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President Trump’s Useful Idiocy
By Winslow Myers
Though the president still has many supporters, there is a growing consensus, especially as the Trump-initiated trade war heats up, that he does not have their best interests in mind, never mind the best interests of the nation as a whole. While I think I understand why so many people voted for Trump, my sympathy does not extend to the man himself, whose emotional repertoire appears to be the narrow range between meanness and self-pity.
As his first summit with Vladimir Putin approaches, though we do not have certainty about the possibility of active collusion, one cannot help but recall Lenin’s phrase “useful idiot,” by which Lenin meant anyone who could be manipulated to serve the ends of the Soviet state.
To borrow another well-known phrase, this time from the late Senator Moynihan, Trump has “defined deviancy down.” Gradually we have come to tolerate behavior in a leader that was formerly enough to derail a candidacy, if not leading to outright trial by law.
Whether Mr. Trump will or will not be able to serve out his term, it is not too soon to learn some lessons about what we seek and what we want to avoid in candidates for the presidency. In no particular order, here follows a simple and obvious list, clarified by way of contrast with the person presently occupying the office:
• A president needs to be a national model for truth-telling, encouraging and validating the scientific method, and making policy based upon experimentally validated data.
•A president needs a secure, private, inner-directed self-sense that transcends their image in the media, a self-sense that includes a solid ethical compass.
•A president needs to ameliorate, not exacerbate, conservative-progressive polarization, and consistently emphasize what all of us have in common as Americans, like equality of opportunity and equality under the law. The president that follows Trump will need special skills to promote healing between pro- and anti-Trump factions.
•A president needs to understand the racism which is one of America’s original sins, so that they can actively encourage the principle that our diversity makes us stronger.
•Anyone who wins the presidency will inevitably possess a healthy ego, but presidents must sublimate their self-confidence into a humble awareness of their position as servant leader, which views citizens as ends rather than instruments.
•A president needs good listening skills. Most of America’s difficulties, domestic or international, have in common some kind of failure to listen. Crude bullying, such as opposition to a U.N. breast feeding resolution because it threatens the profits of baby formula corporations, is surely not what our country wants to be known for around the world.
•A president needs to separate from business interests clearly and absolutely while in office.
•Presidents need authentic life experience that has tested them. My friend Adam Cote ran for the governorship of Maine. While serving the National Guard, he was deployed to Bosnia, Afghanistan and finally Iraq, where he began an orphanage and established an effective program that adopted Iraqi villages. Five minutes in Adam’s presence is sufficient to demonstrate that his motivation for running is public service, not power. The testing experience doesn’t have to be military; it could be any trial by fire that seasons a person.
•Presidents need a sense of humor, especially about themselves.
•Presidents need to be scholars of the lessons of history, to avoid repeating past mistakes.
•A president needs to be strong enough to push back against establishment groupthink from whatever political direction, such as the momentum of American techno-colonialism and militarism. Presidents can be a bulwark against the tail of unlimited military spending wagging the dog of sensible policy.
•Irrespective of party, presidents need to understand the great global challenge of environmental stress, and the imperative for greater international cooperation to help the planet through to a place where humans have learned to sustain the commons that is the life-support-system for all.
•Presidents must understand that many of our contemporary challenges are trans-national, and that the delicate structures of international law must be gradually strengthened. This will unquestionably benefit America’s security in the long term.
•Presidents need discernment. As my father used to say, quoting Leo Rosten: “First rate people hire first rate people. Second rate people hire fourth rate people.”
Of course, every trait that makes a good president also makes a good civically engaged citizen. It would seem we get the presidents we deserve (though most of the Trump voters I know are much more interesting than either the liberal press stereotype of a Trump voter or than Trump himself).
Even if at a very high cost, President Trump may have done our country at least one valuable service. If we have learned the right lessons, we will tolerate a little less the political obfuscations of the mean-spirited, the petty, the mealy-mouthed, the smugly entitled (in both mainstream political parties), and still less the garrulous narcissism taking up all the air in the room at present. There is an opening, if we can encourage it, for a more disinterested, honest political conversation. I know I will be looking among the emerging candidates for at least some of the qualities listed above—and that, I’m afraid, means I need to exemplify those qualities myself.
Winslow Myers, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide” and serves on the Advisory Board of the War Prevention Initiative.
by Winslow Myers
In a normal world, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of the U.S. Congress would have been roundly mocked by the audience for its hypocritical fear-mongering. In a normal world, 70 years beyond Hiroshima, major powers would have long since acceded to the wishes of their constituents and established far more extensive arms reduction treaties. In a normal world, there would be a single, not a double standard challenging the undiluted evil of nuclear weapons, no matter who possesses them. That single standard would underpin not only a regional but also a planet-wide effort at nuclear disarmament. And in a normal world, a foreign leader would not have been handed the most prestigious possible venue to undermine delicate, complex negotiations merely to allow him to score political points in two countries simultaneously.
