When Ideology Reigns, Humanism Suffers: November’s Fundamental Choice

Mitt Romney’s selection of Congressman Paul Ryan as his VP demonstrates a conservative embrace of ideology. Ideological pursuits are anathema to humanism. Ideological pursuits negate the struggle indicative of the human journey towards anything resembling self-reliance, which is, ironically, what Ryan, et al, are suggesting we pursue. Ideologies tend to nurture solipsism and harbor a disdain for democratic decision making. Ideologies silence hope and give voice only to the most dominant. Ideologies establish a vituperative vertical system run by the inflexibly self-righteous.

November’s presidential election is asking that we either abide by a strict ideology suggesting that in times of confusion and insecurity we let in a version of Big Brother, as Whitaker Chamber’s suggests in his elegant review of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, or about pursuing a humanistic road, with its roots in Socrates and Romanticism, and emphasizing the individual’s drive towards self-actualization. These are our choices: the Republican’s pursuit of a strict ideology or the Democrat’s insistence that we protect self-actualization (they can surely be criticized for not nurturing it, however). How’s that for black and white?

Ideologies require a simple good vs bad dichotomy. So we’re forced to speak this way, as I’ve done, above. Humanism is cloudy, messy and ambiguous because it confirms the existence of “human nature.” An ideological apparatus denies the relevance of “human nature,” arguing that a person can be disciplined into a way of life, a way of thinking. The problem with this, of course, is that ideologies need efficient ways of transmitting discipline. Enter Paul Ryan. And in case anyone missed the point I’m making, Ryan’s appointment has been followed by another: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will speak at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. The junkyard dog is being released to bark and threaten, show his teeth. The ideological center of the GOP means business. Mitt Romney is actually rather unimportant at this point, which is always the case when a fine tuned ideology trumps everything — and everyone.

The last, great conservative, when we actually had the semblance of a public sphere in America, William F. Buckley, who, when he died, left a void currently being filled by buffoons, said, on Charlie Rose, that Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is “ideological fabulism.” In Rand’s Atlas, so passionately embraced by Paul Ryan and conservatives, it would be very easy to send anyone to the gas chamber, says Buckley. Fascism follows. And it is a world that, for us right now, as we watch China and other economies begin to scale — and dominate — makes sense; it is, after all, the China model. “The fight we’re in here,” said Paul Ryan following Rand, “is a fight of individualism versus collectivism.” Any questions? Only individualism doesn’t trump collectivism; in American Philosophy, they co-exist and can actually thrive.

The other ideology Ryan embraces is Catholicism, though no one is speaking about it, not critically. In Catholicism, the institution, the Church, speaks for God; it is Christ, it is God, it is everything. The see of Rome. Disciples talk about the Church as if it’s alive, body and soul. Ideological fabulism? Ryan very easily conflates Rand and Catholicism. Rand is the secular Catholic (though embracing abortion because it’s a woman’s right) that is not thinking about universality, rather she’s thinking about allegiance. Catholicism, for instance, would not exist if it wasn’t for poverty — and the allegiance to its doctrine by the poor — and the uneducated suffering; it has an interest in maintaining this imbalance so that it can prey – pray on and for them, simultaneously. This is the slippery slope we’re on — a hall of mirrors. On this Ryan trip, we might see Mel Gibson appointed Ambassador to Israel, just to teach them a thing or two because they’re too reliant on us. Opus Dei might enter the White House’s inner sanctum.

Don’t get me wrong: I believe in faith. I have faith — in my journey towards self-actualization, in the sense that I can be better, and in the notion that in these pursuits consistent with self-reliance, I want to be judged by you, another human being pursuing his / her self-actualization. I have a responsibility to myself, my family, my community. I can be better at all of these — without Paul Ryan – Rand. And I also know that a partner in this journey should also be a government that does not obstruct, rather it nurtures, it listens, it enters into a dialog with my needs and my community’s needs. This is the idea of America, words Ryan frequently uses; however, if we want to talk about this idea we have to begin with faith in each other. We have to acknowledge the idea’s Romanticism chiseled from the Enlightenment.

Alexander Hamilton, in the General Introduction to the Federalist Papers, says the following:

Among the most formidable of the obstacles which the new Constitution will have to encounter may readily be distinguished the obvious interest of a certain class of men in every State to resist all changes which may hazard a diminution of the power, emolument, and consequence of the offices they hold under the State establishments; and the perverted ambition of another class of men, who will either hope to aggrandize themselves by the confusions of their country, or will flatter themselves with fairer prospects of elevation from the subdivision of the empire into several partial confederacies than from its union under one government.

