Saturday, June 30, 2007

Civilization, Terror, and Real Security

Published in Berkeley Daily Planet, July 3, 2007.

Today, the biggest "temples" are skyscrapers devoted to office work; no cathedrals at the center of town devoted to worship of a Higher Power. The true religion of world civilization is money. The attack upon of the World Trade Center in New York City was not just an "attack upon America" but an attack upon the current modes of world civilization. Terrorism challenges civilization, just like street crime challenges a local community. Crime is a symptom of a social sickness; terrorism is the surface symptom of systemic disorder in civilization.

What's wrong with civilization now? We must ask and dig into this question. This question has been asked since the beginning of the industrial revolution. And, needs to be asked even more now. The terrorism that we suffer now is happening as a tension between the oil producing and oil consuming parts of our civilized modern world. I have no answers, but ask that we just look at this tension in all its dimensions.

Modern global civilization depends on freeways, cheap petroleum, making lots of stuff, shipping stuff here and there, extensive personal and business travel, telecommunications and computer networks. These are the wonders, and potential downfalls, of our age.

Our money-oil based global civilization undermines the Earth itself. Without Life on earth, the notion of "economy" is meaningless. Our governments, businesses, and households assume "growth" as the prime measure of a healthy economy. Earth has finite resources. Humans are now hitting Earth's walls. It's time to renew our models of economic health to include the health of all life on the planet -- not just humans. Economic grow alone is very dangerous at this time.

Commuting in private cars to work is not an acceptable form of civilization. Freeways are the backbone of modern urban civilization. They encourage sprawl - commuting from one city to another. Freeways, in the morning are clogged with cars in both directions -- going to work where you do not live sometimes one or two hours away. Pedestrian communities need to become the norm. Work, live and play within walking distance of your bedroom.

The consumer economy with its advertising and marketing system, encourages spiritual bankruptcy to increase the making, selling and buying of "goods" to create satisfaction that never stays. So we must go on to consuming more.

Security will come from little actions. Little actions change the world. Save a bit of a tree by NOT using the wood coffee stir stick to mix the half-and-half in. You know that the cream will swirl around by itself. Drive a little less, walk more. You'll be healthier and have cleaner air. Don't just air travel on a whim, even if you can afford it. Stay near home; become a tourist in your neighborhood. Find work near home. Life will become more relaxed. Share cars. Go for "growth in value", not growth in consumption. A new kind of consumerism is needed: a consumerism of knowledge and wisdom rather than things. Place more value on time with friends and family rather than exchanging gifts. Remember that you buy your money with the time in your life -- time that you could have used for real relationship with friends and family instead of buying things and experiences.

This post-consumer world will not be so wealthy in material, but will be much wealthier in spirit -- we'll have more time for being and creativity. This could become the basis of a real security, of a world that does not breed terrorism. A world where the tension between oil production and oil consumption is not the fuel of politics, religious wars and hate campaigns.

Civilization as we know it now will either collapse or transform. I vote for transformation; for the gradual changing of our ways of life until we get to a life positive form of civilization. This post-consumer world will also be a world without terror as we know it now. It will be a kinder place.

Become peace

Published in "Letters to the Editor", The Berkeley Daily Planet, Oct. 19, 2001.

Spiritual consciousness looks inward to the “self” for the causes of problems. It offers no solutions to social problems, but the radical root of a sound foundation for good religious and political action.

Religious consciousness works with inter-personal relationships as the causes and resolutions of problems. Religious consciousness without a strong link to the spirit easily takes over behaviors of groups – so that we have the “letter but not the spirit of the law.”

Political consciousness is “world” centered. Politics is just a step beyond religious consciousness. The same feelings that are religious interchange with religious patterns of behavior and thinking. Religious groups often try to take control of politics; or, politics tries to control religion. The founders of the American Constitution insisted on the separation of church and state for these reasons.

Some years ago, a friend of mine took me to task on my political activism, pointing out that “first we must change ourselves, before we can change the world.” Eventually, I understood his wisdom.

I admit it – I want a peaceful world, where people live in harmony. Not a very exciting vision. Peace is a precondition for happiness. To get there, I need to stay with the first step – which is to learn to be peaceful myself. Than learn to share that state with others around me.