To focus upon the existential danger of a nuclear Iran is to miss the point Albert Einstein, one of the most prophetic Jewish thinkers, made back in 1946: “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.” By making Iran into Israel’s nemesis, Netanyahu particularizes and localizes what should be universal and planetary: for Israel to be secure, all nations must be secure. Every nuclear point of tension on the planet today is equally an existential threat to all of us: Ukraine-Russia, India-Pakistan—and Israel-Iran.
Netanyahu did not call for general nuclear disarmament because he is stuck in an old mode of thinking based in his limited identification with his own nation, a nuclear-armed nation tied in ethical knots by the need to choose between democracy and privileging a particular ethnicity. In this old mode, self-interest is defined in terms of what’s good for my own country, in particular for the Jewish citizens of my country, rather than the planet as a whole. The scenario of a nuclear-free zone in the region is dismissed because it doesn’t fit with the Israeli—and American—right wing’s hyper-macho view of response to perceived threats. The drift toward nuclear catastrophe continues, even accelerates, in an atmosphere of mutual paranoia and denial.
In this obsolete mode of thinking, “we” are exceptional and “they” are the axis of evil. “We” project our own unacknowledged aggressiveness onto adversaries and dehumanize them, justifying endless mistrust, closed hearts, and killing that resolves nothing. “We” become more and more like the very thing we fear and hate, descending into torture, unjust land appropriation, secret arms sales, assassination, imperial expansion of spheres of influence—dysfunctional tactics common not only to both Israel and Iran, but also to the U.S. Fear of non-state actors having the same power as the nine nuclear states to incinerate millions in seconds rationalizes extreme behavior against perceived extremists. Would the United States have descended into torture so quickly and completely without the specter of an extremist Muslim with a suitcase nuke?
A new mode of thinking would acknowledge that the nuclear genie cannot be put back in the bottle, that the impossibility of victory in a nuclear war is a challenge shared by all nations, and that it is imprudent to let the tail of fear wag the dog of arms sales, both conventional and nuclear. In the new mode of thinking, the emphasis is taken off bilateral conflict and becomes a cooperative international effort to inventory, control, and lock down loose nuclear materials everywhere. This would cost infinitely less than the trillion dollars the U.S. is planning to spend over the next decade to refurbish its nuclear arsenal.
Netanyahu is inarguably right to assert that Israel lives in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the world, but there is much that he and his fragile coalition could do to begin to make it a safer neighborhood for themselves—beginning with restraining illegal settlement colonization of Palestinian land.
An alternative vision of global security is taking shape, based in initiatives that slowly build trust on the basis of overlapping environmental crises and other challenges that simply cannot be addressed by militarism. To grow this embryonic vision toward robust maturity, we need fewer empty suits, pawns in the dangerous game of arms sales and endless war, and more servant-leaders, figures like Dag Hammarskjold, Oscar Arias, Vaclav Havel, and Aung San Suu Kyi, people who exemplify the new mode of thinking for which Einstein implied the need if our species is to survive beyond the nuclear age. As Netanyahu’s hero Churchill once said, “To jaw-jaw is better than to war-war.”
Winslow Myers, syndicated by for Peacevoice, is author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide.”
He serves on the Advisory Board of the War Preventive Initiative.
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“Why must vengefulness be the default strategy for humans—the very thing we dislike and fear most about our adversaries? Mob rule is a temptation we assume we have grown beyond, but have we? The media hounds and the war lovers like Senators Graham and McCain bay for blood, putting enormous pressure on the President to get suckered into a third Middle East war. To avoid the label of wimp, Mr. Obama had to say what he said in his speech to the nation on his strategy against ISIS, but what he said was only a palatable version of the vengefulness paradigm.”
Author: Winslow Myers
Published in: War is a Crime http://warisacrime.org/content/suckered-again, Winslow Myers Op-Eds http://winslowmyersopeds.blogspot.com/, Las Vegas Informer http://lasvegas.informermg.com/2014/09/12/suckered-third-middle-east-war/, Common Dreams http://www.commondreams.org/views/2014/09/11/how-avoid-being-suckered-third-middle-east-war, Truth Out http://truth-out.org/speakout/item/26148-suckered-again
Date: September 11,12,2014
For the full article: Read more
by Winslow Myers
The way the United States has chosen to approach the chaos of the Middle East has far more frightening implications than we think, especially in terms of the world our children will inherit. If we are honest about how our adversaries perceive us, we will have to admit that there is a grand cycle of violence and insult operating, in which we ourselves are implicated up to our necks.
If we are to have any chance of breaking this potentially endless cycle (our military bases in Saudi Arabia leading to 9-11; 9-11 leading to the second Gulf War, Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib; the second Gulf War helping to create ISIS; ISIS beheading our journalists; President Obama suckered into reluctant bellicosity etc. etc. etc), we have to start by admitting our own role in it—something extremely difficult for our culture, and therefore almost impossible for our political leaders.
Righteous wrath and the urge for revenge are terrible foundations for creative policy-making. They lead almost inevitably to doing stupid stuff. 50 years beyond the Cuban Missile Crisis and 70 years into the nuclear age, the time for stupidity in international strategy is over. It is not merely possible, it is just about inevitable that the cycle of violence between the West and the Middle East will eventually go nuclear if we keep on as we are. Building these weapons is now an open secret.
