Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Age Of Indifference


I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.
Elie Wiesel, Nobel acceptance speech, 
December 10, 1986

Primo Levi: "In countries and epochs in which communication is impeded, soon all other liberties wither; discussion dies by inanition, ignorance of the opinion of others becomes rampant, imposed opinions triumph," The Drowned and the Saved (1987).

Ware living in the midst of the Mean Age, a period in history marked by the unleashing and worshipping of the baser instincts of humanity, defined to a large degree by a slavish, unthinking and cultic devotion to policy, ideology and religion. The results are not good: selfishness, greed, pettiness and mean-spiritedness, which individually and collectively, conspire against the higher instincts present in man. For many reasons that will be enumerated below, it can also be called the Age of Indifference. To say that humanity has been lowered is to say the obvious, yet we continue to lower the bar to rip all humaneness from the human heart, to squeeze the last drop of human kindness from society.

Policies have been set to ensure persons are not helped; laws are in place to hinder human progress and happiness; and persons acting as bureaucrats and organizational persons have been locked in to decisions to help the few and harm the many; computer technology ensures that this is so. But as difficult as this is to bear, the greatest harm to our humanity lies in the increasing world acceptance of anti-Semitism, thinly disguised as legitimate criticism of Israel and Zionism, but in reality a harsh and unreasonable critique of a nation, which is bad enough. No legitimate state has received more venom, more vitriol, more animus and more hate directed its way than Israel. The canary in the mine is Israel; my firm conviction is that how we view Israel says much about our moral condition. By now, you can guess how low is our collective moral goodness. Very low.

The world focuses all of its collective energies on one nation: Israel. As it does so, it ignores the gross human-rights violations in dozens of other nations, duly noted but given little importance; and, it shrugs its collective shoulders with a nod and a wink when doing so. Israel has become the chief problem for humanity; decades ago, it was the Jews. Same thing; different words. Israel and the Jewish People represent a morality that few want. Have people's consciences' been seared? That's a question that few want to ask, let alone address.

What would have happened if such humanitarian individuals—and they were true individuals—as Raoul Wallenberg (Sweden), Chiune Sugihara (Japan), Feng-Shan Ho (China) and Hiram Bingham IV (U.S.) decided to not follow their conscience? In doing so, such men defied the orders of their superiors and the laws of the land, which were then unjust, despite the seal of authority. Their actions saved tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of lives—yes, Jewish lives. Were they exceptional persons? Were they risk takers? Were they acting morally? Compared to today, the answer is an unequivocal "yes."

Today, it's greatly about policy, shrouded in legal codes, laws, resolutions, regulations, forms, documents, official stamps & seals and policies. The idea is to remove the human from the decision-making process; after all this makes it more humane and fair. And legal. Do policy-makers see the irony in this statement? I doubt it—such persons lack the ability to laugh, except at the most crude and vulgar jokes. But that is a private matter that you wish kept locked away in the dark chambers of your heart.

Primo Levi, a survivor of Auschwitz and a remarkable writer and observer of the human condition, remarked that when open communication is impeded, all other liberties wither and imposed opinions becomes the norm; Elie Wiesel, another Holocaust survivor and writer, said that the opposite of love is indifference, and that neutrality in the face of immorality is not an option. Both men are right.

It all start with an individual. To the policy-makers of such inhumane thinking, I say this: You might feign surprise, even mock shock—after all, you are all fine, upstanding, hard-working and "good and moral" persons; you are kind to animals and your parents and your children; you dutifully recycle and show concern for the environment; you go to church, synagogue, temple or mosque; you are leaders in your community. You work by consensus and use the latest models and theories, even those that you don't particularly understand. But the experts, consultants and policy analysts have said these are the best. So, they must be. You think it shades of grey and that defines your moral views. When you do decide to take a position it is the safe and popular one, even if it's the wrong decision morally.

Yes, you have a good job and you draw a good salary, and you wine and dine around the world, but you deserve it; you have earned it by dint of who you are. Your favourite word is "no"—denying others makes you feel like a god—powerful, capricious and unloving. You say that if others are poor or in desperate situation, or suffering unfairly, let them go to the community or governmental organizations for aid; they are there to help.

But you and I know that is not always true, is it? Pushing aside those bothersome, nagging thoughts really does nothing to develop your morality. It's very simple you see. In the same way that Israel's existence—Givers of the Torah, People of the Book, Leaders in Arts, Culture & Science, etc.—irritates "the world" and prevents it from living the way it desires, free from any moral obligation, persons like me, individuals, by dint of his words, remind you of your moral obligations to humanity.

Now, to the policy-makers, please go back to your coffee or to whatever strong drink you imbibe to calm your nerves. And forget that unpleasant business. Repeat after me: "I am a good person."


A version of this essay was originally published in Perry J. Greenbaum (September 5, 2012).

Five Stories Of The Week: Ending March 30, 2013

News & Commentary

Here are five stories that shaped my world this week:

Syria: From Bad To Worse: An article, by Patrick J. McDonnell, in the Los Angeles Times says that the public face of Syria's opposition group has resigned from his position.
The head of a U.S.-backed Syrian opposition coalition resigned his post Sunday, a major blow to a group that the United States and other nations have lauded as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people and a potential interim government. The departure of the charismatic Moaz Khatib, a moderate Islamist who has championed national reconciliation, plunged the fractious Syrian dissident alliance into disarray as the escalating Syrian conflict showed fresh signs of spreading instability beyond its borders.
Israeli forces in the occupied Golan Heights reported firing a guided missile Sunday at a Syrian military post, responding to gunfire that struck an Israeli vehicle along the disputed frontier. Clashes have been flaring on the Syrian side, raising the specter that Islamist insurgents could gain control of territory adjacent to a United Nations-monitored border strip that had been relatively calm for decades.
Meanwhile, the government of Lebanon collapsed over the weekend, a victim at least in part of spillover from the war in neighboring Syria. Outgoing Prime Minister Najib Mikati had tried to keep Lebanon officially neutral in the raging conflict next door, but the nation's two major political camps are backing opposing sides in the Syrian war, placing a huge strain on Lebanon's delicate political balance.
And U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry made a surprise visit to Baghdad on Sunday, pleading with Iraqi officials to stop allowing Iranian planes to cross Iraqi airspace with arms for the Syrian government. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki insisted that there was no proof the flights carried weapons.
The Pandora's box of sectarian violence has been opened with the onset of the Arab Spring, which has turned to its usual ways of violence, death and destruction. To be sure, sectarian thinking is the root cause of this ugly mess in the Middle East; it will not easily go away or dissipate. I do not hold much hope for a peaceful solution this year or next. Perhaps never.