In other words: be the peace that I want to see in the world.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

From the Summer of Love to Woodstock

My second year of college ended, while "the Summer of Love" in San Francisco in 1967 exploded on the streets and in the media. Images of young "flower children" walking with colorful clothes, long hair, smoking dope, dropping acid, and making peace signs. Youth grasped, for a moment, that the world was overly focused on things, technology, power, domination, consumerism -- at the expense of being human and loving. And, something had to be done about it.

The older generation viewed young people as merely engaging in "sex, drugs, rock'n'roll". This was not true. Youth were recovering the love and aliveness unseen in parents and the people around them. A generation looked back and saw the clich├ęs of love, but not love itself. A time of radical rediscovery of love's luster, innocence and "becoming as children again".

Dehumanizing technology power manifested in the images and reality of the Vietnam War. Helicopters, napalm bombs, and chemicals destroying jungles. Machines and gadgets against people. Vietnam made no sense, yet took 50,000 American lives. "We", the good guys, where killing people, animals, and plants in a foreign land. In quiet ways, we did it here -- at home. Human instinct, culture and technology were out of harmony. The Summer of Love was a true healthy human response to insanity.

Abbie Hoffman, put it thus: The lesson of the 60's is that peoplewho cared enough to do right could change history. We didn't end racism but we ended legal segregation. We ended the idea that you could send half-a-million soldiers around the world to fight a war that people do not support. We ended the idea that women are second-class citizens. We made the environment an issue that couldn't be avoided. The big battles that we won cannot be reversed. We were young, self-righteous, reckless, hypocritical, brave, silly, headstrong and scared half to death. And we were right. (

A longing for return to the Garden of Eden got expressed in the "back to the land" and ecology-recycling movements. Many went to "live on the land" in communes. Others formed cooperative houses and communes in all major cities. Most of these social experiments faded away. But, many remnants remain. It's significant that the Summer of Love was in San Francisco on the streets near the corner of Haight and Ashbury; while, two years later, the Woodstock music festival happens on a farm in the East Coast.

The Summer of Love opened a path leading to the cultural and technical integration of Woodstock. An event greater than a music concert. University of California at Berkeley, Professor Hubert Dreyfus writes:

Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and other rock groups became for many the articulators of a new understanding of what really mattered. This new understanding almost coalesced into a cultural paradigm in the Woodstock music festival of 1969, where people actually lived for a few days in an understanding of being in which mainline contemporary concerns with order, sobriety, willful activity, and flexible, efficient control were made marginal and subservient to certain pagan practices, such as enjoyment of nature, dancing, and Dionysian ecstasy, along with neglected Christian concerns with peace, tolerance, and nonexclusive love of one's neighbor. Technology was not smashed or denigrated; rather, all the power of electronic communications was put at the service of the music, which focused the above concerns. (from Dr. Dreyfus's paper titled "Heidegger on the connection between nihilism, art, technology, and politics".)

A vision that harmonizes instinct, culture and technology was articulated and practiced. Can we find a way back to it in the middle of ordinary 21st century life? 300 years from today, another young generation shall either bless or curse us for our response to this question.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Remember, remember!

The following verse, constitutes a Hindu prayer uttered at the moment of death and often said in funeral rites. It's a good prayer for living well.

Absolute and relative – he who knows these two together, through the relative leaves death behind and through the Absolute gains immortality.

The threshold of Reality is veiled by golden light.
Reveal It, O Lord, for the guiding purpose of my life is to know the truth.

O Lord of light, the knowing one, the golden guardian, giver of life to all, spread apart your rays, gather up your brilliance, so I may perceive your finest and most splendorous nature, the cosmic spirit that lies at your heart.

For I myself am that!

Let my breath merge with the cosmic breath; may my body be as dust.

Remember, O mind, remember what has been done.
Yes, remember, O mind, remember what has been done!

O Agni, show us the right path, lead us to eternal freedom, You who know everything.
May we not be diverted from our goal, for with all devotion we submit ourselves to You.

"Isha Upanishad"
Translated by Alistair Shearer and Peter Russell