Against the Next War, Allies, Authoritarianism, Bad Ideas, Brotherly Love, Capitalism, Class War, Community, Compassion, Culture, Democracy, Free Market Capitalism, Free Spirit, Freedom, Freedom and Liberty, Friends, Giving, Human Nature, Humanism, Idealism, Ideologies, International Relations, Internet, Liars Lies and Lying, Life, Love, Obligations to Society, Peace, Philos, Political Ideologies, Violence, Wisdom

Against the Next War

(About a 3 minute read)

The internet has made it now
Bound to happen
Tomorrow or the year after.
Bound to happen.

Up to you.

The politicians and the preachers,
The two dogs of the capitalist class,
Will once again want a war,
Just as they always do.

War to them is a gift, you see,
It’s not personal, it’s not their blood.
But war makes some folks rich
And you will never change that,
You will never change that,
Though the dogs will bark it’s not so.

A war of aggression
Against some people somewhere,

Most likely brown,
Most likely poor,
Most likely weak,
Most likely no real threat.

War for the sake of the banks
And for the merchants of death.
War for the sake of the pulpit,
And for the corridors of power.

But not a war for the sake
Of you and of me. We don’t count.
Our side is the one side
That has never counted.

That’s how war goes, it’s always been so
And it’s bound to happen again,
Soon happen again.

This is your world,
How it really is —
The world you think,
The world you were taught,
The gods want you to live in and love
Them more than you love each other.

In your world are great nations:
Nations the greatest in history,
Nations with the power of suns,
A thousands suns,
To do good, make truths come true
For even the poor man, the poor woman,
The poor child. Make truths come true.

But these nations,
Nations great and greatest,
Act only like whores,
Filthy whores,
Fucking folks raw,
Spreading their diseases,
Recruiting new girls,
Ever younger girls
To fuck you, to fuck all of you,
To fuck everyone.

This is your world
Your world without end.

But now someday you see

Someday now for once it will happen
For once it will stop
Stop the day they give a war
And you
You rise up, join hands
By the millions, possibly billions,
Linked together by the net
And by love, and by common sense.

At last,
At last you will rise, singing
“At last my spirit shall have water!
At last my cries shall be heard!
At last my thirst shall be slaked!”

Yes, you will rise up and you will say
In a voice thunderous and magnified
By the whole world joining in,

Say, “Those people are our friends,
We chat with them by day and by night.
We know their hopes, we know their dreams,
We know their troubles, we know their fears.
We know them, we know their names.

“Jane and Matthias. Terese and Sindhuja.
Mark, Parikhitdutta, and Min.

We even marry them now and then —
They shall not this time be murdered.

“You will not touch them,
Our brothers, our friends;
This once the bombs won’t fall.
This once the bombs won’t fall.
You politicians and preachers,
You capitalists and bankers all —
This once the bombs won’t fall.”

Yet you know it will ever be a dream
Just a dream, just a mere dream.
It will ever be a dream
If you, if we, keep on dividing,
Never uniting, never joining,
But instead just staying, just keeping,
To my echo chamber or to yours.

So let’s come together
Let’s come together,
Let’s come together.

So let’s come together
Before the nukes fall,
Before the demons fall.
Before we die in the winter,
And we come together
Never once come together at all.


Please seriously consider spreading this poem — spreading it to your site, to the social media sites — in an effort to make it go viral. We need it viral well before the next war, we need folks mulling over the idea of rebelling against the violence. Spread this poem and then you too write — write about the ideas presented in the poem. For you, for your brothers and for your sisters, for your children after you — stop the wars of aggression!

Please Note: Matthias has responded by dedicating his poem, Pooling Strength, to this cause.

Bruce has reposted the poem on “The Life and Times of Bruce Genencser“.

Kat has responded by posting this article: I Don’t Know Anything About War.

