I have always believed that, at some point, the Israeli prime minister and his lobby would lose their grip on U.S. Middle East policy. At least I’ve believed that since 1982 when Tom Dine, AIPAC’s most successful executive director,explained how it would happen.
It was during my four year stint at AIPAC that I asked Dine if a president of the United States could take a position opposed by the lobby,in a case where U.S. national security interests were clearly at stake,and prevail.
Dine responded that although he hoped that day wouldn’t come, he did not think a president could make Israel do anything it didn’t want to do given the power of AIPAC and “our friends in Congress.” In other words, as long as politicians need AIPAC-directed campaign funds, it wouldn’t happen.
But then he added a caveat: “Of course, if a president pushed hard enough, and told the American people directly that U.S. security was at stake, he’d win. By that I mean AIPAC would have no choice but to support him. We can never defeat a U.S. president who reaches over the heads of AIPAC and Congress and goes to the American people directly and invokes the national interest.”
by: Miki Kashtan on October 2nd, 2013 | Comments Off
As this entry is being posted, it’s Gandhi’s birthday. Given how much I have been influenced, even transformed, by learning from Gandhi about nonviolence, I wanted to write something to honor his legacy. Because I’ve recently started a mini-series on money, I decided to focus on a lesser known aspect of Gandhi’s work: his views about economics.
At first sight, many of Gandhi’s basic economic thoughts seem entirely irrelevant to our very different time, culture, and context from the one in which he operated and wrote. For example, the idea of village cottage industry, which might have been feasible in early 20th century India, is very hard to imagine now as a primary way forward for industrialized economies. Delving into it a bit deeper, I see a number of convergences between his ideas and the direction that many are advocating today, such as simplicity, localism, and decentralization. Rather than an exhaustive introduction to Gandhian economics, which can be found through a search on the web, I chose, instead, to look more deeply at two core principles that resonate deeply with me and the path I am on with regards to thinking about money and the economy. This week, I am looking at the question of what constitutes universal well-being and how we approach the conundrum of attending to human needs. Next week I plan to look at Gandhi’s notion of trusteeship and connect it with current unfolding thoughts about the Commons.
I am not so keen on the idea that power corrupts, and have already discussed this to some extent in an earlier post. My difficulty with this framing is multiple. For one thing, this saying maintains the pervasive belief that power is bad in and of itself, a belief that can only result in perpetuating itself, since it will keep many people away from taking power lest they oppress others.
As I see it, coming into power does not create the fundamental desire to have things be our way; it only provides access to resources that make it possible to do so. In the process, extraordinary harm can be done to others, sometimes millions of others. Whatever our sphere of influence, and whatever our vision or personal goals, our power gives us access to extra resources, and thus can multiply both our benefit and our harm. There is no substitute for meticulous attention to the effects of our actions. I see it as an enormous challenge to come into power and live its attendant responsibility without creating harm. I am concerned, in part, that less of this work will happen for as long as we continue to believe that the issue is power rather than what we do with it. My hope remains that that we can all recognize that we can have power and still not use it over others.
Another difficulty that I see stemming from associating power with badness is the corollary move of associating powerlessness with purity. I cannot imagine finding a way to say it any clearer than MLK:
Across the world, gay Catholics and allies have been rejoicing over the comments made by Pope Francis in his America magazine interview. Yet looking strictly at the pope’s comments on homosexuality, I see only a more clever iteration of the Catholic church’s “love the sinner, hate the sin” teaching. Frankly, as one who rejects sexual identity labels as nothing more than the social trauma-rooted intellectual residue of the twentieth century, and who embraces homosexuality as an extraordinary erotic gift from Almighty God that is available to all men and women of open mind and open heart, I think the pope’s ever-evolving cleverness on homosexuality is getting way too much attention.
Yet far more interesting and substantive are his remarks on abortion, given in his America magazine interview and subsequent sermon to a group of Catholic gynecologists.
Credit: Creative Commons
To the Catholic gynecologists, Francis said abortion was part of the “widespread mentality of profit, the ‘throwaway culture,’ which has today enslaved the hearts and minds of so many.” Just a day earlier, the pope caused a stir stemming from his America magazine interview when he said, “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible.”
