Monday, September 07, 2009
I'm juxtaposing two pieces that show the great potential of the human spirit for GOOD or EVIL...and how far we still have to go. I begin with Eknath Easwaran, a favorite teacher, as any of you who read my offerings can testify. I then segue into an excerpt of a difficult-to-hear piece by American cultural critic Henry A. Gireaux, a portion focusing primarily on movies and television.
We really need to wake up before it's too late, beginning by doing the difficult and ongoing inner work of removing the hostility within ourselves and purifying our own hearts so that we can be forces for peace.
Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.
-- Martin Luther King
All of us can play an important part in the conquest of violence. We can do this by throwing our full weight behind peaceful, effective programs for eliminating the situations from which violence arises. But just as importantly, we need to do everything we can to remove every trace of hostility in ourselves.
The violence that is flaring up on our streets and in many corners of the world is the inevitable expression of the hostility in our hearts. Hostility is like an infectious disease. Whenever we indulge in a violent act or even in hostile words, we are passing this disease on to those around us. When we quarrel at home, it is not just a domestic problem; we are contributing to turmoil everywhere.
A teacher of meditation in ancient India, Patanjali, wrote that in the presence of a man or woman in whom all hostility has died, others cannot be hostile. In the presence of a man or woman in whom all fear has died, no one can be afraid. This is the power released in true nonviolence, as we can see in the life of Mahatma Gandhi. Because all hostility had died in his heart, he was a profound force for peace.
-- Eknath Easwaran
And now the excerpt from the Henry Gireaux piece,
Living In A Culture of Cruelty: Democracy As Spectacle
Americans have grown accustomed to luxuriating in a warm bath of cinematic blood, as young people and adults alike were seduced with commercial and military video games such as "Grand Theft Auto" and "America's Army," the television series "24" and its ongoing Bacchanalian fete of torture, the crude violence on display in World Wrestling Entertainment and Ultimate Fighting Championship, and an endless series of vigilante films such as "The Brave One" (2007) and "Death Sentence" (2007), in which the rule of law is suspended by the viscerally satisfying images of men and women seeking revenge as laudable killing machines - a nod to the permanent state of emergency and war in the United States. Symptomatically, there is the mindless glorification and aestheticization of brutal violence in the most celebrated Hollywood films, including many of Quentin Tarantino's films, especially the recent "Death Proof" (2007), "Kill Bill" 1 & 2 (2003, 2004), and "Inglorious Bastards" (2009). With the release of Tarantino's 2009 bloody war film, in fact, the press reported that Dianne Kruger, the co-star of "Inglorious Bastards," claimed that she "loved being tortured by Brad Pitt [though] she was frustrated she didn't get an opportunity to get frisky with her co-star, but admits being beaten by Pitt was a satisfying experience." This is more than the aestheticization of violence, it is the normalization and glorification of torture itself.
If Hollywood has made gratuitous violence the main staple of its endless parade of blockbuster films, television has tapped into the culture of cruelty in a way that was unimaginable before the attack on the US on September 11. Prime-time television before the attacks had "fewer than four acts of torture" per year, but "now there are more than a hundred."  Moreover, the people who torture are no longer the villains, but the heroes of prime-time television. The most celebrated is, of course, Jack Bauer, the tragic-ethical hero of the wildly popular Fox TV thriller "24." Not only is torture the main thread of the plot, often presented "with gusto and no moral compunction," but Bauer is portrayed as a patriot, rather than a depraved monster, who tortures in order to protect American lives and national security. Torture, in this scenario, takes society's ultimate betrayal of human dignity and legitimates the pain and fear it produces as normal, all the while making a "moral sadist" a television celebrity. The show has over 15 million viewers, and its glamorization of torture has proven so successful that it appears to have not only numbed the public's reaction to the horrors of torture, but it is so overwhelmingly influential among the US military that the Pentagon sent Brig. Gen. Patrick Finnegan to California to meet with the producers of the show. "He told them that promoting illegal behavior in the series ... was having a damaging effect on young troops." The pornographic glorification of gratuitous, sadistic violence is also on full display in the popular HBO television series "Dexter," which portrays a serial killer as a sympathetic, even lovable, character. Visual spectacles steeped in degradation and violence permeate the culture and can be found in various reality TV shows, professional wrestling and the infamous Jerry Springer Show. These programs all trade in fantasy, glamorized violence and escapism. And they share similar values.
As Chris Hedges points out in his analysis of professional wrestling, they all mirror the worst dimensions of an unchecked and unregulated market society in which "winning is all that matters. Morality is irrelevant.... It is all about personal pain, vendettas, hedonism and fantasies of revenge, while inflicting pain on others. It is the cult of victimhood."
