Tag Archives: politics

True & Lasting Change Comes from Within


My thoughts… When I first started teaching at SMC, my beloved Asian philosophy class was not yet available, so I taught Ethics for two years, until it was. I covered many moral issues. I’ll never forget when the Matthew Shepard case made the news during that time. That was more than 20 years ago… Here is a reminder, from Wikipedia:

“Matthew Wayne Shepard was a gay American student at the University of Wyoming who was beaten, tortured, and left to die near Laramie on the night of October 6, 1998. He was taken by rescuers to Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado, where he died six days later from severe head injuries.”

It generated outrage, but not on the level of the Black Lives Matter protests. But it is not a competition. I am not gay, but any human being with a shred of compassion would be disgusted by what happened to him. It was so hideous & unthinkable to me, that gay rights, along with animal rights, became my two big “causes.”

Being half Jewish, I could also point to the way Jewish people are marginalized and have been the object of discrimination for so many years.

Teaching eastern philosophy puts me in touch with the caste system in India, where despite legal measures against this system of social stratification, familiar prejudice lingers on & condemns certain people to a lesser status their entire lives.

And being a woman connects me to the way women have had to fight for equal pay and respect both in the workplace and in society at large, for most of modern civilization, despite various forms of suffragette movements, which have risen up over the years.

The postmodern philosophers in the 60s (led by French philosophers like Lyotard, Derrida & Foucault) started to look at this problem of segregation in all facets of life. They called it “deconstruction.” It just means that they were challenging the division between “us and the other,” or rather, between the “privileged and the marginalized.” Their lens included all systems of segregation, including the idea that we could separate ourselves from nature.

We are still in this postmodern period of questioning divisions. That is ultimately a good thing. But it will be futile until we do our own work.

Since the sixties, there have been sporadic marches for women’s rights, for civil rights, for gay rights, and for many other causes. And then, there have been none, when there might’ve been… should’ve been, like the Matthew Shepard case, which would’ve been equally justified. Certain times and places seem to generate the impetus to march… The French seem to have it in their DNA. Every time I land in Paris, for example, it seems there is a march for something. Does it work? Yes and no. It works by force. It works the way a parent’s punishment toward his/her child works, but has there been a genuine shift within? That’s the big question.

One thing I do know is that angry people tend to cause more harm (as we’ve seen), unless there’s a very specific plan in place, along with a desired end goal and proposal, that can be properly communicated, all of which enables channeling that anger constructively. I have not witnessed this kind of success through the act of protesting. In fact, in these most recent marches, innocent cops have been injured violently… one took a knife in the neck. Who is decrying this? Why should one presumably good cop “take the bullet” for another bad cop he doesn’t even know? The intent may be the dismantling of large scale discrimination, but at the cost of individual lives? His life mattered, too. This kind of crazy-making could not positive or beneficial for anyone. With creativity, we could do better.

Although I am a philosopher, I’m not naturally a “political” person, as it always leads to argument (especially if you’re angry). With the exception of a post about Tibet, some years ago, this is my most “political” post, to date. I used to argue. But these days, rather than argue, I choose to uplift through other means, such as through my teaching. I have the platform to educate by way of subjects and conversations that promote conscious awareness and respect toward all persons and beings. I also practice gratitude for what I have, which is felt by others. If I was angry, I don’t believe I could be effective.

For example, I learned long ago, that all the logical argument in world for animal welfare, wouldn’t… couldn’t… go half as far as having the experience of being licked by a puppy.

It is the same for any “cause.” Making friends with a gay person or a woman or a Jew or a person that is “different“ than you is more meaningful than all of Derrida’s writings.

On the other side, marches, when done peacefully, seem to bode well for a sense of connection, support and solidarity. But this is still external. More importantly, it is “inefficient,” in the long run. We could march for every cause, or we could embody that sense of oneness within, and that would in effect solve all of it.

My favorite philosopher has always been Peter Singer. I still believe that everything comes down to what he so aptly put his finger on… That all sentient beings, by virtue of their ability to “feel,” and to suffer, have a basic longing for life. This includes all “persons” regardless of gender, religion, color, and yes… even species. And our trivial interests do not justify the horrendous treatment that we inflict on “others.”

I have naturally felt this way all of my adult life. I have friends of all colors, religions, nationalities, and species. I just see “persons.” I just see the intentions coming forth from their soul. I see this in all of nature, actually. This is pantheism… God lives in all beings. The earth sparkles with divine love. The Hindu philosophers aren’t the only pantheists. The Jewish philosopher, Benedict Spinoza also had leanings this way, as did the American transcendentalists, like Thoreau. As do indigenous teachings.

In absence of this heartfelt sense of connection, there still will be marches and outrage and all forms of “unrest” … until we advance in the program of “deconstruction” — although most will not label it that way. And this at least is pointing in the right direction… one of more unity and holism.