Abuse, Anger, Attachment, Bad Ideas, Emotions, Jane Paterson Basil, Quality of Life, Relationships, Self, Self Image, Violence

Poetry Critique: “Weapons of Feathers”, by Jane

(About an 11 minute read)

As I see it, a good poem above all else employs words to evoke an emotional response from its audience, regardless of whether its message is trivial or profound, true or false, or even exists at all.  But a great poem goes beyond that, much beyond that, to reveal a truth — and often in a way that is so fresh and striking, the impact of the revelation is multiplied many fold.

Jane’s poem, “Weapons of Feathers, so decisively achieves the first goal of evoking emotions that to spend much time examining the fact would be like pondering whether or not an approaching hurricane could be properly called a “storm”. There is little need here to go into the matter.

But does the poem reveal a truth?  And if so, does it do it in a fresh and striking way?  Those are the questions I will address here.

Continue reading “Poetry Critique: “Weapons of Feathers”, by Jane”

Bad Ideas, Ethics, Honesty, Justice, Law, Lawyer, Morality, Morals, Politician, Politics, Professionals, Quality of Life, Society, Values, Violence, Work

A Sensible Reason We Should Love the Lawyers Among Us

(About a 5 minute read)

“There is a vague popular belief that lawyers are necessarily dishonest. I say vague, because when we consider to what extent confidence and honors are reposed in and conferred upon lawyers by the people, it appears improbable that their impression of dishonesty is very distinct and vivid. Yet the impression is common, almost universal. Let no young man choosing the law for a calling for a moment yield to the popular belief — resolve to be honest at all events; and if in your own judgment you cannot be an honest lawyer, resolve to be honest without being a lawyer. Choose some other occupation, rather than one in the choosing of which you do, in advance, consent to be a knave.”  — The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume II, “Notes for a Law Lecture” (July 1, 1850), p. 82.


If you had just met my cousin, Ed, around 1975 or so, when he was at the height of his career, you might easily have formed a first impression of him as a former Boy Scout who had, however, never entirely left the Scouts.  In appearances, he had that air to him: An innocent man, if ever there was one.

Of course, in truth, he was among the most morally corrupt men of any professional class that I’ve known.  His career was not merely that of a lawyer, but of a political lobbyist on both the state and national levels.  Least anyone harbor illusions about the essence of that noble occupation, Cousin Ed’s job was to bribe people, and he excelled at it.

Around age 18 or so, I attended one of Ed’s parties where I witnessed an eye-opening (for me) conversation.  Ed was speaking to a small group of his closest friends — a group of at least moderately powerful bureaucrats for the most part: Men who ran departments of the State Government.  Naturally, the conversation was mere shop-talk to Ed and them.

On the other hand, I was still naive enough to find it hard to follow.  The last thing I expected was to hear how Ed had recently bribed a key US Senator, the head of the Senate’s powerful Finance Committee, to vote to deregulate the Savings and Loan industry.  Although the Senator was not only a Democrat, but known as one of the nation’s more liberal Democrats, Ed had persuaded him to go along with Reagan’s eventually disastrous, crisis-causing, deregulation.

Now Ed wasn’t really bragging to his friends that evening.  Instead, he was merely alerting them to the news the industry was about to be deregulated, and so they should ASAP get into positions to make their fortunes.

The bribe was, to my mind, ingenious: A huge chunk of it was in the form of stock in a certain S&L — stock that was bound to soar in value if and when the Senator voted to deregulate.  His fortune was made — if only he carried through on his promise.  And leaving nothing to chance, Ed had also greased the palms of two or three of the Senator’s key aides.

But to me the fascinating thing was Ed’s manner in telling his friends the news. There was not a hint in his voice nor demeanor that he was talking about anything beyond the day’s weather.  My shock wasn’t so much from the corruption of bribing a US Senator, but from the casualness of it.

That evening, I formed almost on the spot the hasty and unfortunate opinion that lawyers routinely corrupted the democratic processes.  That is, I naively blamed them for it, as if no one would bribe senators were lawyers somehow banished.  And for years that was the bottom line for me.

Now I confess to being slow in every way but in bed.  In bed, I will proudly defend my impressive life-long record of reliably performing my “services” with lightening-fast efficiency.  So it took me a couple decades before I formed a more informed and honest opinion of lawyers.  Much before then, I really didn’t look into it.