This is conservatism in its most enlightened form. So I wonder: instead of the ideological fabulism of Ayn Rand, made doubly more perverse by Ryan’s Catholic closing of the American mind, why aren’t we talking about Hamilton and the Federalist Papers? That’s our earliest notion of America. Isn’t Hamilton more relevant than Rand’s self-righteous — and nasty — inflexibility? “Were there not even these inducements to moderation,” says Hamilton, “nothing could be more ill-judged than that intolerant spirit which has at all times characterized political parties. For in politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution.”

Welcome to America, where candidates swing into battlegrounds to do war. America, as we see everywhere, is not in tune with Hamilton, with moderation. “On the other hand,” says Hamilton, “it will be equally forgotten that the vigor of government is essential to the security of liberty;…that a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidding appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government.” Real Housewives, reality tv, the Kardashians, the glory and violence of the most popular sport in America, football — all these things trend towards a collective mind set that abides by a stricter, black and white, easily definable morality, even if some have to suffer. This is a gruesome sign that we’re a lost nation as we ping pong back and forth over an ideological net bent on moving us towards the complete control of our human right to determine who we are, each of us.

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The Motivation to Drill for Oil

President Obama is not drilling for oil because it’s politically expedient.  He is not drilling for oil because it reduces our reliance on foreign oil — nothing can do that, and certainly not with the oil deep beneath US waters.  President Obama is not drilling for oil to prove to environmentalists that an environmentalist president can extract oil without harm, while simultaneously developing green technologies and reversing economic stagnation.  President Obama’s decision to drill for oil is a military decision.

Simple but true.  The ongoing and always at the forefront plan to control energy reserves that will ensure the US remains the formidable military, economic and political power is not working according to plan. Drilling for oil in America is a way to stall; the idea being that this change in direction will focus us away from the ongoing US military build up circling the richest and last remaining — and dwindling — energy reserves in the world.

Let’s look at reality, the data: According to Judicial Watch — and others, such at the US Government — in NEDPG documents they obtained, using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), we can see that 60% of all recoverable oil on the planet is in an area no larger that the state of Kansas.  This area is known as the “golden triangle”: from Mosul in Norther Iraq, to the Straits of Hormuz, to an oil field in Saudi Arabia 75 miles in from the coast, just west of Qatar, then back up to the Mosul.  And just about all of Iran’s oil lies near its western shoreline on the  Gulf. ( see maps obtained by Judicial Watch here)

It’s quite easy to see that the US military already occupies part of this area and surrounds the remaining.  On January 29, 2001, President Bush established the National Energy Policy Group (or NEPDG) to develop a national energy policy. The Vice President was then directed to lead the group and other high-level officials were named as members. On May 16, 2001, The NEPDG submitted a report and recommendations to the President. The report was published and entitled: National Energy Policy: Reliable, Affordable, and Environmentally Sound Energy for America’s Future.  The stark but very real maps obtained by the conservative watchdog, Judicial Watch, reveal with uncanny precision the Cheney lead strategy to control this area.

In The Guardian, in September of 2003, Michael Meacher MP, UK  Environment Minister 1997-2003, said, “The 9/11 attacks gave the US an ideal pretext to use force to secure global domination … The plan [“Rebuilding America’s Defenses,” Project for a New American Century — 2000] shows Bush’s cabinet intended to take military control of the Gulf region whether or not Saddam Hussein was in power … The overriding motivation for this political smokescreen is that the US and the UK are beginning to run out of secure hydrocarbon energy supplies…As demand is increasing, so supply is decreasing, continually since the 1960s” (qtd. in Crossing the Rubicon; 42).

The push back military forces are experiencing in Iraq and Afghanistan, followed by the encroachment of Iran, as well as the problems caused by Israel’s refusal to cease building on Palestenian soil, have slowed the Bush-Cheney NEPDG plan to control the area.  For instance, according to Cheney’s NEPDG, “to meet projected demand over the next two decades America must have in place between 1,300 and 1,900 new electrical plants.  Much of this new generation will be fueled by natural gas.” On the other side, oil powers everything — the food supply, for starters; oil powers more than 600 million vehicles worldwide — and the numbers are increasing.  Realities on the ground have slowed our military occupation — and control — of the “golden triangle.”  But demands for oil and gas have not diminished, even when great effort is being made by the likes of 350.0rg to alert us of the damages we make by continuing to consume as we do.

Where is the energy supply to feed us, for the always ongoing mantra of growth, for our automobiles, which we equate with freedom and self-realiance (an illusion), going to come from? Not off the American coasts.

Oil is going to come from the control exerted in the most vital energy area, the “golden triangle.”  We have reached a crisis point; we may even be at a tipping point. Environmentalists and pr0-drilling conservatives are debating what drilling will do to our oceans and the illusion that drilling in US waters will make us less dependent on foreign oil.  It’s a sham.  The real conversation should be about Peak Oil and our over consumption in a closed eco system. We’re heading towards more military action, not just in the “golden triangle” area, but also in Latin America and Africa — follow the military with an eye on the maps and the reality of our situation will become clear.

