Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Balance and Play: an Alternative War on Terror

Part I: Balance

This year’s senior oration at Brown University was delivered by Greta Pemberton who said, in part:

In life, the method doesn’t have to be meticulous and the results don’t have to be repeatable. From here on out, we get to figure things out playfully. We can teeter around, arms outstretched, until we find those good balances between isolation and community, between service and self, between action and contemplation.

Since my own college graduation in 2002, Bush, I have tried to absorb knowledge about politics, and about the politics of my personal life, as well. Although I have much to learn about how to be happy and successful, there are a couple of lessons (or metaphysical “laws of the universe”) that have emerged over and over again. I ignore them at my own peril and so, too (it would seem) do nations.

Greta Pemberton alludes to both of these lessons in her oration. The first is balance; as Greta notes, “between isolation and community, between service and self, between action and contemplation.” These are truly words to live by, and they, more than words like “incompetence,” “arrogance,” and “hegemony,” explain why America stands paralyzed, five years after 9/11, with no coordinated response and no current path forward.

America is unbalanced. As the world’s only superpower, she is isolated among nations, having forgotten, or never learned, that successful leadership requires a balance of isolation and community. Within our borders, we usually remember that no one is above the law (not even you, Bush, whose extension of executive authority will shortly pass under the white light of scrutiny). But outside our borders, we have scoffed at international law and ideas like “fair trade,” which might help lift all boats together. Our thinly veiled strategy inside the global village is to amass money and influence, period.

Naturally, this kind of imbalance is not unique among nations. But we are leaders. We have the awesome responsibility and opportunity to impart a guiding ethic onto the world. Do we really want that ethic to be: “Might makes right?” Are we then surprised when the world’s response to that is often hatred, and that that hatred sometimes (at the extreme fringes which we cannot ignore) boils over into violence against our citizens?

I think its important to note that, in terms of protecting the safety of Americans, it doesn’t matter that terrorist tactics are immoral. It doesn’t really matter that America’s enemies are using her as a scapegoat to further their territorial or fundamentalist ambitions. What matters, ultimately, is that we have failed to connect with the world, to become part of the community. Until the world at large views America as neighbors rather than (military, economic, cultural) overlords, we will continue to be attacked, we will continue to be used as scapegoats, and we will continue to have to resort to violence to enforce a semblance of order.

Balance between isolation and community. That’s the mandate of the powerful and I hope that - despite your utter obliviousness to it, Bush, and despite the credibility we have lost during your tenure - we can begin to address it in the next Congress.

In an upcoming post I’ll discuss the idea of “play,” which Greta also discusses in her oration. Play might just be that root cause which tells us why our nation’s leaders are failing us.


PK said...

There is no balance because Bush doesn't know how to think global. He takes things one at a time, and never finishes anything he starts. So now everything has to be finished up, or stopped, when the next person gets the office. The only saving grace is January... Let's hope and pray that the Dems don't botch this but barge right into it, clean what they can up, the sooner the better. I would like the rest of the world to know that we, those who didn't vote for this arrogant buffoon, have some intelligence, and know how to treat our people and the rest of the world. I still won't forget the headlines in London's papers, "WHY?". I'm starting to sound like some others now... better I just say, have a great day Peter;D

Carly said...

C: "But we are leaders. We have the awesome responsibility and opportunity to impart a guiding ethic onto the world".

Gosh Cardozo. The above is such a wrong turn. I wish I could help you see how that statement stands in such sharp contrast to all the other things you said. This attitude, which is very Republican by the way, is exactly why we are not seen as members of the world community. I am especially disturbed by the words, "ONTO the world". It's as if have a duty or mission to imprint something onto everybody. Republicans always bring this up, that we must do this over there, and do that over there, as if somehow we are the guiding force in the world. Delusional. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

My question is, where did you get this idea? Do you have a Christian missionay point of veiw? Why, in one part you say we are corrupt and in another part say we must go out and guide the world? Do you actually think this is some sort of "opportunity"? That's the folly of George Bush!

Also, I am wondering why you have included the diagram of the supreme ultimate, Taijitu, which has one of two meanings: the art of attack and defense or Lao Tzu's context of full and empty. Lao Tzu's teachings are very much against seeing one's duty to guide the world, or even one's neighbor!

What does this diagram mean to you? Because it doesn't really have much to do with what you have said, in a direct way. Perhaps you mean to visually state, that America has peaked, and it is about to turn into its opposite. For that is what the diagram represents, a point of stasis.

Please don't answer. Just give these things some thought. I appreciate the fact that you are in the process of pulling some ideas together. I heartily recommend the teachings of Lao Tzu as a great alternate to Christian thought and missionary zeal.

Carly said...