If we want our children to survive, the foundation for smart, realistic international relations in the nuclear world becomes the polar opposite of military force, whether bluntly or surgically applied: the emphasis must shift to encouraging the positive, the relational, the building of trust and friendship, mutual compassion, understanding, and aid. Erik Erikson put it this way back in 1964, in an essay called “The Golden Rule in the Light of New Insight”:
“Nations today are by definition units of different stages of political, technological and economic transformation . . . insofar as a nation thinks of itself as a collective individual, then, it may well learn to visualize its task as that of maintaining mutuality in international relations. For the only alternative to armed competition seems to be the effort to activate in the historical partner what will strengthen him in his historical development even as it strengthens the actor in his own development—toward a common future identity.”
This constitutes Erikson’s savvy modern restatement of the Golden Rule, a formulation that occurs, with some variation, in all the major religions, including Islam, where it goes: “No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother what he desires for himself.”
Erikson’s theme was the active, creative potential of mutuality—between spouses, parents and children, doctors and patients, teachers and pupils, even between nations. Mutuality, Erikson asserted, is a relationship in which partners depend upon each other for the enhancement of their respective strengths. The curiosity of a student elicits from the teacher the skills for transmitting the excitement of learning in a way that benefits both teacher and student.
There is an urgent need to figure out how to apply this thinking to breaking the great cycle, to making it the foundation of foreign policy—not merely as “soft power,” which is simply the flexibility we think is open to us when we possess an overwhelming excess of hard power, which we do. We possess sufficient hard power to destroy the world many times over. What is required for our survival is to use our immense resources to make things better where we can, giving extremists infinitely less reason to attack. Our bombs only create more fanatics bent upon crucifixion and beheading—an old, old story. Only we can create a new story, and if we do, the world will respond gratefully.
Today, the Golden Rule has been perverted into the Iron Rule of vengefulness. We hear this when our Vice-President, a good man, asserts that we will follow terrorists to the gates of hell. If we do that, we can be sure that the gates will be wide enough to swallow us right along with the extremists.
Winslow Myers, author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide,” writes on global issues for PeaceVoice and serves on the Advisory Board of the War Prevention Initiative.
"...There are many reasons why global climate change and nuclear weapons are really one issue:
They both require a level of international cooperation based on transnational shared self-interest.LET’S MAKE A DEAL!
by Winslow Myers
My dreams are invaded these days by the specter of methane frozen under arctic ice bubbling up as the ice above it melts, setting up a potentially irreversible cycle: more methane, more climate change, yet more methane, yet more climate change. A group of us here in our little coastal Maine town are so disgusted with congressional gridlock and so eager to do something that we have formed a cooperative to help our fellow citizens transition off fossil fuels in their homes. Co-op members walk their talk; outside each meeting it’s a veritable pride of Priuses.
For a couple of decades back in the 1980s, I was haunted by a different flavor of catastrophe: I might hear a real jet roaring overhead but believe in my dreams that I was hearing a fleet of Soviet missiles arcing toward our major cities.
But there are many reasons why global climate change and nuclear weapons are really one issue: They both require a level of international cooperation based on transnational shared self-interest. Even a small nuclear war could cause even more rapid descent into climate chaos. Leaders of great powers have the opportunity to see that, especially because genuine security depends upon resolving the climate challenge, maybe there is a grand bargain to be made to cut international spending for nuclear weapons systems where everybody can win big.
Even if a nuclear exchange somehow remained below the threshold necessary to cause a nuclear winter, far from resolving whatever conflict engendered it, it would only create conditions thousands of times worse than when any given war began. The weapons, no matter who owns them, are strategically useless. Don’t take my word; ask Henry Kissinger, who spends his declining years advocating steps toward abolition. Yes, there is the nuclear terror issue, but the solution to that is to have fewer weapons and components floating around. Moreover, all the nuclear weapons in the world won’t deter an extremist.
Meanwhile the United States is a case study in the tail of out-of-control defense spending wagging the dog of policy. Perhaps the most egregious example is the Navy plan to build 12 new Ohio class submarines, six-hundred-foot behemoths of mass destruction. Professor Lawrence Wittner reports that to build deploy and maintain this fleet, scheduled to be phased in by 2031 and to operate until 2070, would cost about 350 billion in today’s dollars—an amount so great that the Navy worries about how it will squeeze other shipbuilding priorities, and the Congress has begun to think about how to fund it outside the parameters of the regular budget. Of course the U.S. is not alone in its insanity: six other nuclear powers seem to be in the process of expanding or renewing their own submarine hardware.
350 billion dollars would buy an awful lot of solar panels, windmills, fusion research, and desalinization plants for the water-starved in our own country and abroad. It seems remarkable that no leader has initiated some kind of international conference to address our horrendous misplacement of resources. Imagine the heads of the nuclear powers realizing that they could divert those hundreds of billions of dollars/yen/rubles/rupees/pounds/Euros presently designated for ultimately useless weapons into projects that would contribute to some genuine increase in peoples’ health, like cleaning up the air in Peking or Moscow. Treaties are especially feasible because our technical capabilities can bypass trust and go right to verification. Nothing would increase global security more than authentic, substantive mitigation of climate chaos, with the dividend of mitigating fears of nuclear apocalypse at the same time.
