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Monday, June 26, 2017

The Peripatetic Philosopher shares:


Another Excerpt

James R. Fisher, Jr., Ph.D.
© June 26, 2017


This book will soon be available in paperback and e-book on www.amazon.com.


Someone once said that there is only one religion but it has a thousand faces. If you look beyond the dogma or doctrine of Hinduism, Confucianism, Shintoism, Buddhism, Islamism, Judaism, and Christianity, to name only a few, you see how true this is. Respect for another is basic to all religions. They have kept the world reasonably stable and civil, but there is evidence that this spiritual rectitude is waning magnified by population growth and exploding technology disrupting social and political norms across the globe since World War II.

Drunk with power and Toys of the Mind supplied by technology, we have not yet awakened from our hangover to perceive the dam­age done to others and ourselves for the "cut and control" massive accelerating change in the name of "progress."

Along with this self-indulgent dance, we have stumbled into the fear and paranoia brought on by WMDs in the hands of rogue nations. The complexity and finality of these weapons is too much for us to get our heads around. This gives the psycho­logical edge to any minor group of scoundrels capable of exploiting this sickness.

During the administration of President George W. Bush (2000-2008), we had the “good twins” of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld who had a remarkable resemblance in so many frightening ways to the “evil twins” of Joseph Goebbels and Hermann Goring of Nazi Germany in WWII.  Both sets of twins were grand manipulators of psychological warfare that spun out of control in the actual war.

As US Vice President and Secretary of  Defense, respectively, they used propaganda and patriotism as trump cards to play on our national psyche. It took the 2006 Democratic sweep of the US Congress at mid-term elections to dislodge this dynamic dual from the scene. The damage, however, was already done with the preemptive invasion of Iraq and the war in Afghanistan.

We are in a pesky schizophrenic economy that lingers on after the 2007-2008 subprime meltdown, the malfeasance of Wall Street, the collapse of General Motors and Chrysler, all of which required government bailouts to survive. Contrast this with General Motors recent history.  The nation’s largest automaker earned more than $40 billion in profit since it emerged from its bankruptcy in 2009 and the subsequent bailout, of course, at the expense of US taxpayers.

President Barak Obama, the first United States African American president (2008-2016), demonstrated approach avoidance behavior throughout his two terms as president not seeming to decide what to do with or about Russia, Syria and Iran until it was too late, giving the United States the reputation of “leading from behind” only to be followed by a complete political novice at the helm in President Donald J. Trump.    

Businessman Trump became a billionaire by mastering the strategy of a game of "smoke and mirrors."  Now, in the early days of his administration (2017), it seems clear he still suffers from an excess of hubris with his constant tweeting and texting as if still a teenager against real and an imaginary adversaries, failing to understand that whatever the President of the United States says reverberates across the globe. 

Syndicated columnist and psychiatrist Charles Krauthammer claims President Trump suffers from an “excess of id,” while columnist Peggy Noonan suggests he has no idea of the norms, rules and traditions of the job as president, and as a consequence, puts the United States and the world in jeopardy.  Little wonder why the world remains especially nervous.

Nazism rose out of Germany's humiliating surrender at Versailles after WWI damaging the mythical pride of the German people with Adolf Hitler rising to power on the theme of Germany as the Aryan Master Race. This led to WWII.  If he was a monster, as many scholars claim, and the very personification of evil, what say we of good men who stumble into equal calamity and chaos and behave monstrously?

After the Twin Towers in New York City were destroyed on September 11, 2001, leading to the death of nearly 3,000 innocent people by Islam terrorists flying American commercial jetliners into these buildings, President George W. Bush authorized a 2003 preemptive invasion of Iraq with the faulty claim Iraq had WMD or Weapons of Mass Destruction.  His legacy is the continuation of that quagmire with the Iraq War now the longest war in American history.

Once elected, President Barak Obama fulfilled a campaign promise by signing an executive order for a massive troop withdrawal from Iraq in 2010 with that country descending into civil war that continues. Bush also commenced a war in Afghanistan with fluctuating results with Obama again withdrawing troops from that country in 2014 only to have to resend thousands of troops back as Afghanistan was on the verge of civil war. 

Obama is an intellectual and a perfect foil to those who think one race is superior to another, while unfortunately giving credence to the belief, repeated by philosopher Eric Hoffer among others: “Give intellectuals anything but political power.” 

