Saturday, August 31, 2013

Fighting The Drone Wars

Before the democratic republic fell to tyranny and became the empire, there existed a war between the forces of conformity and army of machines. What about the war they were fighting? It was all manufactured in order to destroy the republic via a day by day consolidation of power under one person. Are we talking about today? Possibly, but our story here is first about a time in intergalactic history called The Clone Wars. But since some historians have not paid close  enough attention to that period of time, we will focus on how this story applies to today.

 On the last day of August, a fellow activist and close friend of mine, along with around 100 fellow activists, were performing a pre-emptive protest against a proposed drone command center at what we use to call the Willow Grove Naval Air Station. The name and management has since changed but the game is the same. The station holds men and machines that are used to wage war against other parts of the world. And it isn't enough that our country attacks relatively defenseless nations, we now wage a remote war with controls that resemble that of a video game. And thus we have our small but growing militia of machines. 

Who are we fighting? We are fighting those who have not taken the news of our owning the world well. Unfortunately, and this is a large reason for the protests, other people get in the way so that our use of drones has been anti-family. Our Hellfire missile firing drones take kids away from parents or parents away from their kids, while at other times our drones take away everybody. And if you are offended by the casual way I am describing this, as well you should be, realize that drone warfare is making the act of killing casual for the modern soldier. For what drone warfare robs from the modern soldier is the sight of the blood spilled in living color, the real smells of death and burnt flesh, the screams and unconsolable sorrow of family members who have just lost their loved ones, the almost paralyzing fear that one's life is in danger, and thus the true feel of the combat arena. The act of killing in drone warfare dehumanizes the victims and thus minimizes the stress of and risks taken by our soldiers. Killing becomes impersonal and thus the more the drone operator kills, the less that operator feels when his/her actions takes human lives.

Drone warfare protects that soldier-operators from feeling responsible for taking life. In fact, it insulates the soldier-operator from feeling anything. But the soldier operator isn't the only one who is spared a real understanding of reality in today's brave new combat zone. The one who orders the strike is also sheltered from the shock and awe of taking life. That is because the one giving the orders is immune to all accountability. And that is because the country using drone warfare has assumed the right to judge all other nations while refusing to be judged by any.  In most cases, sinners, let alone those who murder, can neither see nor realize the full picture of what they are doing without judgment made by others. Thus, the one giving directing and sending in the drones also feels less and less the more the drones kill others.

Considering that today's protest draws from the Philadelphia area as well as the Lehigh Valley, there were very few people there in attendance. There are millions of people to draw from here however only around 100 showed up? Why were so many people not motivated  enough to join the protest? What were they doing that was so important that they could not protest against the cold-blooded slaying of innocent people? That's right. I forgot. Today is the first Saturday of the 2013 college football season.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Gorillas In Our Midst

Perhaps, one of the greatest arguments for Democracy and against authoritarianism comes from the movie, Planet Of The Apes. In this movie, the gorillas are, in contrast to real life, the aggressive members of society, the ones who try to dominate. They are the ones who serve in the military and police services. In today's surrealistic world, they would also become the movers and shakers of our financial institutions. In this movie, there was a strict caste system participated in by the gorillas, orangutangs,  and chimpanzees and the gorillas were hyper-masculine control freaks.

We really don't need to know more than this because what we want to focus on here are the gorillas who live with us today. And the most pertinent question one can have about our gorillas comes from another movie. In the movie, Battle In Seatle, after the police had spent one day brutalizing protesters, one of the protesters asked, "how do you stop those who stop at nothing?"

We must find an answer to the above question if we are create a new world let alone survive. And it will be more difficult to find a good answer here than it is for the Cubs to win the World Series. This is because we have three choices when responding to gorillas. The first choice is to imitate or become a gorilla by returning an "eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." The second choice is to be intimidated by our gorillas and submit to fear. Here, we either are paralyzed and obey or support the gorillas as a way to make the best of a bad situation. The final choice is to find ways to nonviolently resist the violence and aggression in order to create a better world.

