We The People

Immediately before the day of the 2008 US federal election, I posted this article in which I said I wouldn’t be voting, and listed three major problems with the Constitution.  The gist of the problems were these:

1.  Majority rule leads to tyranny of the majority over minorities.
2.  Government should be by the consent of the governed — but I am not allowed to withdraw my consent.
3.  The Constitution violates basic tenets of almost every religion — for example, the War Powers clause blatantly violates injunctions against murder.

Slavery by the Consent of the Enslaved

positivelovingkindnessThese flaws were literally on parade during the Civil War.  The Constitution did nothing at all to help those who were bound to servitude, forced to live, eat, and work by the whim of the master; whose families were broken; who were abused, physically and emotionally, and packed on trains or forced to march hundreds of miles away, and told they were doing all this for the good of the country, and then lined up and shot.  If they were lucky, they died quickly; if not, they were frequently captured and sent to prisons that would make Guantanamo Bay look like Club Med.

Yes, I’m talking about the draft, too.  There are many kinds of slavery.

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How I’m Voting II: Cracks in the Constitution

In the previous post in this series, I discussed the Catch-22 we face in the 2008 US presidential race — two candidates that, in the overwhelmingly essential foreign policy arena, differ only in which kind of innocent people they feel it necessary to slaughter. It is possible to choose some other candidate entirely, and that would make it a lot easier to sleep at night. Unfortunately, because of the way the Constitution is set up, if everyone voted for the candidate they really believed in, the president would not be chosen by the people, but by the House of Representatives. That would be at least as horrible as the present system. In this article, I’ll point up some other difficulties with the US Constitution, and what it means for this voting season.

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How I’m Voting I: No Lesser Evil

Let’s assume you’re a US citizen, and let’s assume you care about the country.  And let’s assume you plan to vote for the president this year — either because you think your vote might affect the outcome, or because you think it’s your civic duty as a citizen of a democracy.

Who should you vote for?

42Well, the original field of 10,000 candidates has been winnowed down to just two that have any realistic hope of winning:  Barack Obama and John McCain.  Since one of the two will win, it should be simple enough to figure out which one would be better.

But in fact it’s not that simple.

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A Crime in Our Names: Iran

“You may say this to Théoden son of Thengel: open war lies before him… None may live now as they have lived, and few shall keep what they call their own.”— Aragorn, speaking to Éomer on the eve of the War of the Ring; from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers

A month ago, my wife attended a town meeting here in Hadley, Massachusetts, concerning prevention of war with Iran. The meeting was sponsored by a number of local organizations, including the Order of the White Oak. Given the events in the last few weeks, which appear to be bringing us closer and closer to war, we felt it essential to distribute this information as widely as possible.

These are the notes my wife took at the meeting.

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The Future of Neopaganism in the West, Part II: Going Organic

In the previous post, I outlined a model of prestige and stigma which predicts whether a language or religion will grow or wither in a society. Now let’s take the prestige/stigma model and look at Neopaganism today. By these measures, Neopaganism is in trouble.

Stigmatized Neopaganism

ire2Imagine trying to revive the Latin language. Imagine speaking it at home, teaching it to your children, seeking out Latin translations of modern works, and using it instead of English whenever you could. What would your friends and neighbors think? Do you think lots of people would jump on the bandwagon with you? Do you think that the revived Latin movement — “Neolatinism” — would have much of a future in your society? There are no celebrities speaking Latin on TV. There are no government officials speaking Latin in press conferences. Latin is stigmatized as a dead language with no future; why would anyone want to learn it?

If the analogy between religion and language holds, Neopaganism is in exactly the same situation as Neolatinism would be.

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The Future of Neopaganism in the West, Part I: Prestige and Stigma

Modern religions that are derived from or inspired by the indigenous polytheistic traditions of Europe (I’ll call them Neopagan) have experienced a great resurgence in the last couple of hundred years, and especially in the last fifty or so. This is surprising, because prior to that, everyone pretty much thought they were gone for good.

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Bring Back the Tribe!