U.S. Supreme Court & Same-Sex Marriage: An article, by Bill Mears, in CNN reports that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Wednesday on the constitutional legality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which President Clinton signed into law in 1996.
For Karane and Jamelle Thomas-Williams, this is a fight for recognition by the federal government of their legal same-sex union, part of a landmark constitutional appeal over same-sex marriage and "equal protection." Their love has united them, but the larger social issue has split the country for more than four decades.
The Washington, D.C., couple legally married last October, but not in the eyes of some of their employers or elected leaders. Karane serves her community as a Metropolitan Police officer. Jamelle serves her country in the U.S. Air Force Reserve. But since she is a federal worker, the couple cannot share the 1,000-plus federal perks enjoyed by married heterosexuals: things like joint tax returns, loan programs for veterans, and survivor, pension, bankruptcy, family medical leave and health insurance benefits.
Under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) passed in 1996, marriage is defined for federal purposes as between one man and one woman. That means the estimated 120,000 gay and lesbian couples legally married in nine states and the District of Columbia are still considered, in the eyes of DOMA opponents, the equivalent of girlfriend and boyfriend.
The Supreme court is wading into a controversy that has divided the nation between traditionalists and progressive; the social-political position of both sides are well known. And yet, popular sentiment is on the side of those who want to extend the same federal legal benefits and protections to same-sex couples that opposite-sex couples have always enjoyed. To deny such benefits is to deny both a biological imperative and a social reality. Should the U.S. justices strike down the DOMA, it would also be a victory for modern science.

Russia & China Sign Military Deal: An article, by Kenneth Rapoza, in Forbes says that Russia has signed a military deal in which China will get 24 advanced fighter jets (Sukhoi SU-35s) and four electric-powered submarines. The deal has been 10 years in the making:
China has been itching to buy the planes since the 1990s and has been in hot pursuit since last March. Russia’s Interfax confirmed the existence and date of that agreement back in February, but didn’t speculate on sales numbers. This month, official talks trimmed the order down to 24 planes from an initial discussion of 48 Sukhoi Super Flankers. The Russians are said to have more confidence that China can’t copy their engines, and are also said to need the SU-35 orders because Russia’s Defense Department is ordering follow-on buys of new upgraded Sukhoi SU-35s instead.
The deals raised concern among some regional defense players — namely India. China Central Television reported on Sunday that the purchase deals were signed before President Xi Jinping’s ever stepped foot into Russia. The military deal marks the first time in a decade that China had bought large military technological equipment from Russia, according to official television.
Meanwhile, the four Lada-class diesel-electric submarines will be jointly designed and built by both countries, with two of them to be built in Russia and the other two in China. “The Su-35 fighters can effectively reduce pressure on China’s air defense before Chinese-made stealth fighters come online,” Li Hong, secretary-general of the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, said in a Xinhua newswire story. Li said the recent purchases and joint building plan serve as an indicator of the evolution of the overall China-Russian strategic partnership.
It seems that Sino-Russian relations are becoming warmer, as evidenced by the report that China's Xi was the "first foreign leader ever to be allowed inside the 'heart' of the Russian military establishment, UPI says, adding:
"My visit to the Russian Defense Ministry is intended to confirm that military, political and strategic relations between the two countries will strengthen as will cooperation between the Armed Forces of China and Russia," Xi was quoted as telling Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
Russia and China have held a number of joint military exercises since 2005. Both are members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which also includes the Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
China's growing military will have a budget of $114.3 billion this year, up 10.7 percent from last year as officially announced. However, outside experts have said the actual spending would be much higher than the official figure.
The value of the deal was not released; but needless to say it will be in the billions of dollars, if it goes through; there have been false starts before, as Russia has voiced concerns that China might reverse-engineer  the fighter jet, as it did with the Su-27SK in the 1990s. Each Su-35 fighter jet is estimated to cost between $45-million and $65-million in U.S. dollars; the total estimated cost of the four submarines is $2-billion U.S. dollars. At the lower range, it works out to a $3-billion (US) deal.

Cyprus & The EU: An article, by Marcus Bensasson, Maria Petrakis and Tom Stoukasin Bloomberg News says that Cypriots will now have limited access to cash withdrwals from banks, who fear a run on the money.
The Central Bank of Cyprus’s capital controls will include a 300-euro ($383) daily limit on withdrawals and restrictions on transfers to accounts outside the country. Banks will open at midday and close at 6 p.m. local time, Yiangos Dimitriou, head of the central bank’s audit department, said yesterday in comments broadcast on state-run CyBC television.
“I only bought a few small items during these days to survive,” said pensioner Kyriakos Hadjisophocleos, 65, waiting on a bench in front of a Bank of Cyprus branch in Nicosia since 7:30 a.m. to get money to pay part of his 380-euro rent. “I had many coins saved up so I was using them. If the banks didn’t open today I would have had to borrow from some friends.”
Cyprus’s lenders have been closed since March 16, when the European Union presented a proposal to force losses on all depositors in exchange for a 10 billion-euro bailout. That plan touched off protests and political upheaval on the island, and was rejected by the country’s parliament. A subsequent agreement shuts Cyprus Popular Bank Pcl (CPB), the second-largest lender, and imposes larger losses on uninsured depositors.
Another EU nation in trouble, the fifth to ask for a bailout; this raises a number of question on why this is happening in so many EU nations. Equally important, how did the banks in Cyprus run out of money? Was it bad loans? Was it poor financial controls? Or was it a lack of confidence among large international investors in the the economy of Cyprus, a tiny island nation, the smallest of the 17 nations that make up the European Union.

North Korea's Provocations Dangerous: The leader of North Korea has gone too far in its provocation, says an article, by David Chance and Phil Stewart, in Reuters.
North Korea put its rocket units on standby on Friday to attack U.S. military bases in South Korea and the Pacific, after the United States flew two nuclear-capable stealth bombers over the Korean peninsula in a rare show of force.North Korean leader Kim Jong-un signed off on the order at a midnight meeting of top generals and "judged the time has come to settle accounts with the U.S. imperialists in view of the prevailing situation", official KCNA news agency said.
On Thursday, the United States flew two radar-evading B-2 Spirit bombers on practice runs over South Korea, responding to a series of North Korean threats. They flew from the United States and back in what appeared to be the first exercise of its kind, designed to show America's ability to conduct long-range, precision strikes "quickly and at will", the U.S. military said.

