Archive for the 'violence' Category

ISIS and Ebola

September 18, 2014

We’ve had to deal with al Quaeda and AIDS, now we have ISIS and Ebola.  Maybe the world is periodically visited by human and microscopic scourges, maybe there is no lesson to be learned, but maybe there is.  If we were talking about an individual and not about the world, I would say the pattern repeats until we get what it’s about and learn something new and do something different — not as a matter of punishment but as something necessary for some kind of progress to be made.

So, what’s the lesson?

Social Security Numbers

December 22, 2013

There was a time government and private businesses (like medical practices) routinely asked for and used our Social Security Numbers — for our drivers licenses, our university ID numbers, our identifying information in our files.  Then they were told not to, and they stopped, and life as we know it did not cease to exist on the planet.

I feel that way about N.S.A. practices, that there has been insufficient attention to what’s really needed and to engaging in the least intrusive practice possible.

Maybe people who work in intelligence are actually more interested in demonstrating their power than their own intelligence, but that is one approach I could see taking to challenging the N.S.A. to come up with a better system:  this is really kind of crude, just grabbing everything, like a teapot collector trying to buy every teapot ever made.  They could be challenged on the grounds that this is not a very “smart” system.

I am also not convinced that even if it weren’t overly intrusive, it would make a lot of sense to engage in this system.  In some ways, it reminds me of doctors ordering tests in order to cover themselves in the event of a malpractice lawsuit.

Without knowing much about national security myself, I would say that preventing terrorist incidents looks to me like a modern-day reenactment of the myth of Sisyphus.  But maybe that’s the point, to help even more people see that our tasks are just tasks, not some sort of mission we can ever accomplish once and for all.  With that in mind, maybe we take better care not to damage others in the process on the justification that we will be able to claim, if we do, to have actually definitively accomplished the mission.


March 20, 2012

I suspect I wasn’t all that clear in making my point this morning in response to the David Brooks column about our assumptions underlying our surprise when a “good” person suddenly engages in violence.  I was trying to take issue with his assumption, as he tried to debunk these other assumptions, that there exist internal forces that are intrinsically destructive.  I think it’s more like the smell of home-delivered natural gas — the smell (here, the destructiveness) is added from something else.

I guess I don’t disagree with the idea that the source of the violent act is something that wells up from within, but I think what produces the impetus and the behavior is the interplay between a (neutral) force and the person’s unresolved “stuff” (their fears, their desires, their attachments, their ego needs).  I get concerned when I hear about “destructive forces” or “evil,” because I think it’s like saying that corporations are people with personalities — it attributes to something inert a kind of drive I don’t think it has.  In the case of people who suddenly commit violent acts, there may well be a force perceived internally that is involved, but that very same force might well pass through another person without producing violence.  The issue is whether the force gets tangled in the person’s unresolved damage and hence doesn’t pass through but gets stuck and inflates.

To try to avoid such experiences, people try to clean themselves up, do “interior work,” work the 4th through 7th steps of a 12-step program, go to confession, fast and pray, go on a spiritual retreat, work with a therapist, read self-help books — there are many ways people try to clean themselves up.  I suppose in a way, this work is not all that different from David Brooks’s ideas on how people build character in that the person engages in some sort of program to arrive at a further stage of self-development, but my emphasis is not on willful insistence on hewing to an ideal or some rules but rather getting to the point where helpful behaviors flow voluntarily from the heart and the behaviors that don’t serve wither away.  I think the other approach may produce superficial compliance in some people, but that compliance is unreliable across many situations.

So, maybe I should have framed my comment as a difference in emphasis, but I get very frustrated when I seem to hear, yet again, that it’s all about character achieved through a strong exertion of will.  I want to say, “All right, David, you’re good at that, and it’s a wonderful skill; but other skills are needed that come from taking a different approach to developing the self.”  And maybe he’s done those, too, he certainly has a lot going on, but he comes across to me as missing some component — his ideas often strike me as getting at something profound but, from my point of view, are slightly off or at a tangent. My biggest concern is that he lacks thoroughgoing willingness, and that keeps him trapped in his own sense of what serves, rather than actually allowing him to follow his guidance step by step along a path of what actually does serve.  But, for all I know, he’s following his guidance and this is the result — it doesn’t have to make sense to me.

I know that for me it’s very difficult to hear (it’s why I can’t get myself to read the rest of things like The Chronicles of Narnia or Harry Potter or even all of books on religion and spirituality) stuff that is close but no cigar, from my point of view — it has the effect in me of my feeling a need to try to sort out where I differ from the other belief system.  In the case of a NYTimes op-ed column, I have the added frustration that it may be having an influence that isn’t helpful.  In the case of these “destructive forces,” my concern is that people will think there are these negative things out there or in us that we need to guard against, when in fact I think it’s the case that we need to clean ourselves up so these neutral forces don’t look negative or contribute to a negative outcome, and that we need to be more open, not less open.  We can clean up ourselves, but fighting with a truly negative force as if it were an actual entity produces more harm than good overall, I think.  And learning how very much of our suffering is the product of our perceptions, including their distortions by our “stuff,” I think is important — attributing it to even internal forces I think is problematic — it ain’t the forces, it’s us.


I realized after I wrote this that I didn’t include the part of my understanding that some forces are more likely to get caught on our stuff than others, and that if we’re not ready to encounter such forces, we would do well not to put ourselves in situations in which we will.  A very well cleaned-up person can encounter a force and not be fazed by it whereas the same force might mix with another person’s unresolved stuff to produce a lot of distress and a lot of dysfunctional behavior.

Violence measured per species or across species?

October 26, 2011

Having encountered yet another discussion of the recent book The Better Angels of  Our Nature:  Why Violence Has Declined, by Steven Pinker, and having wondered myself whether violence is just a symptom of something else that actually hasn’t decreased and is manifesting elsewhere, I am wondering whether the argument in this book takes into account violence expressed against other species, such as in overfishing or deforestation.  Maybe I should read the book.