Historically speaking, those looking for a better world do not have the best track record in handling gorillas. For example, the Paris Commune and Spanish Revolution were both overthrown by the respective militaries of the countries. We should also note that Occupy Wall Street was significantly crippled by the breakup of the encampments.  The Arab Spring has had mixed results and must continue especially in Egypt. Meanwhile, many who resisted Syria's President Assad have become or already were gorillas.

The trick to beating the gorillas in our midst is to both outnumber and outlast them. Two examples come to mind here. First, was the overthrow of Milosevic in Serbia and second, was the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. In both cases, the beginning of the overthrow started with a small number of activists who were dedicated to nonviolent resistance. After the number of activists who were protesting swelled to a critical mass and the people saw how the government shamefully treated these protesters, different groups went on strike crippling the economy. Finally, many in the military who were being used to enforce the law switched sides. At that point, enough people had withdrawn their obedience so that the gorillas were at least temporarily paralyzed. In Egypt, unfortunately, the gorillas made a temporary comeback through the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt's future is now up in the air.

The problem with outnumbering the gorillas is in finding incentives. The incentives for becoming or supporting the gorillas are more immediate and real. These incentives include becoming rich or surviving in a land full of gorillas. The incentives for joining those who oppose gorillas are more intangible and long term. They include the peace that comes with being just and moral, being more humane, being more connected with others, and creating a space where longterm survival becomes more probable. We could sum up the difference by saying that the incentives for joining the gorillas revolve around greed and a desire for power while the incentives for opposing the gorillas center more on being at peace, interconnected, and interdependent.

History tells us that when defeated, gorillas make a comeback. In fact, history tells us that we will always have gorillas. Because of that that, some people have concluded that the only way to survive is to be with the strongest group of gorillas. Because survival is at stake, whatever one has to do is justified. Such logic is unfortunate.

So the trick, and it isn't an easy one, is to both outlast and outnumber the gorillas. That means the those who start opposing the gorillas of our society must persevere past the time when they significantly outnumber the gorillas, for which there is never a guarantee, and then they must maintain those odds forever. It takes eternal vigilance to keep our gorillas in their place.

We see mixed results in the world regarding the prospect of defeating our gorillas. There is promise in countries like Turkey, Bulgaria, Brazil, and Egypt. Note that there is promise, not victories. But here in the U.S., greed, patriotism, and pride provide incentives for people to become gorillas or side with them while others who very much want to maintain their current lifestyle live in submission. It seems that only principled people and idealists are currently willing to oppose our gorillas. And in a society that is based on prosperity and having more, we see that we have difficulty in providing the necessary incentives to lure people into opposing our gorillas. 

Currently, the gorillas in our midst and around the world are behind the grab for power, wealth, and resources. What they want is to have more than their counterparts from other groups whether those groups are determined by country, religion, ideology, or financial holdings. We can identify these gorillas by their behavior. We can easily see that, at least in the U.S., most leaders from both the public and private sectors have shown themselves to be gorillas. The same can be said for the leaders of many countries. National leaders such as Putin, Erdogan, Netanyahu, and Harper immediately come to mind when listing gorillas from the public sector from other countries. But there are more who lurk in the private sector.

It should not be difficult then in a world that has become environmentally compromised and will soon see significant shortages in vital resources to see how the rule of gorillas threatens everyone's future. These threats could be carried out by waging or causing wars, creating an uninhabitable world, or some combination of the two. The prospects of beating our gorillas are not good. But the realities of what follows our failure to win are far worse. Democracy, not the kind where the only action you take is voting every x number of years, is our only hope.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The People Are The Only Line Of Defense Against Tyrrany

On Saturday, June 1, as part of the reunion of Occupy Wall Street, there was a solidarity demonstration for the Occupy Movement in Turkey. The demonstration was in response to the police brutality being exercised on those in the Occupy Movement. The demonstration itself, held in Zuccotti Park, sounded more like a European soccer stadium with the chants and singing than a protest. There were neither speeches nor marches, there was just an endless singing and chanting. And it was all in Turkish.