Pyongyang has also canceled an armistice agreement with the United States that ended the Korean War and cut all communications hotlines with U.S. forces, the United Nations and South Korea. "The North Koreans have to understand that what they're doing is very dangerous," U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters at the Pentagon. "We must make clear that these provocations by the North are taken by us very seriously and we'll respond to that."
North Korea's leadership is underestimating the resolve of the United States and its greatly superior military capacity. It would be a grave mistake on the part of North Korea to draw the U.S. into a regional conflict, which it could never win; the losses to North Korea would be immense. There is only one word to describe North Korea's leadership: foolish.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The End Of The Social Contract

Society & Politics

Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. One believes himself the others' master, and yet is more slave than they. How did this change come about? I do not know. What can make it legitimate? I believe I can solve this question.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau,
Of the Social Contract: Principles of Political Right

Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Du contrat social ou Principes du droit politique, which in English is known as Of the Social Contract: Principles of Political Right, or simply The Social Contract. It was first published in 1762, and influenced the French Revolution [1789-99]. It has been a highly influential document, and depending on your political views, a good document that advanced individual humanity and the equality of individuals; or a terrible one in which the state becomes subject to the infallible will of the tyranny of the majority, or totalitarian democracy.
For many years democratic society has been ruled by a set of rules and theories that date to the 18th century Enlightenment thinkers such as David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Adam Smith and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, among many notables.  Of the four, Rousseau, the Geneva-born French political philosopher, has been viewed as a polarizing figure,. Even so, his theories and sentiments have greatly influenced Western thinking and democracy, despite his writings being misunderstood and maligned, notably by social conservatives.

For one, Rousseau has been wrongly credited for expressing the idea, "the noble savage," an oxymoron that dates in the English world to John Dryden, the English poet, in The Conquest of Granada in 1672. Rousseau never used the term and was not a primitivist. Quite the contrary. In Rousseau's thinking, a well-working society and a reformed system of education could make men good. Another point worth mentioning is that I have cited a much longer version of his famous phrase, which shows a more fuller understanding of his reasoning.

Needless to say, you can  and ought to read Rousseau's most influential work, known in English as The Social Contact (1762), whether in the original French or in translation. If you read political sites and writings, you will soon find that ideological conservatives don't like Rousseau and his writing. That in itself is telling.  One can rightly argue that there is much to dislike in his writing, including his views on women, the state and how his writings led to the excesses of the French Revolution. But, Rousseau, like his contemporaries, was a man of his time. How many of us today can say that our ideas are ahead of our time? Not many, i dare say.

In other words, Rousseau set out some important principles that said participatory democracy in some form is an ameliorating force for good. One could rightly and fairly argue about Rousseau's thoughts on what form democracy ought to take, but not whether he considered it a valid political system. For Rousseau, democracy would being about a "community of equals," the opposite of the increasing move toward political elites and plutocracy. 

In Rousseau: A Free Community of Equals (Oxford UP, 2010), Joshua Cohen, a professor of political science, philosophy, and law at Stanford University, writes:
In strikingly spare, intense prose, he gives us a picture of a free community of equals, a social-political world in which individuals realize their nature as free by living together as equals, giving laws themselves, guided in these lawgiving judgments by a conception of their common goal. Moreover, a free community of equals, Rousseau tells us, is not an unrealistic utopia beyond human reach, but a genuine human possibility compatible with our human complexities, and with the demands of social cooperation. (10)
Some would find this idea of equality perplexing, even scary and hard to fathom, considering a free community of equals a recipe for disaster, if not anarchy, making it an untenable political system that is both absurd and undesirable. Yet, it's an ideal, and as such it's in view for all to consider, debate and criticize or try to put into practice in some viable form. For the critics of such a system, who have already made up their mind, it shows how far we have moved from the ideal, that we can't even dream it possible, let alone deem it so.

Sadly so, such views of equality and participatory democracy, which influenced the Western way of thinking in the 18th century, has been discredited if not torn to shreds, thanks to the work of hardened ideological conservatives in the United States, Canada and England. We have in effect a social contract that is in tatters, eviscerated of all meaning and intent.  What has replaced it is no contract at all, but a set of temporary agreements.

In the face of globalization, increasing unemployment, shrinking of the middle-class and increase in world poverty, the effect of the social contract's weakening, if not outright demise in moral spirit, is evident today.  The Social Contract, one of the fundamental principles that undergired all western democracies,  no longer carries the weight it once was.  Such is not a good thing. We are beginning to see some of the effects today;  we ought to be in tears. The majority of us are poorer for it, even if we are unaware of the consequences.


A version of this essay was published on Perry J. Greenbaum (March 9, 2012).

Five Stories Of The Week: Ending March 23, 2013

News & Commentary

Here are five stories that shaped my world this week:

China Takes Aim At Inequalities: One of the chief aims of socialism is to erase inequalities; all the more so in the Utopian society known as communism. Thus, it's not surprising that China and its new leadership, still endowed with decades of Marxist thought, wants to publicly deal with its many inequalities, often as a consequence of corruption and favouritism. 

That file, a difficult task in any nation, has been given to Li Keqiang, China’s prime minister. An article in The New York Times gives a sense of what's ahead for China and its citizens:
“Corruption and the reputation of our government are as incompatible as fire and water,” Mr. Li told reporters at the Great Hall of the People.Speaking on the final day of the legislative session that installed a new generation of leaders, Mr. Li vowed to ease impediments to private investment, rein in the powerful interests that dominate large sectors of the economy and scale back an unwieldy, intrusive bureaucracy that he acknowledged often frustrated entrepreneurs and citizens.
The new government, led by President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee, will impose a moratorium on the construction of government buildings and reduce spending on official vehicles, public meetings and overseas travel, Mr. Li said. The government’s sprawling work force, he warned, would be trimmed to increase spending on social welfare. “Reforming is about curbing government power,” he said in his opening remarks, which were broadcast live on television. “It is a self-imposed revolution that will require real sacrifice, and it will be painful.”
His comments, delivered with a casual spontaneity seldom seen from a Chinese leader, offered a tantalizing palette of economic and social reforms that promised to transform the lives of the rural poor, the migrants flooding into the cities and retirees who worry about rising prices and unaffordable health care.
No doubt the intentions seem good. But resistance will come from China's elites who often do not see a need to share their prosperity.  It remains to be seen how all this talk will turn into action, and more so how it will affect the average citizen on the street.

