Roe vs. Wade: The How of its Pending Overturn

We will not bear more!

As the late Christopher Hitchens said, “Religion poisons everything.”

We see it firsthand with SCOTUS about to overturn Roe vs. Wade, a devastating turnaround that will impact people of color and marginal financial resources the most.

We see religion’s trespass behind the daily atrocities of fundamentalists in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iraq, India and Pakistan.

We have the witness of history in the Crusader wars waged against Muslims, the bloody conflicts between Catholics and Protestants, the Inquisition, Bartholomew massacre, witchcraft trials in my birthplace, Salem, MA, Al-Quaeda’s 911 attack, ISIS and Boko Haram.

Not on the same scale, religious despotism exists right now in America, its constituency supporters of Trump. They’ve become the virus that’s brought shame to the party of Lincoln and division to our nation.

SCOTUS needs a new look, not simply by adding people of color. Six of its nine members are Roman Catholics, four of them conservative: Alito, Kavanaugh, Barrett, and Thomas.

The two liberal Catholics are Roberts and Sotomeyer. Another, Gorsuch, a former Catholic and conservative, now attends Episcopal services. Three justices, Kavanaugh, Barrett, and Gorsuch, were appointed by Trump.

Catholicism isn’t really the issue. It’s when faith embraces an intolerant conservatism. Evangelicals, Hindu nationalists, Muslim fundamentalists and, yes, Israeli settlers, all bear responsibility for attempting to impose their agendas on others.

My family, French Canadian and Irish, was devoutly Catholic. When my maternal grandmother deserted the Catholic church, my other grandmother, the Irish one, cut off all communication. My father was buried with the rites of the Church.

I think we’ve made progress since the election of John Kennedy, our first Catholic president, and a good one. I remember the bigotry existing at the time, compelling Kennedy to pledge his independence of the Vatican. Religion thankfully didn’t raise its ugly head in the election of Joe Biden, a church-going Catholic, and just second Catholic in our nation’s history.

Unfortunately, he’s been pursued not by Protestants, but by conservative Catholic bishops, who want to deny him communion. Sadly, the Catholic church, despite liberal reform efforts, remains a medieval institution in need of reform. Hierarchical and dominated by elderly white males, it allows no female priests, opposes homosexuality, gay marriage and, of course, not only abortion, but contraception.

Thankfully, the vast majority of American Catholics, like Biden and Pelosi, don’t subscribe to its parochialism. They are not the enemy.

On the other hand, that four of our justices embrace Catholic conservative values troubles me. One in particular, Amy Coney Barrett, has long ties with People of Praise, a charismatic group in South Bend. It holds traditional beliefs about gender and sexuality and its officers are males. Meetings are gender segregated. She served as “handmaid.”

Barrett sent three of her children to its Trinity School campus in South Bend and sat on its board for nearly three years. It also has campuses in Falls Church, Virginia, and in Eagan, Minnesota.

In 2006, along with hundreds, she signed an anti-abortion letter that accompanied a January 2006 ad in the South Bend Tribune calling for “an end to the barbaric legacy of Roe v. Wade” (southbendtribune.com).

The danger lurks when both religion and politics converge into concerted imposition of their views upon the public. As the NPR has pointed out, “Conservative catholics are the new evangelicals” (npr.org, Apr 20, 2020): “‘It was the Catholic vote that won those states for Donald Trump,’ according to Tim Huelskamp, a former Republican congressman from Kansas now serving as an adviser to the Catholics for Trump movement” (NPR).

In 2016, Trump prevailed in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, traditionally Democrat bastions, where Catholics significantly outnumber Evangelicals, securing Trump’s victory, despite losing the popular vote nationally. In 2020, half of Catholics voters opted for Trump over Biden.

Recent polls indicate a majority of Catholics now favor Biden over Trump in a hypothetical matchup. Still, an activist conservative faction exists, sharing with Evangelicals a vehement opposition to abortion and gay rights.

Conservative Catholic media include EWTN News, the National Catholic Register and Church Militant, and CatholicVote.org.

Unfortunately, four conservative Catholic justices are on the supreme court, two of them nominated by Trump; the third, Gorsuch, is now Episcopalian, as I mentioned.

If SCOTUS enacts its reputed decision, it will have widened America’s cavernous divide, with states pitted against each other, something not seen since the Civil War.

–rj

Is Musk Libertarian?

My post on Elon Musk yesterday elicited one of the largest Brimmings audiences in its twelve year history. I endeavored to be fair to all sides in assessing this polarizing man.

But I need to do a postscript that may help clarify what lies behind his thinking and purchase of one of the world’s leading media platforms and, notably, his resistance to censorship, whether of Left or Right. As he’s told us, he’ll not please either.

You see, I view him as essentially a libertarian, not conservative. Unfortunately, many conflate the terms. Libertarians agree with conservatives in opposing government interference with free enterprise, curtailing deficit spending, mandated protocols and alleged incursions on free speech.

They also agree with conservatives on a strong miliitary, capable of responding to threats to the nation’s security, gun ownership rights, etc.

On the other hand, libertarians believe abortion is a free choice option, a huge difference indeed. They support same sex marriage, judicial reform, and ending capital punishment. While they support a capable military, they eschew bloated spending and policies of overseas intervention that have led to Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. They describe the Bush administration’s incursion in Iraq as “an obscene, depraved act of naked aggression”(libertarian.org).