It was not difficult for anybody to recognize that, in one sense, I was out of my element there. I didn't know a word that was being said and I had to ask what was being said out of curiosity. This prompted two supporters to ask why I was there.  The answer was rather simple. I was there because regardless of our own nationality, we need to stick up for each other against the tyranny of those with wealth and power. This solidarity is our only defense. Both questioners liked my answer because its truth was obvious.

If we were to check the Occupy Movement around the world, we would find a consensus regarding the identity of the troublemakers who are threatening the rest of the world. Like those identified as belonging to the current terrorist threat, these rogue operators are not confined within the borders of any nation-state. And all too often, our antagonists have been well trained to blend in as the leaders of society. Thus, what we are seeing is many, but not all, of our elected officials and financial leaders around the world  exploit and repress the rest of us. We should note that, historically, exploitation and repression go together like love and marriage.

If the people who are abusing us are no longer confined within the borders of any state, then it would be foolish of us to rely on the old  institution of nationalism. With nationalism, the primary group we would first rely on for help is our own nation. But since many of our public and private sector leaders are against us, such reliance is self-sabotaging.

We could, as some on the Left have suggested, organize around economic class and depend on these groups for help. There is a problem here in that we might win but, in the end, the more we identify with groups based on economic class, the greater the danger that we will become like our enemies. This is because we will resort to the same tribalism that our opponents rely on. That is we will be so concerned with winning and the welfare of those in our group that we will embrace moral relativity. And that fondness for moral relativity can turn inward so that how we treat others outside our own group eventually becomes how we treat each other. In addition, we might win in changing the major players of a system but we will not have changed the system. We could add that when we draw our borders around an economic class, our borders become hard and rigid. These kinds of borders prevent people from changing.

So if nationality or economic class should not be our primary groups, what should they be? I would suggest organizing around an identity given to those of us Jews, Muslims, and Christians, who were protesting outside of the Israeli consulate in D.C. against the Occupation. The person organizing the protest called us "people of conscience." And he said that because we showed solidarity with those from another group. Thus, we showed that our prime allegiance was to morals and principles rather than to an ethnicity. Indeed, the first and last line of defense that we have against wealth and power is the solidarity shown by those who have no reason to be concerned about others except that there is suffering and injustice. And here, numbers are crucial. If we can assemble enough people of conscience, we can defend each other without becoming like our oppressors. 

The advantage of bonding around morals and principles rather than ethnicity or economic class is that we will escape the terminal king of the hill battle that tribalism produces. However, we are not guaranteed security, we are just kept from hurting others. And the more of us there are, then the more security we can experience as well. 

Another advantage over making our primary allegiance based on conscience is that the borders surrounding our group allow for immigration. Anyone can join us who will put a good conscience first. When we are confined by the borders of nationality or class, we become embroiled in a fight to the death. We must conquer to survive let alone win. But when morals and principles determine our borders, we seek to win people over so that the more the merrier. 

There can be high costs to making your first loyalty to morals and principles over nationality or economic class. First, you can become alienated within your own family, friends, workplace, place of worship, community, and so on. That is because for most of us, tribalism reigns. Tribalism is when group loyalty becomes so high that absolute values begin to disappear. And where tribalism reigns in the world around you, being a person of conscience can invite scorn, persecution, imprisonment, and even death. For example, imagine being a Palestinian who protests the killing of innocent Israelis or being an Israeli who protests the wanton killing of Palestinian innocents by your own troops.

A second cost is that you might make significant sacrifices for those who are too remote to recognize and show appreciation for your efforts. Being a person of conscience can be a thankless job.

But the payoff is not just doing what is right and breaking the cycle and chain of violence, it is becoming a part of a much larger group than any tribe we can belong to. For while tribalism revolves around conformity, uniting around absolute values immerses us into a world of diversity much I like was experiencing at the solidarity rally for the Occupy Movement in Turkey. It certainly wasn't my first experience where I was the foreigner who understood little to nothing of what was being said. But standing up for those who are from a different group brings a bond that is sweeter than that which comes from patriotism.

