by: Rabbi Michael Lerner on November 15th, 2015 | 10 Comments »
For many years, we at Tikkun and the NSP–Network of Spiritual Progressives have warned that the domination and power-over strategies to achieve “homeland security” have been tried for over 7,000 years and all they have produced is more wars and violence, interspersed with short periods of peace that have, with the help of media and professional apologists for the existing inequalities, managed to hide from public view the degree of covert structural violence that every system of inequality and domination has required.
We have called for a new approach to “homeland security” – the Strategy of Generosity, as manifested in part in our proposed Global Marshall Plan (please download the full version and read it carefully at www.tikkun.org/gmp). It calls for the US to take the leadership with other advanced industrial societies to dedicate 1-2% of their Gross Domestic Product each year for the next twenty years to once and for all eliminate (not just ameliorate) domestic and global poverty, homelessness, hunger, inadequate education and inadequate health care. But it is not only about giving this “objective caring” in the form of economic benefits but also about delivering subjective caring–so that people feel that this is not a bribe but an expression of a new consciousness emerging into the world. Until the powerful countries of the world are seen as mainly driven by a desire to care for the well-being of everyone else on the planet and the wellbeing of the planet itself, and to do so not only out of self-interest but also out of a new consciousness in which we all come to truly understand our mutual interdependence and oneness, what we saw in Paris this past week is destined to be an increasing reality in the coming decades.
The more fear of “the Other,” the more resentment and anger those others will have toward us, and the cycle of violence will become more a part of daily life not only where it already is (mostly in the countries of the Global South and East), but also in the advanced industrial countries. As fear grows, fascistic and racist right-wing forces will grow more popularity, their anti-immigrant policies will be portrayed as “common sense,” their empowering of domestic intelligence forces to invade our private lives will receive greater support, because people will never have heard an alternative path to security as supposedly liberal leaders seek to show that they too can be “tough.” Yet for those of us in the spiritual or religious world, the Torah command to “love the stranger” still resonates, and we could build a very different popular understanding if secular progressives and religious progressives were to unite behind the strategy of generosity rather than simply focusing on resisting the policies of the right.
People need to hear an alternative worldview about what brings on the violence and hurtfulness they see around them in this world. It is only when the people who want a world based on love and justice are willing to explicitly use those words, to explicitly and not just implicitly talk about a strategy of generosity as the alternative to the strategy of domination and fear, that others will feel safe to reconnect to that part of them that actually wants such a world but was afraid to look foolish in a society whose discourse is dominated by the need to show how tough you are to be taken seriously. Healing of our world requires psycho-spiritual sophistication to combat media cynicism and miltarist fear-mongering.
We saw how the legitimate grief and upset at the horror of 9/11 was channeled into a set of wars and narrowing of our rights to privacy and protection from invasive governmental power. Those wars created the prelude to ISIS/Islamic State. We are today at another moment of choice about how to respond. We already see supposedly liberal leaders embracing militaristic solutions and reducing freedoms in order to prove that they are “tough” as the right-wing militarists insist is needed. But we, the people of the world, could reject this approach if we were to embrace an alternative consciousness to the drumbeats of fear and revenge that the media and our political leaders think they must support lest they be thrown out of office. You personally could play a role in resisting the dominant discourse and insisting on a different path to security – and you could convince others to adopt that new consciousness.
That new consciousness must include a powerful commitment to nonviolence and to genuine caring for the wellbeing of everyone on our planet. And it will require rejecting the ethos of global capitalism with its inevitable fostering of selfishness and materialism, and its powerful way of infusing in all of us a narrow utilitarian or instrumentalist way of seeing other human beings who increasingly are valued to the extent that they satisfy our needs or interests rather than as beings who are intrinsically deserving of love and respect, and its way of seeing the Earth and the universe solely as vehicles to fulfill our immediate needs rather than as the sacred reality that has given birth to life on this planet and as deserving a response of awe, wonder and radical amazement at the magnificence and mystery of all being. This new consciousness is not some utopian ideal – it is the survival necessity for human life on this planet.
My heart mourns for the latest victims of our world’s craziness – the hundred wounded and the over 130 murdered in Paris this past Friday. Every life lost to senseless violence is a tragedy. If, as Jewish tradition teaches, “she who saves one life is as if she saved the entire world,” then the converse must also be the case, that “those who cause the death of even one person are destroying the entire world, bit by bit.”
And when one of the members of our Tikkun editorial board told me that she was scared that the violence in Paris might soon become a norm in the U.S. as well, I had to agree.
No, I don’t believe that ISIS, the Islamic State, or the other hate-filled fundamentalists, racists, misogynists, anti-Semites, xenophobes, and ultra nationalists will disappear the moment we start acting from a new spirit of generosity. We will need to take measures to protect ourselves. But as long as our resources (and here I include not only the U.S. and the West, but also China and Russia) are primarily focused on military, economic, cultural and political domination of the world, what we saw in Paris will become an increasing reality worldwide.