Winslow Myers, author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide,” writes on global issues for PeaceVoice and serves on the Advisory Board of the War Prevention Initiative.
Beyond the Abyss
by Winslow Myers
Nothing more clearly illustrates the absurdity of murder for political ends than this moment of chaos in Iraq and Syria. Imagine spaceships of an advanced alien civilization hovering over that vast desert area and assessing the state of our human endeavors on the basis of the welter of alliances and rivalries to-ing and fro-ing below, leaving trails of blood and traumatized children. As borders arbitrarily set by colonial powers a century ago dissolve, the strategic hopes of strong nations are undercut by vicious tribal rivalries going back almost a thousand years. The so-called superpowers are paralyzed, helpless giants armed with useless nuclear weapons. Moral pygmies who initiated unnecessary wars based on shameless lies have the unmitigated gall to blame those in office for events the liars themselves set in motion.
Time magazine lays it out as clearly as possible in its June 30 issue; it boggles the mind: the U.S. and Iran support Iraq. Iran, Iraq and Shia militias support Assad. The U.S. and the Gulf States want to contain Iran and prevent it from going nuclear. The Gulf States, the U.S. and Sunni militants want to defeat Assad, but the U.S. and the Gulf States have also sent money and arms to extreme Sunni groups in Syria that intend future harm to the U.S. The Kurds, Iran, the U.S. and Iraq want to defeat ISIS, even as the Kurds have benefited from the chaos created by ISIS. Millions of innocent citizens across the region have been displaced, their children hurt in every way, terrorized and starved, with doctors and teachers and business leaders unable to exercise skills essential to the web of civil society.
All of this bloodletting, confusion, and waste has the potential to get much worse because it is unfolding in the context of a planetary moment when our common future is at stake unless we humans can cooperate on a whole new level to find sustainable forms of food and energy. Yet from the perspective of the spaceship, the trackless desert could also be seen as a resource of staggering possibilities. Solar arrays could transform the harshly abundant rays of the sun into power for desalinization plants, preventing future water conflicts. The same solar energy could manufacture hydrogen to power a vibrant economy—a Muslim renaissance. Imagine if the trillions America spent on its Iraq misadventure had gone instead into building such a system. Halliburton, which took a reported $39.5 billion in war profits from that conflict, could have still made billions and actually have done something positive in that part of the world.
When it becomes this difficult to discern who are the good guys and who are the bad, the whole “us and them” paradigm blurs and fades into smoke. The common interest becomes, fundamentally, what’s good for children: Syrian, Iraqi, Kurdish, Iranian, Israeli, American. Brought up short by the helplessness of being unable to distinguish between alliances and enemies, is this not the moment for us to say enough—how much greater proof do we need that war and murder never work? Instead, there is an all-too-pervasive climate of opinion in the American government-industrial-media complex that more war and murder are the only answer to war and murder.
How to respond to evil and chaos with something other than more evil and chaos is one of the great historical conundrums. But one part of the answer is the nature of this moment, in the largest perspective of the unfolding of geological time. More and more of us are defining our primary identity not in terms of nation or tribe or religion, but instead in terms of the whole delicate, gorgeous, threatened planet now seen as the outcome of billions of years of evolutionary development. This is new—an encompassing story that has enormous potential to unite the diversity of humans into a larger community.
Meanwhile a hierarchy of needs still operates, and the primary need of the torn-apart Middle East is security, in the bare-bones form of simple cessation of slaughter. It would make zero sense to approach a young, fiery Kalashnikov-wielding adherent of ISIS and plead that he look up at the stars: “Look at who you really are, a descendent of these trillions of galaxies. It is out of this one unfolding universe that our sacred texts of Islam and Christianity and Judaism arose. We are one species. Shia and Sunnis may have a long history of enmity, but go back far enough and they are one, polarized by abstract illusions of difference that are meaningless in terms of this astronomical creativity out of which you came.”
This felt sense of oneness is the great message that bears in upon us from both our biggest challenges and our biggest opportunities—challenges like ocean acidification, rain forest destruction or nuclear proliferation, opportunities for vast networks of communication and understanding represented by the Internet. Global climate chaos encompasses not just physical weather but spiritual weather as well. Though the horrors of Iraq and Syria represent a sickening step backward from the possibility of reconciliation among the tribes and religions of the world, the context of reconciliation surrounds us and points the way ahead, supporting and guiding our creativity toward a world that works for everyone. Great possibilities are known, but the wrong voices are loudest. Let us listen for the smarter, smaller, softer, kinder ones.
Winslow Myers, author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide,” writes on global issues for PeaceVoice and serves on the Advisory Board of the War Prevention Initiative.
There was a major story in Time magazine this week that military personnel were cheating on competency tests relating to the command and control of American nuclear missiles. This was one more confirmation of what we already know in our hearts but prefer not to examine too closely: humans are too human, too small, too fallible, to be in charge of the unfathomable destructive power of nuclear weapons.