Libertarians believe we need to follow George Washington’s counsel in his Farewell Address to avoid foreign intervention and alliances. We are not the world’s police or its savior.

Libertarians, unlike many conservatives, are hugely supportive of the environment: “We support a clean and healthy environment and sensible use of our natural resources. Private landowners and conservation groups have a vested interest in maintaining natural resources. Pollution and misuse of resources cause damage to our ecosystem. Governments, unlike private businesses, are unaccountable for such damage done to our environment and have a terrible track record when it comes to environmental protection…..We realize that our planet’s climate is constantly changing, but environmental advocates and social pressure are the most effective means of changing public behavior” (ontheissues.org).

On immigration, there is much that even Progressives could like: “We welcome all refugees to our country. Furthermore, immigration must not be restricted for reasons of race, religion, political creed, age, or sexual preference. We therefore call for the elimination of all restrictions on immigration, the abolition of the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Border Patrol, and a declaration of full amnesty for all people who have entered the country illegally” (ontheissues.org).

Presently, Libertarians have grown to be the nation’s third largest party. In 2020, they took 20% of the vote in Virginia; surprisingly, 9.4% of the vote in my native Massachusetts.

As the libertarian label suggests, they advocate a live-and-let live approach with priority on personal liberty and limited government.

Musk is an enigma when it comes to his politics. He says he’s half Democrat, half-Republican; in short, a moderate. Despite his avowal, he exhibits a strong libertarian streak, emphasizing citizen polity over government imposition.

Revealingly, our space-minded mogul has hinted at what a Mars government might look like, or oriented along libertarian lines with people voting directly on issues: “I think that’s probably better, because the potential for corruption is substantially diminished in a direct versus a representative democracy” (metro.co.uk).

We know his friend and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel is decidedly libertarian, as Musk admits: “I’m somewhat libertarian, but Peter’s extremely libertarian” (newyorker.com).

In January he tweeted “True national debt, including unfunded entitlements, is at least $60 trillion – roughly three times the size of the entire US economy. Something has got to give” (nationalinterest.com). Libertarians, ardent critics of social security, would hardly disagree.

A libertarian mindsets goes far in contextually explaining his vociferous resistance to censorship and government interference. As a visionary, he outdistances conservatives with his free-wielding views on needful social reforms ranging from judicial, military, environment, abortion and free trade.

Like libertarians, he exhibits affinity with Victorian Britain’s liberals, vociferous advocates of limited government, non-censorship and social reform (e.g., Bentham, Mill, Gladstone).

It may be limiting to label protean Elon a libertarian, but as American poet James Whitcomb Riley (1849–1916) famously put it, “When I see a bird that walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck.”

–rj

The Enigma of Elon Musk: A Candid Assessment

Whatever your opinion may be about entrepreneur Elon Musk, who shocked the social media world with his purchase of Twitter, you can’t ignore him.

Voted Time Magazine’s Person of the Year in December 2021, he happens to be the world’s wealthiest man with an estimated net worth of $253 billion, far out-distancing Amazon’s Jeff Bezos at $162 billion (ceobuz.com, April 28, 2022).

He can buy just about anything and does. Coca Cola may be next.

Affluence brings influence, and Musk doesn’t shirk from peddling it. Last year his Space X’s PAC contributed a record-breaking $2.4 million to politicians of both parties; Tesla, 1.5 million (opensecrets.org).

He has donated money to the presidential campaigns of Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton.

In California, he contributed to the campaigns of Gov. Gavin Newsom, Dianne Feinstein, Meg Whitman, and former governor Jerry Brown.

Though he says he prefers to stay out of politics, it hasn’t stopped him from entering the political fray. He opposes Biden’s tax credit proposal to give a $4,500 discount to consumers buying vehicles made by union workings, affording an advantage over Tesla, Toyota, and others.

He supported Andrew Yang, who advocated for a universal basic income, in his 2020 primary run.

Since 2003, Space X has secured $1.5 billion in contracts, mostly NASA related.

He vehemently opposes Biden’s proposal to close the tax loophole for billionaires to help finance his safety net plan.

His battle with the FEC over regulation has been ongoing.

He abhors union organizing.

To brand him as an ultra conservative, however, is untrue in its simple-minded reductionism. Like others such as rival Bezos, he’s pragmatic, focused on his business interests.

Musk isn’t easy to like and there exist significant foreshadowings of trouble with his takeover of Twitter. Despite his advocacy of freedom of speech, he’s been known to fly off the handle with subordinates who have disagreed with him, or engage in “rage firing.” In his just published book, Power Play: Tesla, Elon Musk, and the Bet of the Century, The Wall Street Journal writer Jim Higgins gives numerous, detailed instances of Musk’s firing of contractors and employees out of sheer rage.

Nonetheless, he deserves credit for being a climate change hawk, if not pioneer, founding Tesla, an EV concern. 75% of EV vehicles sold this year were Teslas. Tesla solar panels are on thousands of rooftops in the U.S. Climate change hasn’t been a priority issue for most conservatives. He was among the first in line to oppose Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord.

Musk is one of your consummate engineers, a segment to whom we owe substantial, but unacknowledged, gratitude for its contribution to the public welfare and many of the amenities we enjoy.