Few question the sobriquet that the United States is "the lone superpower" with American troops on 800 outposts across the globe. Yet the US didn't look too super after the Katrina disaster; the stalemate in Afghanistan; the hasty withdrawal from Iraq; the handling of economic collapse of 2007-2008; or now, the clear ambivalence of US policy with the civil war in Syria.

For whatever reason, or justification, leadership at every institutional level in the United States is not having a good season.

Nor does the US look quite like a super power when a quarter of American students fail to finish high school; when the middle class is shrinking; when the US infrastructure is in sad shape; when obesity across American society is on the rise as “fast food nation”; when corporate and government corruption seemingly never seems to abate nearly a decade after the subprime meltdown; when Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are still hurting as are Citigroup, AIG and the Big Three automakers despite GM's surreal blip.  Meanwhile, failsafe guidelines are proposed which corporate America ignores under no penalty.

The United States, ever the optimistic nation, while it continues to stumble into mounting chaos, points to the Dow Jones Industrials which have soared above 21,000, while tiny North Korea is saber rattling threatening to launch nuclear missiles against South Korea, Japan and the United States’ Island of Guam. Alas, you can never take your first and last freedom for granted.

Psychologist James Hillman in "A Terrible Love of War" (2004) sees war or rumors of war normalized as an everyday affair. War gives soldiers and victims a profound sense of prestige. War fosters an impossible collection of opposites: killing and soldierly comradeship; torture and religious zeal; genocide and patriotism; foe obliteration and immortal glory. People dead to life find war exhilarating, lifting them out of their stupor and despair. Death is preferred to life. With life, you cannot hide from fear. Even ants behave better than humans as E. 0. Wilson shows in "Naturalist" (1994):

"When an ant dies, and if it has not been crushed or torn apart, it simply crumples up and lies still. Although its posture and inactivity are abnormal, nest mates continue to walk by it as though nothing has happened. Two or three day's pass before recognition dawns, and then it is through the smell of decomposition.  Responding to the order, a nest mate picks the corpse up, carries it out of the nest, and dumps it on a nearby refuse pile."

Possibly, Hilton's terrible love of war is why renegade Islamic groups behave as they do. Suicide bombers take on the guise of heroes in a time without heroes convinced a better life awaits them in Paradise. Insanity as sanity is the prime mover in the "love of war."

This is as true of advanced as of primitive societies, as true of the East as the West, the North as the South. Suicide bombers are a sad reality, but crimes against humanity take many forms. 

Take the incarceration without rights of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. Fear is the only justification, fear of what they might do if given their freedom. This fear is palpable and people everywhere under­stand it as they have the same trepidations. Fear was the popular confection that guided the “good twins” as it did the “evil twins,” and fear is always the province of the unknown or the unknowable.

Fear has shown its face in Iraq and Afghanistan where young men and women with guns have been known to commit atrocities common to war, behavior uncommon to their nature. Nearly a quarter of returning American veterans suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), many attempt suicide. You place any­one in harm's way where fear is his only companion and terrible things are bound to happen.

Fear is the driving force in the economics of plenty. It has taken the life out of death, and put death into life as these young men and women know only too well. By the United States imposing our system of democracy on Afghanistan and Iraq, we have lost our own confidence and identity as a people. The irony is that we have attempted to stabilize their governance with our system when we cannot seem to stabilize our own.

Afghanistan and Iraq, among other Middle Eastern countries, reflect the gamesmanship played on their turf by the West since WWI. It is madness for one culture to impose its idiosyncratic ways on another ostensibly to demonstrate its sense of superiority, as it inevitably results in push back.

Afghanistan and Iraq reflect the way colonial Americans reacted to the colonial dominance of Great Britain. We fail to see these countries in that same context. We had the great American Civil War between the North and the South that nearly destroyed the United States as a nation. Would we have wanted interference in that war?

We have a problem seeing our villainous ways, or our justification for such villainy choosing instead to see our intentions always noble, never pragmatic; our motivation above reproach and altruistic, never self-interested.  It is as if we believe we have answers to everyone’s dilemma when we seem unable to solve our own.