Activists, frustrated by a Congress in the pocket of military-industrial corporations, have rightly shifted their focus to building local coalitions that emphasize bottom-up renewal. The peace movement is still hard at work, but overwhelmed by the size of the powers arrayed against it.
Maybe it's the top military brass of the nuclear nations who ought to be leading the charge toward reciprocal disarmament, because their political masters have laid upon them an impossible task: to make zero mistakes when interpreting the behavior of other nations, to keep these weapons and the people who handle them in a state of hair-trigger readiness without tipping over the edge into accidents, and to avoid nuclear winter should, God forbid, the weapons be used.
A tall order indeed, because our experience with technologically complex systems designed not to fail is that sometimes they all fail—not a Rumsfeldian unknown unknown. Just as the occasional crash of a passenger plane or a space shuttle has proven inevitable, or a Chernobyl or Fukushima or Three Mile Island meltdown is unlikely but nevertheless has also proven inescapable, so too it is inevitable that, unless we change direction as a species, there will be a fatal incident involving nuclear weapons.
Some analysts claim that we are actually in a more risky time than during the Cold War. As we see in the cheating scandal, people in charge of the weapons, because their mission has been rendered obsolete by the change from the cold war to the "war on terror," are tempted by laziness and corner-cutting.
The United States, even while a signatory to international treaties that enjoin it to reduce its nuclear weapons and cooperate with other states to reduce theirs, is poised to spend untold billions, money needed desperately for, say, transitioning to clean, sustainable sources of energy, to renew its nuclear weapons systems. The tail of corporate profit wags the dog of nuclear policy, but neither the cost nor the danger of nuclear weapons appears to be a high priority for most Americans.
Terrorism naturally gets more focus today. Avoiding nuclear terrorism may actually be easier to accomplish than to guarantee in perpetuity those impossible conditions attached to “legitimate” state-controlled nuclear weapons. In the case of terrorists, the objective is to secure and keep separate the parts and ingredients of weapons. The vast majority of nations are in agreement with this goal and willing to cooperate to reach it. Meanwhile the far greater danger may be the relentless momentum engendered by the in-place weapons systems of the nuclear club, motivating more states to want to join, resulting in more command and control complexity, and more probability of misinterpretation.
In his famous poem “September 1, 1939,” W.H. Auden wrote, “We must love one another or die.” Auden came to dislike the poem for its preachiness. In 1955 he allowed it to be reprinted in an anthology with the line altered to “We must love one another and die.” Though the two lines obviously have different meanings, both versions are true. It is inevitable that we will all die, whether we learn to love each other or not. Is it also inevitable that we will die in nuclear fire or under gray skies of nuclear ash? Not if nuclear nations begin to have a conversation based in the common recognition that nuclear weapons are not useful to planetary security.
Creative acts of love, truth-telling, and inclusion are always open to us, as Nelson Mandela demonstrated. When the Nazis occupied Denmark in April, 1940, 17-year-old Danish schoolboy Arne Sejr wrote his "Ten Commandments" that were creative ways to nonviolently slow, sabotage, and stymie Nazi goals in his country. In the dark days of 1943 the people of Denmark, at great risk, not only spirited 7,800 Jews into neutral Sweden to shield them from the invading Nazis, but also interceded on behalf of the 5 percent who were already on their way to Theresienstadt, with the result that 99 percent of Danish Jews were spared the Holocaust.
The nuclear Gordian knot is in equal need of heroes who can cut into it with the sharp blade of truth, and spirit our species into a new paradigm beyond our present false sense of security. Is it possible such heroes might emerge from within the military-industrial complex itself? We need more high-ranking Ellsbergs, Snowdens and Mannings, not only to reveal secret data or expose competency breakdown, but to also assert that security via nukes overall is a futile project—not only for the U.S. but for all nations who possess or want nuclear weapons. Generals and weapons designers have hearts and love their grandchildren like all of us. If a few of them spoke out, the world would owe them a priceless debt of gratitude.
Erikson’s “Golden Rule in the Light of New Insight” Revisited
By Winslow Myers
Sixty years ago the psychoanalyst Erik Erikson gave a talk in India on the Golden Rule, a formulation that occurs, with some variation, in all the major religions. Judaism: “What is hateful to yourself, do not do to you fellow man.” Islam: “No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother what he desires for himself.” Christianity: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Erikson’s theme was the creative potential of mutuality—between spouses, parents and children, doctors and patients, teachers and pupils, even between nations. Mutuality, Erikson asserted, is a relationship in which partners depend upon each other for the enhancement of their respective strengths. The curiosity of a student elicits from the teacher the skills for transmitting the excitement of learning in a way that benefits both teacher and student.
In the case of nations, fear of Hobbesian chaos if leaders relax their futile race toward military superiority makes it difficult to encourage mutuality. Ruthless power relations turn the lifegiving spirit of mutuality on its head: do not even think of trying to destroy me because if you do I will destroy you. This paranoia rationalizes the unabated manufacture of ever more destructive weaponry, irrespective of sensible policy goals, by ever more powerful corporations. As the vulgarism derived from the Golden Rule puts it, those with the gold make the rules. The ersatz American idea of mutuality (adore us, obey us, give us your oil) has often resulted in tragedy—or tragic farce, viz. Mr. Cheney asserting recently that given the chance to do it all over, he wouldn’t change a thing.