He revitalized a non-viable EV industry, designing a new battery and reviving a waning space program as well. Courageously championing the new technology and investing heavily, he taught himself rocketry and invented an entirely new space craft.

The pity would be that his new venture might distract him from the substantial contributions he’s made to mitigating climate change, Tesla bridging the gap on the issue between liberals and conservatives, a sentiment echoed by environmentalist Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org.

A registered independent, Musk has tweeted, “To be clear, I am not a conservative. Am registered independent & politically moderate. Doesn’t mean I’m moderate about all issues. Humanitarian issues are extremely important to me & I don’t understand why they are not important to everyone.”

He takes Russia’s Ukraine incursion seriously and has supplied the country with thousands of Starlink kits to maintain its Internet, essential to its survival. Zelensky has thanked him for this. Critics minimize the charity component, saying the U.S. government did the financing. The reality is Space X donated thousands of kits on its own.

The Left has, nonetheless, turned him into Lord Voldemort, infamously rich, tax-dodging and a taunting critic of its activism: “The far left hates everyone, themselves included! But I’m no fan of the right either,” Musk tweeted Friday morning. “Let’s have less hate and more love” (April 29, 2022).

If he’s paid little tax, it’s the fault of the system, not Musk. A good many Democrat and Republican members of Congress, many of them millionaires, maximize their own exemptions.

Musk views government regulation as hostile to innovation and laments huge deficit spending, contributing to inflation.

Conservatives are liking Musk and enthusiastic about his acquisition of Twitter. They applauded his moving Tesla headquarters from blue state California to red state Texas. They’ve long felt that Twitter has frequently discriminated against them. Last year, it banned Trump permanently. Enthusiasts advocate a presidential run in 2024, ruled out for the South African born Musk by the Constitution.

Conservatives point out the Taliban’s presence on Twitter, yet Trump is banned. On the other hand, the Southern Poverty Law Center has criticized Twitter’s allowing right wing extremists a platform for staging the January 6, 2020 Capitol attack.

Musk says he bought Twitter to promote free speech and has plans to make it better: “Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity. I also want to make Twitter better than ever by enhancing the product with new features, making the algorithms open source to increase trust, defeating the spam bots, and authenticating all humans. Twitter has tremendous potential — I look forward to working with the company and the community of users to unlock it.”’

The problem is we don’t really know what Musk means by this. Democrats, understandably, remain fearful. Will the likes of Donald Trump and misinformation saturate the new Twitter? Many leftist tweeters have already departed.

Not much talked about, Musk has considerable business ties with China, hardly your paragon of free speech. In fairness, he isn’t alone in the business community when it comes to prioritizing profit over human rights issues. Would it make Twitter more reluctant to remove China propaganda or misinformation posts? China is Tesla’s second largest market with half of its cars produced there. Musk has been the beneficiary of several billion in Chinese investment loans.

Several leading Congressional Democrats are advocating a review of the purchase.

Truth is, many Twitter aficionados, including Democrats, adore Musk, who has 81.2 million followers.

He’s admired by the public for his fierce independence. He’ll not be reigned in. He speaks to the issue, not the political mindset. He does what many can only dream.

On the other hand, most Democrats see him as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He may not be able to run for president, but were Trump reinstated and make a run to regain the office, Twitter could potentially impact the race in his favor. Twitter enjoys an estimated 300 million users worldwide, 38 million of them in the U.S.

Just the other day, Musk hinted at the possible scenario: “Time outs are better than permanent bans. A good sign of free speech is: Is someone you don’t like allowed to say something you don’t like? … Twitter has become a de facto town square. It’s important people have the reality and the perception that they’re able to speak freely within the bounds of the wall.”

Reinstating Trump would likely trigger a Tsunami tidal wave, with many skilled staff and millions of Twitter users deserting its ranks and unleashing an aroused Congress. Meanwhile, Trump says he’ll never return to the platform, no matter what Musk does.

But no need for heart palpitations just yet. The deal doesn’t close for six months, allowing for a lot to happen. Thursday, the Federal Trade Commission, announced its seeking whether Musk observed an antitrust reporting requirement when he initially invested in Twitter (Reuters).

Then, too, the UK and EU, concerned that that a Musk owned Twitter may attract extremists, insists Twitter conform to new content rules or face sanctions that would include fines or even a total ban.

Given his mercurial temperament, it’s conceivable he could withdraw from the deal, triggering a billion dollar penalty, agreed to by Musk.

In its latest issue, Time Magazine states “the lesson of Musk’s career is to take his ambitions seriously. He’s rich not because he gamed the system but because he’s a genius who uses the incredible force of his will to mobilize resources to pursue his ideas. He’s devoted himself to tackling what he views as humanity’s biggest problems, and he has decided, as he put it recently, that ‘having a public platform that is maximally trusted and broadly inclusive is extremely important to the future of civilization.’”

And for democracy as well.

–rj

Russia will go nuclear in Ukraine: the emerging scenario

Russia’s cruise missile attack on Kyiv yesterday just after UN Secretary António Guterres’ visit with Ukraine’s President Zelenskiy demonstrates the determined, relentless resolve of Putin to bring Ukraine to heel and punish its Western sympathizers.

We know about Russia’s crimes against civilians, raped, tortured and executed; its killing of soldiers who have surrendered; bombings of train facilities providing civilian egress from war zones; attacks on schools and hospitals.