We, as a nation, are not prepared to accept ourselves as we are, much less to be tolerant students of others as we find them. What opportunity for tolerance is there when some people are seen as "jungle bunnies" and others as "lords of welfare"

By the accident of our birth and circumstance, ethnicity and gender we are who we are. We are blessed to live in a free society, so how can we explain being a nation that is overweight, undereducated, unsophisticated, grasping for straws while waving the American flag as if that changes everything?  These are some things that come to mind to recognize this faultline and to mount an effort to live in peace with others:

We must learn to understand each other not from our perspective but from theirs.

 It means looking at others through their eyes and not ours.

It means having some understanding of their history and culture and what is especially meaningful to them in that context.

It means having some familiarity with their struggles and triumphs, tragedies and challenges, and how these came to define them.

It means being acquainted with their leadership, both fanatical and moderate in governance and religion, and how this has influenced them as a people.

It means seeing them in the light of today and what they are struggling for, and why.

It means knowing others as much as possible as they know themselves.

What you are likely to find is that most people prefer to live in their own culture and be left alone; to enjoy the comfort of family; to work in their chosen ways; and to live in peace with the trappings of their provincial life and culture without outside interference.

We are not, by nature, a people in general, but persons in particular. Much as we are alike, tolerance and acceptance does not preclude us preferring our own.  To state this more poignantly: 

When collateral damage of civilian populations is considered a necessary cost of warfare, insanity rules.

In Vietnam, when a commander says, "I had to destroy the village to save it," insanity rules.

Insanity and inanity has a common human face. When al Qaeda destroyed the Twin Towers to make a statement, taking 3,000 lives, insanity rules.

When the US invades Afghanistan, a country run by warlords that previously humiliated the Soviet Union, insanity rules.

When the US invades Iraq, a sovereign nation run by a dictator under the contrived justification of Iraq having WMDs, insanity rules.

When the US withholds humanitarian aid from a democratically elected Hamas government in Palestine, because it has been designated a terrorist organization, insanity rules.

When the US conducts a "war on terror" and spends hundreds of billions of dollars on a war with no defined enemy and no ultimate endgame, insanity rules.

When the heart, soul and will of a country remains flabby in self-indulgence, insanity rules.

The Confident Thinker has to step back and sift through all the information that bombards the senses to see what makes sense and what does not. This calls for deprogramming old conditioning and developing creative understanding where insanity no longer rules.

We should not look to the media nor to the government, the church, our family, or our neighbors to do this for us. The answers are not in Time or Newsweek, not in Foreign AffairsThe London TimesThe New York ReviewThe London ReviewThe National Review, The New York Times or The Washington Post. 

Answers to what trouble us are not in network or cable television news; not in PBS News Hour with Mark Shields and David Brooks; nor are they to be found in a plethora of tabloid publications with insider gossip that glut the counters of supermarket checkouts. 

Nor are answers to be found listening to celebrated pundits, the lights of think tanks or Ivy League dons.  They are found in talking to a Pakistani service station neighbor or Thai barber, Vietnamese grocer, Chinese waitress, Turkish engineer, Indian bookseller, Iranian dry cleaner, or hundreds of others who connect us to a common world and  a common destiny.

This is not easy for a nation that adores celebrity, worships youth, plans never to grow up or grow old, that spends more for plastic surgery than the Gross Domestic Product of many African nations, and plies its innovative nature to all manner of escapism. When there is no place for reality, "nowhere land" becomes home to a homeless mind.

Talking can be a tricky business for while we speak the same American language we seldom say what we mean, or mean what we say. We must get past the words to know how other people feel. The heart reads people better than the head. Someone who talks like you, dresses like you, spouts a litany of similar biases, can sway your head, but not your heart if it has your attention. The heart recognizes the counterfeit.

To learn where another person is coming from, you need to listen, not lecture. The less you fill the void with your noise the more apt you are to learn. This means fighting the inclination to be judgmental. The critical parent oozes from our subconscious not necessarily from our lips. If you think critically of another, chances are that person will feel it. Remember, when you help others you help yourself, but it is never all about you.

On a wider scale, it is difficult to be empathetic about the plight of another when you are worried about losing your $800,000 home. Your kitchen is likely to cost more than a tent city of one hundred refugees in Darfur. You cannot change this picture, but you can put aside your xenophobic biases about immigrants, legal and otherwise, who are your convenience store workers, gas station operators, gardeners, taxi drivers, short order cooks, dishwashers, fruit pickers, house cleaners, beautician shop sweepers, computer installers, and neighbors. Xenophobia doesn't do anyone any good.