Ok, so for about 6,000 years humanity has been running a little experiment in a kind of social order known as the “state”. In my opinion, it’s been an unmitigated failure. Time to give it up and go back to tribalism.

Why the State is a Failure

Note I’m talking about the State, i.e. large government bodies, not states like Rhode Island.

godswhisperWhat is the purpose of a state? Up to about a hundred years ago, the states of the world were justified by nonsense like the “divine right of kings”, but nowadays people usually have other justifications in mind. Some would say its purpose is to protect its citizens from aggression; others say it should also protect its citizens’ liberty, and provide a system of justice; others say the state should help out the general welfare with education, food or wealth redistribution, health care, etc. Does a state do a good job of these things, compared to a tribe? [Continue Reading…]

Vaster than Empires and More Slow

This post is going to be rather more controversial than most. I’ll be getting deep into politics. But this is at the forefront in my mind and conscience, and the shape of government and society is a spiritual issue for me.

The Fall of the Empire

trustyourfeelingsThe name of America tells a tale. Phonosemantically, the sounds in America seem to parallel the history of the United States. The first syllable, “a”, is pronounced “uh” and indicates both freedom and thoughtfulness, and is appropriate for the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Federalist Papers. Its primary syllable, “mer”, is similar to the Middle English mere of mermaid, and Latin mare of maritime  — the sea“ — and suggests a manifestation of strength and power, appropriate for the military and economic strength of the United States as it extended its domain across the continent. The next syllable, “ric”, is similar to rich, reach, and Reich, and indicates solidification and containment of power, appropriate to America’s imperial ambitions. The final syllable, “a”, is pronounced “ah”, and indicates a return to Source energy. This corresponds to nothing in America’s history so far. We can only hope.

Furthermore, each phase of America’s history above corresponds to about one hundred years. The short “a” syllable pairs up with the end of the 1700’s; “mer” is the 1800’s, and “ric” is the 1900’s. Now we’re at the beginning of the final “a”, which means the American Empire — by which I mean our dominance in the economic and geopolitical sphere, despite the fact that our borders haven’t changed much since the 1800’s — should be ending.

And it is — though this may not be obvious.

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Interfaith Blog Event #7: Gender in Druidism: Girl Bullying

Once again I’m delighted to participate in an interfaith blog conversation held by Mike (writing from the Mahayana Buddhist perspective), Jon (a Protestant Christian), Sojourner (pagan/UU), and Matt (an evangelical Christian) and myself, a Druid. Every month (or thereabouts), we write on a topic of interest to us all. This month’s topic is gender:

What does gender have to do with divinity?

The links to the other articles in the conversation will be updated as they are posted:

[Mike’s Essay] [Jon’s Essay] [Sojourner’s Essay] [Matt’s Essay]

The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls

My wife and I just picked up some amazing books on “girl bullying”, as explained in the bestseller Odd Girl Out and other follow-up research by Rachel Simmons. The gist is that bullying is common between girls — at least in US American culture, between the ages of about 10 and 18. From the LA Times review:

The code is unwritten, a conspiracy among girls to turn on one of their own. Secret pacts made among middle and high school girls to ruin reputations, to humiliate–whisper campaigns that so-and-so sleeps around; barking like a dog at another girl in the hallway; shifting to exclude someone from her usual lunch spot.

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Robert Anton Wilson

I learned from Blogickal this morning that Robert Anton Wilson’s body has died. (I am in no position to say anything difinitive about his spirit.) He lived his life as an iconoclast — which is not a necessarily unusual thing in this age, but it is rare for someone to do it with such wit, skill, and deep, deep intelligence. In the last fifteen years or so, he’s become a sort of “old sage” to the community (no doubt, he said, because his hair finally turned white). Those of you who read me with any regularity know that he’s been a major influence on my own thinking. More than that: in some of my darkest times, he has been a light when all other lights failed.

Bob, thank you! You were always the morning star. If your light has dimmed, it can only be because the sun is rising at last.

Don’t You Go to Church?

