Sunday, December 25, 2016

U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334 concerning Israeli settlement activity

On Dec. 23, 2016, the UN Security Council voted 14-0 on its Resolution 2334 concerning Israeli settlement activity. The vote was in favor of demanding that Israeli cease building settlements in disputed areas. The reason for condemning these settlements is that they are being built on disputed land that will likely have to be given to the future State of Palestine as part of any realistic peace agreement. The United States abstained from the vote, while some had hoped that it would use its veto power to stop the resolution.

After the vote, the Obama administration gave a 40-minute, on-the-record press call. On the call, Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, explained that President Obama had had "several rounds of discussions with Ambassador Rice, Ambassador Power, Secretary Kerry, and members of his national security team" before deciding not to veto the resolution. There is concern that accelerated settlement construction in disputed areas is an obstacle to a future peace agreement. Rhodes explained that "we cannot simply have a two-state solution be a slogan while the trend lines on the ground are such that a two-state solution is becoming less and less viable."

Separately, Ambassador Samantha Power said, "We would not have let this resolution pass had it not also addressed counterproductive actions by the Palestinians such as terrorism and incitement to violence, which we’ve repeatedly condemned and repeatedly raised with the Palestinian leadership, and which, of course, must be stopped."

The Obama administration continues to demonstrate its support for reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. Three years previously, Secretary of State John Kerry spent nine months attempting to broker a deal (more information below).

2013: VP Joe Biden expresses his commitment to a two-state solution

The article below was originally posted to Helium Network on Oct. 1, 2013.

"This very moment may offer the best opportunity for peace," U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said of the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations currently under way in Washington. For the first time in years, he said, "both sides are talking directly, and both sides have taken some risk to get where they are today."

Biden addressed the J Street conference in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 30, 2013. Over 2,800 people were gathered in Washington for the conference. J Street is a political advocacy and education organization for American Jews who support a "two-state solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, meaning the creation of a Palestinian state through negotiations with Israel.

"Like you, the president and I are absolutely devoted to the survival of the Jewish state of Israel," Biden said. That survival "requires a just and lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians."

He described Obama's commitment as "unrelenting." "That's why Obama chose Israel for his first visit in his second term," he explained. "That's why Secretary of State John Kerry has been there six times in the last six months."

He said that the United States shares practical security interests with Israel, as well as having a moral commitment to it. "If there were not an Israel, we would have to invent one," he quipped. More seriously, he added, "The leaders on both sides need to know, if they take risks for peace, their people will be behind them, and so will we."

Biden spoke on the last day of the federal government's fiscal year, as politicians were working overtime to determine whether the government would temporarily shut down beginning at midnight after failing to pass a budget for the coming year. For this reason, Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia, had to cancel his appearance before the same crowd; he had been scheduled to speak to the J Street audience just before Biden.

Biden had also been busy, spending an earlier part of the day meeting with President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The J Street crowd enthusiastically received the vice president after waiting over two hours.

Of his meeting with Obama and Netanyahu, Biden said only that they had been "talking about issues that are of mutual concern" and that Netanyahu had publicly thanked Obama. Secretary of State John Kerry is the only one "authorized to comment publicly on the talks," as Kerry previously stated at the beginning of the nine-month negotiation process. The negotiations intend to arrive at a "final status agreement" that solves the conflict.

Biden reminded the audience that the United States is simultaneously addressing other security concerns in the Middle Eastern region. Obama has been focused on Syria's stockpile of chemical weapons. Syria killed about a thousand of its own citizens with sarin gas on Aug. 21, an incident that was close to the Israeli border and that occurred in the context of Syria's larger violent ethnic conflict.

Iran may be on the verge of developing a nuclear weapon, and Obama also spoke with the new Iranian president Hassan Rouhani on Sept. 27, the first such US-Iran diplomatic outreach in over 30 years. Furthermore, Egypt must continue building its democracy and maintain its peace treaty with Israel, Biden said.

"We approach these problems with a great deal of humility," he remarked, regarding efforts to resolve strategic problems that affect the entire world. "We cannot impose a solution."

"We cannot want peace in their country more than they do," he added.

He was introduced by Ambassador Lou Susman, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom. Susman said that Biden "understands that a two-state solution is the only solution" and commended him for having the "guts" to speak his mind to Israel and to other parties in the region. "I think we can all agree," Susman said, "that is the measure of a true friend: to tell others the truth."

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Rick Perry's support for outlawing gay sex

This article was written for Helium Network in 2011. It was updated in 2014 and had minor updates in 2016.

Regarding the looming threat of openly gay Boy Scout leaders in his 2008 book On My Honor, longtime Texas Gov. Rick Perry claims that the Boy Scouts as an organization tolerate gay people but don't want a leader "whose personal agenda is to make an open issue of his sexual orientation." Within the book, he claims that he supports an individual's right to be gay — just not within the Boy Scouts! — but his record does not show that he has actually supported even that much.

Why Perry's approach to the topic is severely flawed

First, in focusing the argument in "On My Honor" only on those who are openly gay, Perry neglects to address the entire Scouting policy that excluded "known or avowed homosexuals" — that is, people who are merely discovered to be gay as well as those who openly acknowledge it.

Second, in trying to demonstrate how commonsense his position is, he begins with this disingenuous premise: "The defining characteristic of homosexuality and heterosexuality is sex. Scouting is not intended to advance a discussion about sexual activity, whether of the heterosexual form or the homosexual form." Notably, however, the Boy Scout policy excluded only "homosexuals" and not "heterosexuals." One can easily agree with Perry that a man should refrain from sharing his "dating patterns" with the children he mentors, but if a straight man may casually reveal his marital status should the question arise, why can't a gay man do the same?

Elsewhere in the book, Perry is more honest about his prejudices. An openly gay person, he says, turns his sexuality into an "issue" or a "public matter" that will inevitably trigger "debate" or become an object lesson in "sex education." The presence of gay leaders would cause the Boy Scouts to be "an experiment in social engineering." He conflates being "openly gay" with being "openly [sexually] active" and says that gay people make gay activism "central" to their lives and cannot refrain from talking about it around children. He provides not a single statistic or anecdote to bolster his assumptions, nor is there any indication that he attempted to speak to an actual gay person for research purposes.

Can an organization practice exclusion and still teach tolerance?


Perry denies that the exclusion of openly gay Scout leaders, as well as the exclusion of open atheists, teaches intolerance. He says it is just a way of avoiding debate on sexual matters and atheist ideology that are not part of the organization's mission.

Later in the book, however, he makes an unrelated observation that unwittingly challenges his own argument. He complains that some parents and teachers have asked for intelligent design theory (a form of creationism) to be removed from science classes and debated in religion classes instead. Instead of acknowledging that these people are simply trying to find a better forum for that debate according to their understanding of science and religion, Perry complains that "the left advocates tolerance while crushing dissenting views." In the case of science classes, then, he believes that the deliberate exclusion of dissenting views is an example of intolerance.

Might it be plausible, then, that gay would-be Scout leaders might perceive their exclusion from the organization as a way of crushing their dissenting viewpoints rather than as a benign relocation of their speech? And if Perry is correct in his analysis of the redirection of discussion about intelligent design, why wouldn't gay people also be correct about the redirection of their very persons to which they would be subject regardless of what they choose to discuss?

Does Perry support a person's right to be gay — anywhere?

Finally, Perry claims that "I respect their [gays'] right to engage in the individual behavior of their choosing," which the record shows to be flatly false. Texas had a longstanding "Homosexual Sodomy Law" which classified gay sex as a misdemeanor. Former President George W. Bush, while campaigning in 1994 to become governor of Texas, referred to sodomy laws as "a symbolic gesture of traditional values." In 2002, threatened by the possibility that the Supreme Court might declare this particular law to be unconstitutional (it did, the next year), Gov. Perry likewise championed the law as "appropriate."

Even in 2010, when the law had been unenforceable for seven years, the Texas Republican Party platform stated: "We oppose the legalization of sodomy." Perry ran his re-election campaign in association with this platform. Two subsequent attempts to remove the obsolete law — HB 2156 and HB 604 in the 2011 legislative session — did not make it out of committee. (The mention of support for anti-sodomy laws was finally removed in the 2012 Texas Republican Party platform, and a different bill to repeal the anti-sodomy law, SB 538, made some progress in 2013 before fizzling out.)