Reviewing the pope’s zigzaggery on this issue, at least in terms of his communication style, a legitimate question could be raised: Could Pope Francis be trying to turn a new page on the Catholic approach to abortion, specifically an approach that would uphold the fundamental sanctity of every human life from the moment of conception, while simultaneously steering conservative Catholics away from their decades-long effort to use the heavy club of state power to control the lives of women who seek elective abortions?
The late Hip-Hop artist Tupac Shakur told the truth in the song “Ghetto Gospel” when he said: “Before we find world peace, we gotta find peace and end the war in the streets my Ghetto Gospel.” This is especially important to remember as we observe Peace Day – The United Nations International Day of Peace and Global Ceasefire – September 21. (http://internationaldayofpeace.org/) We ought to honor the day in our secular and in our faith communities and know that peace is a possibility when we understand that world peace begins inside each of us, one person at a time.
Peace Day was established in 1981 as a day to shed light on the universal ideal of global peace and non-violence. Very often when we think of world peace, our minds go to the various wars being fought between or within nations. We do not think of the daily/nightly gunfire we hear in our communities. We do think of the homicides that we read about in our local papers every day. We do not connect events such as the horrific shootings in Chicago with distant wars.
But, every global conflict is someone’s local conflict. The violence happens in someone’s neighborhood. It is local violence that disrupts daily life. Whether it is the violence of civil war in Syria or Iraq or gun violence in Chicago or New Orleans or a mass shooting in Colorado, Connecticut or Washington DC, what seems to be distant violence is up close and personal violence that happens on someone’s block, at someone’s school or at someone’s job. The violence leads to stress caused by the trauma, and it is possible that stress leads to more violence.
Now the question becomes: what are we going to do to end the violence in our communities? I say there are at least two things that we can do. The first is to think about making peace inside ourselves. Life is full of things that cause stress. We ought to learn the techniques that will help us reduce personal stress. One such technique is Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Mindfulness is about living in the moment. It means that we do not rehearse the past; we do not fret over the future; rather, we live each day, one moment at a time.
by: Miki Kashtan on September 19th, 2013 | Comments Off
One of the cornerstones of our modern culture, the great reward that arose from being freed from earlier feudal times, is the idea of personal rights, the freedom to make decisions for ourselves. In the countries that are categorized as liberal democracies, this freedom is often sacrosanct. Once we reach adulthood, and assuming our specific group is not barred from having civil rights (as in women before being allowed to vote, blacks in the South before desegregation, Palestinians in the Occupied Territories), we don’t have to ask anyone for permission to move, to vote, to enter or exit spaces, to eat or not eat, to befriend people, or to do anything else we want to do provided it’s not specifically illegal. Granted, in our workplaces, we trade this freedom for money. We accept that our bosses can tell us what to do – within limits. Still, we do this freely (or so we believe).
So enamored are we with this particular version of what freedom means, that the idea of involving other people in our process of making decisions appears to many of us to be the same as asking for permission. When I used to work with couples, often a sore spot was when one of the partners would be making decisions that affect the other person without consulting with the affected person. More often then not, when I invited the person to check with their partner before the decision, they would balk. Many of them found it really difficult to discern the difference between asking their partner for permission and asking their partner for feedback about the effect of the decision on them. Back in the workplace, when I work with managers, they often struggle with the idea of involving the people they supervise in decision-making. Again, I sense that they associate any form of dialogue about a decision with loss of autonomy.
I believe that one of the best kept secrets about the rewards of choosing interdependence is the wisdom and the richer freedom that are often unleashed through entering dialogue with others as a path to making decisions: together, in complete autonomy, honoring everyone affected. To make this secret more available to more people, to help usher in a possible future, I want to share three stories about how dialogue created shifts that resulted in an outcome that served everyone better than before. Each of these stories illustrates one of the challenges that we face on the path to full integration of autonomy and interdependence.
by: Miki Kashtan on September 15th, 2013 | Comments Off
from Occupy Wall Street
I have written about money before, though not much. It’s been a complex topic to address. Because it’s so central to our way of life in modern times, both individually and globally, I feel drawn to address it, to excavate meaning, to find and support freedom in relation to it. Because it’s so loaded, I can’t imagine writing about it without ruffling some feathers. The result: I’ve been accumulating notes, ideas, and questions and mostly waiting for another time to do the actual writing.