Being a non-Christian in the United States is not always easy. I know, because I grew up here, and I’ve never been Christian.

Zen and the Art of Childhood

comingbackI was raised essentially Zen Buddhist in the southeast, a region not known for its tolerance and open-mindedness. My mother was Zen; my father and his family were Baptist.

When I was in kindergarten, in 1979, my teacher used to lead the students in Christian prayer before lunchtime. She would do it surreptitiously in the classroom, not in the cafeteria, because prayer in a public school was illegal. When my mother found out, she was irate; she demanded that the school put a stop to it. They didn’t. But in a small southern town, you can’t raise too many waves. My mother dropped it.

In fourth grade, I remember my teacher reading stories to the class — Bible stories. Again, there was nothing we could do.

As I approached puberty, the emotion I most frequently associated with religion was incredulity. Whenever the other children found out that I didn’t go to church, or that I didn’t believe in God, they were incredulous. Aren’t you afraid you’ll go to hell? they’d ask. No, I don’t believe in hell. But the Bible says… I don’t believe the Bible, either. But the Bible says… Why do you believe the Bible? The Bible says… (I’m not making this up.)

For my part, I was incredulous about their beliefs, as well. I was amazed that people could just completely believe every word of a two-thousand-year-old self-contradictory book, without, as it seemed, thought or question. Especially when the Bible had so many things in it that were obviously just wrong — things that contradicted evolution, geology, astronomy, etc.

We were children; we couldn’t argue these things out properly. I couldn’t explain my point of view, and they couldn’t explain theirs. The upshot was that I was just too weird to be friends with them. That was ok with me, though, because I thought they were weird.

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On the Christmas Tree

We received a most interesting Christmas card from a family friend recently. (Our family friend doesn’t yet know about our religious affiliation…) The card had a lovely picture of a family bringing home a tree in a sleigh, and inside the card was a remarkable story about the origin of the Christmas tree:

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Predicting the Future

Someone once famously asked, “Where we all going? And what are we doing in this handbasket?”

Predicting the future is an old game. It’s popular because it’s fun and frequently profitable, especially if you are sufficiently vague or incomprehensible. The Book of Revelation is a good example. John’s vivid accounts of horn-blowing angels, floods, devastations, numbered beasts, and a harlot riding a 10-headed monster (only to be devoured by it) has been popular for nearly 2000 years, though I wouldn’t recommend it for children’s bedtime reading. People have a great time trying to figure out what he was talking about; they’ve suggested everything from Nazi Germany to Al Qaeda. Most biblical scholars agree that a harlot was actually a reference to the Roman emperor Nero, who was alive at the time Revelation was written, and that the ten-headed beast was the Roman Empire itself. John, they say, was simply writing a prophecy of what he wanted to happen: Nero to be overthrown and Christianity to prevail within the Roman Empire. But where’s the fun in that?

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The Source of Human Intelligence

What made humans intelligent? What is the source of our remarkable reasoning powers? Why don’t other animals share them?

Just because I’m a spiritually-minded guy doesn’t mean I don’t believe in evolution. There’s too much evidence to ignore it. But if evolution is right, then there must be answers to the questions above.

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The Victory of the Sioux

Last week I had lots of opportunity to look at a map of South Dakota. Notice the shaded areas that represent the Sioux Indian Reservations. Go ahead, look. I’ll wait here…
Did you notice? A full one fifth of South Dakota belongs to the Sioux. This is an area about the size of Wales. A chunk of North Dakota is theirs, as well.

colignycalendarI wondered how it was that the Sioux had managed to keep so much territory in the face of everything the United States threw at them. Surely it was not because of our government’s bighearted generosity.

I wondered if the land there was so awful that the white folks didn’t want it. Ha! It turns out most of that land is just fine for ranching and farming. The US would have taken it if it could. (In fact, large portions of these reservations are now owned or rented by whites.) Compare that to West Texas or Arizona, where the land is much worse, but there are no reservations of comparable size.

So how did the Sioux manage to keep all that land?

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