Sunday, August 12, 2007

Spiritual activism, political revolution & New Age fuzzy thinking

By Diane Silver

At first glance, the idea that political activists should act out of "awareness, compassion and love" seems both ludicrous and suicidal. But acting out of love is the first principle of what Carla Goldstein calls "spiritual activism."

For what it's worth, I wonder if she might be on to something. Following her principle might well provide the key to unlocking the solutions to our most pressing foreign and domestic problems.

I am not suggesting that we open our arms to al Qaeda and say, hey, I love you, shoot me, nor am I recommending that my colleagues in the gay rights movement expect to win equality by hugging Fundamentalists. I quake at the thought of such, shall we say, New Age fuzzy headedness.

Yet I also tremble at the idea that we are going to win our battles by seeking to become more terrifying than our opponents. Right now I worry that we are doing just that. It seems, at times, as if promoting ourselves as the biggest monsters on the block is our only strategy.

In Bush's War on Terror, threatening to kill anyone who threatens us and torturing the people we capture have become standard operating procedures. The neocon solution to terrorism appears to boil down to one simplicity: Kill all the bad guys.

Momentarily leaving aside the morality of such a tactic, I question it's practicality. We cannot, in fact, kill everyone who wants to hurt us. Even if we could, we could not keep from creating more terrorists as we kill the old ones. Every husband or wife we would leave behind could potentially become an enemy. Every brother and sister, every son and daughter, every friend, every acquaintance, every neighbor would have a rock-solid, deep-in-the-heart reason to hate us.

More than that, every one of them would have a personal reason to be terrified of us. Bush and friends foolishly think that creating fear in our enemies will keep them from fighting back. But I ask: Would it stop us if we were in their situation?

I live in Lawrence, Kan., and sometimes I wonder what my neighbors would do it we were facing an occupation like Bush and friends have imposed on Iraq. Even if the invaders were first seen as liberators, how would Kansans feel this many years in and with so many of our neighbors dead or imprisoned? At what point would Kansans take up arms against the people who invaded our country?

Finally, if we felt like our backs were to the wall, and we had no chance except to fight back against the terrifying monsters or die, would we befriend the people who were scaring us? Or, would we fight back any way we could?

To believe that Iraqis and other Muslims are a different breed of human, that they they don't hate and fear and love like we do, is simply crazy. But that seems to be the neocon/Bush belief.

The same is true about domestic issues. Attempting to be the biggest monster in the room won't save Fundamentalists or lesbians or gays or Democrats or Republicans. At times, it seems that fear is the only political tactic that campaigns want to employ. It is true that fear does move voters for an election or two, but I wonder what we create when we only evoke fear in our campaigns? Does such a victory sow the seeds of the next domestic war?

And yes, I know that my discussion of these challenges is too brief and simplistic, but those are issues we can return to on other days. Such is the joy of a blog.

For this moment, though, here's why I think acting out of love and compassion is so important: Acting out of fear makes us stupid. Adrenaline pumps and the primal brain takes over. We don't take time to consider. We don't take time to find lasting solutions. Instead, we go into survival mode.

Personally, I think acting out of fear makes it hard for human beings to see reality. Above all, these days, a good sense of reality has got to be a requirement.

In the second column in her series on spiritual activism, Goldstein touches more deeply on the workings of that first principle, which is:
"We take action that is born out of awareness, compassion and love, not out of reaction, fear and anger."

Goldstein provides some first steps on how to open up and become more loving. My hope is that this modest post will provide some explanation as to why such activities are important.

The courage to open to our hearts has the potential to change everything. Goldstein writes:

As a result of my heartfulness practice, my activism has radically changed. It has gone from being something I do to accomplish a social change goal to a way of being. I have come to understand that the means and the end are equally important, which brings me to know that yelling at “the other side” (or my daughter) is doing exactly the same thing I am condemning – creating fear and anger. The more I get in touch with my own heart, the more I am in touch with the hearts of others and the more interested I become in cultivating peace rather than polarization.

This post continues a journey I began last week when I first commented on Goldstein's work.

I'm calling this a journey because I freely admit that I don't have all the answers, or perhaps even many of them. What I do have is an itch, a sense gnawing at me, that we have to change the way we do politics and activism, or we will never move forward as a nation. I plan to comment on each of Goldstein's columns on spiritual activism in the hope of sparking conversation and finding more answers.


Bob said...

Diane, you may be discovering the impossibility of a state that extracts "cooperation" from its citizens through coercion. That's what we have now.