Is there anything that we have learned about the context of international relations in the years since Erikson gave his talk that might make his paradigm of mutuality not only more relevant but also more realistic? Can the Golden Rule become more persuasive than gold?
First, establishment strategists schooled in pitiless power politics like Henry Kissinger have come to the reluctant conclusion that nuclear weapons cannot serve as a useful tool for furthering anyone’s national interest. Kissinger’s boss Richard Nixon wanted to use them against North Vietnam, but was dissuaded lest other nuclear powers be drawn in. Fortunately we were mature enough to accept defeat rather than suicidal escalation, and that restraint has continued. It may be a sign that we are gradually maturing beyond the folly of war altogether that most American wars since Vietnam, since Korea in fact, have been inconclusive stalemates.
When American, Israeli and Iranian diplomats, or their proxies, sit down to talk, do they simply threaten each other? Or do they hypothesize together what will inevitably occur down the time-stream if they fail to establish the basic tru
st upon which mutuality can be built? Is it possible for them to help each other see the possibility of shared survival goals despite the chasm of divergent motives and stories? Can they acknowledge how other nations have already gone through the futile process of arming themselves to the point of being able to pound each other’s rubble, only to arrive, a few months before Erikson’s long-ago talk, at the Cuban Missile Crisis? Do they share with each other the reality that the detonation of only a few nuclear weapons has the potential to cause nuclear winter, endangering not just specific parties to conflict but the planet as a whole?
The second basis for mutuality even between enemies, following upon the realization that anything else leads to nuclear extinction, is the model of mutuality found in nature, pressed upon us by all the ecological revelations and challenges that have arisen since Erikson spoke. Humans exist only through their mutual relationship with the air they breathe and the food they consume, with the sun that fuels photosynthesis, ocean currents, wind and rain. Mutuality, whether or not we decide to make it our conscious goal, is our essential condition.
Adversaries have the option to build mutuality upon these two principles: first, war in the nuclear age solves nothing and has become obsolete, and second, at every level from the personal to the international, we know now how deeply interdependent and interrelated all humans are with each other and their life-support system. These two realities have come down upon us a thousand fold since Erikson posited mutuality as an ethical touchstone, renewing and deepening the implications of the universal Golden Rule. These realities can help guide contemporary diplomats from all nations through the dilemmas that raw military power cannot address. Threats become less effective than initiating people-to-people exchanges or giving the “enemy” fully-equipped hospitals, gestures of good will that lessen fear and build relationship. Such initiatives are exponentially lower in price than war itself. As Erikson put it:
Nations today are by definition units of different stages of political, technological and economic transformation . . . insofar as a nation thinks of itself as a collective individual, then, it may well learn to visualize its task as that of maintaining mutuality in international relations. For the only alternative to armed competition seems to be the effort to activate in the historical partner what will strengthen him in his historical development even as it strengthen the actor in his own development—toward a common future identity.
Finally, Erikson’s “common future identity”—after we understand that we are first of all a single species before we are Persian or Jew, Muslim or Christian—requires the acknowledgement of a further mutuality, the mutuality of earth-human relations. Our very survival, let alone our flourishing, depends upon cooperation to strengthen the living systems out of which we came—in order to strengthen ourselves. The Golden Rule, priceless beyond gold, calls us to swear on the lives of our grandchildren not only to treat our enemies as we would wish to be treated, but also the earth itself.
Winslow Myers leads seminars on the challenges of personal and global change. He is the author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide.” He serves on the Advisory Board of the War Preventive Initiative, is a member of the Rotarian Action Group for Peace, and writes for Peacevoice.
Nuclear Emptiness, Nuclear Hope
by Winslow Myers
Schultz, Kissinger, Perry and Nunn, those quintessentially establishment figures, have just posted in the quintessentially establishment Wall Street Journal their fifth editorial since 2007 advocating urgent changes enabling the eventual abolition of nuclear weapons on planet Earth.
Computer modeling tells us that if even a small fraction of the world’s nuclear arsenals are detonated in a war, doesn’t matter where—could be Pakistan-India, Israel-Iran, U.S.-Russia or China or Iran—the amount of soot thrown skyward could curtail agriculture on the planet for a decade—effectively a death sentence for all.
So why do we hesitate? Are these weapons worth the money they are sucking away from our schools and firefighting equipment and bridge repairs? Why are Russian and American nuclear missiles still pointed at each other on high alert?
Working backward from the ultimate bad outcome of a nuclear war, no matter how it started, by a terrorist action or a misinterpretation or an accident or even a deliberate attack by one state on another, as we contemplated nuclear winter and no food, would we still divide the world cleanly into “goods” and “bads,” or would we realize that the fears and tensions engendered by the weapons themselves led to a system over which we did not exercise the preventive controls for which Kissinger, Nunn, Perry, Schultz advocate?
