Saturday, July 28, 2018

Newton and Karma

                                                                                                written 21 July 2018
                                                                                               published 28 July 2018

            Sir Isaac Newton is famous for his 1686 description of three laws of motion.  These are: 1, the motion of an object remains the same unless a force is applied; 2, force is equal to mass times acceleration; 3, every action has an equal and opposite reaction.  When a hammer hits a nail, the nail is driven into the wood and the motion of the hammer is stopped.  The action is the movement of the nail, and the reaction is the end of the motion of the hammer.  When a sharply struck cue ball squarely hits another ball on the pool table, the other ball shoots away and the cue ball stops dead.  This is action and reaction.  
            Momentum is mass times velocity.  From a dualistic perspective, there are two separate pool balls, but considering the whole system, the momentum of one ball is transferred to the other through contact: momentum is conserved through the balance of action and reaction.  Newtonian mechanics has been defined as independent masses joined together in energetic holism through contact with each other.
            Quantum mechanics arose a century ago and presents a very different picture of the world.  Mass is no longer simple billiard balls in occasional contact, but is described as a peak in a probability function, quantifiable only when observed, and arising out of an immense ocean of energy.  Einstein described the energy equivalence of mass in his famous equation, energy equals mass times the speed of light squared.  Ongoing quantum research has shown that mass is non-local, meaning it is fundamentally connected, not just through contact in space/time, but in dimensions beyond space/time.  
            As confusing as all this sounds, challenging our direct experience of the world, quantum theory has been repeatedly put to the test, and measurable results confirm these relationships.  Technologies based on quantum theory, such as computers, lasers, and nuclear weapons, not only work, but have transformed our world by their power of connectivity.  Additionally, consciousness has been shown to be non-local as well, fundamentally connected beyond space/time.  There is an emerging theory in physics that there are no material "things", but only thoughts and experience in relationship.
            Considering non-local consciousness helps us understand the Buddhist concept of karma, which is similar to Newton's third law.  If you cause pain, you will eventually experience pain, or conversely, giving joy brings joy, the foundation of the Golden Rule.  We don't normally experience this connection because we live in a dualistic world view of separateness.  When we push on another, we experience only the act of pushing, not the experience of being pushed. The non-local, or non-dual connection of consciousness requires an experience of reaction as a balance, since the events are unity in reality.  Our ignorance of connection doesn't negate the fact of balance, but does shift our experience of that balance in time.
            For example, we are currently experiencing a karmic balance in the United States.  For decades, America meddled in the elections of other countries for our national advantage, and are now experiencing outrage at having our elections meddled with by Russia.  We support tyrannical dictators all over the world for the benefit of corporations and banks, and ignore the suffering of the people of those countries.  Under the current administration, the same corporate interests are more openly oppressing American citizens, even jailing many who dare to protest.  Americans have economically benefited from intrusions into other countries, even if we didn't know about it.  However, the pain was real to other people, and until we feel it ourselves and demand fairness and equality for everyone, the karmic balance won't be restored.
            There is a sect of Christianity which believes in a punitive God, punishing guilty sinners, but the translation of sin from the original Aramaic is "to miss the mark".   Many people feel that karma is punitive, but that is an error.  No judgment is involved, any more than stubbing your toe on a rock implies the rock had it in for you.  Karma is simply experiencing the reactions to our own actions, a consequence of the non-dual connection within all life.  As Thich Nhat Hanh says, "we are here to awaken from the illusion of separation".

Saturday, July 21, 2018

The Republican Long Game

                                                                                                written 14 July 2018
                                                                                                published 21 July 2018