Sunday, September 06, 2009
by Bill Moyers
Friday 04 September 2009
The editors of THE ECONOMIST magazine say America's health care debate has become a touch delirious, with people accusing each other of being evil-mongers, dealers in death, and un-American.
Well, that's charitable.
I would say it's more deranged than delirious, and definitely not un-American.
Those crackpots on the right praying for Obama to die and be sent to hell -- they're the warp and woof of home-grown nuttiness. So is the creature from the Second Amendment who showed up at the President's rally armed to the teeth. He's certainly one of us. Red, white, and blue kooks are as American as apple pie and conspiracy theories.
Bill Maher asked me on his show last week if America is still a great nation. I should have said it's the greatest show on earth. Forget what you learned in civics about the Founding Fathers -- we're the children of Barnum and Bailey, our founding con men. Their freak show was the forerunner of today's talk radio.
Speaking of which: we've posted on our website an essay by the media scholar Henry Giroux (see link at end). He describes the growing domination of hate radio as one of the crucial elements in a "culture of cruelty" increasingly marked by overt racism, hostility and disdain for others, coupled with a simmering threat of mob violence toward any political figure who believes health care reform is the most vital of safety nets, especially now that the central issue of life and politics is no longer about working to get ahead, but struggling simply to survive.
So here we are, wallowing in our dysfunction. Governed -- if you listen to the rabble rousers -- by a black nationalist from Kenya smuggled into the United States to kill Sarah Palin's baby. And yes, I could almost buy their belief that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, only I think he shipped them to Washington, where they've been recycled as lobbyists and trained in the alchemy of money laundering, which turns an old-fashioned bribe into a First Amendment right.
Only in a fantasy capital like Washington could Sunday morning talk shows become the high church of conventional wisdom, with partisan shills treated as holy men whose gospel of prosperity always seems to boil down to lower taxes for the rich.
Poor Obama. He came to town preaching the religion of nice. But every time he bows politely, the harder the Republicans kick him.
No one's ever conquered Washington politics by constantly saying "pretty please" to the guys trying to cut your throat.
Let's get on with it, Mr. President. We're up the proverbial creek with spaghetti as our paddle. This health care thing could have been the crossing of the Delaware, the turning point in the next American Revolution -- the moment we put the mercenaries to rout, as General Washington did the Hessians at Trenton. We could have stamped our victory "Made in the USA." We could have said to the world, "Look what we did!" And we could have turned to each other and said, "Thank you."
As it is, we're about to get health care reform that measures human beings only in corporate terms of a cost-benefit analysis. I mean this is topsy-turvy -- we should be treating health as a condition, not a commodity.
As we speak, Pfizer, the world's largest drug maker, has been fined a record $2.3 billion dollars as a civil and criminal -- yes, that's criminal, as in fraud -- penalty for promoting prescription drugs with the subtlety of the Russian mafia. It's the fourth time in a decade Pfizer's been called on the carpet. And these are the people into whose tender mercies Congress and the White House would deliver us?
Come on, Mr. President. Show us America is more than a circus or a market. Remind us of our greatness as a democracy. When you speak to Congress next week, just come out and say it. We thought we heard you say during the campaign last year that you want a government run insurance plan alongside private insurance -- mostly premium-based, with subsidies for low-and-moderate income people. Open to all individuals and employees who want to join and with everyone free to choose the doctors we want. We thought you said Uncle Sam would sign on as our tough, cost-minded negotiator standing up to the cartel of drug and insurance companies and Wall Street investors whose only interest is a company's share price and profits.
Here's a suggestion, Mr. President: ask Josh Marshall to draft your speech. Josh is the founder of the website www.talkingpointsmemo.com . He's a journalist and historian, not a politician. He doesn't split things down the middle and call it a victory for the masses. He's offered the simplest and most accurate description yet of a public insurance plan -- one that essentially asks people: would you like the option -- the voluntary option -- of buying into Medicare before you're 65? Check it out, Mr. President.
This health care thing is make or break for your leadership, but for us, it's life and death. No more Mr. Nice Guy, Mr. President. We need a fighter.
That's it for the Journal. I'm Bill Moyers. See you next time.
www.truthout.org/090609Z?n (Text and YouTube of Moyers)
www.truthout.org/090209R?n (Text of "Living in a Culture of Cruelty: Democracy as Spectacle," Heny A. Giroux)
Saturday, September 05, 2009
To me the gospels are the rarest of treasures and the part of the Bible that I deeply resonate with. Sri Easwaran has provided many commentaries on Jesus' words and Christian masters in various texts -- three of his books come to mind: Original Goodness: The Beatitudes; Seeing with the Eyes of Love: The Imitation of Christ; Love Never Faileth: St. Francis, St. Paul, St. Augustine & Mother Teresa.
