|| Democracy at the Crossroads: Choosing the Civil Story
A Perspective by Craig Barnes
Craig Barnes has had a long association with the Foundation and its predecessor, Beyond War. During the Cold War, he was a member of a Beyond War team that went to the Soviet Union and worked closely with prominent scientists to publish, in 1988, the groundbreaking book Breakthrough: Emerging New Thinking. In the 1990s, he again worked with the Foundation to diffuse tensions between Armenians and Azeris in their dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, and later worked for the U.S. government on water disputes in Central Asia
Barnes is an author and playwright, currently at work on A Flame That Will Not Die, a study of the mythology of war and heroism from ancient Greek times to the present, to be published in 2005. Another work in progress, Democracy at the Crossroads, will tell the story of democracy’s rise and historical progress over the centuries toward increasing civil respect, fairness, and inclusiveness. Today, Barnes believes, we are in danger of forfeiting some of the most rich and subtle gains in democracy’s ongoing evolution. The article printed here was excerpted from a talk he recently gave at the Foundation. (A complete text version can be found at www.craig-barnes.com.)
Today, democracy is at a kind of crossroads at which we are being asked to choose between two stories. We are trying to wear the mantle of empire gracefully and to extend our power—we call it liberty—to areas of the world we have not been in before. We have been told the story that it is natural for leaders to lead, and that, after all, this goes back to Roman philosophers, and even to Plato: that the elites must gain control and exercise leadership, even military leadership, when necessary.
I want to talk about an alternative story. I will call it the civilian story. It is different from the military story. It is the story of how we have moved in a relatively short time, when speaking of the long course of human evolution, from bribing the gods; to law for the common people; to law even for the kings; to nonviolence as a way to solve conflict among even the most powerful interests of commerce.
From the Gods to the Law
When I was growing up in the 1940s, I went to a little three-room country school in eastern Colorado. We studied about the Greek poet Homer and all the gods.
Homer and the early Biblical stories were our earliest literature and they make a great deal out of war and conflict and heroes. To deal with the gods of nature—the gods of the thunderbolt, the earthquake, the oceans, and death—they set out rules. The rules for gods were bribes. That is what sacrifices were all about. Whenever Greeks killed the calf or the goat they were supposed to give the best meat to the gods. The first rule for a safe life was to bribe the gods to make them stay out of your way. This is still the rule in many parts of the world today—just substitute government for the gods.
After the gods, came the family. Within the family there were rules of fairness and decency: People who knew each other took care of each other. Outside the clan, on the other hand, it was everyone for himself, and the general rule was that no one could be trusted. This requirement for personal contact to insure deals is still the backbone of commerce in much of the world. In Russia when we were working there in the 1980s, we called it the vodka circle. I remember a night in Leningrad when our hostess—the wife of a physicist—had prepared a luscious feast of pilmeni, which are little balls of dough with meat inside. The table was set with salads and cheeses and fruits and wines and brandies. When I said I was not a drinker, our hostess was totally dismayed, asking, “How can you eat pilmeni without vodka?” It was 1986. Outside, it was dangerous to speak truthfully. She was really saying “How can we trust each other without vodka?” So I joined
the vodka circle.
In the Soviet Union in the 1980s, government, too, was based on personal connections. It never rose above that to a government ruled by law. The last time I went to Azerbaijan, I was still cornered for a bribe at the airport. That is rule by personal connection: Make your deal, you get into the country. Don’t make your deal, you don’t get in. Once, leaving Kazakhstan, I was hit up for $100 because I had too much money in my billfold. Make your personal connection or go to jail.
The Need for Law
Historically, on the trade routes to Babylon and Egypt, on the seacoasts of Greece and Rome, when Phoenicians began migrating to Palestine, more and more often the question became how to deal with strangers, people outside the family circle. It was the ancient version of people like us arriving in Moscow or Leningrad. Increased travel and trade called for a way to deal with the person one met only once, temporarily, without any chance for real relationship.
That—the problem of strangers—is how we came to the idea of the rule of law. The development of law in western history is simply the development of rules for dealing with people with whom we cannot sit at table to resolve conflict, people who would have been outside the traditional norms of decency and respect, who had different family names, or whom we would meet only once.
The larger the cities grew, the more people ran into each other, knocked each other over with their horses and carts, and cheated each other in business. The greater the percentage of these people who were unknown, the more there was a need for law to apply to complete strangers. Governments had to find a way to keep people from simply fighting in the streets. They couldn’t just order everyone to have a drink and invite the culprits for dinner.
In the long evolution of human history, law, therefore, was an idea to pick up the rules of the family, which had pre-existed, and apply them to strangers. For example, due process (to safeguard the legal rights of the individual), which evolved in the Middle Ages, was simply a way to substitute family rules of notice and openness and apply these to strangers who before this had been subject to, or perpetrators of, bribery and craftiness.
Due process is a metaphor for democracy. It is the opposite of that personal style of erratic government, government by bribe and sacrifice or personal favor. Due process did not evolve everywhere, and especially it did not evolve where there had been no long tradition of trade, where the need to deal with strangers was not constant. There is still no word in Russian, even today, for due process. There is no word for “fair.” They speak of a good man, or an honorable man, or a thoughtful man, but they do not have a word for a “fair” man. And therefore they do not have even the concept of due process. In Russia, they are still drinking vodka. The fairness story has not been told there, the word has not yet been coined, and corruption reigns.
Bribery and cheating and craftiness—which before the law were givens over much of the globe—clog up the system, slow it down, paralyze it, and make it almost nonfunctional, especially in large systems. So just to keep economies moving, to keep the money flowing, to solve disputes without killing each other, law came to the west.