Gaza, Israel and the Memory of Edward Said

for the martyrs, Kassab and Ibrahim Shurrab

for the suffering, Mohammed Shurrab and his family

and for the future, Amer Shurrab, Adriana Qubaia, Mahmoud and Nisreen

Our world today is evidence that those who profess to speak for God or Allah or a personal Other focused on a single, supreme nature-transcending will have unequivocally erased this almighty power’s truths, a core reality found in Christianity, Islam and Judaism–humility, compassion and love.

At approximately 1PM on Friday the 16th, Mohammed Shurrab (60) and his two sons, Kassab , age 28 , and Ibrahim , age 18, fleeing the family farm in the village of Fukhari, southeast of Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip, were struck by a hail of bullets from a group of Israeli soldiers in a house about thirty yards away, according to Yasser Ahmad and Ashraf Khalil of the Los Angeles Times. (see also Day 22)

The Israelis issued a statement: “Given the difficult combat circumstances, complex battles and fighting in urban settings, uninvolved civilians are unfortunately exposed to danger.”

Kassab died after staggering out of their Land Rover. He lay on the street for 20 hours. Ibrahim bled to death waiting for help.  Mohammed, a desperate father, could do nothing as his cell phone battery died. In the face of great suffering, no one had the compassion to assist the wounded, the suffering. Thus is war. Thus is violence.

Some of us learned of this tragedy by email because Mohammed’s other son, Amer,  is a Middlebury College graduate, ‘08.5. The original email was followed by a desperate string, anguished and outraged, and a Shurrab Family Group quickly formed on Facebook. We could do nothing.

I sat in my living room staring out at the gusts of snow. It was gray and freezing and the wind blew hard. I felt totally useless and alone. I thought of my three sons and what I might do should I ever be called the way Mohammed Shurrab has been–and I wept. I was paralyzed by the events in Gaza and the violence in our world.

I longed for the humane voice of Edward Said, how he is always able to make sense of things like this. I pulled him off my bookshelf, something I do frequently with some writers dear to me because they go head first into matters of the heart.

We find ourselves in the era of mass societies that dominate by “a powerfully centralizing culture and a complex incorporative economy,” says the remarkable Edward Said in his “Movement and Migrations” chapter in Culture and Imperialism. In 1993, following the French urban sociologist Paul Virilio, Said suggested that this form of domination is unstable. Powerfully centralizing cultures and complex incorporative economies are unstable and create instability everywhere. Yet instability is believed to be a means to an end, the control of economies, resources and production.

The fundamental premise of terrorism, also instability, is likewise the foundation of mass societies. They feed each other–and there is no end in sight. Make no mistake, Hamas will survive, this is already clear.

“Israel has succeeded in killing everything except the will of the people,” said Taher al-Nunu, the main (Hamas) government spokesman. “They said they were going to dismantle the resistance and demolish the rockets, but after this historic victory, the government is steadfast, we are working and they were not able to stop the rockets.”

“I think Hamas is stronger now and will be stronger in the future because of this war,” said Eyad el-Sarraj, a psychiatrist here who is an opponent of Hamas. “This war has deepened the people’s feeling that it is impossible to have peace with Israel, a country that promotes death and destruction.”

Iraq, Afghanistan, the global deterioration of economies and the tragic horror that is Gaza’s occupation by Israel all point to the notion that “insecurity induced by mounting crises” leads to destruction, violence and war. The innocent die, wounds fester, hatred builds. “Insecurity induced by mounting crises” builds identities reliant on an Other who is hostile.

Israel’s identity is defined by having scripted the ideals of freedom and justice for Western civilization, yet Jews now find themselves withholding these rights–for security reasons, forced to withhold them, many Jews believe–from Palestinians.

Hamas and Hezbollah have identities defined as the maligned Other, even the absent Other that is always already determined by armed aggression. Tragically and ironically, the Prophet Mohammed–and the Qur’an–teach respect for the world’s incontrovertible order, preaching a message that is intensely democratic. The Prophet, “The True,” “The Upright,” and “The Trustworthy One,” withstood severe criticism and ridicule, relentless persecution, and physical abuse and incarceration, and insisted that in the sight of Allah all people are equal.

We are in the era of mass disintegration. Israel’s occupation of Gaza is an example–and hopefully a last breath–of a global pattern attempting to occupy and inhabit all “normally uninhabitable,” the institutions integral to a culture–“hospitals, universities, theatres, factories, churches, empty buildings”; in essence, the occupation of language, speech, consciousness. (The first instance or example is the Presidency of George W. Bush, especially his first election; the second is 9/11 and the repression of Afghanistan; and the Third is Israel’s occupation of Gaza.) Israel’s occupation of Gaza is modern colonization, the “central militaristic prerogative” of mass societies. And the media accommodates, as it has in Iraq.