The change began with my reading an article on the Gaza Strip in which the author pointed out in some detail the consequences of the Strip’s lack of any legal means whereby the people could settle their disputes.  Naturally, the disputes just didn’t evaporate simply because there were no courts, no judges, and no lawyers to resolve them.

No, what had actually happened was the people had fallen back on their families and on violence.  In effect, they had returned to the vendetta system.

Which makes sense, if you think about it.  What other recourse did they have other than to organize into trusted family-based groups, and — at least ultimately — resort to arms to settle things?

The more I thought about it, the more I came to grasp how lawyers, along with the rest of the legal infrastructure, are about all that stands between a civilization and its reversion to anarchy and most likely barbarism — for what family gang is going to stop at merely settling scores when it pays off under those circumstances to not only settle them, but to settle them in cruel and extreme ways designed to warn and intimidate others into not messing with them?

Like most bad ideas, the notion lawyers are necessarily dishonest is a persistent one.  It has been around for far longer than Lincoln’s day — Shakespeare makes mention of it when he has “Dick the Butcher” propose to  “…kill all the lawyers” in Henry VI, in order of course, to bring about a better country.

But would such a country most likely be better?

As for my cousin, he wasn’t all bad.  At one point in my life, he gave me some of the wisest advice I’ve ever taken.  He pointed out in forceful terms — forceful enough to get me to actually listen even at a young age — that I would never have a chance to be happy in life if I followed through with my plan to go into politics.

“Paul, I hear you say you want to help clean up politics, make it better.  That’s a noble goal, and I believe you would do everything you could to stay honest and achieve your goal.

“But you need to realize before you make a huge mistake: Politics is a filthy, dirty business.  It won’t ever change from that, no matter what you yourself do to reform it.  You will be an ant trying to chew down a mountain.

“In the end, it will only commit your soul to living hell, just like it’s committed to hell almost every soul who has come before you.  I know.”

Abuse, Compassion, Guest Authors, Happiness, Health, Kindness, Meaning, Mental and Emotional Health, Morals, Oppression, Quality of Life, Relationships, S.W. Atwell, Sadness, Values, Violence

Two Kinds of Sad People

Please Note:  This is a post by guest author S. W. Atwell.  The views expressed are entirely her own.  If you yourself would like to post as a guest author on this blog, please contact me by email.

— Paul Sunstone

There are two types of sad people.  One type does not contribute to the happiness of others.  He may be of the withholding sort:  One who believes that any happiness he gives will be subtracted from his own, small store.   He may be the sadistic sort: One who takes whatever is ill in himself and uses it to make others unhappy.  He might even seem ravenous in his desire to impose misery, as though he were consuming something in return for his contribution.  Perhaps he feels as though there is a finite amount of unhappiness in the universe and that he decreases his own large burden of the stuff every time he imposes misery on others.

The other type of sad person is not unkind.  He may feel sad because he has experienced loss.  He certainly feels sad over the misfortunes of others.  In this way, he is invested in the happiness of others.  While he can become happier if his own fortunes mend, he can also become happier when he knows that others are happy.  He has an urge to contribute to the well-being of others.  It is not uncommon for him to discover the depth of this urge when he finds consolation in caring for the needs of others at a time when the reasons for his own deep sadness are beyond his own control.  Whether fortune smiles or frowns upon him, his own happiness multiplies when exposed to happiness, whether that happiness is located inside him or in the hearts of others.

The sadistic or withholding sad person experiences happiness and sadness as elements to be measured in mass or volume.  The sad person with the warm heart understands happiness as an organic phenomenon, with the gametes from one source of happiness meeting and multiplying with the gametes from another source of happiness.  His sadness is a soil that welcomes and grows the seeds of happiness.

© S.W. Atwell (2011)

Bad Ideas, Ethics, Evolution, Ideologies, Morals, News and Current Events, Oppression, Village Idiots, Violence

The Murders of Rajiv Verma and His Girlfriend Renu Pal

…police believe that Rajiv Verma and his girlfriend Renu Pal were stoned to death by a mob of about 200 people, including many of the girl’s relatives.