            The Federalist Society was founded in 1982 to promote conservative judges and legal interpretations.         In the 90's, the Federalists felt they were "losing" the culture wars, as most Americans supported environmental protection, contraception, abortion, and rights for voters, women, workers, and gays.  Believing they knew what was best for the country, the Federalists decided to pack the courts, particularly the Supreme Court, to impose their narrow vision as the law of the land.  Leonard Leo, a conservative Catholic Republican activist, joined the Federalists in 1989.  Leo has shaped the Federalist Society to align with the religious beliefs derived from his membership in the Knights of Malta, and is the Federalist liaison to the Trump White House.  The only judges Trump has considered are Federalists.
            The tight election in 2000 and the intrusive Supreme Court decision to halt the vote count in Florida was the opening play in this long game.  The 5-4 decision to make George W. Bush president included three members of the Federalist Society, Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas.  When Rehnquist died and O'Conner retired, Bush appointed Roberts and Alito, both Federalists, bringing the total to four.  
            The aftermath of the voting problems in Florida saw widespread government investment in electronic voting machines, supplied by companies owned by conservative Republicans, using secret, proprietary software.  With no public transparency, the accuracy of the vote count began to be questioned.  Coincidentally, Republicans flourished, and instituted widespread voting district gerrymandering and erroneous voter role purges purported to prevent voter fraud, successfully suppressing Democratic voter turnout.  
            The 2010 Citizens United 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court, with the four Federalists in the majority, cited corporate right to free speech, exposing politics to unlimited cash donations, including untraceable dark money.  Alito died in February 2016, during Obama's administration.  Under Federalist urging, the Republicans in control of Congress refused to move on Obama's court nomination, citing that it was unfair, being "too close to a pivotal election".  By November 2016, Republican voter purges and gerrymandering, combined with a cash flood from corporations, the wealthy 1%, and the Russian mob, put Trump in office, and he appointed Gorsuch, another Federalist. 
            Even though Justice Kennedy will retire even closer to a "pivotal election" than Alito's death, hypocritical Republicans want to rush Trump's nominee through in record time.  If Kavanaugh is confirmed, he will be the fifth Federalist on the bench, sealing their agenda for the near future.  It is worth examining the agenda of the Catholic Knights of Malta and the Federalists, since they have worked so diligently to stack the court in their favor.
            The Knights of Malta are an extremist Catholic sect which considers the Pope too liberal.  Their catechism claims to be a moral law higher than human laws, defining acceptable natural and unacceptable unnatural functions. Sensual enjoyment of any kind is unnatural.  Sex is for procreation, not pleasure, and a woman's only purpose is to give birth.  Since homosexuals don't procreate, they are unnatural.  Life begins at conception, so abortion, and somehow even contraception, is murder.  These are supposedly God's laws, so individuals have no rights to decide for themselves.  Other faiths are anathema.
            The Federalist agenda is almost as extreme, proposing that all New Deal programs including Social Security are unconstitutional.  Corporations have free speech and religious rights, and there is no constitutional right to privacy.  The traceable funding for this agenda comes from the Koch brothers, the Mercer family, the Chamber of Commerce, Chevron, Microsoft, Google, and Pfizer, among others, all with a goal of eliminating financial and environmental regulations.
            While Islamic extremists use violence to subdue a nation to their tyrannical vision, Christian extremists have used dark money and pliable politicians to the same ends.  The beginning of the reign of Emperor Trump is a good time to be a rich Republican, straight, white, "Christian" extremist man.  The rest of us are grist for the unfettered economy ravaging the planet for the profit of a few, employing fewer people in more dangerous jobs, with no provision for education, health care, or a social safety net.  From a holistic perspective, this joyless vision of exclusive gain is insanely suicidal, yet passes for Republican wisdom.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Hero's Journey of Transformation

                                                                                                written 7 July 2018
                                                                                                published 14 July 2018

            Joseph Campbell is known for his lifelong research into myths from around the world.  Shortly before Campbell died, Bill Moyer interviewed him, available in a DVD series "The Power of Myth", which we recently viewed.  
            Myths are metaphors, like poems, meaning more than literal interpretation of the details, alluding to deeper relationships and wisdom.  After studying thousands of myths, Campbell found a common theme of an individual heroine, or hero, challenged to transcend self-interest, to risk their life for the good of a larger system, of which they are already a part.  Some individuals go seeking adventure, some inadvertently fall into the adventure, and in some cases, the adventure sweeps them up.  No matter how they became engaged, the quest demands they expand their sense of "self" in order to heroically recognize and embrace a larger context.
            Watching the video, it struck me that our current moment in US history is the hero's challenge.  Trump can be seen as a symbol of the isolated individual, acting without regard for anyone else, the state of the hero before the transforming adventure of myth.  In Trump's mind, America is a solitary player on a dog-eat-dog planet.  He acts with no regard for the consequences of his actions, because he believes everyone is against him and looking to take advantage.  The border wall is a good example of the illusion of this view, as if walls can really keep out the problems that come with an interconnected world.
            One of my favorite metaphors from biology is the metamorphosis of a caterpillar to a butterfly.  After a time of focused eating and growing, the caterpillar begins to change, producing the hard shell of a cocoon around its body.  The soft body inside the cocoon dissolves into a featureless goop.  Within that goop, numerous small groups of cells, called "imaginal buds", begin to come together, forming the butterfly.  However, the caterpillar's immune system is still functioning.  Being narrowly defined, it attacks these growing imaginal buds as foreign invaders.  Because there is a holism between the caterpillar and the butterfly, this attack actually stimulates the growth of the imaginal buds, hastening the completion of the emerging butterfly.  The butterfly breaks out of the cocoon, contributes to other life forms by acting as a pollinator, mates, lays eggs, and the cycle begins again.
            Like a caterpillar, the American economy has spent decades in focused consumption, living without awareness or regard for the rest of the world, other than as raw material.  With less than 5% of the world population, we consume 24% of the resources, and produce 50% of the solid waste.  This economic form, having run its course, is now collapsing.  Whether we like it or not, we are engaged in a mythic adventure, challenged to transform into a new form, which acknowledges and contributes to the larger connected planet.  Nothing less will really do at this point.    
            The American experiment with democracy is a testament to the powerful potential of inclusion.  When American was founded, a nation based on democracy and equal rights for all was considered a naive utopian fantasy.  While imperfect in practice, the fact of democratic America's duration has inspired oppressed people all over the planet.  America is now being tested to see if our vision is still strong, or whether selfish greed will destroy our inclusive democratic experiment.
            This national myth challenge illuminates our personal myth challenge as well.  The old cultural stories based on fear and separation are strained by the explosion of connective technology, which disrupt the familiar social order by opening powerful links to the whole world.  Global immigration patterns, the rise of individual rights in the form of voting, gender equality, sexual preference, and race, appear as threats to an isolated individual, rather than expressions of the diversity of the unity that includes us all.  Trump's attacks on compassionate democracy are calling us to become heroes and heroines engaged in an archetypical adventure of transcending our selfish perspective, and embracing our connection with the unity of the world.  This is our work.  This is our human potential.  This is our birthright.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Fascism In America