Israel's New Government Sworn in Monday: The good news is that this coalition of four parties, comprising 23 individuals (four women), proves Israel is a democracy; the bad news is that Israel is hobbled by too many special interests. So, it's hard to say how much this cabinet will change things for the average Israeli. It might in a few areas, but not in what greatly ails Israeli society and many democracies today—the growing disparity between the wealthy and the poor, and in Israel's case, the growing gap between secular and religious groups.

Such sensitive, yet important, issues will likely never be officially and publicly addressed, since the parliamentarians have no personal need to do so. To understand Israeli politics is to understand the how the interests of the individual; in this case, the needs of a few individuals over-ride those of its citizens. There a a few exceptions, but such individuals rarely obtain power or retain it for long.

Shelly Yacimovich of Labor, which fared well in the general elections, coming in third with 15 seats, said she would not join any coalition government, which she hasn't, chiefly because of widely differing economic views. She made such a point yesterday, Jonathan Bis and Barak Ravid of Haaretz say:
Yacimovich attacked the party leaders in the new government saying they do not understand the distress of the people. "The four of you, Netanyahu, Lapid, Bennett, and Livni are well-off, come from established families, and have never struggled for your livelihood – capitalists, let's call it as it is. Your approach gave Israel the largest gaps between rich and poor in the Western world."
This is the New Zionism. Well, not really; it's something far older. Can Israel expect more street protests this summer? I would expect so. Will it change anything? Unlikely. (The list of the cabinet, including an official photo, can be found here.)

Mala Returns To School: An article, by Ben Quinn, in The Guardian says that Mala Yousafzai, the girl shot in the head by Islamist miltants for going to school in Pakistan, has recovered and is now attending school in Britian.
The 15-year-old, who is among nominees for this year's Nobel peace prize, described her return to school as the most important day of her life, as she joined other students in Birmingham. "I am excited that today I have achieved my dream of going back to school. I want all girls in the world to have this basic opportunity," she said in a statement. Accompanied by her father and carrying a pink rucksack, Malala joined other pupils at Edgbaston high school for girls, close to the hospital where she underwent surgery to reconstruct her skull last month.
Alongside other students in Year 9, she will be studying a full curriculum in preparation for selecting her subjects for GCSEs. "I miss my classmates from Pakistan very much but I am looking forward to meeting my teachers and making new friends here in Birmingham," she said.
Malala was brought to Britain for specialist treatment after being shot in the head at point-blank range by Taliban gunmen last October in the Swat valley in north-western Pakistan. Members of the Pakistani Taliban said she was targeted because she promoted "western thinking".
She left hospital in February after making a good recovery from surgery during which doctors fitted a titanium plate to her skull and inserted a cochlear implant to help restore hearing in her left ear.
"She wants to be a normal teenage girl and to have the support of other girls around," said Edgbaston headteacher Ruth Weeks. "Talking to her, I know that's something she missed during her time in hospital." Gordon Brown, the former prime minister and current UN special envoy for global education, said: "This is a great day for Malala, for her family – and for the cause of education worldwide.
Yes, indeed; and I wish Mala a good year at school. She is a wonderful example for all of us, and in particular for young women who are denied education. Education should never be a privilge but a right.

Pakistan To Hold General Elections: An article, by Nasir Jaffry, in AFP says that voters in Pakistan will go to the polls on May 11, the first democratic transition of power in the nation's 66-year history.
President Asif Ali Zardari, who confounded critics by keeping his fractious coalition together for a full five-year term, announced the date days after the 342-member national assembly dissolved at the end of its term. "The president announced today that general elections to the national assembly will be held on May 11," his spokesman Farhatullah Babar told AFP. The vote will mark the first time that an elected civilian government hands over to another in a country that has seen three military coups and four military rulers since partition from India and the end of British rule in 1947.
But Taliban attacks and record levels of violence directed against the Shiite Muslim minority have raised fears about security for the polls in the nuclear-armed country of 180 million, a key but troubled US ally. A parliamentary committee has until Friday to select a candidate to head a caretaker administration until the polls. The election commission should then announce a full schedule for the campaign.Zardari's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif are likely to dominate the race, while former cricket star Imran Khan will compete in an election for the first time. 
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of Zardari and of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, is co-chairman of the PPP but cannot stand because he will not reach the minimum age of 25 until September.
Separate elections will also be held for regional assemblies in Pakistan's four provinces. Punjab on Wednesday became the last to dissolve, setting the scene for probable provincial elections on May 11 as well. "For five years we tolerated the government with patience for the sake of democracy," Sharif told reporters at his family's sprawling estate just outside Lahore. He urged the people of Pakistan to "rejoice" at the prospect of a democratic transition, adding: "We have to strengthen democracy. Martial law is not a solution, it is the cause of many ills."
Sixty seats in the national assembly are reserved for women and 10 for non-Muslim religious minorities.
Elections are good for democracy. Pakistan has suffered a number of suicide bombings and other attacks, whose purpose is to cause instability in the region. Any new government will have to come up with a viable solution to stop such attacks.