I found his commentary on this verse especially helpful, as well as useful to me in my spiritual journey, and thought others might appreciate it as well:
Unto those that hath shall be given, and they shall have abundance: but from those that hath not shall be taken away even that which they have.
-- Matthew 25:29
This is a strange paradox, a little-known secret. Jesus isn’t speaking of worldly goods. He is speaking of a very rare kind of treasure: the more you draw on it, the more you will have. The more patient you are with people, for instance, the more patience you will have. The more generous you are today, the more generosity you will have tomorrow. The more love you give, the more loving you become.
The principle can be stated in the plainest of terms: if you are selfish with your love, the scant security you cling to will be battered by life. But if you give of yourself freely, your security will be unshakable. Your joy will be limitless. You will always have more to give.
-- Eknath Easwaran
Wednesday, September 02, 2009
Wislawa Szymborska is 80 years old, a Polish poet, essayist and translator. She was awarded the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature. In Poland, her books reach sales rivaling prominent prose authors, although she once remarked in a poem entitled "Some Like Poetry" that no more than two out of a thousand people care for the art.
I have shared her poetry before. I love how she so beautifully and sensitively captures questions and reflections of the human spirit.
Her metaphors and symbolism attract me and help me to lift this journey to health and wholeness to a new level. She is a woman to model and emulate and I honor her.
Enjoy this utterly amazing piece with me:
AMONG THE MULTITUDES
I am who I am.
A coincidence no less unthinkable
than any other.
I could have different
ancestors, after all.
I could have fluttered
from another nest
or crawled bescaled
from another tree.
holds a fair
supply of costumes:
Spider, seagull, field mouse.
each fits perfectly right off
and is dutifully worn
I didn't get a choice either,
but I can't complain.
I could have been someone
much less separate.
someone from an anthill, shoal, or buzzing swarm,
an inch of landscape ruffled by the wind.
Someone much less fortunate,
bred for my fur
or Christmas dinner,
something swimming under a square of glass.
A tree rooted to the ground
as the fire draws near.
A grass blade trampled by a stampede
of incomprehensible events.
A shady type whose darkness
What if I'd prompted only fear,
If I'd been born
in the wrong tribe
with all roads closed before me?
Fate has been kind
to me thus far.
I might never have been given
the memory of happy moments
My yen for comparison
might have been taken away.
I might have been myself minus amazement,
someone completely different.
-- Wislawa Szymborska
(Poems New and Collected 1957-1997, trans. by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh)
Tuesday, September 01, 2009
Ahhhh...I REALLY needed this this early morning....
In the midst of some activity, even the activity of reading this now, it is completely possible to allow your mind to open fully, and in that opening to discover the peace and fulfillment of your own spacious awareness.
No place to go, no thing to get, no goal to be realized; no body to change no perfection to be attained. Simply, in this very moment, you can recognize what is always here. Here underneath all the lists and underneath all the victories and defeats.
In meeting yourself, free of all should's and must's and will's, for even a moment, you realize that even if nothing gets fixed or done, simple natural fulfillment is already here.
Of course there is much in our world, our bodies, and our minds that could use fixing. And part of the human evolutionary thrust is to use our mental capacities to discover what is wrong -- outside and inside -- and then to begin the work of correction by removal or augmentation. What a truly awesome power of mind. It is a hallmark of the capacity of the human brain.
The problem arises when this evolving, mistake-searching aspect of mind rules the life form called by your name. And this problem is huge in our culture.
How much of your attention is focused on what is wrong with yourself or others?
When we see how much is wrong or harmful in our thinking and our and others' actions, we can be overwhelmed by the tasks revealed. This overwhelm can result in giving up and reverting to cynicism or in strengthening our resolve to work even harder. To think and do more.
I am actually suggesting that before the overwhelm, or even in the midst of overwhelm, it is possible to stop, if only for a moment, and return to silence. In that moment, there is the recognition that to be internally free and at peace, nothing needs to be done.
Even a moment of true silence allows for true choice, for authentic, appropriate action or non-action to follow.
Some spiritual traditions refer to this silence as no mind. But for me that term is too close to mindless as in ignorant or stupid. I prefer the term open mind. The open mind is spacious and aware. It finds nourishment in itself, intelligent and aware without the need to follow thought.
In truth, all creative and fresh thinking comes out of this nourishment of aware silence. And it is available for you right now.
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