The officer in charge of the investigation told the BBC that Renu’s mother was suspected of playing a leading role in the killings.

The couple were murdered apparently because of the mob’s “shame” that Renu, a student, should fall in love with her teacher, who came from a lower social group or caste.

BBC Report, May 5, 2011

Does anyone know of another species that murders its blood relatives?  And why wouldn’t natural selection weed out any tendency in our own species to murder our blood relatives?

Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Idealism, Ideologies, Intellectual Honesty, International Relations, Liars Lies and Lying, Neocons, Politicians and Scoundrels, Politics, Television, Village Idiots, Violence, War

Those Who Will Not Learn From History Are Doomed To Repeat It

As I understand it, we had no choice but to destroy the Iraqi nation and decimate its people because Saddam hated us for our freedoms. Also, Saddam would have had weapons of mass destruction if only he had had weapons of mass destruction. And last, Saddam would have been in league with Al Qaeda if only he had not feared and hated Al Qaeda as much as he did.

For those three very good reasons, and possibly for other just as good reasons — reasons that are so really really good only a heavy Fox viewer is actually qualified to say just how truly good they are — we understandably invaded Iraq, murdered over 200,000 of its civilians, left 4 million people chronically homeless, and allowed the looting of a nation. I’d say we done some good in the world.

Pride time! That is, it’s plain we Americans done some good. Good? Hell, it was like Normandy all over again! So now it’s time for us to sit on our couches, dig our hands deep into our chips bag, lift up our eyes in bovine thankfulness to God for the Fox News Network, and then allow ourselves to be possessed by the thought that we Americans are, of all the world’s peoples, the one that is truly “exceptional“.

— Overheard in a Bar

Authoritarianism, Bad Ideas, Dominionism, Fascism, Fundamentalism, Ideologies, Neocons, Oppression, Politics, Quotes, Violence, War

John Sterman on the Consequences of Fundamentalism

“Fundamentalism, whether religious or secular, whether the unquestioning belief in an all-powerful deity, the all-powerful state or the all-powerful free market, breeds persecution, hatred and war.”

John Sterman (page 526 .pdf)

Glen Beck, Liars Lies and Lying, News and Current Events, People, Politicians and Scoundrels, Politics, Sarah Palin, Village Idiots, Violence

A Minor Note on Sarah Palin’s “Blood Libel” Speech of January 12, 2011

In her speech earlier today, Sarah Palin seemed to be arguing that the inflamed and violent rhetoric of politicians and pundits cannot be legitimately seen as ever encouraging or provoking violence.

At least, something like that would need to be true if it were also true — as Palin states — that:  “Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own. They begin and end with the criminals who commit them.”  If such acts truly stand entirely on their own, then it can only be because nothing — nor anyone — has meaningfully influenced the criminals who commit them.  Otherwise, there is more than one cause of the acts, and thus more than one thing to blame.

The trouble with Palin’s suggestion that political speech has no meaningful influence on anyone’s actions is that almost every politician, pundit, and preacher in the world knows that she’s wrong.  What a public figure says can and often does significantly influence the behavior of others.

Ironically, if speeches were powerless to influence people’s behavior, then Sarah Palin would not have given her speech today — for it is clearly an attempt to influence people’s behavior.

No one that I know of is arguing that the entire responsibility for every politically motivated shooting in this country over the past ten years or so is wholly or completely borne by the inflamed and violent rhetoric of folks like Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, and many, many others.   But to suggest, as Sarah Palin does, that such rhetoric has no meaningful influence at all on anyone’s behavior seems sheer bonkers.


Culture, News and Current Events, Racism, Society, Violence

A Side Note on Racism

As many of you know,  Michael McLendon, a 28 year old White male, went on a shooting spree earlier this week in Southern Alabama during which he murdered 10 people before killing himself. Naturally, there has been much speculation about what motivated him.