                                                                                                written 30 June 2018
                                                                                                published 7 July 2018

            My father's generation put their lives on the line in World War II to defeat fascism, defined by Italian dictator Mussolini as "state powers used for corporate profits."  It is sad to see that while America won that war, we seem to have lost in the long run. 
            From a holistic perspective, the capitalist system of exclusive gain is contrary to nature, thus inevitably fails.  Fascism is the darkest side of capitalism, and some American industrialists helped the Nazi powers, despite the totalitarian racism, because of the profit to be made.  After the war, the CIA helped Nazi's escape to South America because we wanted their networks in eastern Europe to spy for us against communist Russia.
            Throughout US history, the Supreme Court judges have been mostly corporate lawyers, which explains the persistent rise of corporate power over workers, leading to unfettered corporate money in politics, while restraining political funding by unions.  The insane fiction of corporate personhood is part of this process.
            Previous administrations have occasionally used political power to enrich their friends, but sought to keep these financial transactions out of the public eye, knowing they look bad, and are often illegal.  The Trump administration doesn't even pretend to care how it looks, or if laws are broken.  The stage is being set for an American Emperor, where the law is what he says it is.  Contrary to his campaign promise to "drain the swamp in Washington", he is on a swamp breeding program.
            This is the first president to retain control of his economic investments while in office.  He said he was giving financial control to his family, but they are part of his While House team.  He frequently travels to his Mar Lago hotel, enriching himself with each trip.  In a blatant "pay to play" episode this May, he threatened trade sanctions against the Chinese company ZTE, then reversed himself after the Chinese loaned his hotel development in Indonesia $500M.
             Trump's appointments to head government agencies are fraught with conflicts of interest.  He appointed Ajit Pai, a former executive for Verizon, to head the FCC.  Pai has regulated the end of net neutrality, which will allow his former company to choose whose messages get to the public by charging higher rates for faster service.  Pai is currently working to end the Lifeline subsidy program, which helps poor people afford web access, enhancing the digital divide, leaving more Americans behind.
            Betsy DeVos, a lifelong advocate of using taxpayer money to fund private and religious schools, is Secretary of Education.  She has repealed efforts to make school loan repayment easier, even when schools go bankrupt, allowing for-profit schools to rip off their students.  She is working to limit consumer protection against school loan providers, and protects abusive school loan collection firms.  When appointed, DeVos listed more than 100 financial conflicts of interest, including investments in school loan collection agencies and for-profit schools.
            Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is opposed to the mission of the EPA.  A staunch climate denier, he has received campaign funds from the fossil fuel industry for years.  He is against government regulation of any kind, preferring industry self-regulation.  Since EPA regulations were put in place because industries refuse to regulate themselves, putting profits over people, Pruitt's actions are total betrayal of the American public.  A 2018 study in the American Journal of Public Health found that Pruitt's EPA had adopted a pro-business agenda unlike that of any previous administration.  Pruitt has been so flamboyant that he is the focus of 12 investigations into spending habits, conflicts of interest, extreme secrecy, and poor management practices.  Even some conservative Republicans are calling for his resignation.
            Previous administrations, both Republican and Democrat, have included some self-serving, incompetent, and corrupt individuals.  In the Trump administration, unrestrained greed and self-promotion are the name of the game, and his appointees have risen to the challenge.  This is America today, where being rich or famous is all that counts.  Competence, critical thinking, and moral code are not necessary or valued.  It is understandable why the wealthy approve this situation.  It is less clear why a portion of the non-billionaire class supports this kleptocracy.