We need to acknowledge how our minds function—both the minds of the “goods” and the minds of the “bads,” because we all possess a limbic brain, a fight or flight response that goes back to our saurian ancestors. 9/11 paranoia led us “goods” to cross the red line beyond which lies the immorality of torture. But all of us also have a part of our brain that evolved later, a part that can make rational decisions on the basis of common survival goals. That’s the part of the brain Gorbachev and Reagan and George Bush Sr. used to end the madness of the cold war between the U.S. and the dissolving Soviet Union.
A few weeks ago at a Maine conference on the Middle East, Lawrence Pope, an American career diplomat, dared to assert some hard truths. “I would argue,” he said, “that it does matter that there are virtually no Foreign Service officers in policy positions in the State Department anymore, and that at the White House, it is the military intelligence complex that reigns supreme. The Arab Awakening cries out for an active American diplomatic role. I wish I were more optimistic about the ability of our militarized institutions to adapt to this new world. As a government, we are better at flying drones, recruiting agents, and indulging in patronizing fantasies about nation-building than we are at dealing with free men and women.”
What is missing is not only diplomatic initiative, but something in our own hearts that can recognize free men and women when we see them, without wishing to control them—or their oil. In the context of nuclear paranoia, it is difficult to focus creatively upon war preparation and upon peacebuilding at the same time. They represent two disparate kinds of creativity. Establishment leaders assert we need both, in the form of diplomacy backed up by overwhelming force. But as Einstein said, you cannot solve a problem on the same level of thinking that created the problem. On the paranoid level, to a hammer everything looks like a nail.
The work of dismantling not only the nuclear weapons themselves, but also the enemy thinking that tempts the primitive parts of our brains, is endless. Maybe we are the good guys and Iran’s leaders are bad guys. But even as we become more alienated from each other and move closer to war, we both know that war will not resolve our differences and will only result in tragedy. The 80 million people of Iran have little to say about it. Because we’re supposedly more democratic than Iran (though some died in the streets of Iran in 2009 demonstrating a yearning for democracy and thousands more were imprisoned), we ought to be able to think more outside the nuclear fears that seem to box in our policy options.
Instead what we have is secret violent initiatives on both sides—tit for tat. We insert a virus into their uranium-refining centrifuges that causes the centrifuges to spin out of control. Someone, maybe us, maybe Israeli intelligence, is assassinating their nuclear scientists. Iran in turn arms surrogates like Hezbollah, or attacks computers in Saudi Arabia. Fears and stereotyping intensify, in a kind of proxy of the potential nuclear war no one can win. Bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities would slow the impetus of proliferation but will not stop it. Terrible resentments would be exacerbated in the Persian/Arab/Muslim world, with unforeseen consequences down the time-stream.
Dialogue with adversaries should be based less on living up to U.N. agreements (Iran is hardly the first to break those when it chooses) than on shared realities. Nuclear winter helps us to see nuclear weapons as a subset of planetary environmental challenges like climate change and the shared systems of pollution in the ocean, soil and air. These make it impossible not to acknowledge common survival and security goals that have no military solution. The people we disagree with are as real as we are. Our own security and theirs are interdependent, however much we despise their prejudices or clandestine activities. We share the big transnational challenges, and we share limbic brains that, when threatened, revert quickly to default settings of “us-and-them.”
Our nation was founded by Europeans who came here to transcend colonialism. Even as the Old World was giving up its colonies, we became a country that unconsciously revived colonial domination, rationalized by the assumption that our job is to bring democracy to the unwashed masses, or, failing to accomplish that, at least colonize their oil. We could start by penitently acknowledging colonialist misdeeds like the oil-motivated destruction by the United States and Britain of Iran’s democratic process in 1954, which we can bet Iranians have not forgotten. Doing the inner work of recognizing our own shadow-side would allow us to access the creative peacebuilding skills available to “free men and women” everywhere. Beyond “us-and-them,” we face the nuclear cul-de-sac together as one human species. It is hopeful that someone as pitilessly realistic as Henry Kissinger realizes that there is no way out but abolition.
Winslow Myers leads seminars on the challenges of personal and global change, is the author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide,” serves on the Advisory Board of the War Preventive Initiative, is a member of the Rotarian Action Group for Peace, and writes for PeaceVoice.
-- Thanks Tom, for referring William Myers latest work
Because we are the wealthiest nation on the planet, we have the luxury of being proactive in ensuring our future security. But the path to that security looks very different from the way it did even a few years ago. A primary example of our transformed security context is the realization that there is only one ocean of air surrounding the earth. Unless all nations make a concerted effort to convert to sources of clean energy, global mean temperatures will continue to rise and cause undesirable extremes of weather.
Winslow Myers leads seminars on the challenges of personal and global change, is the author of Living Beyond War: A Citizen's Guide, serves on the Advisory Board of the War Preventive Initiative, is a member of the Rotarian Action Group for Peace, and writes for PeaceVoice.