The alternative to state aggression is a liberation of speech in critical spaces, the integral institutions, and represented by contemporary movements “as a consequence of decolonization (migrant workers, refugees, Gastarbeiter) or of major demographic and political shifts (Blacks, immigrants, urban squatters, students, popular insurrections, etc.). These constitute a real alternative to the authority of the state.” One of the most impressive “crowd-activated” sites is the Israeli-occupied territories of Palestine. This is why Hamas and Hezbullah will thrive. We approach difference and tensions with aggression, where the opposite approach is calling out. We can hear the screams of the suffering, the innocent buried in rubble, bodies decomposing. Our inhumanity is extraordinary.

At least in Gaza, right now, Hamas represents something unique, a “freedom” from the usual “exchange”; that is, Hamas represents a firm antidote to Israeli domination. Israel’s Gaza operation is not meant to stop Hamas’s rockets; it’s meant to shore up a doctrine on which Israel thinks its safety must be still based–immediate response to any signs of a punitive raid, by Hezbullah or Hamas, armed by Iran.

“Those people compelled by the system to play subordinate or imprisoning roles within it emerge as conscious antagonists, disrupting it, proposing claims, advancing arguments that dispute the totalitarian compulsions of the world market,” says Said. “Not everything can be bought off.” This is the war cry of Islamic Fundamentalism, a notion that has fallen on deaf ears. At the heart of Islam–the Prophet Mohammed is the example–is resistance to threats to its existence, even expansion (see: The World’s Fastest Growing Religions)

The problem is that we in the post-modern West fail to understand that in many parts of the world–Iraq and Iran, Afghanistan, some parts of the Arab world and Africa–people, governments and religious leaders are still trying to come to terms with Modernity. There are people and cultures in the world struggling with a singular notion, how are we to modernize?

“The major task, then, is to match the new economic and sociopolitical dislocations and configurations of our time with the startling realities of human interdependence on a world scale,” says Said.

Christianity, Islam and Judaism are interrelated, philosophically and geographically. We have to begin here, in this singular fact.

Islam is derived from the root s-l-m, which means primarily “peace” but in a secondary meaning, “surrender”; its full connotation is “the peace that comes when one’s life is surrendered to God,” that is a surrender to the totality that are humility, compassion and love. Adherence to humility, compassion and love enables creative and virtuous actions. We can’t have peace without this.

Judaism affirms the world’s goodness, arriving at that conclusion through its assumption that God created it. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1) and pronounced it to be good. Judaism is a faith of a people, and one of its features is faith in a people–in the significance of the role the Jews have played and will play in human history. This faith calls for the preservation of the identity of the Jews as a distinct people.

The only way to make sense of Christianity–and to make sense of Jesus’ extraordinary admonitions as to how people should live–is to see them as cut from the understanding of the God who loves human beings absolutely, without pausing to calculate their worth or due. We are to give others our cloak as well as our coat if they need it. Because God has given us what we need. We are to go with others the second mile.

Humility, compassion and love–Islam, Judaism and Christianity are one in these principles.

But given the hostile conditions of our world, we can only seek–and find–these principles in the margins, in the shadows, in-between boundaries and lines of demarcation that are always already blurred, stretched, even erased, for better and for worse.

Says Said, reminding us,

Yet it is no exaggeration to say that liberation as an intellectual mission, born in the resistance and opposition to the confinements and ravages of imperialism, has now shifted from the settled, established, and domesticated dynamics of culture to its unhoused, decentered, and exilic energies, energies whose incarceration today is the migrant, and whose consciousness is that of the intellectual and artist in exile, the political figure between domains, between forms, between homes, and between languages. From this perspective then all things are indeed counter, original, spare, strange. From this perspective also, one can see ‘the complete consort dancing together’ contrapuntally.

Historically then it’s not surprising that a new era is upon us, a new stage marked by the inauguration of a Black man of mixed race–and who has come to be following the compelling history of a movement totally dependent upon non-violent resignation and protest. President Barack Obama offers “something unique” and “even against his will,” represents “freedom [from the age old forms] of exchange.”

People forced to play subordinate roles always emerge “as conscious antagonists, disrupting it, proposing claims, advancing arguments that dispute totalitarian compulsions.” Barack Obama represents this historical reality.  There is no other way to look at it.  This is why in the last week or so there has been such an uncomprimising allegiance to history. Today, we finally have soul in the White House.

Israel’s occupation of Gaza–and Hamas’ and Hezbollah’s, as well as Iran’s, hostilities–represent an anti-historical approach based on the violent dislocation of language, speech and consciousness. This has always failed.

Enough. Enough is enough! We can suffer no more like this. Let’s then join Karen Armstrong and sign a Charter for Compassion instead and help make religion a force for harmony.