But, while some protest is valuable, in the absence of peacefulness inside one’s own soul, I feel it will be a case of putting “the cart before the horse.” It all starts within. It starts in the classrooms, it starts in silence, it starts with listening to others. It starts with a walk in nature. It starts in individual relationships. It starts in the heart.

While no human being is perfect, Gandhi had an intense personal practice, which included fasting and renunciation from talking on certain days. He utilized the march, but called it off if he suspected things would turn violent. King modeled his approach on Gandhi’s. He understood that soul force is stronger (albeit more difficult) than physical force.

My thoughts…

On the Farcical Nature of Patriotism

I was always uncomfortable with patriotism (Germanic: Obeying the “father”). I thought it was just that little spark of rebelliousness I always had. But I have come to see it as a legitimately objectionable idea. And that’s just it. It’s an idea, a story, a fiction. The whole notion of national borders and cohesiveness is a comfortable and politically necessary, but nonetheless illusory, myth.

Not only is the diverse and multifaceted population in a continuous rise and fall, but the ideologies that these varied people hold are in constant flux. Due to uncountable reasons, the inhabitants that occupy the geographical space called a country, are inconstant, in all their disordered habits and in all their contradictory beliefs, and are thus, anything but cohesive…in anything. Is there a status, or position, at all? And if there was, what would it be?

I found comeradeship when I discovered political scientist Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities. Communities are imagined, since none of the members of even the smallest nation will ever know, or even meet their fellow-members. The members have only a mental idea of their membership in this group. The curious, and perhaps most disturbing part of this fantasy, is that these imaginings make it possible for millions of people to die on behalf of this community.

Breaking down the fallacy of the entity called a nation, is a bit like breaking down the entity habitually called a person. It is convenient to think in terms of a unified self, but upon investigation, there are but scores of systems and processes. Nervous systems, circulatory systems, digestive systems, all in flux, creating our bodies, minds, flickering consciousness, ever-changing moods, and endless desires—all in flux, which is to say, in a process of dying, but we are uncomfortable with that word, and with the very idea.

So, just as the fiction of the nation provides us with a sense of fraternity and belonging, the familiar concept of selfhood and personality supplies us with the needed sense of security and identity.

Can we give up fiction at the cost security? Even a false sense of it?

The Continued Struggle for Gay Rights

I watched a show on PBS recently. It discussed the current situation for gay couples and what they still face here in America, in terms of getting to the point where they can live in a climate of peace.

In more than half of the 50 states, it is perfectly legal to be fired from the work-place for being gay. This is true despite the fact that, according to recent polls, more Americans are becoming more open-minded toward gay rights—a vague notion, referring generally to the right to legalized union between same sex couples, but includes, as well, the appeal to live in the spirit of equality and acceptance, without the prejudice that allows continued hate crimes and discrimination.

So, if more people are moving in this direction, how can it be that a gay woman can be fired for introducing her life-partner as her life-partner at the company cocktail party?

Because most people are simply unaware that this is true, that this can be seen as grounds for dismissal.

The speaker in the televised discussion explained what accounts for the slow, but undeniable move toward tolerance: simply knowing someone who is gay. He went on to explain why it is so important for gays to “be out.” If personal acquaintance plays a notable role in changing general attitudes toward gays and reducing homophobia, then it is imperative that they tell their stories and make it known that discrimination in most social venues, not only continues, but is perfectly legal.

What happens in the backward parts, where people live sheltered lives and don’t and won’t associate with anyone who seems “different?” That’s where social media comes in. Sometimes television really does serve a useful purpose. In programs like Glee and Modern Family, where the central characters are gay, viewers are able to follow the stories of these characters and as in all forms of this ancient art of story-telling, one comes to care about the characters’ lives and about what happens to them. In shows like Ellen, viewers see a vibrant, funny and all-around good person, and because she is open about it, they also see that she is gay.

Familiarity not only enables the viewer to care about the story, which translates into a growing sympathy toward gay issues “in the real world,” but it lessons the aversion many people have toward gays simply because that feeling has been culturally conditioned.

The take-away? Equality comes from people telling their stories. So, gays must come out and tell their stories. Also, TV is not always bad and it’s good that we have shows in which gays are prominently featured.

Tibet; They Never Invaded Anyone!

It was half time during the Barça-Real Madrid game. I told my husband I had showed the Tibet video in class. “Which one?” he asked. There are many such documentaries—such as, The Yogis of Tibet, Tibetan Refugee, and of course, movies like Kundun—that chronicle the Chinese invasion of Tibet under the Maoist regime, beginning in 1949. The one I showed today focussed on an interview with the Dalai Lama, hence the title, 10 Questions for the Dalai Lama.