India Passes Tougher Sexual Assault Laws: An article, by Heather Timmons, in The New York Times says India has passed tougher legislation to protect women from sexual crimes, such as rape, assault and harassment. Large street protests, which came about after a New Delhi physiology student was gang-raped on a moving bus, and later died from her injuries, might have been the deciding factor in the legislation's quick approval in both houses of parliament.
Many Indians, including activists and politicians, demanded during the protests and their aftermath that the government do more to protect women and impose harsher sentences on men who molest them. Reported rapes in India have risen in recent years, and northern India has witnessed a series of highly publicized gang rapes.
The new law is intended to deter and punish sexual offenders, including men who stalk and harass women, and to make the police and prosecutors more responsive. The Indian judicial system has been widely criticized as lax and insensitive in dealing with crimes against women.
The law expands the definition of rape, substantially increases the punishment for sex crimes like gang rape, makes repeat offenders subject to the death penalty, and defines as crimes actions like disrobing and voyeurism. It also imposes stricter punishment for police officers who fail to properly register complaints of sexual assault.
India’s democracy has often been faulted for being so unruly and its Parliament so dysfunctional that fundamental development issues like education and malnutrition are never adequately addressed. The fact that the rape bill passed both houses of Parliament speedily this week, despite the disruption of several unexpected adjournments caused by a defection of one of the governing Congress Party’s crucial allies, is a sign that the voices of thousands of protesters had been heard, activists said. 
“It is good that India still responds as a democracy when there is pressure from citizens,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, the director of Human Rights Watch in South Asia. “The terrible attack in Delhi, and the protests that followed, ensured that both the opposition and the government cooperated in ensuring that this law was enacted.”
An important part of the law is that it will make police more accountable, who historically have not been so willing to register complaints from women who have been sexually assaulted. As is the case in any nation, the law is only as good as the willingness of the police and the courts to adhere to its legal intent. Women in India deserve at least that much. As the article says, "President Pranab Mukherjee is expected to sign it into law shortly."

& One More

Obama Reconciles Israel To Turkey: An article, by Jodi Rudoren & Mark Landler, in the New York Times says that U.S. President Obama has persuaded Israeli Prime Minsiter Netanyahu to apologize to his counterpart in Turkey, Prime Minister Erdogan, over the 2010 Gaza flotilla incident on the Mavi Marmara, which resulted in the deaths of eight Turkish nationals and one American.
The breakthrough took place in the most improbable of surroundings: a trailer parked on the tarmac of Ben-Gurion International Airport. Moments before Mr. Obama left for Jordan, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu telephoned the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and apologized for deadly errors in Israel’s 2010 raid on a Turkish ship that was trying to bring aid to Palestinians in Gaza.
After years of angrily demanding an apology, Mr. Erdogan accepted Mr. Netanyahu’s gesture, and both sides agreed to dispatch envoys to each other’s nations, having recalled them in 2011.
The president’s involvement, a senior American official said, was crucial to both leaders, which is why Mr. Netanyahu scheduled the call before Mr. Obama’s departure from Israel. Mr. Erdogan insisted on speaking to Mr. Obama first before the president handed the phone over to Mr. Netanyahu. In the end, the call produced a win-win for all sides.
This is indeed true; both Israel are Turkey are important U.S. allies and both offer stability in a region.  Now that this is behind them, both Israel and Turkey can get back to business and focus on the areas in which they have much agreement.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Poverty's Cost To Society Too Great To Ignore

Our Modern Values

Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.
James A. Baldwin, American author

Do we have the will to make poverty history?
Bono, singer and social activist

Poverty Is Everywhere: A young Afghan girl begs on the street in Kabul, September 8, 2008.
Photo Credit: Mikhail Evstafie, 2008.

Bono's question is one of the most important anyone can ask. Poverty affects every nation, every people, every government. One of the problems of poverty is that it is universal. It is no respector of persons. Persons who have been high can be knocked down off their feet to a point of humility. It's the tragedy written for Common People.

And, yet, even today in our enlightened age, poverty carries one the greatest stigmas in the world, particularly in the highly industrialized nations. It remains one of the last taboos. Today, people can talk freely about their sex lives, but not of their poverty and their struggles to get by. This is highly evident in certain communities, where poverty is inextricably linked to failure and shame. It does not have to be this way. 

It will take will, to be sure. It will also take a real commitment. For too long, governments havenot fought diligently against poverty, giving in to vague promises and photo-ops. Little has really been accomplished in the last thirty years.

There have been task forces, proposals, studies and the like. Consider one a few years ago:  a  new proposal, guaranteeing a annual income, by the federal government of Canada and the provincial government of Quebec. If ennacted into law, it might have eased ease the stigma associated with poverty and being poor, reports The Globe & Mail's Erin Anderssen in "To end poverty, guarantee everyone in Canada $20,000 a year. But are you willing to trust the poor?":

As Ms. Anderssen writes:
The idea of giving money to the poor without strings is not new. It melds altruism and libertarianism, saying both that the best way to fight poverty is to put cash in poor people's pockets and that people can make their own choices better than bureaucrats can. As a result, it can find support in theory from both left and right. It has been tested with success in other countries, and now it has re-entered the Canadian political conversation.

This week, a House of Commons committee on poverty released a report proposing a guaranteed basic income for Canadians with disabilities, on the model already available to seniors. The Senate released a similar report this spring calling for a study of how it would work for all low-income Canadians.  In Quebec, a government task force went further, recommending a minimum guaranteed income starting at $12,000 for everyone in the province.
Keeping His Dignity in Europe. A man begs for some coins. Like everyone he deserves better.
Photo Credit: Sheldon Levy, circa 1990.

The European Example

There is already an organization in Europe advocating such measures, BIEN, based in Belgium. Its mission statement is simple:
Founded in 1986, the Basic Income European Network (BIEN) aims to serve as a link between individuals and groups committed to, or interested in, basic income, i.e. an income unconditionally granted to all on an individual basis, without means test or work requirement, and to foster informed discussion on this topic throughout Europe.

Members of BIEN include academics, students and social policy practitioners as well as people actively engaged in political, social and religious organisations. They vary in terms of disciplinary backgrounds and political affiliations no less than in terms of age and citizenship. In the course of two decades, "BIEN" has become somewhat of a misnomer, as scholars and activists from other continents have actively joined the network.

Common to all is the belief that some sort of economic right based upon citizenship—rather than upon one's relationship to the production process or one's family status - is called for as part of the just solution to social problems in advanced societies. Basic Income, conceived as a universal and unconditional, if modest, continuous stream of income granted throughout life to all members of a political community is just the simplest and most striking element in an expanding set of social policy proposals inspired by this belief and currently debated, if not already implemented.
I guess that governments don't trust the poor, chiefly because the people in charge have never come close to poverty, it a foreign idea to them. Even so, that a government would consider instituting such a program was both hopeful and heartening. A program of a guaranteed income is humane and would give individual dignity, freedom and hope to people and families. Parents would not have to think where to spend their meager dollars. For the poor, each dollar is worth a lot. So, such a guaranteed income program would be wonderful news for everyone. Society benefits in a classic win-win situation.