Richard Goldstein in his book Homocons proposed that few people relish the actual penalties that are inflicted on gay people as a result of sodomy laws; rather, the real reason straight people support sodomy laws is that they maintain a social hierarchy that privileges heterosexuality. This would explain why Bush praised the law's main impact as "symbolic" and why he made a vague appeal to "traditional values." In this context, the values in question are little more than one group having power over another group.

However, to pretend that the law has mainly a symbolic impact and not a material impact as well is demonstrably false, which is why such pretenses must be blown through. The criminalization of gay sex impacts people's lives by threatening their careers or their custody of their children. It is particularly egregious for Perry to say on the one hand throughout his political career that he supports the criminalization of gay sex and then to publish that he acknowledges people's "right to engage in the individual behavior of their choosing." He cannot mean the first in a purely symbolic way while meaning the latter in a material way. It is one law: he either supports it or opposes it.

Although people can no longer be prosecuted or penalized for same-sex liaisons in Texas because of the Supreme Court having declared such laws unconstitutional, the Texas Republican Party has frustrated all attempts to remove the law from the books and it remained there under Perry's governorship. If Perry genuinely believes in an adult's legal right to consensual sex with another adult of the same sex, there is one clear action he could take to demonstrate it: lead a bipartisan campaign to strike the obsolete sodomy law from the books. That he has not even made a statement suggesting he would be willing to do so — an inquiry with the gay rights organization Equality Texas in 2011 did not turn up any leads — suggests that he does not really support an individual's right to private sexual activity and only said so where it was convenient (albeit totally false) in his book.

The only way in which Perry supports an individual's right in this area is through his expressed support of their right to leave Texas and move to another U.S. state with more permissive laws, which he advocated in his 2010 book, Fed Up!.

What Texans want

Perry's position is out of step with the majority of Texans on issues pertaining to gay people. An opinion poll of Texas voters commissioned by Equality Texas in 2010 revealed that 78 percent knew someone who was gay; 60 percent thought that gay people were seeking "equal rights," not "special rights"; 69 percent thought that gay people should have the same parental rights as straight people; 63 percent supported recognizing same-sex relationships with a "civil union"; 62 percent supported "domestic partnership" benefits for government workers; and 43 percent thought Texas should perform same-sex marriages, a number that increased to 48 percent when the question was whether Texas should recognize such marriages if they had been performed elsewhere.

Perry is particularly out of step with the younger generation on these issues, given that people under 30 were more likely to express support for gay rights than were people over 65 on every issue proposed in that poll.

Another opinion poll conducted in 2012 by the University of Texas/Texas Tribune found that 69 percent supported recognizing same-sex relationships with either civil unions or full marriage. Only 25 percent wanted to maintain the status quo in that regard, and one imagines that a rather smaller number would have supported criminalizing sex between consenting adults in private, had they been asked.

Perry's presidential bids

Perry ran for the Republican Party nomination in the 2012 presidential election. That nomination finally went to Mitt Romney, who ultimately lost to Barack Obama, who was elected for a second term.

With regard to the nation as a whole, which is more liberal on these issues than Texas, several polls in 2011 found that a majority of Americans supported same-sex marriage and military service by openly gay people, the latter already having become military policy anyway. This was something with which Perry had to contend in his presidential campaign.

On Dec. 29, 2011, a questioner at a coffeehouse appearance asked him to discuss his view of limited government in light of Lawrence v. Texas. This was the Supreme Court case in 2003 surrounding two men who had been arrested for having consensual sex in their home in Texas, resulting in the ruling that anti-sodomy laws were unconstitutional in any state. Perry admitted that he was not familiar with the case, deriding the inquiry as an attempted "'I gotcha' question" and pleading, "I'm not a lawyer." When a reporter later asked him to clarify, he said the same thing: "I'm not taking the bar exam." His unfamiliarity with the case may explain why, as governor of Texas, he continued to support anti-sodomy laws for years after they were ruled unconstitutional. He dropped out of the presidential race on Jan. 19, 2012.

He campaigned again for the 2016 presidential election but dropped out on Sept. 11, 2015. When Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, he nominated Rick Perry to be Secretary of Energy. On Jan. 19, 2017, Perry told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that he regretted his own presidential campaign pledge in 2011 to eliminate the department: "My past statements made over five years ago about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking. In fact, after being briefed on some of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination."

The Boy Scouts, and the US, move forward

In May 2013, the Boy Scouts of America decided to allow openly gay youths — although not openly gay adult leaders — to participate in the organization. A clear majority of the 1,400-member national council voted for the change at an annual meeting in Texas. The resolution took effect in January 2014. In July 2015, the policy was changed again to allow gay leaders.

As 2014 opened, one-third of Americans lived in a state where same-sex marriage is recognized, and the federal "Defense of Marriage Act" that prevented recognition of such marriages for nearly two decades was finally ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. There is no movement to reintroduce anti-sodomy laws (save an abortive attempt by Virginia's Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli in 2013, the promotional website for which was disabled within a few months). Montana repealed theirs, as it had, of course, been unenforceable ever since Lawrence v. Texas. In 2016, Pew Research Center polling found that 55 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage rights and only 28 percent believe that homosexuality should be discouraged.

Rick Perry may wish to criminalize gay sex. However, it's hard to find other people who do, and there is neither political will nor constitutional room for it in the United States. In this area, Americans clearly prefer their limited government and their individual freedoms.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Things you don't know you know about love

Adam Phillips:

"All love stories are frustration stories. As are all stories about parents and children, which are also love stories, in Freud’s view, the formative love stories. To fall in love is to be reminded of a frustration that you didn’t know you had (of one’s formative frustrations, and of one’s attempted self-cures for them); you wanted someone, you felt deprived of something, and then it seems to be there. And what is renewed in that experience is an intensity of frustration, and an intensity of satisfaction. It is as if, oddly, you were waiting for someone but you didn’t know who they were until they arrived. Whether or not you were aware that there was something missing in your life, you will be when you meet the person you want."

Kathleen Dean Moore:

"The love of a mother for her infant is inevitable, unsurprising, Frank says. Take goats, for example. Whatever a mother goat smells right after she gives birth, that becomes the object of its goofy mother love. This is why, if a tiny kid dies, a goatherd will skin it and tie its steaming hide onto an orphan goat. The mother doesn't know or care. She doesn't love her kid. What she is attached to, what she is compelled to nourish and protect, is the blood-touched smell of a newborn kid: chemicals washing silently over receptors at the nose-edge of her brain. Love is a matter of hormones and pheromones and reproductive necessity, of rhythms and cycles, life and death, chemicals ebbing and flooding like tiny tides under a microscopic moon.

But what about lovers? I ask. What about tundra swans who mate for life and languish and die if their mate dies? What about ptarmigans, who follow each other around, clucking softly, fussing over each other, sifting their feathers? It's evolution again, according to Frank. Swans and ptarmigans nest on the ground, where their chicks need the protection of two parents, one to sit on the nest and one to warn off predators. Wandering foxes have long ago eaten the offspring of faithless parents."

James Lasdun:

"Courtly Love, that elaborate medieval attempt to reconcile raw desire with the smooth running of the social machine, is in fact a deliberate exercise in such ambiguities. Under its rules a young knight may fall in love with a married woman and enter into the steamiest of flirtations with her, in which everything is permitted except for the ultimate consummation. The beauty of the formula is that it appears to acknowledge both the force of lust and the virtue of fidelity. Like all codes of sexual conduct, it is fatally flawed, the state of deferred gratification being naturally unstable, and therefore highly likely to culminate in tragedy or farce. But it has an appealing realism about it, and at least tries to recognize the human psyche in all its contradictory totality."

John Stuart Mill:

"Though the practice of chivalry fell even more sadly short of its theoretic standard than practice generally falls below theory, it remains one of the most precious monuments of the moral history of our race; as a remarkable instance of a concerted and organized attempt by a most disorganized and distracted society, to raise up and carry into practice a moral idea greatly in advance of its social conditions and institutions; so much so as to have been completely frustrated in the main object, yet never entirely inefficacious, and which was left a most sensible, and for the most part a highly valuable impress on the ideas and feelings of all subsequent times. ... Chivalry was the attempt to infuse moral elements into a state of society in which everything depended for good or evil on individual prowess, under the softening influences of individual delicacy and generosity."