Reuters is reporting that McLendon was the sort of person to hold grudges.   The Associated Press is describing him as depressed over several life failures.  And MSNBC seems to be suggesting he might have been upset over a job loss.  Some or all of that might be true.

The question of what motivated McLendon will probably become clearer in a few days.  While I find that question important — how are we to prevent these horrors if we don’t learn what causes them — it’s not my intention to discuss McLendon’s motives here.

Instead, I would like to focus on a much different issue, one that might at first seem unimportant in the immediate aftermath of this horrifying tragedy.  That issue is racism.

To be sure, there is no evidence that McLendon was motivated by racism, and I wish to make it clear that I am not suggesting he was.  But this evening, I came across a post on an excellent blog, “We are Respectable Negroes“, that profoundly pointed out several likely ways in which the tragedy would be viewed differently had McLendon been a person of color.  According to the article:

…there will be no great effort to link Michael McLendon’s actions to those of White men, more generally. There will be no moral panic. There will be no outcry for a national conversation about why White men go crazy and shoot up their workplaces, their schools, or become serial killers. White men will not have to worry about being racially profiled or harassed by the police because of McLendon’s actions, nor will a White man be shot because someone was “traumatized” or “made nervous” about White men writ large because of this one man’s cruel deeds.

It turns my gut to reflect that the author is most likely right.

I do not want to distract from the death and suffering inflicted on the people of Southern Alabama this week.  But I urge that we take a moment to think about how it is that, whenever a White man commits a crime, many of us tend to fault only him for it, but whenever a Black man commits a crime, many of us tend to associate the crime with every Black man — even now, even in the 21st Century.

Abuse, Authoritarianism, Children, Christianity, Citizenship, Dominionism, Emotional Abuse, Family, Fascism, James Dobson, Judeo-Christian Tradition, People, Physical Abuse, Politics, Psychological Abuse, Psychology, Religion, Society, Values, Violence

James Dobson’s Intriguing Views on Beating Dogs and Spanking Children

According to a 2002 ABC News poll,  62 percent of Southern parents, and 41 percent of non-Southern parents, spank their children.  In defense of spanking, people sometimes remark they themselves were spanked as children but nevertheless turned out well.  Many scientists, however, believe that spanked children who turn out well as adults do so despite the spankings they received as children, not because of them.

One of the foremost researchers on the effects of corporal punishment is Murray Strauss.  In various studies, Strauss has found that spanking apparently (1) increases anti-social behaviors such as lying, cheating, disobedience, and bullying; (2) decreases children’s IQs; and (3), increases the risk of sexual problems later on in life.  Other researchers have shown that adults spanked as children may experience greater depression and alienation, and that they tend to hold less desirable jobs and have lower earnings.  For those and other reasons, many researchers are against spanking.

It seems the researchers differ in that respect from some other folks, notably James Dobson.  Just as Murray Strauss is more or less the foremost American scientific authority on corporal punishment, James Dobson is more or less the foremost American advocate for corporal punishment.  Perhaps, given Dobson’s prominence these days, it can be fairly said he is  “America’s guru on spanking children”.

Among other places, Dobson explains his philosophy of spanking in his book, The Strong Willed Child.  In an extraordinary passage, he finds a parallel between spanking children and beating dogs:

“Please don’t misunderstand me. Siggie is a member of our family and we love him dearly. And despite his anarchistic nature, I have finally taught him to obey a few simple commands. However, we had some classic battles before he reluctantly yielded to my authority.

“The greatest confrontation occurred a few years ago when I had been in Miami for a three-day conference. I returned to observe that Siggie had become boss of the house while I was gone. But I didn’t realize until later that evening just how strongly he felt about his new position as Captain.

“At eleven o’clock that night, I told Siggie to go get into his bed, which is a permanent enclosure in the family room. For six years I had given him that order at the end of each day, and for six years Siggie had obeyed.