More so, it would remove the fear and struggles associated with poverty. It would reduce hospital visits and other health problems linked to poverty. To those hard-hearted pragmatic individuals who say the money is not available, think again: It's not so much a hand-out, but a distribution of money where it would be needed the most. Large corporations in Canada, for example, receive billions of dollars in "corporate welfare." This is considered good for society. 

Yet, can someone offer proof that corporate welfare even creates jobs?  That there is a causal link between corporate welfare and job creation?  If there is I have yet to see an indepenedent peer-reviewed  scientific study linking government hand-outs to corporations and job creation. It's not cynical to say that the hand-outs are given purely for political reasons: getting votes for the next election.  But the usual parties are not getting these votes. Such explains the cynicism in Italy's last election, and growing voter discontent in Europe. Can you blame the electorate?  Have they been well-served by the fat clowns who call themselves serious politicans? Few would say yes. [It makes me think of Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns" from A Little Night Music;  Sinatra's version is here.]

It would serve society far more to help individuals, particularly families with children. Yet, when reading the comments of some individuals in the above-cited article, you would think ice water runs through their veins. Or it might be something else all together different.  It certianly defies logic to think that if someone gets some financial support, working individuals would have less ability to earn money. There's no logical connection between the two events; if you have a job, your ability to earn income is independent of others who do not.  If someone believes that these two events are linked, please send me the proof.

To those with atrophied hearts and closed minds, no amount of reasoning or  special appeal will work; you have all the facts. To those with soft hearts I say this. If you have seen first-hand the affects of poverty on children, it is hard to easily dismiss such a noble idea as ending poverty. Most of us want to think ourselves as decent and fair people.

That would mean not begrudging those who need help from the State. That would mean treating everyone with dignity. That would mean a lot to those now enduring Poverty. 

A version of this post appeared on Perry J. Greenbaum (November 2010).

Five Stories Of The Week: Ending March 16, 2013

News & Commentary

Here are five stories that shaped my world this week:

Unorthodox Orthodox Jews Play Punk: An article, by John Leland, in The New York Times looks at a fringe movement of observant Jews in New York, who are seeking some meaning in their lives by blending punk rock and traditional Judaism.
It’s very amusing to me to see the looks on people’s faces,” Mr. Romanoff said, wearing a long beard and a skullcap with the “Na Nach” phrase embroidered in Hebrew around the edge. “Most religious Jews have never seen anything like this, so they have no idea what’s going on.”
Yet he saw no contradiction between his music and his submission to his faith. “To me, Judaism is like punk rock,” he said. “Real Judaism is very in your face. The world is chasing after desires for money and sex and drugs and materialism, and Judaism is the opposite. Judaism is like, this world is nothing. This world is only to serve God and bring light and redemption. To me, that’s very punk rock.”
The New York area’s Orthodox Jewish population has swelled by more than 25 percent in the past decade, to almost half a million in 2011, according to a study by UJA-Federation of New York. One in three Jews in the area is now Orthodox, and more than half of Jewish children live in Orthodox homes.
With this growth have come signs of strain: modesty squads and mass stadium rallies to clamp down on perceived contamination from outside, but also revelations of sexual abuse and cover-up, and eruptions of the heterodox — some brought in by new converts, others arising from restlessness within
Evan Kleinman, the producer of “Punk Jews,” stumbled onto what he called “the unorthodox Orthodox” almost by accident. Mr. Kleinman, 30, who grew up in an observant home in Nyack, N.Y., was working as a producer at NBC with Jesse Zook Mann, and both were questioning what their faith meant to them. “As teens we both abandoned our Jewish identities, which we found rigid,” he said. “What filled that void was punk rock D.I.Y. culture.”
It's about fitting in; this greatly explains the formation of a tiny subculture within a small subculture of the larger American culture. All such efforts are, to a large degree, unplanned rebellions of shock and outrage against some of the restrictive traditions such young persons feel. Music is both a cathartic release from and a message against such strictures. It is doubtful however that such a tiny subculture will have much influence on traditional Judaism, notably on the most restrictive sects.

For now, it's a twenty-something generation, sharing their feeling of alientation— but with religious references to Rabbi Nachman of Breslov  [1772-1810] and Reb Shlomo Carlebach [1925-1994], both who continue to have a faithful following after their death. As a group, they are trying to come to terms of who they are and how they can  fit in, or find a place, within the larger more complex modern world.

Northern Arctic Becoming More Like The South: A release by NASA says that the northern Arctic's weather is generally warming up, resulting in a greater abundance of greener vegetation in a significant part of the region (up to 41 percent); This makes those parts of the north look similar to regions south of it. The change is due to, what scientists call, "an amplified greenhouse effect." .
An international team of university and NASA scientists examined the relationship between changes in surface temperature and vegetation growth from 45 degrees north latitude to the Arctic Ocean. Results show temperature and vegetation growth at northern latitudes now resemble those found 4 degrees to 6 degrees of latitude farther south as recently as 1982.

"Higher northern latitudes are getting warmer, Arctic sea ice and the duration of snow cover are diminishing, the growing season is getting longer and plants are growing more," said Ranga Myneni of Boston University's Department of Earth and Environment. "In the north's Arctic and boreal areas, the characteristics of the seasons are changing, leading to great disruptions for plants and related ecosystems."

The study was published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Myneni and colleagues used satellite data to quantify vegetation changes at different latitudes from 1982 to 2011. Data used in this study came from NOAA's Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometers (AVHRR) onboard a series of polar-orbiting satellites and NASA's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instruments on the Terra and Aqua satellites.

As a result of enhanced warming and a longer growing season, large patches of vigorously productive vegetation now span a third of the northern landscape, or more than 3.5 million square miles (9 million square kilometers). That is an area about equal to the contiguous United States. This landscape resembles what was found 250 to 430 miles (400 to 700 kilometers) to the south in 1982.

"It's like Winnipeg, Manitoba, moving to Minneapolis-Saint Paul in only 30 years," said co-author Compton Tucker of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
There is no certainty that this warming trend will continue, NASA's computer models say. Yet, there is certainty that things are now generally heating up in the Arctic, leading to climate change. The data is unmistakeably clear.

What is equally interesting, however, is what the data also shows: that the increased vegetation growth is not universal, that is, common to all regions. As the NASA release says, "3 to 5 percent showed decreases in plant growth (orange and red), and 51 to 62 percent showed no changes (yellow) over the past 30 years." If you look carefully at the image above, you'll note the orange and red patches are evident throughout the north.