Ira F. Stone:

"Love is that internal emotional state achieved when fulfilling our needs leads to the pursuit of pleasure. To say that love is a complex phenomenon is an understatement. It communicates both desire for and service to another, and we will express these two aspects of love as yirat hashem (fear of God) and ahavat hashem (love of God) in later chapters. For our present purposes we recognize that love is an internal sensation, but one that is inextricably connected to something outside ourselves. We feel love when we take in or internalize enjoyment, but our love is also directed toward the source of that pleasure. Love describes the experience we have of belonging in the world and at the same time being beholden to the world and to other people in it. The pursuit of our own enjoyment would be impossible as a solitary activity, without stimulation beyond ourselves. Love is both a feeling and an acknowledgement. It ends up within us, but comes to us from the outside. We are affirmed by it, but we are indebted because of it – or, at least, we are conscious of its bi-directionality."

William Ian Miller:

"We know this about love, yet we don't know; we know that the particular contours of what we call love depend greatly on the object of that love, whether it be parents, spouse, lover, child, dog, country, faith, or friend; yet we are never quite sure which is the love that is the purest or deepest or that should set the standard for the others. Somehow all are felt to be paler versions of the love celebrated in fiction, the passionate quest for a mate. We are put to ranking these loves, in part, because the word 'love' applies to all of them and forces the comparison upon us. We think of them, if not exactly the same, as being of the same species."

Juan Valera:

“Who knows if he would grow tired of me and end up hating me?”

“I can see that you overanalyze things and enjoy torturing yourself by creating obstacles for what you want the most.”

“Who says that is what I want? I myself do not know. I have my doubts. I cannot discern the depths of my soul. Might it be my vain pride, the childish contentment at being loved by a person of such standing, that leads me to believe that I love him too? What is love? Is love that which I feel in my heart and that draws me to this man? Listen, Manuela, I may as well tell you all. Everything is dark and muddled. There is another man whose every word I hang on when he speaks, whose gifts amaze me, whose intellectual superiority enthrall me, whose virtues fill me with wonder and thrill me, whose great kindness I can see clearly in the depths of his heart. And you are well aware of how it infuriates and disturbs me for anyone to think for one moment that my feelings for that man, and doubtless his feelings for me, could be confused with love.”

Gabrielle Zevin:

Maya’s not-christening party is held the week before Halloween. Aside from several of the children in attendance wearing Halloween costumes, the party is indistinguishable from either a christening christening or a book party. A.J. watches Maya in her pink party dress, and he feels a vaguely familiar, slightly intolerable bubbling inside of him. He wants to laugh out loud or punch a wall. He feels drunk or at least carbonated. Insane. At first, he thinks this is happiness, but then he determines it’s love. Fucking love, he thinks. What a bother. It’s completely gotten in the way of his plan to drink himself to death, to drive his business to ruin. The most annoying thing about it is that once a person gives a shit about one thing, he finds he has to start giving a shit about everything.”

Martha Stout:

”Psychologically speaking, conscience is a sense of obligation ultimately based in an emotional attachment to another living creature (often but not always a human being), or to group of human beings, or even in some cases to humanity as a whole. Conscience does not exist without an emotional bond to someone or something, and in this way conscience is closely allied with the spectrum of emotions we call "love." This alliance is what gives true conscience its resilience and its astonishing authority over those who have it, and probably also its confusing and frustrating quality.

Conscience can motivate us to make seemingly irrational and even self-destructive decisions, from the trivial to the heroic, from missing an 8:00 meeting to remaining silent under torture for the love of one's country. It can drive us in this way only because its fuel is none other than our strongest affections. … A story about conscience is a story about the connectedness of living things, and in unconscious recognition, we smile at the true nature of the tale.”

Simon Critchley:

“When Courtney Love first read out Cobain’s [suicide] note at a press conference, she finished by saying to the crowd, ‘Just tell him he’s a fucker, OK?...and that you love him’. The ambivalence of Cobain’s suicide note of love and hate is captured precisely in Love’s hate. This is what Jacques Lacan called ‘hainamoration’, ‘hate-love’.”


Adam Phillips. Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012. pp. 17-18.

Kathleen Dean Moore, Riverwalking: Reflections on Moving Water. New York: Harvest, 1995. pp. 24-25.

James Lasdun. Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked. New York: Picador, 2013. pp. 91-92.

John Stuart Mill. The Subjection of Women. New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 2001. Originally London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1869. p 82.

Ira F. Stone. A Responsible Life: The Spiritual Path of Mussar. New York: Aviv Press, 2006. p. 12.

William Ian Miller. Faking It. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. p 180-181.

Juan Valera, Doña Luz

Gabrielle Zevin. The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2014.

Martha Stout. The Sociopath Next Door. Harmony, 2005. (Released by Random House Digital for Kindle.)

Simon Critchley. Suicide. Thought Catalog, 2015.

Quotes: Talking oneself into fear

"Anxiety is continual death."
Nicolas Berdyaev. The Divine and the Human. London: Geoffrey Bles, 1949. p 61.

"In the actual victim, according to various Gothic Tales, this glorying in impenetrability takes the form of admiration, even love of the cruel one while he is coiled to strike. And in the spectator there is a sense of identify [sic] or empathy with both the sufferer and the agent of that suffering. This double identity is the ‘terrible and indefinite curiosity of despair’ we call ‘horror.’"
Philip P. Hallie. The Paradox of Cruelty. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1969. p. 73.

"[The wise do] not put a wrong construction upon everything."
Seneca, quoted by Alain de Botton, The Consolations of Philosophy, New York: Vintage Press, 2000. p 103.

"Then I realized that we [Jews] have something better [than Christmas traditions]. We have fire. Think about it. The whole shpiel of Hanukkah is lighting the menorah to commemorate the miracle of the lamp oil that lasted for eight days (whatever.) Little kids like myself were handed matches and told to light the candles. I remember standing mesmerized in front of the flames as my mother and father gave us our nightly presents. It felt so dangerous. And in my book, just like rock beats scissors, danger beats tinsel."
"In Defense of Hanukkah," Barbara Rushkoff. Fresh Yarn. December 2004. Accessed December 25, 2004.

“...reason is often a casualty of fear...
* * *
Both religious faith and uncomplicated explanations of the world are even more highly valued at a time of great fear." [Al] Gore isn't slamming religion but is instead criticizing an interpretation of faith that contradicts reason. Faith is not the enemy of reason; fear is, something we seem to forget when we're afraid and searching for answers."
Nikki Stern. Because I Say So: The Dangerous Appeal of Moral Authority. Bascom Hill Books, 2010. p. 48, 121. Quoting Al Gore, The Assault on Reason (New York: Penguin Books, 2007) p. 55.

"To be afraid is to behave as if the truth were not true."
Civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, quoted in, quoted in The Week, May 18, 2012, p. 19.

Western psychologists call this biological response to experience an ‘affect.’ * * * Only in mammals do cognition and memory interact with affect to create the emotion of fear."
Tara Brach. Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha. Chapter 7, "Opening Our Heart in the Face of Fear." p. 166.

"Our worship of heroes who brave fear and go beyond the call of duty distracts us from the importance of those who simply (not easily) fulfill their duty in the face of fear—those, that is, who avoid cowardice. If it is a dangerous idea, as we shall see again and again, it is also a bracing one. More abstractly, pondering cowardice illuminates (from underneath, as it were) our moral world. What we think about cowardice reveals a great deal about our conceptions of human nature and responsibility, about what we think an individual person can and should have to endure, and how much one owes to others, to community or cause. Cowardice and cowards have something to teach us. Let us speak of them."
Chris Walsh. Cowardice: A Brief History. Princeton University Press, 2014. p. 21.

"We believed our paranoia would protect us; after all, what are the odds that two girls so well versed in disaster would be the ones to fall prey to it?"
Koethi Zan, The Never List

Quotes: 'There is no time...'

"If the situation is to be different, then the moment in time must have such decisive significance that for no moment will I be able to forget it, neither in time nor in eternity, because the eternal, previously nonexistent, came into existence in that moment.
Johannes Climacus (Soren Kierkegaard). Philosophical Fragments. ed. and trans. by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong. Princeton University Press, 1985. p 13.