Historically, we think of the military expansion of the Roman Empire as a big deal, and it was. But it was not as significant as Roman law, which has lasted much longer than its language or its aqueducts or its roads or its military power. The Romans managed to take primitive principles like the Code of Hammurabi, “an eye for an eye,” and break them down into smaller categories, more branches, more discerning, more subtle. In doing that, they laid a foundation that still impacts the law of property and inheritance throughout the western world. Because of the early Romans, law became estimable, enforceable, and honorable. That is not the story of empire, but of enforcement of decency and compassion in human relations, and of reliability of contract and truthfulness in business.
Even before Rome, in ancient Athens, there had been law courts and democratic principles. Each city, therefore, enjoyed brief flourishes of democracy that served in some way, for a time, to overcome local political chaos. But both Athens and Rome gradually came under the influence of war leaders who chose expansion rather than restraint. War is very, very tempting, and without law, when the limits are merely personal, when the personal trumps the general principle of the law, war is almost inevitable. Roman civilization declined when there were those in power who mocked the law.
There are similarly those today who mock the restraints built into the Charter of the United Nations or the Nuremberg principles or the Geneva Conventions. When a leader says “I will not let any foreign power decide when to defend America!” he is mocking the law enacted to restrain just such impulsive personal preemptive war. We have seen it before. Mockery is an old tool.
Law Over the Kings
In the 13th century, not unlike today, law and commerce were spreading amongst the common people, but at the top kings were still fighting as if the laws were not applicable to them. Then, in 1215 AD, on the green meadows of Runnymede outside London, something marvelous happened. A long civil war had been grinding on in England. It was bleeding both sides white. In desperation and frustration, the barons met with their king and said, My Lord King, this is it. We have had it with you taking our firewood and our widow’s estates, taxing us without notice or consultation. This has got to stop. My Lord King, this war is killing us all, and the way to stop it is for the king to play by the rules. The result was the Magna Carta, a turning point in the history of western civilization.
The power of kings had always been higher than the law. It was based on personal relationship; they had always been supported by personal oaths of allegiance; they got their power directly and personally from their ancestors. But the Magna Carta said no matter if your person is king, your person is under the law. The principle of the general welfare—which is what the law is all about—is above the personal authority of the leader. It was a huge step in the history of civilization.
Democracy was therefore born of this need for nonviolence to replace violence, not as some theory, not as some idealist’s dream of a new form of government, but as a substitute for a system of civil war that was not working. Civil law, as opposed to civil war, became the substitute for military rule because military rule had failed. It is true that humans like the clash of arms. But in the end we like things that work even more, and the clash of arms had simply failed, in Medieval England, to settle the peace.
Parliament Over the King
The next step in the process towards democracy occurred 400 years later. As a center for the new commercial interests, and composed of the wealthiest and strongest men of England, the Parliament had become so powerful that it had forced one king, King James II, to abdicate, and had imported a new king and queen more to its liking. Moreover it imposed upon these two monarchs the additional new rule that the parliament was above the king. Gradually, the reach of the law was increasing and the power to enforce it was increasing, and the principles of fairness were at the root of it.
People Over the Parliament and the King
A hundred years later, the Constitution of the United States imposed rules on both the parliament and the king to protect the common people. It required that the parliament, which now for us was called the Congress, be the source of taxation and the authority to declare war—powers which subtracted from the powers of the king. In the Fifth Amendment, the Constitution required that the federal government, in dealing with its citizens, abide by the principles of due process.
So there had been a progression. First, law among the traders and between equal households of ancient Greece and Rome. Then, a giant leap, the Magna Carta to impose law on the king. Then the parliament above the king. Then the people over the parliament and the king. “We the people,” begins the Constitution of the United States. No document in political history had ever before begun with those words.
Of course, the civil story was not finished with the ratification of the Constitution in 1798. In time, the principles of free government would come to be extended to slaves and to women. Eventually, the nation itself would come to be under the influence of international law, the UN Charter, and the Geneva Conventions.
Futility of Conflict and Violence
And so, this is a continuous history, a story in which the law was first pioneered by the Greeks and expanded by the Romans and made wonderful by the English. Democracy did not arise out of idealism, or some love by academics or philosophers for popular government, so much as from the futility of conflict. The most likely alternative to armed conflict—and the most effective, as it turned out—in preserving the peace, is to give power to more than the king and the barons, to spread the process of deliberation to a wider circle. The way to slow down war was to empower first the commercial people and then all the people. Democracy was made necessary by the need for peace in the streets and to end the wars between kings.
At the Crossroads
It is of course this fact—that democracy was a practical solution for ending violence—which undermines and raises questions about the effort in these times to impose democracy with violence. Democracy was meant to replace violence, and when violence is used to impose democracy, the effort contains within itself a contradiction. The first two rough-hewn democratic experiments that had global significance were in Athens and Rome. Both eventually succumbed to the temptations of war. We have the same temptations in our own times, brought to us by terrorism and lawlessness. If we choose to fight, as did Julius Caesar, to regain stability at the expense of liberty, we will have made a familiar historical choice. If we choose to go back to empire and power for its own sake, we run the risk of returning to the futilities of 1215 and King John; and if we choose to sell the royal purple to the highest bidder, we run the risk of returning to the examples of the Praetorian
guards more than 1,800 years ago.
There is a temptation to think of America as powerful because of its military power or its economic power. These are indeed great sources of power. But the story that we are in danger of losing today is the far more radical story, historically far more innovative and interesting—that power comes from creating a civil society in which all, including strangers, are treated equally; and from our singular effort to put the law above the king; and from our effort to replace war with another form of conflict resolution, the parliament or the congress; and, finally, to insure that the congress or the chief executive do not themselves yield to the temptations of war, and for that purpose, therefore, to put the people above both.