North Korea: Political Business As Usual? An article, by Alastair Gale, in The Wall Street Journal says that North Korea has cut off, at least temporarily, an important communication link with its southern neighbour, sparking fears that war is imminent:
As the South Korean and U.S. militaries began a second phase of their annual joint winter exercises Monday, North Korea cut off a phone hotline to the South and repeated its threat to nullify the Korean War armistice. Seoul said the North was conducting its own military drills, but the activity didn't suggest an imminent threat. "There has been no unusual movement spotted in North Korea," a spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in late afternoon. "It has been quiet so far."

Following a week of aggressive rhetoric from North Korea, its main newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, reported Monday that the 1953 armistice suspending the Korean War had been "declared invalid." Pyongyang routinely portrays the annual military drills in the South as a prelude to an invasion of the North, and declares that it will retaliate mercilessly for any violation of its territory. But this latest round of threats is higher-pitched, reflecting that Pyongyang is also bristling over sanctions imposed by the United Nations for its Feb. 12 nuclear test.
North Korea said last week that it would nullify the armistice if the second phase of the military drills in the South went ahead. South Korean and U.S. officials say the armistice can't legally be canceled by any one party to it, but Seoul is concerned that the North is clearing a path for an attack or other provocation.
Who really knows what's in the mind of North Korea's leader. This might be more political posturing. Or not. It seems as if he wants to do something big, as a show of his strength. The fact that he's young and inexperienced might not be a good thing, both for his people, South Koreans and the international community.

The Wrong Way: An article, by Ben Hartman, in The Jerusalem Post, says that a case is before the Israel High Court on the legality of a law—called the Infiltartors Law—that gives power to the state to hold in detention African asylum seeekers who enter the country illegally.
The law has been the subject of controversy, in that as a signatory of international agreements on asylum seekers, Israel has pledged to allow freedom of movement to people seeking refugee within its borders. Transfers were met with criticism by Israeli and foreign NGOs dealing with African asylum seekers, who maintain that no return can be willful if the only alternative is to stay in detention.
The meeting was held after a week in which the Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein ordered a stop to all transfers of Eritreans out of the country from Israel’s detention centers.
Also last week, Interior Minister Eli Yishai said Israel had returned around 2,000 north Sudanese to their country over the past year, during a presentation of the findings of a task force on African migrants he launched last year.
Yishai vowed that Israel would work to return all the Africans to their home countries, despite the fact that Eritrean and Sudanese migrants face the possibility of persecution if returned to their home countries.
This is wrong. Period. That Israel has moved to the right is undeniable, and that it has become more extremist in its views is not good; with every passage of  laws that go against international agreements, Israel becomes less democratic. That nationalism has also become more prominent is also problematic and discouraging in a state that at one time had different, more open views.

The Israeli nationalists have forgotten, if they knew at all, the history of the Jewish People; many were the type of asylum seekers who they now imprison and turn away. I  hope that Israel's High Court overturns this ridiculous law; it has no place in a democracy. Israel has to now decide whether it wants to become a true democracy or a Jewish State, but it can't be both.

Mars Could Have Supported Life: An article, by Kenneth Chang, in The New York Times, drawn from information contained in a NASA release, contends that Mars could have at one time have the necessary ingredients to support life; this is based on the Rover, a self-contained laboratory, recent sending of data from its drilling operation on the Red Planet.
Several billion years ago, Mars may well have been a pleasant place for tiny microbes to live, with plenty of water as well as minerals that could have served as food, NASA scientists said Tuesday at a news conference on the latest findings from their Mars rover. But they have yet to find signs that actual microbes did live in that oasis.

“We have found a habitable environment that is so benign and supportive of life that probably if this water was around and you had been on the planet, you would have been able to drink it,” said John P. Grotzinger, the California Institute of Technology geology professor who is the principal investigator for the NASA mission.
In drilling into its first rock, a fine-grained mudstone, the scientists said, the rover Curiosity — a self-contained science laboratory about the size of a Mini Cooper — sent back to Earth convincing evidence that Mars was once awash in water.
Plus, the Curiosity scientists identified elements in the rocks — sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon — that are some of the key ingredients of life, as well as minerals, like sulfates and sulfides, that primitive microbes could eat for food. Dr. Grotzinger said these minerals are “effectively like batteries” and can provide an energy source for life.
This is the first step in a long series of processes and proofs to show that Mars could indeed be habitable once again; such is the plan of some space explorers, who eventually want to establish a colony in space, likely within this century. It might be necessary, say some scientists, given that Earth is becoming crowded and its resources, including drinkable water, becoming less available. Mars seems like a good choice, does it not?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Human Endurance

Homo Sapiens

In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute.
Thurgood Marshall, 
U.S. Supreme Court Justice

Humanity needs practical men, who get the most out of their work, and, without forgetting the general good, safeguard their own interests. But humanity also needs dreamers, for whom the disinterested development of an enterprise is so captivating that it becomes impossible for them to devote their care to their own material profit.
Marie Curie, 
Nobel laureate in both physics and chemistry

To be a good human being is to have a kind of openness to the world, an ability to trust uncertain things beyond your own control, that can lead you to be shattered in very extreme circumstances for which you were not to blame. That says something very important about the condition of the ethical life: that it is based on a trust in the uncertain and on a willingness to be exposed; it's based on being more like a plant than like a jewel, something rather fragile, but whose very particular beauty is inseparable from that fragility.
Martha Nussbaum, 
American philosopher at University of Chicago


So, our estimate here is that about 5.8 percent of all people ever born are alive today. That's actually a fairly large percentage when you think about it.

HumansVitruvian ManLeonardo da Vinci's image is often used as an implied symbol of the essential symmetry of the human body, and by extension, of the universe as a whole. 
Photo Credit & Source: Vitruvian ManGallerie dell'AccademiaVenice
Modern Humans, or homo sapiens, have been around for tens of thousands of years. As one myself, I thought it would be good, chiefly as a reminder and for other reasons that I will share later, to share a few things about us that we have in common, notably those essential qualities that make us human.

Outwardly, there are many differences, in culture, language and religion, to name the big three. And, of course there are oft-controversial differences among the races; some consider such distinctions as important, most thankfully do not. I am reminded that these outward differences, though important and essential for group identity and affiliation, ought not to be points of dissension but rather points of discussion. It is important to note that all humans share 99.9 per cent of DNA it is that tiny 0.1 per cent that distinguishes one human from another.