"I shall use the term presence to denote the point of intersection in man's existence; and the term flow of presence to denote the dimension of existence that is, and is not, time.
Eric Voegelin, "Immortality: Experience and Symbol," 1967

"Memory is not just the imprint of the past time upon us; it is the keeper of what is meaningful for our deepest hopes and fears. As such, memory is another evidence that we have a flexible and creative relation to time, the guiding principle being not the clock but the qualitative significance of our experiences.
Rollo May, Man's Search for Himself, p 258

"There is no time where the Spirit has not been nor will not be; it neither was nor is it yet to be. It is forever now."
G. W. F. Hegel. Reason in History: A General Introducton to the Philosophy of History. Translated by Robert S. Hartman. Indianapolis: Library of Liberal Arts, Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1953. (Originally 1837.) p 65.

"I see the Past, Present, and Future existing all at once before me.
William Blake

"Time does not exist! There exist no perpetual and eternal appearance and disappearance of phenomena, no ceaselessly flowing fountain of ever appearing and ever vanishing events. Everything exists always! There is only one eternal present, the Eternal Now, which the weak and limited human mind can neither grasp nor conceive."
P. D. Ouspensky. A New Model of the Universe: Principles of the psychological method in its application to problems of science, religion, and art. Translated by R. R. Merton. Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications, Inc., 1997. (Originally published New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1931.) p. 139.

Monday, November 21, 2016

What evil looks like

People who perpetrate cruelty do not look any different outwardly than anyone else. "We can all become beasts," said Chris Hedges.

Deborah Feldman:

"'Hitler had chicken feet, you know,' Bubby remarks. 'That's why he never took off his shoes. So they wouldn't see he was a sheid, a ghost.' She scrubs at the burned remains of chicken fricassee on the bottom of a cast-iron skillet, her calloused fingers marked by years of housework. I don't think this world is such a simple place, in which bad people have deformities that mark them as evil. That's not how it works. Evil people look just like us. You can't take off their shoes and know the truth."

Their problems are inside. They may be immature, naïve, not in possession of knowledge of any civil way to deal with their traumas. If they run the state, the state will be cruel.

Clive James:

"In the long run, the Banality of Evil interpretation of human frightfulness is not quite as useful as it looks. It helps us appreciate the desirability of not placing ourselves in a position where the rule of justice depends on natural human goodness, which might prove to be in short supply. But it tends to shield us from the intractable facts about human propensities. * * * Educated in a hard school of bombed refugee camps, the Arab torturer was trying to show his clueless American victim what it felt like to be helpless. It is possible that all torturers are attempting to teach their own version of the same lesson. But in that case we are bound to consider the further possibility that anyone might be a torturer. The historical evidence suggests that on the rare occasions when a state begins again in what a fond humanitarian might think of as a condition of innocence, a supply of young torturers is the first thing it produces. Certainly this was true of Pol Pot's Cambodia."

Yet their crimes may be unusual and elaborate, "interesting" in the cursed sense.

Norman Mailer:

"Eichmann, superficially speaking, was a little man, an ordinary man in appearance, and vulgar and dull, but to assume therefore that evil itself is banal strikes me as exhibiting a prodigious poverty of imagination."


Chris Hedges. I Don't Believe in Atheists, Chapter 4.

Deborah Feldman. Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012. pp. 95-96.

Clive James. Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts. (2007) New York: Norton, 2008. p. 277-278.

Norman Mailer. The Spooky Art: Thoughts on Writing. New York: Random House, 2004. p. 150.

Inconsistencies in crediting success and suffering to God

On the inconsistency of crediting success and suffering to God:

Some people credit mainly good things to God. In his memoir, Donald Miller wrote of his immature concept of a "slot-machine God:" "If something nice happened to me, I thought it was God, and if something nice didn't, I went back to the slot machine, knelt down in prayer, and pulled the lever a few more times."

Christopher Hitchens wrote in God is not Great:

"But the human wish to credit good things as miraculous and to charge bad things to another account is apparently universal. In England the monarch is the hereditary head of the church as well as the hereditary head of the state: William Cobbett once pointed out that the English themselves colluded in this servile absurdity by referring to “The Royal Mint” but “The National Debt.” Religion plays the same trick, and in the same way, and before our very eyes. On my first visit to the Sacre Coeur in Montmartre, a church that was built to celebrate the deliverance of Paris from the Prussians and the Commune of 1870-1871, I saw a panel in bronze which showed the exact pattern in which a shower of Allied bombs, dropped in 1944, had missed the church and burst in the adjoining neighborhood..."

Deepak Chopra wrote: "As they surveyed the wreckage of their lives, the dazed survivors mumbled the same response: I'm alive only by the grace of God.They did not consider (nor express out loud) that the same God might have sent the storm."

Other people tend toward anger at God for their suffering. Rick Warren wrote in his bestseller The Purpose Driven Life: "People often blame God for hurts caused by others. This creates what William Backus calls 'your hidden rift with God.'" Another possibility is that a cosmic force of evil, the opposite of God, perpetrates injury. The effect, however, is the same. "The more that Satan is guilty, then the more that Adam is innocent! If the devil is the instigator of sin, then the sinner is only a dupe," wrote Vladimir Jankelevitch. In other words, blaming either God or Satan lets humans off the hook for the injuries they cause each other.

Frederic Luskin said that forgiveness is "learning to make peace when something in your life doesn't turn out the way you wanted it to. It's an inner quality not dependent on anyone else, an assertive and necessary life skill rather than a specific response to a particular life situation. People who are hurt have a narcissistic perspective that it's unusual to be hurt, but in fact it's common. When you understand how common it is, you can forgive life."

For others, neither good nor bad is credited to God. They may be atheists; they may be religious people who do not believe that God is responsible for causing personalized, specific effects in the lives of individuals; or they may claim to believe that God does this without being able to bring themselves to acknowledge any specific instance as God's handiwork. Of the last category, Carol M. Swain writes: "...even though we say we believe in God, we live like atheists. We consider God to be either nonexistent or irrelevant — and certainly not in the business of distributing rewards and punishments."

One could be clever and attribute both varieties to God. George F. Will: ”The theologically serious and mordantly witty Peter De Vries wrote in one of his novels about a Connecticut river flood to which a local pastor responded by praying 'that a kind Providence will put a speedy end to the acts of God under which we have been laboring.'”

The theologian Charles Hartshorne asked: “There is only one solution of the problem of evil 'worth writing home about.' It uses the idea of freedom, but generalizes it. Why suppose that only people make decisions?” Very well, but it should be clear that having God make decisions only transfers responsibility onto God. Positing different moral rules for God creates a new problem. H. J. Rose framed it: “...if some things were right for men and others for gods, was there any real moral difference between actions at all?”


Donald Miller. Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality. Nashville, Tenn.: Nelson Books, 2003. p. 9.

Christopher Hitchens. God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. New York: Hachette Book Group, 2007. pp. 76-77.

Deepak Chopra. How To Know God: The Soul's Journey into the Mystery of Mysteries. New York: Harmony Books, 2000. p 58.

Rick Warren. The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002. p. 94.

Vladimir Jankelevitch. Forgiveness. Translated by Andrew Kelley. University of Chicago Press, 2005. Originally Le Pardon, 1967. p 58.

Frederic Luskin, quoted in Rahel Musleah, "The Dance of Forgiveness," Jewish Woman, Fall 2002. p 36.

Carol M. Swain. Be the People: A Call to Reclaim America's Faith and Promise. Thomas Nelson, 2011.

George F. Will. "Leviathan in Lousiana." Newsweek. September 12, 2005. p 88.

Charles Hartshorne, Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes, p 13.