As long as we in the most powerful countries of the world persist in supporting a global system that inflicts daily violence on our own people and the people of the world, there will be consequences that are predictable and yet unstoppable no matter how much force, violence, control of borders, spying on everyone’s emails and phone conversations, imprisonment or torture is used to protect us.
“What, us…violent? It’s always the others who do that to us, and we only defensively respond.” That’s the story the media daily reinforces, and turns into a pervasive mantra whenever there are acts of others that are responses to the suffering we’ve created. The Other (remember it was communists? now it’s Muslims supposedly) are described as the anti-humanists who wish to destroy all the wonders that Western Civilization stands for. ISIS is their ideal target, because it is in fact doing acts of evil that should not be tolerated. But instead of pursuing a policy of generosity in which we win away from the haters the many people who feel some attraction to the way that ISIS articulates some of what is in fact wrong in Western societies, the media and much of the Western political and economic elites have (unconsciously but systematically) done much to drive people into the arms of the haters.
Yes, some politicians have acknowledged the role the war in Iraq in creating the conditions which gave rise to ISIS. That war, started by President Bush, but also supported by most Democrats in Congress who continually voted for the funding for that war year after year, and by President Obama who supported a surge in the fighting, and continued it for 3 years into his presidency, and then left American armaments in the hands of a Shi’ite government more interested in repressing Sunnis than in establishing a society that could give equal rights and respect to all of its diverse groups, was an important factor in creating the fury that manifested in ISIS. Rarely do these politicians mention the documented atrocities committed by U.S. troops or the torture that our military and intelligence forces implemented not only in Abu Ghraib and continues in Guantanamo, but also in more secret torture locations around the world, sometimes run on behalf of the U.S. by torture-friendly regimes in other countries.
Yet this is only the tip of the iceberg. Because it is not just Western imperialism that helped build the huge resentment felt by many against the West. The United Nations estimates that somewhere between 6,000 and 9,000 children under the age of five die every single day from starvation or diseases related to malnutrition or that could have been cured with adequate health care available – so somewhere between 2-4 million children a year. And that’s not counting those who are older who similarly die from inadequate nutrition or health care. The UN estimates that 2.8 billion of the worlds 7 billion population live on less than $2 a day. All this is part of what “Western civilization” means to many who have watched the West gradually take over the world, either militarily or economically and culturally.
This is what we call “structural violence,” and all of us in the advanced industrial societies that vote for candidates who do not address this issue directly are morally implicated in the resulting suffering that our global economic system generates. The unequal distribution of wealth and the resulting extremes of poverty, combined with the violence done by the regimes of elites who need to suppress dissent in order to keep their power, are a leading cause of global suffering. Add to that the trade agreements that we have implemented that benefit a small elite in the global South and East while destroying the ability of small farmers in those countries to make a living, forcing them to move to huge urban areas where they often find that they have to sell some of their children into sexual slavery in order to feed the rest of the family, or alternatively to risk their lives to get to the richer countries where as “undocumented” workers they might be able to feed their children, and you get another part of the picture. And as the environmental crisis deepens, a recent study predicts that we will soon be faced with over 100 million environmental refugees in addition to all the economic and political refugees.
Equally important is the way many people feel dismissed, their suffering of no consequence to the rest of the world. They see people like themselves being daily harassed or humiliated, whether that be in US torture chambers in Iraq and Guantaamo or at the Israeli checkpoints in Palestine, in the tendency of global media to blame all Muslims for the extremism of the few, in the way that the mass murder and genocide perpetrated by Western countries in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen (not to mention the First and Second World Wars where tens of millions of people will killed) or by Russia and China are forgotten while the crimes of the jihadis are described as a threat to civilization itself, The cumulative effects of a world lacking generosity of spirit and generosity of action plays an important role in shaping the psychological underpinning that leads people to act out in various ways, of which ISIS is only one manifestation. When the media and politicians call ISIS an assault on “civilization” they seem unaware of how billions of people have been suffering for decades the economic, political, and cultural consequences of this global system, a system that cannot be blamed on the US alone because it is in fact a product of the Western world for the past many hundreds of years with its colonialism and imperialism, and that Western world itself the product of a rebellion against even worse forms of oppression in feudalism and slavery of the past many thousands of years before capitalism. ( My point is not to be able to precisely affix blame, but to say that this is the moment that we must take charge of our world and move in a fundamentally different and more loving and just direction.)
