually harder to hate. I am not saying that as sentimental fluff. Let me share an experience my family endured.

In the late 1990s, a white supremacist gang in rural upstate New York was involved in a series of attacks on primarily non-white victims. They also targeted white people who were friends with non-white people. Their violence included a number of savage beatings of isolated victims (3 suffered fractured skulls), a drive-by shooting, and more. Part of their terrorism included a series of cowardly attacks on Asian-American students at SUNY-Binghamton.

My nephew was one of the people this gang of thugs attacked. They were upset that a brown-skinned high school student was getting a lot of media attention for his athletic and leadership skills. The gang drove about 35 miles, and waited in a dark parking lot near my nephew’s vehicle. A group of 15 men attacked him from behind, and after knocking him unconscious, inflicted a severe beating. Then they left him for dead.

The doctors in the ER said most people would have died from the injuries he had. He lost the hearing in one ear, and more. It’s still difficult for me to remember sitting on the edge of the bed, looking at my unconscious nephew, and seeing what those people did to him. I will not lie now – I hated. I felt the same passion for revenge as do the families of victims in the Middle East, or in Ireland, or El Salvador, or any other place where the ugliness of man’s inhumanity to man raises its head.

It would have been easy to take that 35 mile drive in the direction of revenge. Yes, those thoughts went through my mind. There were many others thinking the same thing, including many of my nephew’s high school friends. The anger that drives irrational thinking made the thought seem attractive. Yet if we had, it only would have fueled a spiral of violence. It needed to stop.

In rural upstate New York, a gang of 15 white men that attacks a black teen is going to face very different legal consequences than a gang of black kids that attacks a white victim. We knew that. It might not sound nice, but it is true. So we were aware that there would not be “justice” from the court. (There wasn’t. The gang leader got a $50 fine for having an open beer, but nothing for punching and kicking an unconscious victim more than a dozen times.)

Instead, we used the court proceedings as a forum for public education on issues of race and violence. The regional chapters of the NAACP had people driving from as far away as Albany to attend the court hearings, which were a weekly event for five months. Television and radio stations, and all of the local newspapers, covered the story.

The community where the trials took place called in huge amounts of police reinforcements, because they were concerned about the potential for violence. But there was none. Our group was focused and disciplined. We were united in presenting a message of rational thought, and discussing what direction we as a society could head in, in order to create the best possible world for the younger generation.

Among the large crowds that gathered, there were always a number of Jewish and Muslim people. They were all unfortunately familiar with having relatives being the victim of the same irrational violence that harmed my nephew. (In fact, the FBI agent who investigated the case, and who advocated the Justice Department get involved, told my sister about his family’s experience as Jewish immigrants to the US.) There were no tensions among the members of our large and diverse group. We were united in common purpose.

I’ll end by saying this: some people may read this, and think, “What the heck does this have to do with the war in the Middle East?” My answer is that we are all connected. What happens there impacts our lives in the US, and what we do here impacts the Middle East. Each day, we face crossroads, and as individuals, we determine what direction the greater society heads in.

“I set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, so that you and your children may live.” – Deuteronomy 30:19


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