The truth is Russia blundered into this war, thinking a quick assault on Kyiv and regime change would yield victory within a few weeks.

Surprised by the vehemence of Western reprisals via sanctions and steadfast supply of weaponry, increasingly of an advanced nature, and fierce Ukrainian resistance, Russia now faces prolonged, bloody entrenchment and even defeat.

British intelligence indicates a loss of 15,000 troops, with many more wounded.

American sources indicate the Russians have lost 25% of their military capability.

Now the war has expanded into Russia, with military infrastructure within Russia being hit, causing panic upon nearby civilians and calls for retaliation.

Meanwhile, despite Putin’s denials, the Russian economy has suffered enormously.

For several weeks, Putin has been menacing the West with apocalyptic warnings of nuclear consequences for nations threatening its security, notably the U.S. and Britain: “If anyone intervenes in Ukraine and creates unacceptable threats for us that are strategic in nature, our response will be lightning fast. We have all the tools for this that no one else can boast of having. We won’t boast about it, we’ll use them, if needed.”

Will Putin carry out his threat?

Yes, but not against NATO nations, for that would lead to an unimaginable horror fallout of nuclear exchange and Moscow’s decimation to rubble in minutes.

What’s more likely to happen is a low-yield employment of nuclear tactical weaponry delivered through aircraft and artillery.

Russia, probably correctly, thinks the West will pull back its support and Ukraine will surrender, with huge loss of its territory, in short order.

Putin cannot afford to lose this war he’s presumptuously waged.

Thus far, the West has not singled any probable response to nuclear weaponry in Ukraine, increasing the likelihood of Russia’s adopting such draconian measures similar to what the U.S. resorted to in Japan.

We should all be afraid.

–rj

You can be free: How fear holds you back

I’ve been reading Ryan Holiday’s inspiring Courage is Calling. Holliday practices Stoicism, a way of life that’s become my life credo, though I confess my frequent failure to live up to its tenets of courage, temperance, justice and wisdom.

Stoicism is a discipline requiring daily practice. It’s taught me how much fear lies behind our modern anxiety and behavior. As Holliday writes, “This is how it goes, whether you’re a billionaire or an ordinary person, no matter how physically tough or brilliant you are. Fear determines what is or isn’t possible. If you think something is too scary, it’s too scary for you. If you don’t think you have any power . . . you don’t. If you aren’t the captain of your fate . . . then fate is the captain of you.”

Anxiety with its burden of worries culminates in stress, and we know its harsh consequences for our mental and physical health.

Worry teaches you that the future is happening now.

It falsely tells you that worry will make it go away.

Worry makes you care more about what others think.

It inhibits your boldly attempting new things like falling in love again, having children, resuming your education, investing your money, traveling to new places, changing your residence, trying a new doctor. Maybe even quitting your job for something, even if for less money, but more fulfilling.

It says you can’t ever escape your past, whether a bad childhood or failed marriage, a hurtful friendship or demeaning rejection.

Fear anchors you to what’s familiar, seemingly safe. It forfeits possibility and, with it, the future.

The truth is life is inherent with risk. Loss, illness, grief, death embrace every nook and cranny of life. Its remedy is to step up and step out, doing what you can.

Paradoxically, mastering anxiety begins with acceptance of what you can’t change. Uncertainty is inherent with life. In his book, The Liberated Mind, psychologist Steven Hayes writes that “people like to think the world is ‘happy happy joy joy,’ but if you live long enough, you start running into pain and illness and loss and tragedies of all sorts. It’s just part of it. That’s part of life.”

But there are things you can change. Yes, you can master living in a temporal world of vicissitude, but you must be willing to sign the bottom line.

Take inventory of what inhibits your resolve.

It may cost you money, even estrangement, but how much better to walk away free. One of life’s caveats is knowing when and how to jettison habits and worries weighing you down.

You can be courageous in every day life in so many ways.

It takes bravery to ask for a pay raise, confront injustice, leave a demeaning relationship, find a new hobby.

Don’t let fear bully you.

Don’t let routine dictate your everyday doings.

Happiness doesn’t just happen. It requires flexibility, resilience and daily practice. Frequently, it’s a life of sips more than gulps to get there.

So much of life is living in the moment. You do what you can, attempt what you’ve wanted. You act to realize yourself, becoming agent of your own destiny.

Mastering your fears begins a new portal. Yes, you can find freedom in an unfree world.

–rj

O if we but knew what we do: Our war on Nature

“O if we but knew what we do
When we delve or hew —
Hack and rack the growing green!
Since country is so tender
To touch, her being só slender,
That, like this sleek and seeing ball
But a prick will make no eye at all,
Where we, even where we mean
To mend her we end her….”
--from “Binsey Poplars,” Gerard Manley Hopkins

According to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), five principal forces are contributing to our ruthless assault on Nature and its demise: unprecedented environmental changes in land and sea use; direct exploitation of natural resources; pollution; invasion of alien species; and climate change. Their consequences for species survival should alarm all of us, since we are ecologically linked in dependency upon one another. Since 1970, wildlife population has declined by two-thirds, or some 68% (LIving Planet Report-2020).

Sadly, we are at war with nature, mindlessly exploiting ecosystems in pursuit of profit. The problem is universal, with substantial losses in mammals (65%); fish, amphibians and reptiles (45%). According to The Living Planet Index (LPI), one million species face extinction. Deforestation and agricultural expansion have contributed substantially to this decline. Ominously, they continue.