H. J. Rose. Religion in Greece and Rome. New York: Harper and Row, 1959. p 91. Originally published as Ancient Greek Religion (1946) and Ancient Roman Religion (1948), London: Hutchinson and Co., Limited.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Moving from cursing others to assisting them

One stage of grief, in Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's famous schema, is bargaining. One type of bargain a person may try to strike — if only in the imagination, as such bargains usually are anyway — is that someone else could have been taken in place of the one who is grieved. This is not necessarily because they relish the suffering of others. (Some people certainly do. The character of the princess Pari said in Anita Amirrezvani’s novel Equal of the Sun: “People love to dwell on the pain of others; they love to stick their fingers in it and suck on it as if it were honey. But I won’t allow them to feed at my hive.”) They may say this in the height of emotion even if, at a more lucid and sober moment, they would not claim that one life is worth more than another. A character in Sjón's novel From the Mouth of the Whale describes it this way:

Alas, why does God allow the candle of worthless old hags to flicker, year in, year out, for nine times nine years, while abruptly and without apparent mercy blowing out the newly kindled flames of one’s own children? It is an ugly thought that everyone who has ever lost anyone has entertained, demanding in their despair: Why him? Why her? Why not that one or that one, or that other? But I cannot help it. (p. 67)

Later in the novel:

Clenching my fist, I prayed:

“Dear God, take that black-hearted knave Nightwolf Pétursson and give back to me little Hákon, who was always as gentle as a girl; merciful Father, take Ari Magnússon of Ögur and return to me quick-handed Berglind, who inherited her father’s gift for carving; heavenly Creator, take that foul-tongued slanderer, Reverend Gudmundur Einarsson, and give me back the little lad Klemens, with one moss-green eye and one blue; dear Lord, take the whole legion of good-for-nothings who every day outlive their victims, sprawling in their high seats and thrones, gorging themselves on meat, dripping with grease, format he livestock that grew fat on the green grass in meadows tended with diligence by innocent, God-fearing souls; congratulating themselves on having stripped this man of his livelihood and that woman of her breadwinner — when they can speak between ill-gotten mouthfuls; enjoying to a great old age the fruits of the wicked deeds they committed during their days on Earth with the blessing of bishops, and convinced that the despicable acts that they refer to as ‘a good day’s work in the Lord’s vineyard’ will have paid for their place in Heaven; dear God, snatch them away and do with them what you will, but give back to me Sigrídur Thórólfsdóttir, a pious woman, a loving wife, and a caring mother who never asked for anything for herself but prayed for mercy and good fortune for friends and strangers alike.

These terrible curses poured in torrents from my mouth. They were so dire that when I came to my senses I hoped that the good Lord in His mercy and deep understanding of human frailty would pretend that His great all-hearing ears had been closed in that dark hour.

Another manifestation of the preference for one life over another is the tendency to treat the deaths of multiple strangers, considered together, as a statistic. Partly this is because we are able to reason that whatever happens to large numbers of people is 'just the way the world works." The theologian Nicolas Berdyaev wrote that "the problem of evil is above all the problem of death....The tragic sense of death is connected with an acute sense of personality, of personal destiny. For the life of the race there is nothing tragic in death. The life of the race always renews itself and continues, it finds compensation for itself." Meanwhile, if a precious known few are in trouble and the bargaining game appears to have been "won," it is considered to be a miracle. As John Allen Paulos wrote in Irreligion: "Why, for example, do so many in the media and elsewhere refer to the rescuing of a few children after an earthquake or a tsunami as a miracle when they attribute the death of perhaps hundreds of equally innocent children in the same disaster to a geophysical fault line? It would seem either both are the result of divine intervention or both are a consequence of the earth's plates shifting."

We are able to be more aware of individuals about whom we can form stories and feel pain (whether empathy for their pain or our own experience of the pain of losing them). As Randall Jarrell wrote: "One writer says that we only notice what hurts us — that if you went through the world without hurting anyone, nobody would even know you had been alive." Having noticed the pain of others, we are responsible for helping them. "Pain observed is journalistic pain. It's diplomatic pain. It's television pain," wrote John Le Carre in The Constant Gardener, "over as soon as you switch off your beastly set. Those who watch suffering and do nothing about it, in her book, were little better than those who inflicted it. They were the bad Samaritans."


The character of the princess Pari, in Anita Amirrezvani’s novel Equal of the Sun. New York: Scribner, 2012.

Sjón. From the Mouth of the Whale. (2008) Translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb (2011). New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013. p. 67, 156-157.

Nicolas Berdyaev. The Divine and the Human. London: Geoffrey Bles, 1949. p 96.

John Allen Paulos. Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for God Just Don't Add Up. New York: Hill and Wang, 2008. pp. 85-86.

Randall Jarrell, in the introduction to The Best Short Stories of Rudyard Kipling. ed. Randall Jarrell. Garden City, New York: Hanover House, 1961. p xii.

John Le Carre. The Constant Gardener. New York: Pocket Books, 2001. p 159.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Why no one should vote for Donald Trump

His examples of bigotry and misogyny are legion, and he lacks the political experience and knowledge to do the job. Here's why.

The only real choice

Image: Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs via Wiki Commons

"Because of her previous eight years in the White House, her eight years in the Senate and her four years as Secretary of State, she is also the single most prepared person ever to be nominated for president," Charles Kaiser wrote. She has numerous accomplishments in healthcare, civil rights, and diplomacy. She would also, incidentally, be the first woman president of the United States.

What's wrong with the competition

Image: Gage Skidmore via Wiki Commons

Donald Trump has never served in public office nor served in the military. "Taft and Hoover are the only two American presidents who were elected to the presidency despite having never been elected to previous office or served as a high-ranking military officer; however, both served as high-ranking federal government officials," wrote Jennifer Victor.

Trump's experience is solely as a businessman who has focused on real estates and casinos. Only two of the 100 largest U.S. newspapers endorsed Trump, one of which was the Las Vegas Review-Journal owned by fellow casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. Although Trump is a billionaire, he has endured multiple bankruptcies.

Some economists are concerned about his attitude toward trade with China.

Two weeks after the election, he is scheduled to stand civil trial for two lawsuits for "misrepresentation, breach of contract, and taking advantage of seniors" and "fraud and racketeering" related to a seminar series he called "Trump University."

Most presidential candidates release their tax returns. Trump never did, and it came to light that he claimed nearly a $1 billion loss in 1995, something that would have enabled him to avoid paying federal income tax for 18 years. When this subject was brought up during the third presidential debate, he blamed his opponent: "If you don't like what I did, you should have changed the laws."

He is also a celebrity who is famous for a reality TV show on which he took pleasure in "firing" prospective business apprentices. He also owns beauty pageants, ostensibly to allow him to be around young, beautiful women. He reportedly spent time backstage and "inspected" the women.

In the 1970s, facing "one of the biggest lawsuits ever brought by the Justice Department for housing discrimination against black people," Trump and his father settled the lawsuit without admitting wrongdoing but agreed to a court order to change their rental practices. In 1989, Trump bought full-page newspaper ads to advocate for the death penalty for five black and Latino teenagers who were accused of assault (but who turned out to be innocent). In 1991, the president of the Trump Plaza Hotel claimed that Trump had once told him: "Black guys counting my money! I hate it."

Trump's campaign for president featured a longstanding promise to ban all Muslims from entering the US. This would actually be unconstitutional (so, toward the end of the campaign, he softened it). He "defended" himself by saying: "What I'm doing is no different than FDR" [i.e. putting Japanese-Americans in internment camps during WWII]. In July 2016, the parents of a Muslim-American soldier who died serving the U.S. military in Iraq appeared at the Democratic convention. The father spoke movingly while the mother stood by his side. The father also held up a copy of the U.S. Constitution and addressed Trump from a distance: "You have sacrificed nothing and no one." Subsequently interviewed by ABC, Trump insulted the mother, "She had nothing to say. She probably, maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say," and said that he had indeed sacrificed because "I work very, very hard" and had created jobs.

He promised to build a wall between the US and Mexico and somehow force Mexico to pay for it. Such a wall would cost about $25 billion, or about twice Mexico's entire military budget. He promised to deport 11 million Latinos currently in the US. This would cost an estimated $300 billion, or about half the United States' entire military budget.

Given multiple chances during his campaign to speak on what he would do for African-Americans, he repeatedly made offensively stereotypical comments about "inner cities" and said that black people are "living in hell." His solution? Bring back "stop-and-frisk," a law by which a police officer can stop anyone they like and search them for weapons, which was ruled ineffective and, oh, unconstitutional.

The American Nazi Party’s chairman identified "real opportunity" in a Trump presidency, while the KKK newspaper The Crusader published support for Trump. In the final days of his campaign, he published an attack ad naming Jewish financial professionals George Soros, Janet Yellen, and Lloyd Blankfein in a tradition of anti-Semitic rhetoric.

In 2004, radio host Howard Stern asked Donald Trump on-air if it was acceptable to call his 23-year-old daughter "a piece of ass," and Trump said yes. In 2006, Trump said on the TV show "The View," while seated next to his daughter: “I don’t think Ivanka would[pose for nude photographs] inside the magazine Although she does have a very nice figure. I’ve said that if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps, I would be dating her. Is that terrible?”

In 2005, Trump was standing outside speaking to an Access Hollywood journalist without realizing the microphone was on. He was recorded saying: "I did try and fuck her...She was married. I moved on her very heavily...I moved on her like a bitch...I just start kissing them...When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything."