And that is why democracy is at the crossroads. It is the idea of what is civil that is on the block. It has been a slow evolution, and the gains, when they were made, were seldom by conquest so much as in response to the futility of conquest.
If we choose the story of the evolution of decency between strangers; the replacement of civil war by democracy; the replacement of private feuds by processes of mediation, reconciliation, the law, and the enshrinement of due process for all; and if we choose as the crown jewel to put the law above the king and parliament, then we will choose to continue the story which has made our contribution to history singular and distinctive; we will continue to pioneer the progress of human institutions at the cutting edge. It is a noble effort, a long-term effort; and when we see what we are really looking for, when we see the civil story, the tide is with us.
Back to Top >>
An Essay by Terry Tempest Williams
Of the new book by Terry Tempest Williams, The Open Space of Democracy, Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, says, “In a time of despair Terry Tempest Williams offers us hope. In a season of confrontation she provides connection. Against the passions of war she wields peace. To the bray of hubris she speaks quietly of reflection. And all, each magical phrase of it, is rooted in the land she loves.” The following is an excerpt from her book.
Democracy depends on engagement, a firsthand accounting of what one sees, what one feels, and what one thinks, followed by the artful practice of expressing the truth of our times through our own talents, gifts, and vocations.
Question. Stand. Speak. Act.
We have a history of bravery in this nation and we must call it forward now. Our future is guaranteed only by the degree of our personal involvement and commitment to an inclusive justice.
In the open space of democracy, we engage the qualities of inquiry, intuition, and love as we become a dynamic citizenry, unafraid to exercise our shared knowledge and power. We can dissent. We can vote. We can step forward in times of terror with a confounding calm that will shatter fear and complacency.
It is time to ask, when will our national culture of self?interest stop cutting the bonds of community to shore up individual gain and instead begin to nourish communal life through acts of giving, not taking? It is time to acknowledge the violence rendered to our souls each time a mountaintop is removed to expose a coal vein in Appalachia or when a wetland is drained, dredged, and filled for a strip mall. And the time has come to demand an end to the wholesale dismissal of the sacredness of life in all its variety and forms, as we witness the repeated breaking of laws, the relaxing of laws in the sole name of growth and greed.
A wild salmon is not the same as a salmon raised in a hatchery. And a prairie dog colony is not a shooting gallery for rifle recreationists, but a culture that has evolved with the prairie since the Pleistocene. At what point do we finally lay our bodies down to say this blatant disregard for biology and wild lives is no longer acceptable?
We have made the mistake of confusing democracy with capitalism and have mistaken political engagement with a political machinery we all understand to be corrupt. It is time to resist the simplistic, utilitarian view that what is good for business is good for humanity in all its complex web of relationships. A spiritual democracy is inspired by our own sense of what we can accomplish together, honoring an integrated society where the social, intellectual, physical, and economic well-being of all is considered, not just the wealth and health of the corporate few.
“A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government,” said Edward Abbey.
To not be engaged in the democratic process, to sit back and let others do the work for us, is to fall prey to bitterness and cynicism. It is the passivity of cynicism that has broken the back of our collective outrage. We succumb to our own depression believing there is nothing we can do.
John Dewey in a speech before the National Endowment for the Arts in 1937 said, “Unless democratic habits of thought and action are part of the fiber of a people, political democracy is insecure. It cannot stand in isolation. It must be buttressed by the presence of democratic methods in all social relationships.”
If we cannot begin to embrace democracy as a way of life: the right to be educated, to think, discuss, dissent, create, and act, acting in imaginative and revolutionary ways...if we fail to see the necessity for each of us to participate in the formation of an ethical life...if we cannot bring a sense of equity and respect into our homes, our marriages, our schools, and our churches, alongside our local, state, and federal governments, then democracy simply becomes, as Dewey suggests, “a form of idolatry,” as we descend into the basement of nationalism.
I do not believe we can look for leadership beyond ourselves. I do not believe we can wait for someone or something to save us from our global predicaments and obligations. I need to look in the mirror and ask this of myself: If I am committed to seeing the direction of our country change, how must I change myself?
We are a people addicted to speed and superficiality, a nation that prides itself on moral superiority. But our folly lies in not seeing what we base our superiority on. Wealth and freedom? What is wealth if we cannot share it? What is freedom if we cannot offer it as a vision of compassion and restraint, rather than force and aggression? Without a deepening of our thought processes as to what constitutes a living democracy, without an acknowledgment of complexity in a society of sound bites, we will not find the true source of our anger or an authentic passion that will propel us forward to the place of personal engagement. Perhaps this is what we have been longing for all along—to wrap ourselves in life.
We are in need of a reflective activism born out of humility, not arrogance. Reflection, with deep time spent in the consideration of others, opens the door to becoming a compassionate participant in the world.
“To care is neither conservative nor radical,” writes John Ralston Saul. “It is a form of consciousness.”
Are we ready for the next evolutionary leap—to recognize the restoration of democracy as the restoration of liberty and justice for all species, not just our own? To be in the service of something beyond ourselves—to be in the presence of something other than ourselves, together—this is where we can begin to craft a meaningful life where personal isolation and despair disappear through the shared engagement of a vibrant citizenry.
The Open Space of Democracy by Terry Tempest Williams
The Orion Society Great Barrington, MA. 2004. $8.00.
Back to Top >>
Book Review by Mac Lawrence
I have had a special interest in Afghanistan since four of us from the Foundation went there in 1989 to see what we could do to help the Afghans set up a stable, representative government after the Soviets were defeated.
Obviously, we weren’t all that successful. But we did learn a lot about what was going on. At least we thought we did. Now, a book by Steve Coll, Pulitzer Prize winner in journalism and Managing Editor of the Washington Post, tells exactly what was going on then and in the following years leading up to the 9/11 attack.