Let me give you one egregious example of a recent human created disaster scenario in an attempt to augment agricultural production by altering nature’s contour.

There lies a once flourishing body of water known as the Azul Sea, located between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. First mapped in 1850, it was sometimes dubbed the Blue Sea. Until the last century, it was the world’s third largest inland lake, exceeded only by the Caspian Sea and Lake Superior, extending 426 kilometers (265 miles) long and 284 kilometers (176 miles) wide.

Replenished by the 1500 mile Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers, it supported nineteen villages dependent on its abundant fish. Things began to change in the 1930s as Soviet engineers schemed they could expand cotton and wheat output by diverting its water for irrigation. Huge channels were dug to supply water for millions of acres of farmland.

By the 1980s, the Aral Sea experienced sharp declines in area and volume, or 80% and 90% respectively.

The environmental fallout has been enormous, so much so that the lake has become increasingly dubbed the Aralqum Desert. Qum is the Uzbek word for dust.

Seventy percent of the Aralqum is now salt residue.

The fish have disappeared, fish factories abandoned and villages become ghost towns. Wind-swept, its dust pesticides have spread throughout the world. They’ve even been found in the blood of Antartica penguin and Greenland glaciers.

With the lake’s demise has come a change in the weather, with harsh summer heat and frigid winters. Winds abound.

Now one of the unhealthiest places on earth, respiratory disease and child mortality have increased sharply.

In better times. the Azul Sea featured an island sanctuary, Barsa-Kelmes, teeming with deer, wolves, and eagles. It’s just memory now.

And what about those other fresh water behemoths, Lake Superior and the Caspian Sea. Have we learned our lesson?

Fortunately, Lake Superior has largely avoided the fate of Lake Erie, contaminated by industrial and agricultural runoff. Nonetheless, it faces several incipient stressors, contributing to environmental degradation: mining, home development along its shores, airborne chemical pollutants, invasive species and climate change. In the last several years, Lake Superior is warming faster than many of the earth’s other water bodies, threatening its fish; wind speeds have increased 5% each decade since 1980; storm intensity and frequency have also increased.

The fate of the Caspian Sea, the world’s largest inland waterbody, is more troubling: According to the UN Environment Programme, the Caspian “suffers from an enormous burden of pollution from oil extraction and refining, offshore oil fields, radioactive wastes from nuclear power plants and huge volumes of untreated sewage and industrial waste introduced mainly by the Volga River” (Rpt. in The Nation. Thai Press). Climate change has led to increased evaporation, or by six centimeters annually.

The lake has seen the world’s largest sturgeon population decline by 90%.

Former home of one million seals which inhabited its shores and islands a century ago, fewer than 10% remain, the result of over-hunting and oil pollution. The species is now designated as endangered.

As Azer Garayev, the head of the Azerbaijan Society for the Protection of Animals, comments: “It would be so stupid to lose the Caspian like the Aral Sea. I don’t want to think about it. It would be a crime.”

Species population trends are important, for they are a measure of our ecological health. Unfortunately, we are living in a context of unprecedented change with a huge growth in the human footprint, spurred by global trade, population growth, urbanization, and consumption. We are losing our wilderness, our waterways are polluted, we lack clean air. We are raiding our resources faster than their ability to regenerate. As I write, 85% of our wetlands with their teeming diversity have been lost.

We are entities of a vast web of life. We belong not to ourselves, but to each other and to Nature, our great mother, on whom we depend for our health and prosperity.

–rj

Morning Thoughts

I begin my day daily, reading the news, the wrong way to commence a new day, heavy with humanity’s burdens I can do little about.

I would do better in rising with the sun, to set my day’s course like a compass pointing to true North on what matters, enriches, and contributes to well-being, not only for myself but, more importantly, for others.

I remember lines from one of Mary Oliver’s last poems: “Wherever I am, /the world comes after me. /It offers me its busyness. /It does not believe that I do not want it.”

We think of ourselves as separate from the main. Prisoners of self-interest, we’ve relinquished poet John Donne’s maxim, “No man is an island.“

As humans we crave togetherness.

We abhor loneliness.

We require bonding and the cohesion it brings.

I’ve traveled to many places, often alone, but the trips I remember most were those I’ve shared with others. To experience something awesome, but with no one to share it, somehow bottoms out its delight.

Like leaves on a tree, individual in their shape and shimmering on their branches, we feed into a trunk that flourishes when its leaves work collectively. We are citizenry of a greater Self.

We live in a time of electronic fellowship. Billions turn to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, ad infinitum, in a desire to connect, ample evidence we need one another to complete ourselves.

We find the relational in other, more meaningful ways. We love, we marry, we have children, we make friends, we frat with those sharing like interests, we bond with our pets. And yes, we write books—and even do blogs!

Unfortunately, since Descartes with his “I think, therefore I am,” we’ve weighed our lives down with ego indulgence, mindless of that greater entity of collective humanity and of Nature that grants us being and sustains.

In Victorian times, Bentham’s notion of utilitarianism was in vogue, its thesis that what promotes happiness is good; what promotes pain is bad. Essentially hedonistic, it was vehemently satirized by Dickens in Hard Times as serving the wealthy at the expense of the working class.