“On this occasion, however, he refused to budge. You see, he was in the bathroom, seated comfortably on the furry lid of the toilet seat. That is his favorite spot in the house, because it allows him to bask in the warmth of a nearby electric heater. . . “

“When I told Sigmund to leave his warm seat and go to bed, he flattened his ears and slowly turned his head toward me. He deliberately braced himself by placing one paw on the edge of the furry lid, then hunched his shoulders, raised his lips to reveal the molars on both sides, and uttered his most threatening growl. That was Siggie’s way of saying. “Get lost!”

“I had seen this defiant mood before, and knew there was only one way to deal with it. The ONLY way to make Siggie obey is to threaten him with destruction. Nothing else works. I turned and went to my closet and got a small belt to help me ‘reason’ with Mr. Freud.”

“What developed next is impossible to describe. That tiny dog and I had the most vicious fight ever staged between man and beast. I fought him up one wall and down the other, with both of us scratching and clawing and growling and swinging the belt. I am embarrassed by the memory of the entire scene. Inch by inch I moved him toward the family room and his bed. As a final desperate maneuver, Siggie backed into the corner for one last snarling stand. I eventually got him to bed, only because I outweighed him 200 to 12!”

“But this is not a book about the discipline of dogs; there is an important moral to my story that is highly relevant to the world of children. JUST AS SURELY AS A DOG WILL OCCASIONALLY CHALLENGE THE AUTHORITY OF HIS LEADERS, SO WILL A LITTLE CHILD — ONLY MORE SO.” (emphasis Dobson’s)

“[i]t is possible to create a fussy, demanding baby by rushing to pick him up every time he utters a whimper or sigh. Infants are fully capable of learning to manipulate their parents through a process called reinforcement, whereby any behavior that produces a pleasant result will tend to recur. Thus, a healthy baby can keep his mother hopping around his nursery twelve hours a day (or night) by simply forcing air past his sandpaper larynx.”

“Perhaps this tendency toward self-will is the essence of ‘original sin’ which has infiltrated the human family. It certainly explains why I place such stress on the proper response to willful defiance during childhood, for that rebellion can plant the seeds of personal disaster.”

In telling his sad story of beating Siggie, Dobson clearly believes he is explaining why he feels it is sometimes necessary to spank children.  Perhaps one of the most striking things about the passage, however, is that his explanation is more sermon than science.

Dobson has a doctorate in Child Development and was a professor of pediatrics at the University of Southern California until 1977, yet his background in science has not given him a thoroughly scientific worldview.  Instead, he often seems to be more of a fundamentalist preacher than a scientist.  Perhaps that becomes somewhat less surprising once you understand his upbringing.

In the first place, it seems Dobson had a strict upbringing and was even beaten as a child.  According to one source, “His mother routinely beat [her] son with her shoes, her belt, and once, a 16-pound girdle.”

Of course, there is a difference between beating a child and spanking him.  Dobson does not advocate beating a child, and he lays out fairly strict limits on how much spanking should be done and who should do it.  One wonders, though, whether the childhood beatings had any influence on Dobson’s scientifically unsubstantiated notion that spanking benefits the child?

Perhaps more importantly, Dobson was raised by fundamentalists.  His father, for instance, was a preacher, and the religious environment in his home was quite intense:

“His parents somehow instilled so much guilt in young Dobson that he answered his father’s fervent altar-call, weeping at the front of a crowded church service and crying out for God’s forgiveness for all his sins, when he was three years old.  ‘It makes no sense, but I know it happened,’ Dobson still says of being born again as a toddler.”

Dobson’s fervently religious upbringing might go far to explain why his writings on so many things — very much including spanking — sometimes reference science, but are almost always more informed by religion than by science.

Another possible influence on Dobson’s views is his membership in the fundamentalist Nazarene Church.  Like many other Christians, the Nazarene’s believe their god rewards people who have faith in Him and punishes those who don’t.  Assuming Dobson agrees with that notion, he is probably inclined to think spanking children is in some way sanctioned by deity.  As a friend of mine once put it:

“In Mr. Dobson’s understanding, God treats him [that] way, doesn’t he? Isn’t Mr. Dobson threatened with eternal destruction should he not behave as God wishes him to? Then what could possibly be wrong with Mr Dobson treating his family the same?”