This type of self-reminding dialogue takes, I suggest, hard and honest work to develop an intimate knowledge and understanding of self. I am reminded of the words of Walter Lippmann, the American writer and cultural thinker, who said: "We forge gradually our greatest instrument for understanding the world— introspection. We discover that humanity may resemble us very considerably— that the best way of knowing the inwardness of our neighbors is to know ourselves."

The Big Picture

So, here are a few things about us that I found fascinating in how we have divided ourselves, out of necessity, desire and want:
  • How Many Humans Have Been Born?: Since modern humans have existed, and if we take 50,000 BCE as the staring point and that figure is certainly arguable, there have been about 106 billion human births (as of 2002.) That represents about 5.8 percent of 2002's population of 6.2 billion people. (The population today is about 7  billion: Source: U.S Census Bureau.)
           As the Population Reference Bureau says:
This semi-scientific approach yields an estimate of about 106 billion births since the dawn of the human race. Clearly, the period 8000 B.C. to 1 A.D. is key to the magnitude of our number, but, unfortunately, little is known about that era. Some readers may disagree with some aspects — or perhaps nearly all aspects — of the table, but at least it offers one approach to this elusive issue.

If we were to make any guess at all, it might be that our method underestimates the number of births to some degree. The assumption of constant population growth in the earlier period may underestimate the average population size at the time. And, of course, pushing the date of humanity's arrival on the planet before 50,000 B.C. would also raise the number, although perhaps not by terribly much.

So, our estimate here is that about 5.8 percent of all people ever born are alive today. That's actually a fairly large percentage when you think about it.
  • Our Nations & Tongues: There are 192 member nations of the United Nations. There are an estimated 6,900 official languages in the world [Source: Ethnologue].  It's a bit complicated to classify the number of speakers of a language, since many people speak more than one language.
If we use figures for first languages, so-called mother tongues, the top five languages are: 1. Mandarin Chinese (873 million); 2. English (340 million); 3.Spanish (322 million); 4. Hindi/Urdu (242 million); and 5. Arabic (206 million). One might rightly quibble about the numbers, or about the order, such as whether English is second or third, but these are generally acceptable rankings.
  • Our Religions, Beliefs and Spiritual Practices: There are an estimated 43 major religions and systems of beliefs and practices in the world, with various subsets and denominations increasing the numbers. But these are the major religions.  [Source:]: The top five, by number of adherents are: Christianity, Islam, Atheism/Secular Humanism, Hinduism and Chinese Religion. It is interesting to note that the top three faiths historically have been: Christianity, Islam and Judaism.
  • Our Races: Humans or homo sapiens (wise man or knowing man) originated in Africa about 200,000 years ago and reached its current form about 50,000 years ago. Such is the scientific evidence thus far. Biologically we are one race, homo sapien. There is continued debate in this area, using words like ethnicity, peoples and subspecies, but it's interesting to note that the mapping of the human genome has shown that the genetic variation between individuals of various "races" and ethnic groups is not as great as originally thought. We have more in common than some would like to admit.
Common Humanity

I cite these numbers with a purpose in mind. Bear with me for a moment. I am treading carefully into territory full of minefields. But I go I do, with a purpose in mind. Such variety has often been culturally influences. People who live near each other might eventually adopt similar values and thinking. Some groups become larger, others die off, as have done many cultures throughout the ages. Such greatly explains to many social scientists and political scientists how and why people separate and place themselves into smaller groups called nations and races. 

This is understandable and in many cases admirable, since people prefer to congregate among similar-minded people. It gives comfort. It gives meaning. It gives order to their lives. Yet, despite our outward differences, we have many things in common. We can acknowledge our differences in language, culture and religious and spiritual practices, which are many and varied. 

Certain "leaders" have used and continue to use such differences for nationalistic or personal gain. It's sadly and tragically true that humans have used the option to fight over the differences, sometimes by bullying, too often by bloodshed and violence. But it has generally accomplished little than promote more hate, more bloodshed, more violence. There have been very few true reasons for bloodshed in the last hundred years, the bloodiest in humanity's recorded history.

Spirit of Compassion: A statue at the Epcot center in Florida symbolizes one of the greatest virtues of humanity. "In the final analysis, our most common link is that we inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future.And we are all mortal," says U.S. President John F. Kennedy.
Photo Credit: Neelix, 2007.
Nationalism, Patriotism & Tribalism

Part of the reason can be found in a limited worldview promoted by certain ideologies. Nationalism or blind patriotism, which is making a renaissance in some reactionary conservative circles, often leads to the worst for the human race. It is good to remember the words, the warnings in fact of Hannah Arendt, the noted German-Jewish political philosopher, who writes in The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951):
Politically speaking, tribal nationalism [patriotism] always insists that its own people are surrounded by ‘a world of enemies’— ‘one against all’ — and that a fundamental difference exists between this people and all others. It claims its people to be unique, individual, incompatible with all others, and denies theoretically the very possibility of a common mankind long before it is used to destroy the humanity of man.” (227)
It's hard to believe in some ways that these words were written sixty years ago. Yet, they hold true. Hannah Arendt was no stranger to totalitarian regimes, having grown up in Germany during the Nazi occupation and control of the country. Its regime was an example of totalitarianism, as was the regime of the Soviet Union under Stalin. Both were similar in their levels of anti-Semitism, imperialism and xenophobia. In short, tribal nationalism at its peak.

We have seen historically the poor outcomes for humanity when such ideologies take hold. Some have conveniently forgotten, but the scars of humanity are deep and visible. It's not weak to say we ought not to hate one another, that you may love your country, but equally not hate another nation by virtue of its differences. As Charles de Gaulle said about the difference: "Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first." 

Some hide their hate under the guise of patriotism, which itself has become perverted in the hands of politicians and interest groups, who really want no part of democracy. For them it's political dogma. But in such actions they are missing the point and the connection to greater humanity. More's the pity.

There is no greater virtue than love, I think. but love of one does not necessarily have to become a hatred of another. Many agree with that thought, even the ones who do no want to admit it outwardly, for fear of presenting themselves as weak or sentimental. It's hardly the case.  As Orson Welles once said: "Race hate isn't human nature; race hate is the abandonment of human nature." 

A version of this post was previously published on Perry J. Greenbaum (April 1, 2011)