In August 2015, after a female debate moderator from Fox News asked tough questions of the Republican candidates, Trump made an apparent comment about menstruation when he told CNN Tonight that "You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever."

In 2006, he called a female comedian a "big, fat pig." In September 2016, he renewed an old feud with a former Miss Universe, calling her fat and questioning her naturalized U.S. citizenship. He had previously called the Latina woman "Miss Piggy" and "Miss Housekeeping." (Trump himself is on the verge of obesity, according to the height and weight he revealed on the Dr. Oz show in September 2016.)

In a March 2016 interview with Chris Matthews, Trump said that he advocated outlawing abortion and punishing women who have abortions. (Credible anti-abortion proposals typically suggest punishment for doctors, not for girls and women.)

While campaigning in November 2015, he waved his arms in a manner that appeared to mock a reporter who was born with a condition affecting his joints. When his opponent, campaigning with then-undiagnosed pneumonia, stumbled while walking to her car, he mocked her as lacking "stamina": "She’s supposed to fight all of these different things, and she can’t make it fifteen feet to her car, give me a break."

In the days before the election, he said he would cut all funding for renewable energy research and development. This would present a problem with compliance with international treaties like the Paris Agreement which the US had signed just six months previously along with 174 other nations, and it would affect existing American jobs insofar as $1.5 billion is already spent each year in this area.

Trump has said he would sign the "First Amendment Defense Act" which would allow discrimination against unmarried people who have sex. He himself had a high-profile extramarital affair in the late 1980s; in 1990, he told an interviewer that he did not believe adultery was a sin; and, as of the month before the election, on his third marriage, 12 women had accused him of sexual assault. The "First Amendment Defense Act" of course allows discrimination against couples in a same-sex marriage. A majority of Americans support same-sex marriage, including an increasing number of Republican politicians, (which is good since the Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that same-sex marriage is legal throughout all 50 states), yet Trump insists he believes the question should be returned to each state to decide for itself and he picked a vice presidential candidate who has opposed gay rights at every turn.

In November 2015, confident in his own foreign policy knowledge, Trump said: "I know more about ISIS than the generals do." In September 2016, he would fire the generals. (This is not officially within the president's powers, nor within his interests, if he wants honest facts and candid advice from career military professionals rather than yes-men.)

A Politifact analysis found that 91 percent of Trump's statements are false. Psychologists have speculated that he has significant personality disorders: narcissistic, antisocial, sociopathic. His charity, the Donald J. Trump Foundation, spent $20,000 on a giant portrait of him.

He took the time to complain about rapper Jay-Z's use of bad language at a concert at a rally for his opponent just days before the Nov. 2016 election. Trump himself is such a loose cannon that his campaign staff banned him from his own Twitter account immediately leading up to the election.

Trump has threatened, if elected, to jail his opponent, a behavior normally associated with dictators. His supporters commonly chant "Lock her up!" at rallies.

He has also described the election — even before it happened — as "rigged," and said in the third and final presidential debate on Oct. 19, 2016 that he might not accept the results if he did not win. A Republican commented: “Refusing to accept the outcome of a legitimate American election and refusing to commit to the peaceful transition of power is disqualifying. Stunning.”

Jonathan Freedland wrote for The Guardian:

"An American leader who believes climate change is a Chinese hoax, who believes terror suspects should be tortured and their family members killed, who believes that Saudi Arabia should have nuclear weapons, who is fascinated by nukes’ power of 'devastation' and who has asked repeatedly why the US doesn’t use them; a man who says, 'I love war'; a man who drools in admiration for Vladimir Putin and whose disregard for NATO, and refusal to promise to defend a member state if attacked, would all but invite Moscow to invade one of the Baltic states — such a man would plunge all of us into a dark future."

Fareed Zakaria said on his final weekly television show before the election:

"I am not a highly partisan person. I have views that are left of center, but others that are conservative...I think well of many Republican politicians, including the last two GOP presidential nominees, John McCain and Mitt Romney, both of whom are honorable men and would have been good presidents...Donald Trump is not a normal candidate. He is a cancer on American democracy."

Of the Republicans who support Trump, Paul Waldman wrote for the Washington Post:

..."there’s only one party that is so vigorously undermining core democratic institutions in this way. You may not like what Democrats stand for, but they aren’t engaging in widespread official vote suppression, chanting that should their candidate win her opponent should be tossed in jail, promising to prevent any Republican president from filling vacancies on the Supreme Court, suggesting that they’ll try to impeach their opponent as soon as he takes office, cheering when a hostile foreign power hacks into American electronic systems, and trying to use the FBI to win the election."

But not all do. The Republicans may have reached the point of schism over this candidacy. Many prominent Republicans do not support Trump although he is their party's nominee. According to a list compiled by The Atlantic, non-supporters include former presidents George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush and many high-ranking career politicians, pundits, and other influentials. On the list: Barbara Bush, Mitt Romney, Tom DeLay, Jeb Bush, Karl Rove, Larry Pressler, Norm Coleman, Michael Bloomberg, Sally Bradshaw, Marc Racicot, Vin Weber, Gordon Humphrey, Chris Shays, Mike Murphy, John Warner, William Milliken, Mickey Edwards, John Huntsman, Christine Todd Whitman, Michael Steele, Mel Martinez, Ken Mehlman, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Fred Upton, Richard Hanna, Charlie Dent, Adam Kinzinger, Mike Coffman, Bob Dold, Scott Rigell, Dave Reichert, Reid Ribble, Mac Thornberry, Barbara Comstock, Martha Roby, Joe Heck, Cresent Hardy, Mia Love, Will Hurd, Steve Knight, John Katko, Kay Granger, Rodney Davis, Ann Wagner, Tom Rooney, Erik Paulsen, Frank LoBiondo, Jamie Herrera Beutler, Susan Collins, John McCain, Kelly Ayotte, Lindsey Graham, Ben Sasse, Rob Portman, Pat Toomey, Mike Lee, Jeff Flake, Dean Heller, Cory Gardner, John Thune, Dan Sullivan, John Kasich, Brian Sandoval, Charlie Baker, Rick Snyder, Larry Hogan, Susana Martinez, Gary Herbert, Bill Haslam, Robert Bentley, Dennis Daugaard, Richard Armitage, Condoleezza Rice, Brent Scowcroft, Hank Paulson, Michael Chertoff, Michael Hayden, John Negroponte, Tom Ridge, William Ruckelshaus, William Reilly, Carlos Gutierrez, George P. Shultz, Paul Wolfowitz, Charles Fried, Louis Wade Sullivan, Robert Zoellick, Robert Gates, Donald Gregg, Ed Meese, Michael Chertoff, Colin Powell, Bill Kristol, Ross Douthat, Ross Douthat, Leon Wolf, George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Glenn Beck, Max Boot, Michael Reagan, Robert Kagan, Bret Stephens, Greg Mankiw, Lanhee Chen, John Podhoretz, Michael Medved, John Yoo, Ari Fleischer, Paul Singer, Charles and David Koch, Meg Whitman, Seth Klarman, Mike Fernandez, Russell Moore, Robert P. George, Wayne Grudem.

If you are a registered voter in the US, tomorrow, you, too, can have your say.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

What is Jewish mysticism?

What do mystics believe?

If there is any underlying belief to mysticism, it is the assumption that God is connected to humans and present near us. Scholem said that mysticism arises when religion is in a "romantic period," recognizing an "abyss" and launching a "quest for the secret that will close it in, the hidden path that will span it. It strives to piece together the fragments broken by the religious cataclysm, to bring back the old unity which religion has destroyed, but on a new plane, where the world of mythology and that of revelation meet in the soul of man." Similarly, Dedopulos described mysticism as the "most advanced stage of religion" that reconciles the animist/immanent view of the world (in which the world itself is alive or divine) with the idea of a distant creator by providing techniques for direct connection with God: "God's created are able to uncover the paths by which they can make their way back to God. They can therefore form very personal, open relationships with him; the Lord of All becomes the Loving Friend." To explain rationally how the finite can connect with the infinite, Scholem said, the mystic needs to use the language of "paradox."