The book is Ghost Wars, The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden, From the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001. Coll has interviewed virtually everyone still alive who was a major player in the drama that led to Sept 11. He has unearthed documents originally classified Secret, searched archives (including in the Politboro), quoted from books, memos, articles, and speeches. All this information could be overwhelming, but Coll is an excellent writer and the book is a lively read for anyone who wants to know who did what, when, and why.
The book jacket explains why Coll used the title Ghost Wars. “For nearly the past quarter century, while most Americans were unaware, Afghanistan has been the playing field for intense covert operations by U.S. and foreign intelligence agencies—invisible wars that sowed the seeds of the September 11 attacks and that provide its context. From the Soviet invasion in 1979 through the summer of 2001, the CIA, KGB, Pakistan’s ISI, and Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Department all operated directly and secretly in Afghanistan. They primed Afghan factions with cash and weapons, secretly trained guerrilla forces, funded propaganda, and manipulated politics. In the midst of these struggles bin Laden conceived and then built his global organization.”
The formal U.S. Congress’ investigations into 9/11 are to be commended. But where in its report are the names of the people who made it all happen?—what decisions they made and why, where they were on target and where they missed, what the consequences were.
Coll names names. For the CIA, for example, which the author notes was “America’s primary actor in this subterranean narrative,” Coll not only details the decisions and actions of directors William Casey, John Deutch, Robert Gates, and George Tenet, but brings in the parts played by three different Chiefs of Station in Islamabad—Deputy Director of Operations Thomas Twetten, the colorful Gary Schroen who was active in the drama as early as 1978, two men who were Chiefs of the bin Laden Unit of the Counterterrorist Center (referred to only by their first names), and dozens more. The same is true for the scores of people involved in the White House and Department of State, as well as the key Afghans, Pakistanis, and Saudis.
Coll’s narrative makes the book thorough, intense, and a page turner. His descriptions of the main characters are classics, like this one of a member of Congress who early on urged support for the mujahidin: “The program’s maniacal champion was Representative Charlie Wilson, a tall, boisterous Texas Democrat in polished cowboy boots who was in the midst of what he later called ‘the longest midlife crisis in history.’ An alcoholic, Wilson abused government privileges to travel the world first class with former beauty queens who had earned such titles as Miss Sea and Ski and Miss Humble Oil. Almost accidentally (he preferred to think of it as destiny) Wilson became enthralled by the mujahidin.”
And this description of the student riot in Islamabad against the U.S. embassy, November, 1979: “Gary Schroen stood by the window of his office preparing to close the curtains when a Pakistani rioter below raised a shotgun at him and blasted out a plate glass. He and a young Marine beside him had spotted the shooter just early enough to leap like movie stuntmen beyond the line of fire. The shotgun pellets smashed into the CIA station’s plaster walls. They had no time now to destroy classified documents. Schroen and Lessard locked their case files and disguise materials in the station suite behind a vault door, grabbed a pair of pump-action Winchester 1200 shotguns from a Marine case, and headed to the third-floor code room vault.”
Coll’s research answers questions I’ve had, such as how much “black budget” money did the CIA funnel into the hands of the Afghan mujahidin who were fighting the Soviets? Why did such a large part of this money end up in the hands of the mujahidin commander Gulbiddin Hekmatyar, a religious fanatic who hated Americans with a passion and is still fighting against the U.S. today? Why did so little of the CIA money end up in the hands of Ahmed Shah Massoud, who was widely recognized as the most formidable of all the Afghan military leaders and was cooperative and friendly to the U.S.? When did bin Laden become recognized as a serious terrorist threat? What were the secret efforts by the CIA officers and their agents to try to kill bin Laden before 9/11, and what went wrong?
While reading Coll’s book, one naturally thinks of “if onlys.” If only the U.S. had, in Coll’s words, “not coddled undemocratic and corrupt Muslim governments, even as these countries’ frustrated middle classes looked increasingly to conservative interpretations of Islam for social values and political ideas.”
If only the U.S. had not abandoned Afghanistan to the war lords and to Pakistani influence once the Soviets were defeated.
If only we had worked more closely with India “whose democracy and civilian population also was threatened by radical Islamist violence.”
If only we had believed the educated, charismatic Afghan leader Massoud when he told the CIA that American policy toward bin Laden was myopic and doomed to fail, that even if bin Laden were killed, there were thousands of international jihadists who would carry on his war against both the U.S. and secular Central Asian governments.
If only, If only.
Finally, if only those people in Washington who saw the situation clearly had not been frustrated by others in power who saw things differently, or by political or policy matters, or by foreign governments acting in their own interests, or by other events beyond their control—and had been willing and able to get their message through.
Rarely in the book does Coll editorialize. The reader is left largely to ponder the seemingly contradictory positions taken by the Saudis; the sponsorship of the Taliban by the Pakistan military (ISI); Pakistan’s presentation of the Taliban as benign, and the complacency of the rest of the world in not facing up to the Taliban reality; the Clinton administration’s handling of the rise of bin Laden and terrorism; the casual use by the Bush team of the information on terrorism the Clinton team passed along.
How does this book—which takes us up to the day before the events of 9/11—relate to the present situation? In a participatory democracy, the people can have an informed voice only if they know the truth. This book gives us the complete picture, without spin or hype or opinion. Here we watch history being made.
Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 by Steve Coll, Penguin Press, New York. 2004. $29.95.
Back to Top >>
Beyond Enemies and Enmity
Book Review by Mac Lawrence
“The danger in the new war against terrorism is that we will descend to the level of the enemy we are fighting and destroy the very values we are fighting to preserve.”