Despite the star power behind the issue, many of my students bravely and humbly admitted to never having heard of this critical situation. Yet, the average person surely knows what kind of dress Kate Middleton wore at the Royal Wedding, I wryly joked.

The problem of media coverage comes in to play when you consider that in order to care about any injustice, you’ve got to first be aware that the injustice even exists.

Despite the lively discussion the video engendered, and the gratitude most students expressed to me after class for having showed the video, I mentioned to my husband that one student had called the video one-sided.

The game was back and Messi had the ball, so my husband went straight to the heart of it: Tibet never invaded anyone. The suggestion of bias makes it sound as if somehow, one could justify the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Tibetans, the destruction of over 6,000 monasteries, nunneries and temples, and the imprisonment and torture of thousands of other Tibetans.

I don’t see any more justification for this than I do the murder of 6 million Jews, nor nearly 1 million Armenians by the Turks, nor any of the other cultural genocides that darken the pages of our history books.

Someone wondered whether the film had an anti-communist tone. Whether it did or didn’t isn’t really the point. And the fact that Mao was one isn’t really the point (besides giving Mao an extra dash of bitterness toward the Tibetans just for being religious). The point is tyranny and injustice and communists lay no claim to either—oppressors come in all shapes, sizes and political affiliation.

I thought of something my favorite journalist—the Persian reporter, Christiane Amanour—asked once: Why can’t we just call a spade a spade? She knew full well why.

In this case, as the BBC points out, China has become a major player in the world market and its businesses have such a strong lobby that officials are reluctant to take substantive measures against its crimes toward Tibet.

In November 2008, the U.N. agreed with Free Tibet’s report on torture, clarifying that it believes that torture is ‘widespread and routine’ in Tibet.

Lest we forget to mention that from China’s perspective, Tibet has always been part of the Republic, let us state simultaneously, that prior to 1950, Tibet was a nation with an established sovereign government, a currency, a postal system, a language, a legal system, and a culture.

The history is complex, but the moral point is simple: There is never an excuse for imperialist aggression.

And lest we falsely assume that for all Chinese authorities, mum’s the word, let’s not forget Hu Yao Bang, the General Secretary of the Communist Party, who visited Tibet in 1980—the first senior official to do so since the invasion. He was so alarmed by the destruction he saw there, he called for immediate reform.

He was forced to resign.

The situation has continued to languish. And other officials dared not come forth. Some, such as Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, simply deny reports of tensions, calling on the US to stop making “irresponsible remarks.”

All foreigners have been banned from Tibet and from the surrounding provinces in order to close the region to outside eyes.

In 1981, Russian writer Alexander Solzhenytsin described the situation as “more brutal and inhumane than any other communist regime in the world.” And this, by the pen of a Russian novelist!

And lest we falsely lay blame on our friends, the common Chinese people, who have themselves, suffered by the hands of the same regime, I am reprinting part of an article I previously wrote:

The Emptiness of Anger

While working my way through a thick stack of homework papers recently, I came across one, written by a Chinese student who spoke of his hatred toward the Japanese because of the Japanese invasions into China during the 1930s. 

I wondered, if he even knew who he was angry with, and whether the feeling is directed toward today’s generation of Japanese. I even wonder if it is a feeling at all. It is perhaps more like a cultural habit. 

Nonetheless, if the cynicism is directed toward today’s generation, then I wonder whether these young Japanese are even familiar with the history of WWII. If they’re like most young people, it’s just an anecdote in their history books. They are a good three generations removed, with very different cultural concerns, and on a personal level, they’re worried about transferring to a good university, when their boyfriend will call, and whether they’ve used too many minutes on their cell phones. We are all very similar. In this light, it is clearly pointless to be angry at these people.

So, then what about the older generation, those who were in their prime during WWII—The “culprits?” Similarly, my guess is that the average Japanese person back then was waiting for news of the war, like the rest of the world, concerned most immediately, about the safety of her family, and just hoping for things to return to normal. They weren’t personally involved in acts of destruction at all, and chances are, didn’t wish for it, either. So, who should the culprit be? Perhaps the government…

…but that particular assemblage is now nonexistent!

The Chinese aren’t horrible for persisting in their anger toward the Japanese. If they are, then we all are equally horrible. We all do the same thing. The Buddhists call it ignorance.

We condemn the Germans as a whole for the holocaust. But all it takes is remembrance of the many Germans who tried, themselves, to bring down Hitler, and the many others who took in Jews, at their own personal risk.

Ironically, it would be all too easy to direct the same bitterness toward the Chinese, due to their violent seizure of Tibet, but the ordinary Chinese people of today have not seized Tibet, and weren’t even around when the whole thing started. They are getting along like the rest of us, doing the things the rest of us do everyday, and probably don’t know much about it, aside from what their Government, through heavy censure, has allowed them to know.

The point is, with deeper consideration, it becomes increasingly difficult to find a target, and to hold onto anger.