To that end: "Spiritual awareness is born of encounters with the mystery. It begins with an almost trivial passing astonishment and the irreducable [sic] paradox that underlies everything. There are two sides that are irreconcilable and mutually exclusive. But there they are, at the same time. Their simultaneous existence defines any known system of logic." (Kushner, pp. 34-35)

"...mysticism is a topic soliciting both academic and personal attention. We can learn a great deal from scholars, but textual studies have their limits. Admittedly, all studies are personal, calling for acts of imagination from their readers, humanistic studies most of all. With mysticism, however, the call includes a summons to go beyond imagination, to picture stopping picturing, starting to locate dark, voided places in the self like the places where the mystics say they have experienced ultimate reality directly. Because ultimate reality is not picturable, as proximate realities are, those places lie below or above or to the side of the normal imagination. Certainly, the mystic has had to return to the normal imagination to speak about mystical experience, yet such speech has had to deny itself, or try to defeat itself, to communicate the core truth. * * * With ultimate reality and the mysticism that experiences it directly, the very substance, the bare minimum necessary for speaking significantly at all, cannot be captured adequately in human terms. Until we can locate in ourselves the ineffable quality that stands at the mystical core, we have not found what the mystics themselves suggest is the Archimedean lever.

* * *

"We can call it only the mystery because as soon as we sense it we realize that it defeats our understanding. We are primed to deal with finite entities, things of space and time. Infinite or purely spiritual entities we have to deal with negatively, though denials of space and time, boundaries and limits. The light of our minds seems to go out, and we have to grope through unknowing, at the depths of our spirits, like miners deep in the shafts.

We never get to the end of the shaft, through the doorway, unless the darker-than-mystery takes us by the hand and drags us through. Classical Christian mystics have described such a transition as ‘infused contemplation’ and considered it to be mysticism proper, the prime analogue. It is passive, rather than active, a free work of divine grace, rather than anything that human effort can achieve. Ultimate reality takes us to itself, and we cannot resist. On our own (though guided by the mystery constantly), we may get to the doorway, if fortune is favorable. To pass to the far side and get to the wisdom beyond, to dwell in the interior castle onto which the doorway opens, is beyond us. The end of the journey, the consummation of the love, depends on the slow yet strong hands of an Other."
(Carmody & Carmody, pp. 21, 115)

Dennis referred to a

"powerful mystical sense of kinship between God and humanity (Ohr Yitzhak 182a-b; Zohar I:94a). Within the soul of every individual is a hidden part of God that is waiting to be revealed. And even mystics who refuse to so boldly describe such a fusion of God and man nevertheless find the whole of Creation suffused in divinity, breaking down distinctions between God and the universe. Thus, the Kabbalist Moses Cordovero writes, 'The essence of divinity is found in every single thing, nothing but It exists...It exists in each existent.'"

‘Theosophic’ Kabbalah, as academics call it, "produced a complete and elaborate theological system focused on the ten sefirot, attributes of God that describe all of his characteristics and activities. While God’s essence is entirely unknowable, the sefirot allow us to comprehend what we can know about God within the bounds of our limited human understanding. (Eisen, p. 130)

Dennis said: "All Jewish mystical/esoteric traditions adopt the language of, and expand upon, the philosophic ideas of their time: the Merkavah mystics are influenced by both Platonic ideas and Pythagorean mathematics, the classical Kabbalah was influenced by Neo-Platonism, and Abraham Abulafia was inspired by Maimonidean Scholasticism." Some perceive a scriptural "injunction against taking a mentally created 'image' of God for an authentic experience of God. The Kabbalistic universe must therefore be understood as a map of the mystic's journey to God, one whose symbols, though grounded in the Torah, have fluctuated with the changing collective Jewish consciousness." (Besserman, p. 10) And Scholem said that, while the mystic will likely need to "transgress" the boundaries of traditional religion as "the substance of the canonical texts, like that of all other religious values, is melted down and given another form as it passes through the fiery stream of the mystical consciousness," the Torah is not rejected but is "regarded as the living incarnation of the divine wisdom which eternally sends out new rays of light." So, "virtually always postbiblical Jewish mystics were immersed in, even pillars of, the communities that the rabbis were developing authoritatively. Many of them were authoritative rabbis, or masters, in their own right. Mysticism enjoyed and suffered from a beguiling, fearful existence along the border of Talmudic Judaism. It could seem both to support and to challenge the central concern of the rabbis: to interpret Torah so as to sanctify all of practical life." (Carmody & Carmody, p. 139)

Of historical note: “Kabbalah does not openly endorse violence against non-Jews, but it expresses the most negative views of non-Jews in Judaism by associating them with the realm of pure evil, and it envisions the messianic era as a period in which the non-Jewish world will be destroyed.” (Eisen, p. 207)

What is a mystical feeling? What do mystics do to get it?

Mostly, mysticism is understood to focus on religious experience. Mysticism "is most often understood as an attempt to have an unusually direct and intimate relationship with the divine.” (Eisen, p. 129) It is "the type of religion which puts the emphasis on immediate awareness of relation with God, on direct and intimate consciousness of the Divine Presence. It is religion in its most acute, intense and living stage," according to Rufus Jones in Studies in Mystical Religion.

Mystics "want to taste the whole wheat of spirit before it is ground by the millstones of reason," in the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel.

Eisen explains: "‘ecstatic’ or ‘prophetic’ Kabbalah...emphasizes meditation as a means to achieving a close relationship with the divine." Mystics go about "the actual quest for mystical experience: a direct, intuitive, unmediated encounter with a close but concealed Deity...the ecstatic experience of God, not merely knowledge about God." Such Jewish mystics "tend to be ascetics" and "create hanganot, personal daily devotional practices (Hanganot ha-Tzadikim)" in addition to fulfilling traditional religious obligations and raising a family. (Dennis p. 141) Thus, "Jewish mystics are a paradoxical combination of spirituality and earthiness." (Epstein, p. xiv) "This desire for union with the divine, the absolute, the powers beyond, or however else this superhuman goal of the mystical aspiration may be called, is generally believed to rest on a special vocation, a call from above, and involves an often very strenuous preparation, a turning away from the visible world and its enjoyments and, in most cases, severe physical austerities." (Graef, p. 9)

“The love of language [poet Robert] Lax and his friends shared gave them impressive verbal acuity, but their hyperawareness of meanings and pseudo-meanings, connotations and denotations, could have a deadening effect on individual words and thoughts. Every term or concept was suspect, subject to the charge of being phony — even words such as contemplation and mysticism Lax and Merton would later embrace. (Their distrust of mysticism came out in a game they called Subway Mysticism. Standing in the middle of a subway car, they’d pretend the train’s acceleration was taking them into a mystic trance.)”

Then what happens?

The next dimension "is the practical, theurgic, or pragmatic Kabbalah (Kabbalah Maasit or Kabbalah Shimmush); the application of mystical power to effect change in Asiyah, the material world of action. This is both the most attractive and the most dangerous aspect of the mystical enterprise. For that reason, many Kabbalists opt not to pursue this branch of Kabbalah at all (Sha'arei Kedushah). Practical Kabbalah consists of rituals for gaining and exercising power. It involves activating theurgic potential by the way one performs the commandments, the summoning and controlling of angelic and demonic forces, and otherwise tapping into the supernatural energies present in Creation." (Dennis, p. 142)

“...Jewish mystical experience has been markedly kataphatic (imaginative, positive about symbols, confident that the effort to represent God is valuable)...

The God whom Jewish mystics have sought is the God of the ancestors Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David. This God is personal, engaged with the original tribes and their descendants, as with a people uniquely his own. The people think of themselves as formed through a unique covenant, and they think that no other people has received so much from the one God, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Carmody & Carmody, p. 181)

One's private revelation of God is considered to be most important in part because it has the keys to interpreting the public revelation of God at Sinai. (Scholem, p. 9)

Historical origins

  • Philo of Alexandria described the doctrine of the Therapeutae
  • The Merkavah school of Talmudic rabbis, including Rabbi Akiva in the 2nd-century C.E. The Merkavah was the prophet Ezekiel's vision of God's chariot. From this sprang the Sepher Yetzirah, or the Book of Creation, written in the 3rd century CE, which Dedopulos calls "the earliest piece of the Kabbalah proper." It includes the ten sefiroth (spheres) and the "paths of knowledge that connect them." (Dedopulos, p. 13)
  • Hilda Graef said that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam’s mystical teachings were not much influenced by Hindu or Buddhist mysticism but they were influenced by Neoplatonism, specifically by Plotinus who lived in the 3rd century C.E. Plotinus taught that part of the soul lives in normal space/time and the other part was transcendent and associated with the contemplative and the good. (Graef, pp. 16-17)
  • "...Jewish mystics have seldom taken yogic, shamanistic, or even medicinal turns.” (Carmody & Carmody, p. 182)

It picked up again in the medieval period.