C: One more thing. I understand your meaning is balance and things that exist together. This symbol doesn't actually mean balance. That's like, the surfer meaning. Balance of yin and yang is not quite right. It is a kind of dynamic equilibrium, but more correctly, from a state of movement towards a state of stillness. Non-action. It also represents the point at which things turn into their opposite.

This nuance would have had great meaning to all if understood in terms of Bush. Because going out into the world with an aim of doing things there, meddling in the affairs of others, would have been known to only result first, in stasis, which is where we are exactly now, and INEVITABLY turning into its opposite, which is what is going to happen next. That is, we are not going to change the Middle East. They are going to change us.

Americans love to bash the Chinese, but they understood this principle the whole time. And the principle of the symbol was formulated in China four to six centuries before Christ.

Which is why I say it is not the symbol of BALANCED responsibility (to guide the world). That idea has European Christian roots. Its symbols are the weigh scales and cross.

Cardozo said...


I feel that you took that line out of context.

Why are you not interested in a reply? Doesn't that imply that YOU are imparting your ideas on me, without regard to my response? Or...are you assuming that any further explanation on my part is irrelevant?

GringoWithoutBorders said...

I agree Cardozo, the line was taken out of context.

I'm not sure what America could teach the rest of the world, since we are not #1 in anything except prison population or the ability to kill humans easily. Many other countries lead in education, health care, familial bonds ect...

I know, we could teach Hypocrisy!

Take modesty as ONE example: Americans seem to hate or consider it somehow wrong when many Muslim women cover their hair, face or legs for MODESTY sake. Yet many Christian Americans do the exact same thing on their wedding day when they cover their hair, face and legs so they may "APPEAR" modest. Yet, the rest of the time American women dress like prostitutes. Pretty funny hypocrisy. Similarly, Christian nuns cover themselves but Americans say nothing about this. Crazy Americans. I guess this is why Muslims pray 5 times a day while Americans pray a few times a year. Actions vs words or something...

Conversely, I think it is really funny that American males can go shirtless yet fe-males cannot. Many European countries have a more humanistic role between males and females and allow women to go shirtless as men do. Maybe they should invade America and free our repressed female humans?

I think the big question for America is, "How can you get along with the rest of the world if you cannot even get along with yourselves, ie. high divorce rate, drug usage, culture of nursing homes, murders, violent movies/news ect?" Culture of greedy selfish madness in many ways.

Carly said...

Cardozo: I am reminded of two quotations.

"If every person would sweep his own doorstep, the world would be put in order".

"One never learns anything while talking".

GringoWithoutBorders said...

Here are a few quotations:

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Christianity

"None of you is a believer until he desires for his brother what he desires for himself." Islam

"What is hateful to you, do not to your fellowman. That is the entire Law, all the rest is commentary." Judaism.

"Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find harmful."Buddism

"In the beginning were the instructions. They are to love and respect ALL living creatures and Mother Earth." North American Indian

I think the Indians have it right, the others focus too much on humans and still provide moral justifications for hurting your fellow human if you think it is good for them.

Cardozo said...


Here's another quote, which contains the spirit of what I was trying to say in the post that set you off:

"[America's] actions and guiding doctrines must be a primary concern for everyone on the planet...Many enjoy unusual advanrages and freedom, hence the ability to shape the future, and should face with care the responsibilities that are the immediate corollary of such privelege." - Noam Chomsky

In other words, like it or not, America has influence. I was merely suggesting that we make that influence as positive as possible.

And if we were to "impart" an ethic of compassion and lovingkindness on the world, what's the harm?

Carly said...

Cardozo: I know you have a good heart. And your last message is much different in wording. And "awesome" "opportunity" "guiding ethic" "onto the world" are arguably, stronger in a negative way.

Nevertheless, I apologize if I came on too strongly. This is a lifelong subject with me for which I have much passion. I did say, I didn't think that sentence fit the rest of your piece.

Laying it to rest, you now bring up the point of how such a change in this country could come about, what with all the greed, the leeches, corruption, and knee-jerk attitudes of millions of Americans.

Plus the fact that there are no leaders of the caliber of Jack Kennedy to move the country in that direction. Kennedy actually moved many in that way when he inspired people to join the Peace Corps, a very successful program. When Kennedy was murdered, that came to an end.

He was murdered by a group, identified by Jackie Kennedy in the car, when she screamed, "My god, THEY'RE going to kill us all"! She had a good idea who his killers were, and left for security in Greece. They then killed King, and Robert.

For your dream is to come true, generations of Americans will have to pass away. Even then the self perpetuating evil will continue to undermine, as is shown by the diagram, Taijitu.

For myself, I don't agree with Chomsky's words in toto, nor believe any of us should think in terms of guiding anything, imparting anything, shaping anything-but instead, clean and protect our own sphere, our own doorstep, and in so doing only, ONLY, set an example, become the model, for the highest standards in the world.