There is a danger when we organize by conscience. That danger is that we become self-righteous and look down on those we are resisting. Such an attitude forgets that though we try to put conscience first, we have all too often failed and thus need forgiveness. In addition, such an attitude builds a separation wall that prevents people from the other side from crossing the border based on morals and principles to visit.

Sure, we can seek security in tribalism. And if we pick the right tribe, we will be safe but only for a while. Our hope then would be to pass away before our own tribe loses its position. And in the meantime, we would have contributed the ever growing destruction that tribalism brings. This contribution is one that our children and grandchildren will experience more than we will.

However, if we make our first allegiance to absolute values and morals and our primary group is with people of conscience, we might be sacrificed but at least we will be a part of the only group that is working to make life better, though not perfect And when we hold to absolute values first, we will be safe from practicing the oppression and evil that we are protesting. And who knows, if we get enough people on our side, we might be able to make a small contribution to lives of our loved ones who come after us.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Confronting Russia On Arms Sales To Syria

We can pose and we can posture,
we can get upset and mad;
but when it comes to selling weapons
there isn't one who isn't bad.

Our ships are why we let some kill Bahrainis
and our tear gas keeps Egyptians under control;
our planes have slaughtered Palestinians and Lebanese
and have kept the IDF on a roll.

Our supplies once helped Saddam use poison gas
to keep his rebels tame;
but now we say to Syria that
it can't do the same.

So what can we say to Russia
about the weapons it bestows?
For it's all about the money,
as our own history shows.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

May Day Is A Tale Of Many Protests

It has been a while since I have been able to celebrate Labor Day (May Day). For me, the only place to celebrate it is in NYC. The celebration there consists of many groups that are protesting for their rights. Counter protesters are included.

For me, this May Day started with a visit to the Free University of NYC located in Cooper  Square. I did not catch many of the talks but the one I did hear gave a simple but costly thought. The speaker, who seemed to be a local professor in the Social Sciences, stated that there should be a clinical diagnostic category for those who do not care about others. I'm afraid that if such were the case, then most of us would require therapy to one degree or another. And as idealistic as the thought appears to be, it is more than worthy of consideration.

The two most prominent groups at May Day were those protesting for immigrant rights and those protesting for labor rights. The concerns of both groups are not mutually exclusive because of how some businesses exploit immigrant labor. Most of those speaking for immigrant rights spoke with anger. The anger was over how families could be split up because of new immigration laws. In addition, the pay is low and working conditions for many immigrant workers are harsh. All of this leaves their families with little economic hope for the future. Their tempers were also short when immigrant gays talked about the life of fear they lead.

I commented to a friend that the people I am with the most would be turned off by the yelling. That is because the people I usually hang around with have obtained some level of a comfortable life and thus feel threatened when they hear these voices. They feel threatened because both the content of the messages and tone of these voices demand change. These angry voices might also be hitting a guilt nerve because if the system is unjust, these voices imply that the one group might have earned their dreams at the expense of the other.

We should mention that some in organized labor had their pre-march protest as they visited the offices of some "union busting" companies.

The group I hung around with was Occupy Guitarmy. I was vaguely familiar with this groups when I saw them meet last year at the Free University of NYC. Quite simply, they made the march fun. But more than fun, those from the Occupy Wall Street were there simply because they cared for people from other groups. They were there because they cared about immigrants, workers, gays, and war victims. They were there because they know who the perpetrator for the violations of all of these groups' rights is. It is the current system that we are required to bow down before to enter a lifestyle lottery. And that is the point of the May Day celebration/protest. It certainly was about speaking up for the rights of one's own group. But it was just as much about speaking up for the rights and even lives of others.

What May Day signifies is this, if enough people speak up for the rights and humanity of others, the system will be forced to begin to change. And the more people voice their convictions, eventually the more the system has to change. This is the only hope for a just peace in the world. And a just peace, rather than any "benevolent" domination, is the only hope we have if we are going to survive past  tomorrow.