So, in Dobson’s worldview it might actually be considered self-evident that, “The ONLY way to make Siggie obey is to threaten him with destruction. Nothing else works.”

Thus, there seem to be several things in Dobson’s background that might work to explain why he tends to come across as more of a preacher than a scientist on the subject of spanking children, despite his formal training in psychology and child development.

All of this might raise the question of what Dobson hopes will be accomplished by spanking children.  In theory — but only in theory — there could be several answers to that question.  He might believe, for instance, that spanking children is a means to making them fully functioning adults.  Or that spanking children will encourage them to develop their talents and skills as fully as possible.  Or that spanking children will make them brighter and more independent thinkers.  But while it is technically possible Dobson could offer us those reasons to spank children, it seems highly unlikely he ever would.  So what does Dobson hope to accomplish by spanking children?

Apparently, he hopes spanking children will cause them to obey authority.  Not just the authority of their parents, however, but all manner of authority.  “By learning to yield to the loving authority… of his parents, a child learns to submit to other forms of authority which will confront him later in his life—his teachers, school principal, police, neighbors and employers.”  In other words, spanking is necessary to make the child turn into a submissive adult.

It cannot be doubted that a significant portion of Americans embrace the notion they — and others — should be submissive to authority.  Robert Altemeyer, for instance, argues that about 20-25% of the American population is comprised of authoritarian followers (p. 103 .pdf).  Dobson might very well be preaching to the choir when he calls for spanking children so they will turn into submissive adults, but it is a large choir.

Of course, one can dispute whether a society of free citizens needs more — or rather fewer — submissive adults among its ranks.  Dobson appears to be firmly on the side that wants the American people to be more — not less — submissive to authority.  His attitude, which some would characterize as “Anti-American”, is unsurprising if various reports of his politics are true.

For instance, Chris Hedges believes Dobson wants to impose a totalitarian system on America, and he has described Dobson as “perhaps the most powerful figure in the Dominionist movement”.  Moreover, Discernment Ministries characterized Dobson as belonging to the “Patriotic American” brand of Dominionism, and called him “One of its most powerful leaders”.  If these and other reports are true, it is quite obviously to James Dobson’s own political interests to raise a society of submissive adults.

Whether by design or happenstance, Dobson’s worldview is remarkably coherent when it comes to spanking children.   Spanking kids not only fits in with the behavior of a judgmental god — and therefore has some kind of metaphysical sanction — but it also seems to fit in with Dobson’s authoritarian politics.   However, if something is missing from Dobson’s view of spanking then that might be any science to back up Dobson’s claims that spanking is beneficial to the child.

Abuse, Authoritarianism, Culture, Ideologies, News and Current Events, Politics, Society, Violence

What Motivates India’s Authoritarian Army of Ram, the Sri Ram Sena?

On January 24th, 40 people belonging to a Taliban-like political organization — Sri Ram Sena — barged into a pub in Mangalore, India, intent on committing violence.

As near as I’ve been able to put together from incomplete and sometimes conflicting reports, the intruders  attacked several people — mostly young women, and mostly college students — who were until then peacefully enjoying the pub.  The 40 roughed up the young people, who they outnumbered, and perhaps in some instances went so far as to molest some of the girls.  Two of the young women were hospitalized.

The rationalization given by the intruders for ganging up like cowards to assault the young people was they felt they had to beat up the kids to preserve “traditional Indian norms“.  Specifically, they seemed to object to the young women drinking and dancing in public, to their manner of dress, and to their fraternization with the young men.

Who is responsible for the outrageous behavior of the 40 goons?  It seems to me that, besides the 40 goons themselves, there are at least three other groups that helped to bring about this event.  First, the leaders of the political organization to which the goons belong, the Sri Ram Sena, or “Army of Ram”.  Second, to at least some extent, those members of the media that had advanced notice of the attacks but apparently failed to make an effort to prevent them.  And last, some public servants and officials — most likely including the police — whose past and present tolerance of this kind of political violence must surely encourage it.

