Saturday, May 24, 2014

Why War?


Freud, Einstein, and Upaya:
Contemporary Reflections on the Question "Why War?"

In 1932 Albert Einstein was contacted by the League of Nations, the international body that was the precursor of the UN. He was asked to invite someone -- he could choose anyone -- to reflect with him in a series of public letters on a pressing problem or question. The question Einstein selected was this: "Is there any way of delivering humankind from the menace of war?" He was asking the question that many of us are asking today: "How can we promote peace?"
He chose his interlocutor carefully. The physicist with unprecedented understanding of the structure and workings of the universe selected a thinker with unprecedented insight into the structure and workings of the human mind: Sigmund Freud. Freud readily agreed to participate in this conversation. He had just published Civilization and its Discontents, in which he had offered a complex analysis of the psychological difficulties of living together in community. Yet his response to Einstein's question about peace was surprisingly optimistic. Yes, he said, we are torn between a drive for Eros or connection, and a drive toward Death, Thanatos, or Aggression. And indeed, the eagerness to engage in war is an effect of the drive toward Aggression, which itself is always embedded in political, social, and economic contexts. But, he argued, one can bring Eros into play against Aggression: whatever leads us to share important concerns produces a sense of community. "Anything that encourages the growth of emotional ties will operate against war." Einstein's remarks were more political, more practical. Claiming "no insight into the dark places of human will and feeling," he spoke of Macht und Recht, power and right, or violence and law. He called for a world in which Recht would supersede Macht -- law would supersede violence. He urged that all countries, by international consent, agree to honor a legislative and judicial body that would settle every conflict. "Each nation would undertake to abide by the orders issued by this legislative body, to invoke its decision in every dispute, to accept its judgments unreservedly."
Our own president is prepared to act through Macht rather than Recht -- to initiate a war without the consent of our current international, legislative, and judicial body, the UN. Einstein's words, written in support the League of Nations, are as relevant today as they were 70 years ago.
And Freud? Are Freud's words useful to us today? The foundational Freudian principle -- the call to know ourselves -- is invaluable. We cannot pursue peace in the world unless we know our own potential for both peace and war -- Eros and Thanatos -- and our own potential to turn anxiety into aggression. I find Freud's optimism helpful as well. It's not a naive optimism, but a realistic sense of possibilities, a refusal to be limited by past human failures to create a lasting peace.
There's a Buddhist concept that I like very much. It's called Upaya. It means skillful means, appropriate means, useful means, in the path toward compassion, peace, and the end of suffering. Freud's and Einstein's formulations from 1932 are a kind of Upaya, for peace today. With Einstein, we can support the authority of the UN in the current conflict. With Freud, we can try to know ourselves, and to explore ways to build ties that promote peace rather than war.
The Einstein-Freud exchange, published in three languages under the title "Why War?" and widely distributed throughout Western Europe 70 years ago, was banned in Germany. If there's a Upaya in the way we remember this story, surely it is that we must speak openly about peace, we must not censor or silence our voices. Let us call for peace in many voices.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Terror rules again!

Sunday Morning Sermon May 18 2014

India has finally voted an extreme religious group into power with a landslide victory that is unprecedented in its post independence history. While rapid development of technology, education, and knowledge is on the rise, common sense seems to be dying a natural death. One may argue that the people of India had no other option but to elect an extreme religious group into power since the so called "good guys" were steeped in corruption and anarchy. yet, replacing corruption with terror is no solution to the problem. 

Corruption is an act that people indulge in to enrich themselves. It doesnt involve hate in any way. Terror stems from hate and thats the bottom line behind it.

The MR regime in Sri lanka is corrupt and has been so to date. Now they are stepping into the shoes of religious extremism by aligning themselves with the BBS and hence combining corruption with hate. This is even worse than the BJP in India.

South Asia is sinking into the pits all the way from the failed state of Pakistan to India, Burma, Bangla Desh, Sri Lanka & The Maldives.

How will the Yanks yank the Indian chain, I wonder?

​Lets consider this. How many women would marry a man like Modi after having seen his track record? For that matter would any of them marry Hitler, Mussolini, Hirohito, GWB junior, Osama BL, VP, MR, GR, or even JRJ?​ Of course there may be some who would for sure, but then we are a planet filled with the good, the bad and the ugly too, right?

When one looks at the stats of the Indian election it is very apparent that the defunct electoral system is the culprit that allows this kind of a landslide victory that is not necessarily the will of the majority. In fact the BJP only polled 33% of the total vote which means 67% of the half billion voters didnt want them.

Therefore, democracy, human rights, rule of law, and all that other mother jazz may look sweet on paper, but what impacts on the people on the ground is the percentage of hate that persists in the hearts and minds of the people.


Saturday, May 10, 2014

Why do we believe what we believe?