For reasons too complex for me to discuss here, the second we think we can in any way influence others, the seed of failure is planted. It's universal law. It's a corruptible notion.

If America influences others, it should be an unconscious effect. Not a cause.

Let the ideas of "guiding doctrines" and "privileged" "responsibilities" go. Even idealist notions like loving care for others carriy a built-in superiority. The only way we can assuredly go forth into the world is by joining and magnifying programs like the Peace Corps or Doctors without Borders, etc, in all humility and friendliness as equal partners in the world's fate. It's a practical matter and should be turned around in a practical way.

People like Grigo should stop bitching, and go out and do good.

Cardozo said...


That is very well put.

A question: Do you then believe in an isolationist foreign policy for America?

Carly said...

Cardozo: isolationist foreign policy

Again. Things are not black and white. Of course a country of our size will have influence, but it must be an effect, not something we go out and pursue. Christians pursue missionary style. You could say, they are stuck in the missionary position, HA. That isn't going to work anymore.

I was recently in Peru. The modern Peruvian knows full well what Catholic missionaries and their soldier brothers did to there culture.

Becoming a model for the world is also a foreign policy. Clean our own doorstep. And doing good through practical help is very much known to be effective foreign relations.

Trouble is, beginning with Reagan, we became the Me Generation, then in the Nineties, the confused I Love Shitty Music Generation, and now, the I Want to Be a Billionaire, Fuck the World Generation.

I THINK WE CAN FORGET ABOUT AMERICA BEING THE DOMINANT INFLUENCE IN THE WORLD. It's over. We blew it. From now on ours will be only one choice for others in how to live. And we will attract the Greedy. We are already being rejected violently by countries like Venezuela, countries where greed isn't going to solve the massive problems.

Before you reject this, consider China. All clear thinkers see that China is ahead in the game of power player. For reasons too numerous to mention here, I predict China's dominance in world policies and our continued part as a mere choice. China has the right combination of gumption and smarts, historical awareness and (balanced) tempered philosophy based on varied experience. Above all, again attesting to the wisdom of Lao Tzu, in combination with Confucius, they have the cool to know that the one who serves, gains power. The specific teaching of Lao Tzu is, "TO SERVE IS TO RULE". Or as Bob Dylan sang, "Everybody's got to serve somebody". And right now the Chinese are filling the manufacturing needs of us, dozens of other countries, building strong ties in Africa, and South America where they a choosing China over us, buying our country through loans, and quietly developing their space program. Notice how they DID NOT occupy North Korea after the Korean War, the first of our recent chain of waring debacles.

Cardozo. If you want to truly understand politically, start by reading two small books. Machiavelli's The Prince, and Lao Tzu, Text, Notes, and Comments, both treatises on the effects of ruling. One cynical, the other, spiritual.

For the time being, America is a failed state, broken. When a country can be taken over by a group using an ignorant voter base and resorting to third world ballot stuffing tricks, it is broken. Ours is a history of ups and downs. Your yin and yang. This country will only bounce back IF is begins IMMEDIATELY, and I mean NOW. to pursue with all it's might, a course to save humanity and the planet. And the Fuck the World Generation is not going to do that. Let alone, do it in the right way. Which is to to it the way of the symbol, Taijitu, which is to learn stillness.

Therefore, a great foreign policy is moot. Not doable until other factors sift out. America must learn to serve. Instead, it has learned how to sell, sell crap, sell lies, sell illusions. THAT IS OUR APPROACH TO FOREIGN POLICY. Well guess what? The world has learned we have nothing to sell but our arrogant greed, weapons, and ipods. We have lost the influence you speak of.

And nobody should fall for the illusion that it is going to revert in their lifetime.

Carly said...

All: I apologize for my grammatical and punctuational errors. I have too much on my plate to proofread. thanks.

GringoWithoutBorders said...

Gosh Carly, that was great! I could not disagree with anything you said. Beautiful! I wish I could have read 100 pages of your thoughts!!

"Instead, it has learned how to sell, sell crap, sell lies, sell illusions. THAT IS OUR APPROACH TO FOREIGN POLICY. Well guess what? The world has learned we have nothing to sell but our arrogant greed, weapons, and ipods. We have lost the influence you speak of."

Thank you Carly for seeing the many lies and illusions. The more I dig into just about anything, the more is revealed and it is not pleasant.

Most likely, all power eventually corrupts. China may also find that out...

By the way, you would really like the letter to President Bush that Peter posted on THIS website dated Friday Dec 3, 2004. Has to do with religion.

PS. I was wrong when I said King was against Israel, only Gandhi and Mandela were/are, King never declared a public opinion.