I would be interested in seeing you explore the possibility of severly limiting the size and scope of our government, so that people conduct their affairs through voluntary transactions, not state coercion.

As Walter Williams has said: "The type of rules we should have are the ones you'd want if your worst enemy was in power."

I think you have seen during the past few years what types of rules your enemies can impose on you. They do this by using government and the power of the state.

Yet (and I don't read all your postings) you seem to be wanting more government, not less. To me, that is not rational.

Diane Silver said...

Bob, thanks for stopping by for a comment. I have to admit to being a little baffled by your words, though.

First, let's start with where we have clear agreement. I love the Walter Williams quote, and agree with the words you posted here completely. Many thanks for passing them on.

Other than that, though, I remain baffled. This post talks about how it's important to approach people with empathy and compassion, even in the knock-down, fighting world of politics.

Approaching people with love, empathy, awareness and compassion does not equate with the size of government, one way or the other. I think you're straying a bit off topic.

My other point is... I suspect that to truly win a lasting peace, whether domestically or internationally, you have to take a different approach than attempting to, well, kill 'em all. Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. proved that point.

Bob said...

Diane, you talked about fear as a motivating factor for voters. How has it come to be that we have a state so powerful that we have to fear what it might do to us?

A properly limited government could do nothing to us that we would be fearful of.

And the fighting in politics that you mentioned: of course people fight. Again, when government has the power -- and even worse -- when politicians see it as their duty to take from one and give to another, or to grant special privileges upon a class of people, people will fight. There's nothing mysterious about that.

That's why the growth of government is so terrifying. It overwhelms everything else, and everyone fights to make sure they get their share, or that no one else gets more than them.

Like F.A. Hayek wrote in The Road to Serfdom: "As the coercive power of the state will alone decide who is to have what, the only power worth having will be a share in the exercise of this directing power."

As long as the state has this power, and as long as human nature is what it is, I don't think empathy and love will go very far in politics.

Diane Silver said...

I have concerns for both civil liberties, which may or may not be what you're talking about, and for my fellow citizens.

I believe in freedom and liberty, and the progressive values that founded this country. It's not an accident that many of the earliest states were called "commonwealths." That's because the people who came to these shores understood that we all have responsibility for each other. They knew that the wealth of the community must be used for all.

That's why the good people of the United States have decided to use the common wealth has been used of this country to build roadways and highways (to give us all the freedom to pursue our own businesses and move our goods throughout the country), to create the virtual superhighway of the Internet (to give us all the liberty to pursue business online and learn and grow), to establish and run a public educational system (so that the liberty of opportunity is open to all, and not just the rich who can afford to send their children to private schools.)

These are just a few of the things that the wise citizens of this nation have done, and I and you and everyone else has the ability to live free today because these citizens understood that we all deserve liberty -- not just the elite and the rich.

Many thanks for your comments.

Diane Silver said...

I certainly got fumble fingered on that last comment. I meant to write the following.

That's why the good people of the United States decided to use the common wealth of this nation to build roadways and highways (to give us all the freedom to pursue our own businesses and move our goods throughout the country), to create the virtual superhighway of the Internet (to give us all the liberty to pursue business online and to freely speak our minds without having to have the money to own a printing press), to establish and run a public educational system (so that the liberty of opportunity is open to all, and not just the rich who can afford to send their children to private schools.)

Bill White said...

A large part of your concept deals with the archetypal patterns we run in our culture. The Hero or Warrior has long been established as the proper role to deal with life, particularly from a white, protestant male perspective.

What you're talking about changing to is more that of the Magician archetype. Where we are wise enough to let people be who they are and deal with each other despite our differing beliefs in a fair and humane way.

I believe that neither course is always right. The archetypal patterns all exist because they each possess some validity and particularly so in specific situations.

The solution begins with personal responsibility. Minding our business at home should always be first priority. What puzzles me most about our current situation is not the agressive stance we took with the terror cells. In fact, I believe to a large extent it was necessary. What puzzles me to a much larger degree is that while we hear we have to be so vigilant against the threat of terror, we are also looking at building an 8 lane superhighway from Canada to Mexico (which seems to me a pretty good way to take a nuclear payload anywhere in the US.) and erasing the borders on the North American continent to create the North American Union.

Clearly these are ideas in opposition. So then I must ask, whom is in power and what is their real agenda?

Just some thoughts...

All the best!
Bill White
The Synchronicity Expert