“I am sorry to say the time has come for me to add yet another chapter to Faces of the Enemy: Reflections of the Hostile Imagination,” notes author Sam Keen in his introduction to the revised book. “This chapter takes up the story with the emergence of militant Islam and the war on terrorism. It features Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein, and a cast of millions.”
Keen’s original version of Faces examined how each side in a conflict demonizes the other, illustrating his theme with scores of cartoons and posters, some centuries old, portraying the enemy in all manner of depravity—as monsters, cowards, scum, mythical beasts, snakes, rats, rapists, baby killers, the devil, plotters of death, and death itself.
The new illustrations in the updated book show key characters in today’s drama, first as seen from one side, then by the other. Americans picture bin Laden, the archetypical terrorist, as “the latest incarnation of absolute evil—a murderer out to destroy all of our values;” from the Islamic militant side, he is portrayed as a Hero, “the latest incarnation of the warrior prophet who will fulfill the manifest destiny promised by Mohammed.” Saddam Hussein and President Bush get similar treatments—shown either as the epitome of righteousness or the essence of evil—depending on which side does the showing.
Much of the revised version of Faces retains its original focus on the state of mind during the Cold War struggle between democracy and communism. Keen believes, “We learn most about the nature and varieties of the hostile imagination by looking at our present blindness through the lens of our past blindness.” But, to me, the updates are what make the book most useful in facing today’s realities.
And the updates are powerful and insightful. Included in an envelope bound into the revised book is an excellent DVD with three power-point lectures: The Art of Enemymaking; The New Enemy; and Beyond Enmity. Together, the DVD, the revised book, and the original PBS documentary “Faces of the Enemy” provide, in the author’s words “all that is needed for a high school or college course on propaganda and warfare.” Keen’s point throughout is that humans, who by nature are averse to violence against their fellow humans, must first demonize others before being willing to kill them; and further, the polarizing process is like looking in a mirror: “We have met the enemy, and he is us,” to quote Pogo.
Keen, along with everybody else, had hoped that the end of the Cold War and the demise of communism would bring an era of peace, a time when we could concentrate on “terrible problems that continued to haunt us—decaying cities, poverty, homelessness, overpopulation, crime, the budget crisis, the deteriorating environment.”
It seemed true for a time, he says, noting that sales of Faces of the Enemy declined. “But the threat of peace was too great for us to tolerate. Like demon-possessed lovers, suddenly set free, we seemed lost without our enemies. Suddenly there was no one to blame for the host of evils that surrounded us. No simple solutions. The U.S. Defense Department announced that drugs were the real threat to our national security and declared war against Colombian druglords. We invaded Panama to depose General Noriega and did our best to clothe him in all the traditional metaphors of enmity—rat, tyrant, sex-fiend, torturer, drug addict. But his usefulness as an enemy quickly faded.”
Then came Saddam Hussein, invader of Kuwait, eco-terrorist, a less-than-human monster who had used poison gas against his own people. He “provided us with the moral clarity to unify our nation on a righteous crusade.” And so it has gone, from Desert Storm (a cure for the Vietnam Syndrome, says Keen), to the Axis of Evil, terrorism, the Taliban, Iraq.
Notes Keen: “The most terrible of moral paradoxes—the Gordian knot that must be unraveled if history is to continue—is that we create evil out of our highest ideals and most noble aspirations. We so need to be heroic, to be on the side of God, to eliminate evil, to clean up the world, to be victorious over death, that we visit destruction and death on all who stand in the way of our heroic historical destiny. We scapegoat and create absolute enemies, not because we are intrinsically cruel, but because focusing our anger on an outside target, striking at strangers, brings our tribe or nation together and allows us to be a part of a close and loving group. We create surplus evil because we need to belong.”
“The persistent efforts of liberals, peace-mongers, and assorted groups of nice people to assign blame for war to the Pentagon, the military-industrial complex, or some other surrogate for the devil, are no less a denial of responsibility than laying the blame on an external enemy. The sentimental cliché, ‘The people don’t want war, only their leaders do,’ is a pious way to avoid thinking seriously about the problem. And we will not make progress in severing the roots of war without re-owning our consensual paranoia and the corporate responsibility for evil. The body politic will change only when there is a democratization of guilt, responsibility, power, and authority. We become politically potent by accepting responsibility, for better or worse, for the conduct of our leaders. In the long view, nations have the leaders they deserve.”
Keen uses the words of Thucydides who spoke about the Civil War in Corcyra 427 B.C. in The Peloponnesian Wars:
To fit in with changes in events, words, too, had to change their usual meanings. What used to be described as a thoughtless act of aggression was now regarded as the courage one would expect to find in a party member; to think of the future and wait was merely another way of saying one was a coward; any idea of moderation was just an attempt to disguise one’s unmanly character; ability to understand a question from all sides meant that one was totally unfitted for action. Fanatical enthusiasm was the mark of a real man . Anyone who held violent opinions could always be trusted, and anyone who objected to them became suspect….It was equally praiseworthy to get one’s blow in first against someone who was going to do wrong and to denounce someone who had no intention of doing wrong at all. Family relations were a weaker tie than party membership since party members were more ready to go to any extreme for any reason whatever.
Keen notes that according to Confucius, “We are intended to be poets, not conquistadors. The human essence, the soul, the self, is revealed not in the schizophrenic psyche of the warrior, but in the healing, naming, and chanting of the poet. We lose our essence when we fall into propaganda—false naming. We exile ourselves from the garden of the spirit when we pervert language and give a false sanctity to acts of destruction. Changing vices into virtues, we become inhumane.”