  • 11th century, Spain: The philosopher Ibn Gabirol called "these secret oral teachings 'Kabbalah,' or tradition. All Jewish mystical practice since then falls under the heading of 'Kabbalah.'" (Epstein, p. xvi)
  • 12th century Europe: The Hasidei Ashkenaz of Germany moved away from Aristotelian-influenced Jewish philosophy and back to the old Merkavah teachings. "Where great mainstream Jewish philosophers such as Moses Maimonides were thinking about ways to deal with life and living, the Hasidim were teaching that God could be known, and that it was possible to make life into what you wanted, to be truly happy and contented." They produced Sepher Hasidim, Book of the Pious, and they studied Gematria, looking for numerical codes in the Torah. Next was Sepher ha-Bahir, which showed up in France, "the second great Kabbalistic treatise," and The Mystical Torah: Kabbalistic Creation, in Spain. In the 13th century came the vast work Sepher ha-Zohar, Book of Splendour, promoted by and likely written by Moses de León. "It is still considered synonymous with the study of the Kabbalah. It collected all sorts of information from the oral tradition, elucidated confusing or conflicting points in the Bahir and the Sepher Yetzirah, and finally gave the Kabbalah the written record it needed to gain acceptance across Europe." (Dedopulos, p. 14-16)
  • 13th century Spain: Abraham ben Samuel Abulafia was "a nomadic mystic who wandered across Europe and even to the Holy Land in search of truths and answers. Abulafia's teachings had already made him famous, and his journeys simply added further to his personal legend. He even visited Pope Nicholas III in Rome to demand an apology for the suffering that the Christians had inflicted on the Jews. The pope of course threw Abulafia straight into prison, but died before he could implement the death penalty that he had decreed. Eventually, Abulafia settled on a small, isolated island near Malta to continue working away from the world. His most notable contribution was an alternative decoding system to gematria...called tziruf, which involved manipulating combinations of letters. He also left a system of meditation by which mankind could achieve D'vikut ('cleaving' to God) which still attracts attention today." (Dedopulos, p. 16) "Of all Jewish mystics, Abraham Abulafia most nearly resembles the antic Zen master." (Epstein, p. 77) Abulafia "and his disciples devised elaborate techniques of meditation that involved special postures, controlled breathing, and, most important, mental visualizations of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet in various combinations. Some members of this school believed that the elevated spiritual state achieved by these techniques could even result in the temporary merging of one’s soul with God, an experience referred to by academics as ‘mystical union’ and often regarded as the quintessence of mysticism." (Eisen, p. 129)


Besserman, Perle. The Shambhala Guide to Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism, Boston and London: Shambhala, 1997.

Denise Lardner Carmody and John Tully Carmody. Mysticism: Holiness East and West. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Dedopulos, Tim. Kabbalah: An illustrated introduction to the esoteric heart of Jewish mysticism. New York: Gramercy Books, 2005.

Dennis, Geoffrey W. Entry on "Kabbalah." The encyclopedia of Jewish myth, magic and mysticism.

Eisen, Robert. The Peace and Violence of Judaism: From the Bible to Modern Zionism. Oxford University Press, 2011.

Epstein, Perle. Kabbalah: The Way of the Jewish Mystic. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1978.

Graef, Hilda. Story of Mysticism: Christian mysticism from its beginnings to the twentieth century. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1965.

Kushner, Lawrence. Honey from the Rock (1977), Woodstock, Vt.: Jewish Lights, 2000.

Michael N. McGregor. Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax. Fordham University Press, 2015.

Scholem, Gershom. Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941), New York: Schocken Books, 1995.

Note: Scholem recommends the work of Evelyn Underhill.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Quotes: Stability of personal identity

C. J. Ducasse:

"A mind, then, is a set of capacities of the three generic kinds mentioned, qua interrelated in the systematic manner which constitutes them a more or less thoroughly integrated personality; and the mind, of which we say that it "has" those capacities, is not something existentially independent of them, but "has" them in the sense in which a week has days or an automobile has a motor. That a mind exists during a certain period means that, during that period, ones or others of the capacities, which together define the particular sort of mind it is, function. That is, the existing of a mind of a particular description is the series of actual occurrences which, as causally related one to another, constitute exercisings of that mind's capacities. A mind's existing thus consists not just of its having a particular nature, but of its having in addition a history."

Mircea Eliade:

"The world (that is, our world) is a universe within which the sacred has already manifested itself, in which, consequently, the break-through from plane to plane has become possible and repeatable."

Johannes Climacus:

"Can a historical point of departure be given for an eternal consciousness; how can such a point of departure be of more than historical interest; can an eternal happiness be built on historical knowledge?"

John Locke:

"[Consciousness is] a present representation of a past action.

Rollo May:

"History – that selective treasure house of the past which each age bequeaths to those that follow – has formed us in the present so that we may embrace the future. What does it matter if our insights, the new forms which play around the fringes of our minds, always lead us into virginal land where, like it or not, we stand on strange and bewildering ground? The only way out is ahead, and our choice is whether we shall cringe from it or affirm it.


C. J. Ducasse, The Belief in a Life After Death, p 55

Mircea Eliade. The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion: The Significance of Religious Myth, Symbolism, and Ritual within Life and Culture. New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1957, 1959, 1961. p 30.

Johannes Climacus (Soren Kierkegaard), Philosophical Fragments. ed. and trans. by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong. Princeton University Press, 1985. p 1.

Rollo May, Love and Will, New York: Dell Publishing Company, 1969. p 325.

Friday, October 28, 2016

On perception and the unconscious

R. W. Fevre:

"Well, perhaps we can make use of this awareness [of ourselves and our world and how our actions affect the world], but this is not going to be easy because human beings do a lot more things than make sense, and some of these things — pursuing power, money, status, security and so on; or simply taking our ease — can get in the way of making sense.

Calvin Luther Martin:

"The words of the magician snaked in and out of my consciousness: 'It has become clear to me that perception has to be understood and recognized as a reciprocal exchange. When we see things we are also being seen by them. When we hear things we are also being heard. Perception is a type of communication that precedes language.'"

Alan Watts:

"There may be no reason to believe that a return to the lost feeling will cost us the sacrifice of the individualized consciousness, for the two are not incompatible. We can see an individual leaf in all its clarity without losing sight of its relation to the tree."

Antonio R. Damasio:

"Some organisms have both behavior and cognition. Some have intelligent actions but no mind. No organism seems to have mind but no action. My view then is that having a mind means that an organism forms neural representations which can become images, be manipulated in a process called thought, and eventually influence behavior by helping predict the future, plan accordingly, and choose the next action."

Jonah Lehrer:

"'The conscious brain may get all the attention,' says Joseph LeDoux, a neuroscientist at NYU. 'But consciousness is a small part of what the brain does, and it's a slave to everything that works beneath it.'"

Norman Mailer:

"Sometimes I think you have to groom the unconscious after you've used it, swab it down, treat it like a prize horse who's a finer animal than you."

G. W. F. Hegel:

"Only when spiritual unity steps beyond this circle of feeling and natural love, and arrives at the consciousness of personality, does that obscure and rigid nucleus emerge in which neither nature nor spirit are open and transparent and where both can become open and transparent only through the further working of that self-conscious will and, indeed, through the long drawn-out cultural process, the goal of which is very remote. For consciousness alone is that which is open, that to which God and anything else can reveal itself."


R. W. Fevre. The Demoralization of Western Culture: Social Theory and the Dilemmas of Modern Living. London: Continuum, 2000. p 196.

Calvin Luther Martin, In the Spirit of the Earth, p 24

Alan Watts. Nature, Man, and Woman (1958). New York: Vintage Books, 1991. p 8.

Antonio R. Damasio. Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain. New York: Avon Books, 1998. p 90.

Jonah Lehrer. How We Decide. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009. p. 23.

Norman Mailer. The Spooky Art: Thoughts on Writing. New York: Random House, 2004. p. 142.

G. W. F. Hegel. Reason in History: A General Introduction to the Philosophy of History. Translated by Robert S. Hartman. Indianapolis: Library of Liberal Arts, Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1953. (Originally 1837.) p 74.