LIFE BEYOND WAR
by Winslow Myers
The vision and possible shape of a world beyond war has modified since the lessening of superpower tensions between the United States and the now long-departed U.S.S.R. In the late 1980s, hopes for a peaceful world primarily involved the successful abolition of nuclear weapons. As Jonathan Schell has written, while inadvertent nuclear war is more probable than ever before, nuclear abolition begins to look relatively easy in the context of emerging global environmental challenges. Nuclear weapons themselves have become one more of our many ecological problems: even a small regional nuclear exchange could fatally affect agricultural production worldwide over decades, cancelling out the security benefits for any nation of possessing these weapons.
Glaciers melt and mean temperatures rise year by year. At what point do officials distracted by mutual nuclear threats start to take in the bigger picture—that the real “existential threat” to their security might be, say, the unleashing of an irreversible cycle in the thawing of methane gas presently frozen within the Arctic tundra, gas that could dangerously accelerate global warming trends? The issues that the planet faces in the second decade of the 21st century, a population that has overshot available resources, fast-rising CO2 levels, the exhaustion of marine life or the pollution of oceans, can be resolved neither by war nor by the deterrent effect of massive arsenals of weaponry—though failure to address such challenges proactively could well lead to unimaginable violence. Time and again experts have testified how much more efficient it would be to prevent wars by directly addressing human needs. Vastly less money is required to preventatively solve worldwide population growth and medical care and equitable distribution of food than the present unsustainable cost of extended wars of uncertain outcome.
Giving up war at this moment in history resembles an addict giving up his addiction, only to find he must face not only life without the crutch of drink or drugs, but also address the underlying life-challenges the drink or drugs allowed him to avoid. It involves a painful awakening from a trance, a giving up of resistance to reality as we come to see where and who we really are.
How bizarre that the most powerful nation on earth applies roughly 1800 different bureaucratic organizations to the admittedly serious problem of terrorism, yet it is not politically viable for the presumptive nominee of one of the two major parties to entertain the possibility that global climate change may be affected by human behavior. Even the incumbent is not leading aggressively on the issue. Meanwhile the United States military itself remains the single greatest source of environmental pollution on the planet, and continues to be the single greatest drain of monetary resources.
Simplistic, deeply distracting “either/or” thinking renders much our political discourse silly and unreal: to be Christian or Jewish is to be closed to possible good ideas coming out of Islam; to be Democratic is to be closed to possible good ideas coming from Republicans, to be culturally liberal is to be closed to possible good ideas coming from cultural conservatives. The reality of our interdependence suggests instead that people on both sides of any supposed polarity, Arab or Jew, atheist or believer, gay or straight, conservative or progressive, needs to accept that the “other” may have something invaluable to offer as we all try to prevent our collapse as a species. In the energy we expend defining what we areagainst, we resemble all too closely the extremists we revile.
But even if we think of ourselves as progressive and open, we are mired involuntarily in an against paradigm. Those in the “developed” world who assume we live quite modestly still find ourselves among a 1 percent who are fortunate to have access to resources much less available to the other 99 percent. If everyone on earth used the same amount of energy and resources I use, it would take X number of planets to sustain us all, and we only have one. Because there are too many of me, the way I live, in spite of my good intentions, my token gestures, my recycling, my refusal to use weed-killer, the sheer size of my ecological footprint keeps me stubbornly against the health and sustainability of the whole. I need help and maybe I can help you.
The so-called “advanced” countries can no longer function as “technocratic colonialists” who assume that “our” oil is under the sand of peoples undergoing development in their own unique way—especially if we want terrorism to end.
Life beyond war, so far from looking like a peaceable kingdom, will require the strengthening of global institutions based upon the reality of interdependence and the potential intensification of conflict over limited resources. This challenge will stretch our creativity and good will to the same limit that war has stretched our destructive powers and capacity to dehumanize adversaries.
In so many ways and places, the needful work has already begun, taking form in the millions of bottom-up organizations that are trying sustainable ways of farming, banking, or manufacturing processes that enhance rather than degrade the finite commons. But it is hard to avoid the sense that both leaders and citizens are still in denial about the kinds of transnational institutions and enforcements we will have to create in the next few decades in order to survive.
As long as we continue to participate by default in a Hobbesian war of each against all, as long as we, not only we in the U.S. but we in China and Russia and France and elsewhere refuse to surrender some of our national sovereignty, exceptionalism and entitlement, the total system will continue to degrade. What international body could possibly enforce mandates to mitigate global warming until we have massively internalized a new kind of consent to work together across cultural and economic boundaries for the good of the whole? Trying first to do no harm, we will have to assess our effect upon global systems of incommensurable complexity.
The vast majority of people on the planet are just trying to get through each day in one piece. But for anyone who is in a position of leadership, anyone who has the luxury of time and resources to be an agent of change, one of the most valuable things we can do is to encourage a searching dialogue, especially with people who hold views different from our own, about the utterly changed meaning of self-interest. Such initiatives as the Arab push for reform or the Occupy movement will ultimately fall short unless they are able to address structural change in the light of the new paradigm of interdependence. Perhaps some of the solutions will come from the worldwide military-industrial complex itself, as it begins to apprehend the many dimensions of security that lie beyond war.
Winslow Myers, the author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide,” serves on the Board of Beyond War (www.beyondwar.org), a non-profit educational foundation whose mission is to explore, model and promote the means for humanity to live without war.
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