Then there is a quote from Albert Camus: “Over the expanse of five continents throughout the coming years, an endless struggle is going to be pursued between violence and friendly persuasion….Henceforth the only honorable course will be to stake everything on a formidable gamble; that words are more powerful than munitions.”
Keen emphasizes that war has been around a long time, there are real enemies, there are no easy answers. But, he says: “There is still hope that we can interrupt the ancient and terrible cycle of violence if we have the moral and intellectual courage to examine the workings of the hostile imagination. There will always be conflicts between persons and nations, but no gene condemns us to dehumanize or destroy those with whom we differ….And one day, perhaps, as the song promises, we will ‘study war no more.’ ”
For information about obtaining the revised book Faces of the Enemy, the DVD with Keen’s three power-point lectures, the expanded DVD containing the original PBS Faces of the Enemy documentary, and a study guide, see www.samkeen.com.
Back to Top >>
Staying the Course
An Essay by Mary-Wynne Ashford
How do you find hope when there is no rational reason for optimism?
How do you deal with evidence that the situation is worsening despite your best efforts?
Does your life make any difference? How do you continue in the face of despair?
I once borrowed five hours of tapes from a popular radio series about current environmental crises, and listened to them one after another over a weekend. By Monday, I was paralyzed with despair. Onto the weight of the nuclear arms race, I had now cemented over-population, ozone depletion, drift-net fishing, destruction of the rain forests, the Great Lakes dying. How do you find hope when there is no rational reason for optimism? How do you deal with evidence that the situation is worsening despite your best efforts? Does your life make any difference? How do you continue in the face of despair?
Joanna Macy writes of visiting a group of monks in Tibet. The monks were reconstructing their ancient monastery, which had been reduced to rubble by the Chinese. Her heart fell at the magnitude of the task and its almost foolhardy nature. When the monks were asked about Chinese policies and the likelihood of another period of repression, Macy saw that such calculations were conjecture to the monks. Since you cannot see into the future, you simply proceed to put one stone on top of another, and another on top of that. If the stones get knocked down, you begin again, because if you don’t nothing will get built.
The planetary crises raise existential and spiritual questions we are usually able to avoid in our affluent society. I find that the question of how to face hopelessness is one I cannot answer with consistency and intellectual rigor. On the one hand, optimism probably represents denial of the facts: The scientific research offers little evidence that nature can recover from the man-made destruction wrought in this century. I know, therefore, that I cannot rationally base my decisions on the hope that we will turn things around. On the other hand, I find that I cherish the small signs that people are taking action to promote change, and when I see them, I feel a tiny surge of optimism that I am unwilling to repress. My compromise is to work without depending on hope that it will make a difference, while at the same time treasuring the signs that I am one of many.
In spite of my despair after hearing the radio series, I found myself continuing my efforts in disarmament, not because it seemed to be the most urgent problem, or the most terrifying, but because there were things to be done in disarmament that were clear to me. Whether or not I could really make a difference, leaving them undone was a resignation to despair. At the very least, the individual can challenge the silence of assumed consensus. By breaking the silence, by refusing to collude with evil and insanity, one resists the darkness.
Breaking the silence is, I think, the most significant thing we do as individuals. Sometimes even without speaking, one can challenge the silence, as did the women in Argentina during the military regime. These women, Las Madres de la Plaza, refused to be intimidated by death squads. They kept their regular vigil, their presence alone a blatant accusation of murder and brutality. They also showed that the power of one is acted out in community, not in solitude. We sustain each other in dark times, sometimes simply by being present together. The result of “speaking truth to power,” as the Quakers put it, is often subtle and unpredictable. Men who left their jobs in U.S. military industries as a result of a crisis of conscience describe individuals who forced them to confront the meaning of their work on nuclear weapons. One senior official told of the impact of passing a solitary man who stood every day outside the entrance to the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory,
holding a placard opposing nuclear weapons. The anonymous protester played a significant role in the official’s eventual decision to resign his job.
Sometimes, we look to great individuals like Mother Teresa or Nelson Mandela to see that one person can effect change. I find it more inspiring to see the impact of ordinary people who did what they saw had to be done without becoming great symbols of resistance. I think, for example, of hearing the executive director of the Manila YWCA speaking at a peace meeting in Honolulu. She was asked whether the YWCA had had any part in the overthrow of dictator Ferdinand Marcos and the election of Corazon Aquino.
Well, yes,” she admitted, “we did.”
“What did you do?” the audience demanded.
“Well, I lay on the road to keep the tanks from coming into the downtown, and the other women brought food and water.”
Whether or not we succeed in pushing the rock up the hill, there is meaning in the journey, not in the hope that one time we’ll be able to shed the rock forever and live in a perfect world. In the end, we stay the course in our everyday actions—shouldering the burden, working in community, speaking truth to power, and refusing to join forces with the pestilence.
Mary-Wynne Ashford, MD, is a former president of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, and teaches at the University of Victoria. She wrote this article before the 2004 election for the book, The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen’s Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear, edited by Paul Rogat Loeb. An earlier version of the article appeared in Canada’s Peace Magazine. Loeb’s book contains articles by Maya Angelou, Wendell Berry, Marian Wright Edelman, Nelson Mandela, Arundhati Roy, Desmond Tutu, Vaclav Havel, Pablo Neruda, and dozens of other well-known figures.
Back to Top >>
A Letter from Mary Clark
Every year at the winter holiday season, Mary Clark sends out a Dear Friends and Family letter. Clark is an internationally known biologist who has held faculty positions at a number of universities, served on two major U.S. national commissions, authored three books, and most recently taught conflict resolution at George Mason University.