Modern psychology hasn’t helped mend our ways. Self-validation defines its focus. Witness the plethora of books on self-improvement. I was schooled in behaviorism at the grad level with its notion that humans are little more than pigeons, subject to stimulus response, driven by self-interest. Accordingly, prescribed behavior can be reenforced through operant conditioning that awards the positive; conversely, extinguishing the negative via the punitive. Anthony Burgess, whom I met briefly many years ago, deciphered it rightly in Clockwork Orange (1962), one of the 20th century’s most profound books.

In economics, capitalism is founded upon the same a priori of what’s in it for me, ushering in the Adam Smith credo of self-interest and competition as prerequisites to prosperity. Its consequences are with us daily, the one percent owning half the wealth, the exponential decline of the middle class, the continuous emphasis on growth despite diminishing natural resources.

In his widely published The Selfish Gene (1976), evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins tells us that genes act to preserve their self-interest, with altruism, when it does exist, functionally symbiotic as in bees and ants. In fairness, Dawkins does propose that humans have potential capacity with growth in moral intelligence to modify evolution’s predilection for self-interest. Harvard’s eminent psychologist Stephen Pinker, who sets out in The Angels of Our Better Nature (2011) to statistically validate the decline of violence, should be pleased.

On a human scale, I think of Japan, unique in its protocol of collective behavior in the interest of public welfare that critics might disdainfully dismiss as herd mentality or, essentially, a vestige of Hobbes’ “enlightened self-interest.” Nonetheless, Japan is one of our few stable nations, high in economic equality, rare homelessness, and little crime. When the tsunami struck in 2011, unlike in other nations, there were few reports of looting. No need to send in the National Guard. My own memories of Japan confirm a pervasive politeness and honesty I’ve found unequaled in my travels.

In contrast, I think of what took place with the COVID outbreak, nearly a third of Americans not getting vaccinated and, even more, refusing to mask. As one business man told me, “It’s a personal choice.” But then this isn’t confined to America. In France, Belgium, and Germany gargantuan anti COVID protocol demonstrations, some of them violent, have occurred. Theirs is the right to infect others and continue the pandemic. By the way, Japan’s COVID mortality rate was 14.52 versus 233.8 in the U.S. as of Nov. 21, 2021, according to Johns Hopkins University stats.

Reading the news reminds me of the human folly behind the headlines, whether of individuals or nations, in pursuing self-interest. Sowing greed, we have reaped social dissonance with high crime, economic disparity, and homelessness among its results.

Frost wrote a renowned poem, “Mending Wall” in which the persona tells us of his neighbor, who advocates “Good fences make good neighbors.” I’m for tearing down walls that separate us.

In mutuality we find our common denominator, making for a better world.
In discovering the Other, we find ourselves.

–rj

Satish Kumar’s YOU ARE therefore I AM

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There are some books you don’t want to end and when they do, a gnawing emptiness ensues like saying a final good-bye to a cherished friend. Satish Kumar’s YOU ARE therefore I AM is one of them.

I discovered Kumar serendipity fashion, searching for Sufi poets like Rumi, subsequently chancing upon an interview with him that led me to this book, one of the most observant, sensitive, life-changing books I’ve encountered across the years. In brief, a book for discerning readers open to being inspired.

You’ll find few reviews of this book. I tried Google, and even the New York Review of Books, but no Kumar.

Kumar deserves a wider audience. He’s written ten books, received numerous literary awards, and several honorary doctorates. With E. F. Schumacher (Small is Beautiful), he founded Schumacher College, which offers master degree ecology curricula. For many years, he was editor of Resurgence & Ecologist Magazine. Now 85, he continues to write and lecture widely.

YOU ARE therefore I AM is largely autobiographical, though he’s written a more definitive version, No Destination: The Journey of a Pilgrim ( 2014, Green Books).

Reared in India, we learn early on of his mother’s defining influence as a Jainist devoted to non-violence, leading to his becoming a Jainist monk at age nine. He would leave nine years later as a disciple of Gandhi’s teachings. He had come to believe that we stem evil not through retreat into monasteries, but with peaceful activism, promoting human and natural reconciliation.

The Jains, however, were and remain the salient source for his adoption of non-violent protest, as they also were for Mahatma Gandhi who would, in turn, influence Martin Luther King.

Kumar is famous for his peace walks in 1962 with friend E. P. . Menton to nuclear capitals Moscow, Paris, London and Washington, D.C. Remarkably, they made their 8000 mile journey without money. In England, he would meet Bertrand Russell and in America, Martin Luther King.

It was Gandhi protege Vinoba Bhave’s Talks on the Gita, oral lectures composed during Bhave’s imprisonment by the British and later written down by a fellow prisoner, that led to Kumar’s embrace of nature, society, and self as the trinity of activism needful for fostering peace within ourselves, between nations, and reconciliation with the Earth we have plundered: “THIS TRINITY OF nourishing nature, society and self gave me much food for thought. Ever since that time they have remained with me and have become the ground of my thinking and action.”

Chapter 13 details Kumar’s meeting Krishnamurti, the renowned Indian sage. Krishnamurti had rebelled against religious, political, and philosophical orthodoxy: “Truth cannot be realised through any creed, any dogma, any philosophical knowledge, any psychological technique, any ideology, any ritual or any theological system.”  