Add to this the inner suffering of hundreds of millions of people reared in societies where they are taught to distrust each other, to believe that human nature inevitably leads to “looking out for number one” and that hence the only rational way to live is to advance one’s own interests without regard to the consequences for others, and who then find themselves surrounded by others who are just looking out for themselves and who therefore can’t really be trusted to be true friends of allies when circumstances get tough.
Our societies have been amazingly successful in channeling the boiling up anger and outrage that so many people feel into self-blame, psychological depression, and other self-destructive paths: addictions to alcohol, drugs, television, sexual conquests, social media, endless consumption of material goods, nationalistic and religious chauvinisms, and you can add more to this list. For the most part, all this internalization creates unhappy people, and then manipulative politicians often succeed in channeling their unhappiness into anger at some external group – African Americans, women, homosexuals, immigrants, Latinos, Muslims, Jews, liberals – and the same pattern repeats itself around the world with a rotating “Other” depending upon the ruling elites of a given country. If you happen to be in Islamic countries, Sunni or Shiite Muslims are the “Other,” if you’re in Europe or America, African Americans and Muslims are the “other,” if you’re Jewish, it’s the Palestinians and if you’re Muslim or Christian, it has historically been the Jews but now a huge number of “others.” It is this “othering” which itself must stop, rather than using the events of Paris as a launching pad for yet more “othering” of the strangers, the refugees or the Muslims.
The legacy of ignoring global pathologies generated by global capitalism and other systems of domination that preceded it has led to the current reality – and it will be with us for many years to come. If we continue to respond to only the immediate threats without the awareness of the context that creates them, generations into the future will be paying the price. But if we start now to embrace a Strategy of Generosity, build the Caring Society (Caring for Each Other and Caring for the Planet) the current crop of haters will not grow but diminish in strength and ability to attract others. It will be harder and harder for the haters to convince their neighbors and young people that the world as currently constituted is evil if that world is deeply involved in manifesting genuine love and caring not only for themselves but for every person on the planet and caring for the planet itself. Instead of letting politicians focus solely on what to do now, we could insist that right now they take steps that involve articulating publicly and beginning to implement a long-term strategy fo generosity.
As two concrete steps in this direction, please help build support for our Global Marshall Plan and our ESRA, our proposed Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which not only will require public funding of all state and national elections and ban every other source of money, but will also require that large corporations operating in or selling goods or services in the U.S. (those with incomes over $50 million/yr) be required every five years to prove a satisfactory history of social and environmental responsibility to a jury of ordinary citizens who will hear testimony from people all around the world who have been impacted by the operations, products, services, environmental behaviors and economic policies of these corporations.
Sound utopian and fanciful? No, what is utopian and fanciful is believing that somehow through more militarism, more repression, more thought-control in our schools and media, more self-serving demeaning of others, more capitalism, and more infringements in privacy, we can avoid the terror and other manifestations of hatred that will dominate public life in the years ahead.
And why is it not utopian to believe that we can build a different kind of world? Because most human beings actually would love to live in a world based on love, kindness, generosity, environmental sensitivity and awe and wonder at the grandeur of the universe (what we at Tikkun and the NSP Network of Spiritual Progressives call The New Bottom Line). Please read our vision of what this would look like by going to www.spriitualprogressives.org/covenant and then join as dues paying members our interfaith and secular humanist and atheist-welcoming Network of Spiritual Progressives www.spiritualprogressives.org/join.
So don’t ever say that “I didn’t know what to do,” because joining our movement is what you actually can do – so do it now! And by the way, insist that any candidate asking for your support (in the coming elections in whatever country you reside) be explicitly committed to implementing the Global Marshall Plan and explaining to the people of her or his country why the Strategy of Generosity is far more likely to succeed than the Strategy of Domination. And outreach to your local city council, state legislators and Congressional reps to endorse both the Strategy of Generosity (by that name) and the Global Marshall Plan and the ESRA.
Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun Magazine www.tikkun.org (winner of the Best Magazine of the Year Award from the Religion Newswriters Association both in 2014 and again in 2015), chair of the interfaith and secular-humanist and atheist-welcoming Network of Spiritual Progressives, and author of 11 books including two national best-sellers The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right and Jewish Renewal: A Path to Healing and Transformation. His most recent book, Embracing Israel/Palestine shows how to apply the strategy of generosity to one of the world’s seemingly most intractable struggles, his book with Cornel West Jews and Blacks:Let the Healing Begin shows a path to renew the alliance between these two groups, and his book The Politics of Meaning presents some of the ideas that Hillary Clinton was claimed to have embraced when the media in 1993 mistakenly dubbed Rabbi Lerner “the guru of the Clinton White House.” If this analysis moves you, please join the Network of Spiritual Progressives or make a tax-deductible contribution to Tikkun at www.tikkun.org/donate and then contact RabbiLerner.firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss how you can help build this movement for a world based on love and justice.