The following is excerpted from her Winter Solstice 2003 letter. She begins by recalling a moment while she was reading a passage in a book about the development in human history from the time when people worshipped the pagan gods of Saturn, Baal, Moreh, and El, which dominated their life; to the God of Abraham willing to sacrifice his son to a demanding, retributive God; to, ultimately, a loving, forgiving Father-God who gave his son in atonement for the frailties of humankind.
Suddenly clearly aware of the enormous story unfolding to me, I experienced a feeling of emotional exhaustion. It was not the final story that overwhelmed me, for I was, of course, already well aware of it and respected it, though without accepting its later doctrinal teachings. Rather, it was mentally reliving the history of such huge changes in human visions of the Universe—from one full of fear and punishment to one of a loving embrace—that overwhelmed me, to the point where I could not “think” any further—at least for the moment.
I looked up from the book because my mind, suddenly too full of our complex human past to absorb any further “big thoughts,” had stopped focussing on what I was reading. As I sat quietly in my recliner, somewhat numbed, I began to notice details of my own immediate world. And without my bidding, each detail began to tell its own story to me in intimate detail. The hardwood floor—beautiful oak strips, no two alike, lying snugly, yet incongruently, side-by-side, their embossed growth patterns, cut at different angles, telling different, personal stories about their own living past.
What a hodge?podge of personal tree histories lay before me. Had any of these strips come from the same tree, or even from nearby trees? Were they, even, from different states, different decades, even different centuries, since oaks are long-lived? The floor began to take on the qualities of a cemetery—where grave-stones and monuments record bits of the lives of people, some born far, far away, others nearby—each with its own personal history sequestered in the invisible bones beneath the soil. All those years, of lives lived in so many different conditions—lives striped, unevenly, unequally, like the oak trees in my floor, by the “weathers” of their places and times.
Next, I cast my eye on the rug before me, covering a part of the floor. It was made, surely by the small hands of children somewhere in India—to replicate the more formal patterns of rugs common to Persia. I had bought it long ago at Gump’s in San Francisco—at that time utterly oblivious of the child labor that must have been involved. As I looked at it that evening, though, I saw in the pattern itself, the lives of those children whose hands had so deftly, so rapidly tied all those knots of wool into the pattern I so casually walk upon each day. It is almost as if I am physically walking on their very beings. We are connected— just as I and the oak trees of my floor are connected.
My eyes shift to a framed piece of handwoven cloth, hanging above my TV set. It is a strip of batik, in yellow and black, depicting in five rows the daily lives of the Bambara people of Mali, in West Africa. Along the top, the wood and mud houses with their thatched roofs; then, a row of women with long wooden pestles pounding millet into flour—a sound that resonates through each Malian village at daybreak. (I visited briefly there—while my nephew was in the Peace Corps—and awoke to the sounds of their labors each day.)
The next row depicts women carrying home scavenged firewood, the fuel needed to prepare the evening meal. The fourth shows women carrying water— or perhaps still-wet laundry—in large containers on their heads, with their children in tow. And the fifth shows the men out in the fields with dibble sticks, planting and tending the corn and millet on which the community depends. The picture, every time I attend to it, raises my own, long-ago images to immediate, living consciousness.
And so it is with the whole of my house—its furnishings, books, art works, and the other, less obvious mementos like old suitcases, ancient clothes still in the closet, pieces of China I acquired as much as fifty or more years ago. Everything around me has not only a personal significance for my life, but an embedded significance from its own intrinsic qualities. It is easier to think about the first than the second, but when I’m not really thinking at all, that intrinsic nature crawls into my mental space and communes with the “me” inside, unbidden and unsuspected.
My point is simple and, at least for me, profound. All things that touch us, even unconsciously, carry meaning that informs our lives. From the story of Jesus (or for that matter, of Buddha, or Gandhi, or of many, many others, indeed some who touch our lives every day) to the stories of the oak trees in my floor, to the stories of the unknown children who made my rug, to that of the Malian batik cloth: All these stories are ways of grasping, however ephemerally, our own particular place in the gigantic cosmic story. They anchor us.
The world view of every culture, tradition, or religion creates its own preferred, descriptive version of the cosmic reality in which we all float through life. I believe the most effective, the most rewarding of all those hugely diverse world views are the ones that seek to embed us in an embracing Universe. Yet recent history (driven by the contemporary Western world view) has been pushing humankind toward an evermore disembedded, separatist, competitive, nonembracing image of the Universe that is now in the process of destroying our very existence—perhaps the existence of all life—long, long, long before this Universe that we know is itself destined to disappear.
What a pity it would be were that life force to be extinguished before its time by human ideologies that mistook “progress” and “technology” for the true intelligence we call wisdom, and simultaneously failed to read and interpret the wise messages emanating from the most important parts of the human central nervous system when it contemplates the meaning embedded in the simplest of things. These are the deep emotional messages, bequeathed to us through our long evolution, that give wordless meaning to the Universe. Somehow those zillions of self-organizing molecules within us are able to guide us, if only an excess of “pure reason” does not get too much in their—and our—way.
May we never stop imagining Peace and seeking Connectedness.
Love to all, Mary
Back to Top >>
Blips on the Timeline
The term “blip” is often used to describe a point of light on a radar screen. One source of blips is www.gristmagazine.com, which sends out short updates on the environment every weekday. Here are two recent good ones.
A Mighty Wind
Between Francisco and Sacramento lies the High Winds Energy Center, a state-of-the-art wind farm expected to generate roughly 162 megawatts of electricity—enough to power 75,000 homes—and make wind power competitive with extractive energy sources. The turbines at High Winds represent a substantial improvement in technology: They are more efficient than previous models, creating almost 20 times as much energy as turbines from 20 years ago; they turn to face the wind; their blades revolve more slowly and kill far fewer birds; and they are more widely spaced, for a lighter footprint on the land. Because farmers receive up to $4,000 a year for use of their land from High Winds’ owner FPL Energy, wind power now “represents economic opportunity for rural America,” says Ralph Cavanagh, energy program director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. While wind remains a tiny part of the nation’s energy picture, High Winds is a gust of good news
for renewable power supporters.