Kumar agrees:

Now we live in an age of post-religious spirituality. The call of our time is to be a good human being rather than to be Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain or Christian. We don’t have to be a special kind of person to go on the adventurous journey of the spirit. Every one of us is capable of making the hero’s journey and reaching the holy grail.

Chapter 16 recounts his meeting Martin Luther King. King underscored that non-violence must not exclude justice for the disenfranchised, most often, the world’s poor and non-white. “True peace is not merely the absence of war. It is the presence of justice, equity and a non-violent social order. Non-violence is a moral force which can transform individuals and societies and bring peace.”

In the book’s late chapters, Kumar gives highlights of his return visit to his native India in 2000, fascinating in its portraiture of modern India and betrayal of Gandhi’s advocacy of land reform, self-sufficient village craft industries, and rejection of corporate interests and free trade.

Harvesting our needs, not our wants, living simply in touch with our fellows and observing the sanctity of all life, this was Gandhi’s message to capitalism motivated by greed, centered on consumption and continuous growth, fostering environmental violence economic marginalization and social injustice. This is a Gandhi unknown to most Westerners.

The final two chapters summarize Kumar’s worldview. Eloquent, timely, and wise, I found myself inspired, yet sad, sad in discovering him so late in my life’s journey.

It’s here he scorns the onset of Cartesian dualism with its aggrandizement of Self, voiding the relational. There followed Newtonian physics, treating the world as machine, Darwinism with its survival of the fittest, and depth psychology with its emphasis on ego:

These theories are, in my view, at the root of the ecological, social and spiritual crisis of our time. The dualistic world-view gives the illusion that I exist independently of the Other….’To be is to inter-be.’ We cannot be by ourselves alone. This means our being is only possible because of other beings. We are not individual beings; we are world beings.

Dualism, unfortunately, has also fostered speciesism, alienating us from Nature: “The violence to non-human species often remains unnoticed. This causes grave harm to animals, forests and wildlife of all kinds. This attitude of human superiority is the foundation of the culture of violence. The dualistic mindset which begins with controlling nature, goes on to control people.”

I’ve read many fine books over the years, some life-changing.  Satish Kumar’s You Are, therefore, I Am takes its place among them, deserving yearly re-reading, lest we forget our mutual dependency and its requisite obligations.

Kumar reminds us in his close that observing the relational in every consideration is vital “for our existence and experience, for our happiness and health, for our nutrition and nourishment, we depend on the Earth. We depend on the love of the beloved, the beauty of the beautiful and the goodness of the good. Embracing vulnerability and humility, let us declare our utter dependence on the Earth, and on each other: You are, therefore I am.”

—rj

Not a Choice: Reflections on Political Folly

Across the country, even globally, the mad rush is on by politicians to indulge the public mood and eliminate COVID restrictions. I think it a mistake and that it comes too soon.

At home, nearly a million Americans have perished and our medical grid buckles as COVID patients, the vast majority unvaccinated, take up hospital beds. Meanwhile, many needing cancer screening, surgery or follow-up are turned aside. New research reveals its devastating consequences.

Long term COVID can be dehabilitating, even for those vaccinated. Recently, I had conversation with a man from Louisville, a home physical therapist. He shared he had come down with the virus six months ago, was placed on a ventilator, then developed pneumonia. He still doesn’t feel right. He’s married with four children and just 29. He told me—I didn’t need convincing—that he’d not be here at, all had he not been vaccinated.

Yes, omicron infections have been plummeting, but they still highly exceed the number of infections before the Delta impact, then averaging between 12,000 and 16,000 daily cases. In contrast, “the U. S. daily average of cases and hospitalizations on 16 February was about 124,000 and 81,000” (NYT).

As Vanderbilt University School of Medicine infectious disease expert William Schaffner cautions, “Some governors think we are almost there – they are dropping mask mandates – and my response is: good luck to you. My fingers are crossed on your behalf.”

I believe strongly in Biden’s mandates to ensure public safety, sadly thwarted by the courts under the auspices of the First Amendment and public non-compliance. Good government that seeks the welfare of its citizens fulfills government’s proper role without nullifying the tenets of our Constitution.

Observing COVID protocol is not a personal choice. It’s a necessity.

—rj

Rebecca Solnit’s Orwell’s Roses: Review

Orwell’s house in Wallington, Hertfordshire,where he planted roses in 1936

Ask me who my favorite essayist is and, hands down, I’ll say George Orwell. Known primarily for Animal Farm and 1984, he excelled at the essay, writing in a direct, plain style, eschewing fancy big words, wordiness, and cliché.

You’re mistaken if you think his wise maxims are easy to practice. Orwell didn’t start out as a prose master, but worked diligently to achieve it. The trick is to heed his counsel, yet avoid the staccato effect of incessant short sentences that English teachers label, “choppy.”

I admire Orwell even more for his honesty as an essentially political writer. Famously, he taught us the dangers of “doublethink,” or language that deliberately obscures, distorts or evades.

When you get into ideology, it’s difficult to avoid partisanship and distorting your opponent’s argument; more difficult still, to candidly address the polemical liabilities of both yourself and your cohorts. A committed socialist, he nonetheless acknowledged Marxism’s own strident hypocrisies as exemplified foremost in Soviet revisionism.

All of this explains my eagerness to read Rebecca Solnit’s recently published Orwell’s Roses. Solnit’s a formidable essayist in her own right, and this is her twenty-sixth book.