Yet, I am not so much concerned here with fixing blame for the event as I am concerned with the psychology of the militants involved in it.  This morning, The New York Times is running an article on the attack that represents it as a clash between the cultures of Old and New India, between the traditional and the modern.  That’s an interesting thesis, and it’s probably one valid way in which to see the event.  But it still doesn’t get at the psychology of the militants.

On the other hand, I believe Robert Altemeyer does a pretty good job of getting at the psychology of the militants.   Altemeyer has spent 40 years studying the sorts of people who it seems largely comprise the backbone of such political organizations as the Taliban of Afghanistan, the former Nazis of Germany, the Communists of the old U.S.S.R., and so forth.  He calls these people “authoritarians” and he identifies two psychologically distinct kinds of authoritarians:  followers and leaders.  A few years ago, Altemeyer published a free online book, The Authoritarians (.pdf)*.   Although the book is specifically targeted to an American audience, it goes quite far in my opinion to explain the behavior of the militants in India’s Sri Ram Sena. I would strongly encourage anyone interested in why the militants behaved as they did, and in the best ways to combat them, to read Altemeyer’s book.

As I see it, the problem underlying the attack on the young people in Mangalore is authoritarianism.  If Altemeyer and hundreds of other scientists are right, then Authoritarianism is rooted deep in human psychology and, as such, is not confined to any one society or culture, but is instead something that can and does crop up anywhere. And whenever it crops up in a democracy, such as India, it poses a threat of varying degrees to the democracy itself.  It should therefore concern all of us who are interested in promoting democracy to study it’s arch-enemy, authoritarianism.

Authoritarianism, Citizenship, Dominionism, Fascism, Freedom, Ideologies, Liars Lies and Lying, Neocons, News and Current Events, Politics, Psychology, Society, Values, Violence

“The Authoritarians” by Bob Altemeyer

Last week, Erik left a comment on this blog with a link to a free online book, The Authoritarians, by the research psychologist and professor, Bob Altemeyer.  Erik is a bright guy, so I was confident I would not be wasting my time to check out the link.  Now that I have checked out the link, I feel like naming my next born illegitimate child after Erik.  I got so wrapped up in the book, I read it in one sitting.

The book describes the psychology of authoritarian followers and leaders.  It does so in clear and easy to read prose.  Bob Altemeyer has a wonderful sense of humor and he laces his book with witty and funny comments.  But the core of the book is comprised of the scientific studies of authoritarianism that Altemeyer has been doing since 1966.  This is a hugely informative book that makes sense of a whole lot of stuff that’s going on in America and the world today.

So what is “authoritarianism”?  From the introduction:

“Authoritarianism is something authoritarian followers and authoritarian leaders cook up between themselves. It happens when the followers submit too much to the leaders, trust them too much, and give them too much leeway to do whatever they want–which often is something undemocratic, tyrannical and brutal. In my day, authoritarian fascist and authoritarian communist dictatorships posed the biggest threats to democracies, and eventually lost to them in wars both hot and cold. But authoritarianism itself has not disappeared, and I’m going to present the case in this book that the greatest threat to American democracy today arises from a militant authoritarianism that has become a cancer upon the nation.”

Altemeyer will change how you view militant authoritarianism forever.  For one thing, he demonstrates that it is not merely a political problem but profoundly a psychological problem.  Consequently, there are no politics that will make it entirely go away.  Instead, it must be repeatedly confronted and defeated in every generation — if representative democracy is to be preserved.

I recommend that everyone — and that means everyone and his or her dog — read the book’s introduction (at the very least), which can be found here (.pdf).  You can then decide for yourself whether you want to go on to read the rest of the book.  But please give yourself the opportunity to make that decision by reading the introduction (The introduction begins six pdf pages down — you can skip the dedication, which comes first).  If you read the book and do not then fervently wish to name your next illegitimate child after Erik — who, after all, gave us the heads-up on this book — I will be absolutely astonished.  And so will your child.

Last, please consider passing this book around.  It’s free and accessible to anyone who can read it online.