Oregon’s Siuslaw National Forest has emerged as a model for the way timber companies, environmentalists, and local communities can cooperate to manage forests. It is one of the few national forests in the state exceeding U.S. Forest Service logging goals. It’s also the site of substantial ecological restoration, with streams boasting seven times the levels of coho salmon as those in surrounding areas. Money from timber sales is being funneled back into communities hurt by the sharp decline in federal logging of the past two decades. Logging goals are met in the Siuslaw without any clearcutting or harvesting of old-growth trees; instead, the majority of timber comes from thinning previously planted, fast-growing plantations, opening them up to wildlife use. “It makes some people very nervous to see us talking with environmentalists and timber companies at the same time,” said the Forest Service’s Dan Karnes. “But when we have environmentalists
saying, ‘Don’t hold up this work,’ that’s a huge strength. We’d be doing well to hold onto that.”
Back to Top >>
Helping Assure the Right to Vote
A Personal Perspective by Larissa Keet
I will never take my vote for granted again after being with African-American voters in Florida during the 2004 election.
Before going to Florida, I had heard reports of a possible repeat of the 2000 election, where tens of thousands of people—mostly African-Americans and Hispanics— were excluded from voting, or had their votes disallowed. I was disturbed that such blatant intimidation and disenfranchisement could happen again.
So I decided to go to Florida during the two weeks of early voting to help the organized efforts to curtail such practices. For example, state election officials were still legally challenging the courts which had thrown out the “ex-convicts” lists made infamous in the 2000 election. This repeated threat to large numbers of voters (who had no prior prison records) persisted through November 2.
Many other violations occurred in Florida during the 13-day early voting period. In heavily African-American and Hispanic areas, scores of voters received calls to vote by phone, or letters instructing them to vote on November 3. Attorney monitors at polling places reported frequent voter harassment.
The highlight of my ten days in Tampa was volunteering at the early polling sites which had high concentrations of African-American voters. We made massive efforts to inform and urge voters to cast their ballots before November 2, and many responded, showing up in droves to vote early for fear of being challenged or barred from voting at their precincts on November 2.
People were determined to make their votes count, no matter what it took—even when it meant standing in line for up to six hours, much of it in the broiling sun. Images of African-American voters are etched into my memory, including parents bringing their children with them to the polls to participate in this vital voting “rite” as families; four generations of a single family waiting together for hours—great grandma, grandma, mom, and young daughter; a 61-year-old first-time voter wheeling his 88-year-old mother who was proud to have voted in every election since 1942. A 19-year-old man waited 31/2 hours in line, risking his job by being several hours late to work; I offered to call his boss and was able to get him a reprieve. I talked with an ex-felon who had undergone the legal process to have his right to vote restored, and a soldier born in the Dominican Republic, who recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq (his cousin and a close friend
were killed in the war).
As these voters waited patiently for their turn at the ballot box, it was a real lesson for me to see how deeply they had come to value their right to vote. I chose to stay nightly until the last person came out of the polling place, as a way to affirm each one’s commitment to vote. No one complained about the hours of standing in line; many were beaming as they told me that the wait had been “well worth it.”
My experience has made me sensitive to any indications of widespread voting fraud in Florida, or elsewhere. I urge everyone who is concerned to join with those who are calling for a U.S. Congressional investigation into election irregularities. We all need to make sure that not only every eligible American has the right to vote, but that all our votes will be counted fairly and accurately.
Larissa Keet is a long-time volunteer at the Foundation, and a member of the Foundation’s Valley of Heart’s Delight Project. Professionally, she is an eco-psychotherapist in private practice in Los Altos, CA
Back to Top >>
Global MindShift: Tools for Evolution
What is going on in the world?
Where are we headed?
What can I do about it?
Many of us have asked ourselves these questions in recent years. The Foundation’s Global MindShift project is launching a new web site to help people find answers of their own. We invite Timeline readers to go to www.global-mindshift.org, explore it, and then tell us what you think.
This Web Site is for You
Back to Top >>
In the open space of democracy, we are listening—ears alert—we are watching—eyes open—registering the patterns and possibilities for engagement. Some acts are private; some are public. Our oscillations between local, national, and global gestures map the full range of our movement. Our strength lies in our imagination, and paying attention to what sustains life, rather than what destroys it
Terry Tempest Williams from The Open Space of Democracy
Back to Top >>
TIMELINE (ISSN 1061-2734) is published bimonthly by the Foundation for Global Community 222 High Street, Palo Alto, CA 94301-1097
Managing Editors: Kay Hays, Mac Lawrence
Editorial Board: : Jim Burch, Don Burns, Diane Gordon, Walter Hays,Sandra Mardigian, Jackie Mathes, Susan Stansbury.
Art Director (print edition): Sue Lyttle
Desktop Publishing: Diane Gordon
Electronic Edition: Timeline Team
A print edition of Timeline with photographs and artwork is available for a subscription price of $15 per year (six issues). This is pretty much what it costs us to produce and mail Timeline since our writers are all volunteers and we have no editorial expenses. But we do have overhead costs for our building, computers, etc. So if you feel Timeline and the other work our Foundation does are valuable and you want to help keep us going, please consider making a tax-free donation to Foundation for Global Community. Be sure to indicate that it is for Timeline E-mail Edition -- otherwise our subscription people will automatically send you the printed edition, and the whole idea of saving natural resources is down the tubes. Thanks!
Palo Alto, California