She admires Orwell for his honesty and sides with his isolated criticism of Stalin and speaking out in a context of liberal, socialist idealism, unwilling to confront Soviet malevolence, resorting not infrequently to disingenuous rhetoric.

Readers will like her ardent empathy in the book for the marginalized, whether by race, sexual orientation, gender—or often missed—the working class. It stamps her indelibly as an Orwell protege. She credits Orwell for inspiring her to adopt the essay as her medium.

Feminists may find her Orwell embrace disconcerting. A strident women’s advocate elsewhere in her work, she details Orwell’s misogyny, yet gives it a cursory pass: “He was part of an age that was (with some notable exceptions) strategically oblivious to inequalities we have since worked hard to recognize…. One of Orwell’s most significant blind spots.” She admits his essays are limited to men.

Nor does she sufficiently address his marriage to first wife, Eileen O’Shaughnessy, who died on the operating table at age 39, presumingly from the anesthesia, following a routine surgery. An Oxford grad and student in psychology at the University of London, she gave up a promising career, typed and edited his manuscripts, did the housework, cooking and shopping. She accompanied him to civll war Spain, where he served as a Loyalist soldier.

Readers may be interested in pursuing Sylvia Topp’s biography of Eileen, The Making of George Orwell, tracing her influence upon Orwell. She had written a poem in 1934, speculating on the future, “End of the Century, 1984.” Her funeral occurred on April 3, 1945. In 1984, Winston Smith begins his journal on April 4.

Orwell mentions Eileen in his diary (1946) when visiting her grave on his way to his sister’s funeral and ultimately Jura, where he would write 1984: ”May 22, stopping to tend Eileen’s grave near Newcastle: Polyantha roses on E’s grave have all rooted well. Planted aubretia, miniature phlox, saxifrage, a kind of dwarf broom.”

Solnit was inspired by a passage in Orwell’s “A Good Word for the Vicar of Bray” (1946): “One of the fruit trees and one of the rose bushes died, but the rest are all flourishing. The sum total is five fruit trees, seven roses and two gooseberry bushes, all for twelve and sixpence.”

The fruit trees actually, not the roses, were what initially motivated her search for a more rounded Orwell, more quotidian in his private pursuits than his readers have known. Visiting his residence with her friend Sam, she found the fruit trees had been cut down to make room for a shed expansion. That left only the roses, though of the planted seven, she tells us only of two that still bloomed.

Nonetheless, they bequeathed Solnit with an immediate sensory connection to Orwell and his long-ago essay about roses and fruit trees: “The apparent directness of these two plants’ connection to him and to that long-ago essay about roses and fruit trees and continuity and posterity filled me with joyous exaltation. So did the fact that this man most famous for his prescient scrutiny of totalitarianism and propaganda, for facing unpleasant facts, for a spare prose style and an unyielding political vision, had planted roses.”

If you’re looking for the elusive Orwell, be prepared to meander through a thick copse of digression only tangentially relevant to Orwell. It’s her way of doing things in everything she writes.

The reality is that her book leaps beyond both roses and Orwell as a springboard for political asides, the exploitation of the working class in particular. Politics leap quickly to the surface in all her books, and may well account for their composition. Is Orwell’s Roses simply just another platform?

You will explore the history of roses, the role of British colonialism in their development, the evils of industrialism, and even climate change among other concerns.

I found the lengthy horticultural tracing of roses tedious. I tired of the long chapter exploring the origin of coal. I wanted the man. I wanted Orwell in full bloom.

In her defense, and look to the title, she tells us early that “there are many biographies of Orwell, and they’ve served me well for this book, which is not an addition to that shelf. It is instead a series of forays from one starting point, that gesture whereby one writer planted several roses. As such, it’s also a book about roses….”

We do, however, ultimately piece together Orwell, Solnit providing a biographical sketch and expanding on his frequent allusions to his love for gardening and planting of roses. Readers will find her uncovering the unfamiliar Orwell, masked by his public persona, revelatory.

One of the best parts of her rose narrative is her retelling of her visiting a gargantuan Columbian greenhouse complex outside Bogota, which flies roses by the millions daily to the U.S, especially at Christmas and on Valentine’s day in a chapter called “Going Underground.” A vivisection of labor abuse unknown to American consumers, it made me sit up and draw potential dots between other international corporate interests bent on profit heedless of worker welfare.

As I write, Chipotle reports In its Q4 that the company’s total revenue increased 22.0% to $2.0 billion in 2021, eliciting Bernie Sander’s umbrage: “The Corporate greed is Chipotle increasing its profits by 181% last year to $764 million, giving its CEO a 137% pay raise to $38 million in 2020 and blaming the rising cost of a burrito on a minimum wage worker who got a 50 cent pay raise. That’s not inflation. That’s price gouging.”

Despite the chapter’s pretentious title, “Going Underground,” Solnit has never truly gone underground in terms of its nuance. Orwell investigated labor abuse and the plight of poverty first hand by working in the coal mines of northern England and living among the homeless in London and Paris.

That said, I never tire of Solnit, despite her inveterate meanderings and intrusive politics. I like her introspective view of things in her many books, unveiling hidden foregrounds behind what I see, even admire, a kind of turning things inside out as when taking off a sweater. Her gift is one of expanding consciousness of the myriad strands of interconnectivity. Orwell’s Roses assures that continuity.

–rj

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