Then, earlier this week, I had a very tough conversation about money with three of my most beloved supporters, a volunteer team that’s helping me put together the East Coast version of my program Leveraging Your Influence. The topic was about how we were going to handle money and sustainability in the upcoming retreat in November. One of the results of this conversation was that it reminded me just how important I find this topic, and I decided to up the priority of writing about it. I now have an outline of a mini-series with at least six parts I want to finish by Thanksgiving, when I plan to launch my new Maximum Wage campaign website.
Then I ran the outline by Dave, the man whose creative eyes find all the images that accompany my blog posts, and realized just how much bigger the task was than I had anticipated if I was going to do it justice. Maybe I will continue to write about money for much longer, then. Given the magnitude of the task, I decided to start by a preamble of sorts, writing about my own current challenges with regards to money.
I don’t often expose the difficulties I experience in their raw form on this blog. As much as I am committed to the path of vulnerability, I usually package my feelings into presentable learning before I write about them. This time, however, my intuitive sense is that the details of what made that conversation so painful for me might be meaningful for at least some people to read about. First, some background.
One of the most common questions any child I know asks her or his parents is a deceptively simple one: “Can I …?” This question is so common, so familiar, that we carry it with us into adulthood, and often address each other in the same way. We especially are prone to using this question when speaking with people who are in positions of authority.
Two passions of mine combine in wanting to take apart the meaning of this form of speech: my love of language, which includes the belief that words are never simply words; and my burning interest in transforming paradigms of power.
For a long time now I have been troubled by the way Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is often presented and perceived. In our culture, and in several other industrialized, modernized countries I have been to, it is typically seen as a path to personal growth, such as an alternative to therapy, or a way to resolve relationship issues. For me, this focus has been limited. Instead, more and more I think of NVC as a path to personal liberation, and of the two paths as distinct from each other. The former is about enabling us to function, even live well individually in society as it exists, while the latter is about freeing ourselves from the ideas, norms, and roles we have internalized from living in this society. The more free we become, the more we can find a ground to stand on to challenge the system to be much more responsive to all people’s needs, not only some needs of the few.
I often heard from Marshall Rosenberg, the founder of NVC, that a similar concern led to his own decision as a psychologist to leave behind clinical work and private practice in his search for the largest contribution he could make. The issue hinges on the question of what is being served when we attend to the individual effects of a system that fundamentally doesn’t support human needs and life as a whole. I’ve been haunted by this question in multiple ways.
Here is but one example: when an individual human being suffers a debilitating depression and a pill exists that can provide relief, what are the effects of administering this pill? There is no question that many people experience the difference between being able to function at all when they take the pill, and levels of agony that are extreme, even life-threatening. The issue for me is the effect on a larger scale: as I wrote about in an earlier post, medicating problems that are arguably caused by systemic conditions prevents us, collectively, from knowing that we have created conditions in which humans cannot thrive. Is it always a benefit to allow people to continue to function if the system as a whole is riddled with difficulties?
March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom
There have been many threads of coverage and commentary surrounding the March on Washington’s 50th anniversary, and one of them is naturally about nonviolence: the nation’s leadership had assumed that the march would turn violent, but August 28, 1963, turned out to be one of the most notably peaceful days in the history of the District of Columbia.
Still, the nonviolent character of the movement that the march defined is being questioned. There has been some interesting historical revisionism surrounding Rosa Parks and other civil rights figures who, unlike Martin Luther King, were less-than devoted to nonviolence as an abiding moral principle. (For my take on that, go here.) And now comes a book that, among other provocations, makes the case that King’s struggle was arguably a violent one.
The author is Benjamin Ginsberg, and his forthcoming title is The Value of Violence (Prometheus Books). This month, the Johns Hopkins University political science professor summarized his thesis in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Ginsberg declares in the article that the tactics used by proponents of nonviolence (he names King and Gandhi) “were far from nonviolent.” How so? Because they were “designed to provoke violent responses” from local authorities and thus elicit sympathy from the public.