Divine Neutrality, Blog. Science, Philosophy

Privilege Wants

April 2nd, 2015

Peace is what the privileged want. The indignant want war.

Peace stepping stone
I consider myself privileged. Not because I am wealthy. I am not. Not because I have power to control others. I have no such power. I am privileged because I am not in pain, I am not disabled physically and I am not in financial need.

To be so blessed is privileged. And I want peace in order to preserve this good fortune and not lose this precious condition to the chaos of war. We who have the privilege of well being – we want peace.

Who wants war? Who are those motivated to do battle? Who can be mobilized into a fighting force? In what lies the motivations to fight? The motivation to join a battle unit.

Romance – to fight alongside comrades for a worthy cause.
Loyalty – to the leader as a matter of honor
Tradition – warrior father and brothers
Gain – remuneration, the spoils of war.
Anger – to wreak destruction on an unjust world.
Envy- to humiliate superiority
Indignation for wrongs that must be righted.
Righteousness – to impose what is right.

The stepping stone’s words imply that peace is not a universal good. It benefits the privileged peaceful. But the indignant, seeing great wrongs in society, view war as good. They see it as necessary to oppose evil. Is it not a good to fight against wrong? Not everybody wants peace. There are always warriors among us. The poor and deprived need such champions.

Almost all the people of my acquiantance are, like myself, privileged. They report no pain, are physically functional and have sufficient finances to live in moderate well being. But, of these, many do not consider themselves privileged. Reactions to the stone inscription demonstrate it. They say,

“The ‘privileged’ don’t want peace. It’s the ‘privileged’ who want war. The rich and powerful finance and encourage war to protect their wealth and power. They take profit from conflict.”

These words reveal a mindset. Evidently they are not the words of someone who considers himself among the privileged. Who says such words considers himself a victim! The victim of those who are ‘privileged.’ Victims of oppression. Exactly from these emerge the indignant warriors among us. The ones ready to do battle to right wrongs.

“Only the dead have seen the end of war,”

wrote George Santayana in his Soliloquies in England (1924)

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Is Good Evil?

March 7th, 2015

The Mechanics of Acquiring Political Power


Renowned books on how to attain or keep power are by Machievelli, (The Prince) by Sun Tzu (The Art of War) and by Saul Alinsky.  Alinsky (1909-1972) was an effective organizer and radical and he wrote the book, Rules for Radicals (1971) N.Y.  Over the years this has become scripture as a handbook on the mechanics for achieving power. Extremists and radicals of both the left and the right pay attention to its teachings.

Alinsky was dismayed by the unjust world in which he found himself. He writes:

“In this world laws are written for the lofty aim of ‘the common good’ and then acted out in life on the basis of the common greed. … It is a world not of angels but of angles where men speak of moral principles but act on power principles; a world where ‘good’ is a value dependent on whether we want it.”

His offers his handbook for action to achieve the fundamental ‘good’:

“.. our desire (is) to change (the world) into what we believe it should be.”

“In this book we are concerned with how to create mass organizations to seize power and give it to the people; to realize the democratic dream of equality, justice, peace, cooperation, equal and full opportunities for education, full and useful employment,…(so) man can have the chance to live by values that give meaning to life.”

The nobility and grandeur of his motivation is evident. Alinski’s words are stirring. His catalogue of evils resonate with us. We know its truth. His righteous indignation drives people to join him.

Ah, how sweet are the words of demagoguery.

Let us suppose that Alinsky managed to ‘seize power’. How would he ‘give it to the people’? How are the people, in fact, to wield power? How is the beautiful dream to be effected; if Alinsky had the chance to effect it?

Alinsky never tells us. He doesn’t address this ultimate and critical concern; how he would use power as no other before him has done – to produce ‘good’. His thrust is on getting power.

He spends pages in moral outrage enumerating the injustices he finds – the Vietnam war, “racist discriminatory culture”, strip mining for coal … And then moves on to his contribution: How to organize constituents into a force with which to be reckoned. How to build a base for power. The mechanics of acquiring power.