Sunday Morning Sermon May 11 2014

What is a bias?
It's an "ABCDE"—an Assumption, Belief, Conclusion, Decision, or Emotion that distorts our perceptions and narrows our options for responding to experience.
One of the highest espoused values in most cultures, particularly Anglo-Western cultures, is being "objective"—unbiased, logical, and sensible. Most of us are conditioned from early childhood to think of ourselves as seeking the "right" answers at the many decision points we encounter. Moment by moment, day by day, we want to believe that we are analyzing situations skillfully and basing our opinions and behavior on the correct conclusions.
Reality—to say nothing of research—routinely contradicts that belief.
One of the most pervasive of these is simple confirmation bias (a.k.a. selective perception bias). This is our tendency to pay closer attention to evidence and arguments that support our own firmly held conclusions, and to simply discount contradictory evidence. This could partially explain the tendency of large numbers of people to hold fast to their attachments to one political party or another. Once we decide, we don't like to re-decide. 
Some cognitive researchers claim that the brain has to consume extra energy in the process of changing or rearranging beliefs, and that simple neurological laziness—the tendency to conserve glucose and oxygen—predisposes the brain to keep the configurations it already has.
The pervasive media culture, and its social media component, provide endless opportunities for bias, as people accept beliefs, impressions, and reports that are completely erroneous. Partisan political journalism in particular is rife with distortions, tortured facts, selective evidence, and downright lies. But once a fraudulent "factoid" is passed on from one diatribe to another, it can acquire the status of unquestioned truth. We might think of this "big lie" or "repetition" bias as relatively innocent, because none of us can reasonably expect to verify the accuracy or plausibility of every political proposition we encounters. Media manipulators capitalize on that assumption every day.
Consider "net-crud," the term given to contrived photographs or stories circulating on the Internet which have been deliberately manufactured or doctored so as to mislead readers into believing they're evidence of remarkable discoveries or events. Claims attributed to "ex-CIA agents," "retired FBI agents", or "ex-NASA engineers" are offered as attempts to legitimize the fabrications. So many people have been raised with a moral injunction against lying that they automatically assume that a remarkable story or claim must be true. It's just too difficult for them to consider that some people willingly lie.
And there are more:
  • Cognitive researchers also identify a backfire bias, the tendency of some people—particularly those with cult-like beliefs—to actually strengthen their erroneous beliefs or convictions in the face of overwhelming disconfirmation: "I don't care what anybody says, UFOs (or ghosts, or Bigfoot, etc.) are real."
  • The "Lake Wobegon" bias—named for the famous Prairie Home Companion line that "all the children" in the town "are above average"—leads many parents to over-estimate the talents of their kids: "She could do a lot better in school if she'd just work harder."
  • There's a "knew-it-all-the-time" bias, the tendency to look back on complicated events or situations after they've been resolved and believe that one understood them better than was actually the case. "I knew this was bound to happen."
  • Affinity bias is the common tendency to believe, or agree with, the ideas of people you like or admire, and to discount or disagree with those you dislike.
  • Reactance bias is the tendency to do the opposite of what someone advises you or wants you to do because of your aversion to a loss of autonomy, i.e. concern about being pushed around, controlled, or coerced.
  • How about bias bias? This is the tendency to believe that other people are more biased than you are. Do you find yourself attributing the beliefs or behaviors of others to biases you assign to them? Can you identify biases of your own that might be activated in similar situations?
There are lots more biases where those come from. If you find the notion of biases and biased behavior intriguing or relevant to your life, read up on the popular literature on rational and irrational behavior. Of course, you can also start tuning up your perceptual radar to detect possible biases that show up in the behavior of others. And you can trace out more of your own biases by observing more closely the things you say and do every day.


Sunday, May 4, 2014

Seeking Refuge or Opportunity?

Sunday Morning Sermon May 4 2014

The 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees adopted the following definition of a refugee (in Article 1.A.2):
[A]ny person who: owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country".
The concept of a refugee was expanded by the Convention's 1967 Protocol and by regional conventions in Africa and Latin America to include persons who had fled war or other violence in their home country.
The term refugee is often used to include displaced persons who may fall outside the legal definition in the Convention, either because they have left their home countries because of war and not because of a fear of persecution, or because they have been forced to migrate within their home countries. 
We see so many conflicts around us to day and people fleeing from various "difficult" environments seeking a better life in first world nations under the guise of being oppressed and abused. While the symptoms are valid and do exist what percentage of these fleeing asylum seekers are truly genuine in their claims? How many are trying to escape to greener pastures purely for economic reasons?

In the old days we always saw young people leaving their shores in many third world nations and travelling to the UK and US with the "intent" of furthering their education and returning home. Yet, a large proportion of these "pilgrims" chose to stay back in their host nations, some even marrying the men and women in those far away lands.

While all that is well and good what really bites is when you hear these very same people speaking out as if they had never lived in a developing country.

One has every right to do well in life by hard work, perseverence, and effort. But one must not forget ones roots.