“To build a powerful organization takes time. It’s tedious but that’s the way the game is played..”

How to play and win at this game is what his activist devotees derive from Alinsky.

Significantly he writes in his chapter on means and ends.

“The practical revolutionary will understand Goethe’s ‘conscience is the virtue of observers and not agents of action’; in action one does not enjoy the luxury of a decision that is both consistent with one’s individual conscience and with the good of mankind. The choice must always be for the latter. Action is for mass salvation and not for the individual’s personal salvation…. first rule; that one’s concern with the ethics of means and ends varies inversely with one’s personal interest in the issue.”

So here is the picture being painted: We live in a faulted world where all efforts to bring about a better world have, heretofore, failed. Nevertheless, Alinsky aims to bring it about by gaining power. Power can bring about the good world that “should be”. And the achievement of power must supersede concerns about scruple. When close to the battle-for-good, matters of ethics are a distant concern, says Alinsky in agreement with Goethe. In the pursuit of a great dream, doing evil in the service of good is permitted.

With precisely this outlook Lenin, in the Russian revolution of 1917, created the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat.’ Dictatorial rule. Proclaimed for the good of the people. In fact, it oppressed them. Noble goals, ignoble consequences.

Can ‘good’ be objective. Clearly, Alinsky thought so. But surely ‘the good’ is a subjective notion. We don’t know what ‘the good’ is. All we know is ‘what we want’. We call that ‘good’. This is precisely Alinsky’s complaint. He cannot abide the subjectivity of good. He wants to bring objective good about. And to do so he is willing to abide evil.

The symbiotic incompatibility between good and evil is the subject in this essay.

The picture is by Rudi Herzlmeier whose whimsical work I admire greatly. I wrote to him for permission to use this image but I never got an answer.

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July 8th, 2014

The Worrisome Business Of Logical Consistency


Sunshine Every Day

The year was perhaps 1938. I was 7 years old then, living in a New York City apartment with my mother, my father and my baby sister. The location was a plebian building with the august address of 35 Hamilton Place in Washington Heights. The upper west side of  Manhattan. Bordering Harlem. We lived on the third floor – apartment 303, I think.

The apartment was small. I shared a bedroom with my three year old sister. Her name was Faith but, because I called her Sistie, so did the world.

In this room I would go into a reverie with my toys. Building blocks. Model cars. My favorites were small, caste metal airplane replicas. The airplane body was perhaps three inches long. Pinned between my fingers, and held aloft at eye level above the apartment floor, wings outspread, it moved majestically through the air. A purring engine sound passed my lips as I guided the airplane on its path. But my eyes saw no guiding fingers. The fingers were invisible to me. For me the airplane was soaring unaided through clouds, miles above the ground. And as I watched it from outside, I was also inside the airplane experiencing the thrill of flying. The plenipotency of God is in the mind of a child.

My mother came into the room. “Why are you playing inside on such a beautiful day? It’s a sunny day. Why don’t you play outside in the sunshine?” she said.

Hearing this, I saw no element of reason in her words. Isn’t there sunshine most days? There would be sunshine days aplenty for going outside. That was my opinion.

I hadn’t taken much notice of the quality of days. If it rained, that too was a sunshine day – and especially if it snowed.

But my mother well knew the quality of days.

The Worrisome Business of Logical Consistency

One day at the age of four I was home with my mother. She was doing chores.

I complained that she should play with me. She explained that washing our clothes, cooking our food, shopping for our needs – the things that had to be done so that I could play all day – did not just happen by themselves; they needed her to do them. She wasn’t able to play with me all the time. She couldn’t be in two places at once.

I saw the logic. But I preferred not to know it. I turned away – angry that she should burden me with the worrisome business of rational consistency, angry that she should place such a burden on my shoulders as the logic of reality.

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