Saturday, May 03, 2014

157.5 - Third anniversary: re-introducing myself

Third anniversary: re-introducing myself

This is show number 157 of Left Side of the Aisle, and for those of you who do the quick math, you might realize that this is the first show of year four; it's our third anniversary show.

So knowing that not all of you, in fact I imagine most of you, have not watched the show from the beginning, this seemed an appropriate time to re-introduce myself, so that what I say here can be put into a broader context of ethical, moral, and political convictions.

To do that, I'm going to start out by talking about a socio-psychological concept called "worldview."1 Your worldview is your way of mentally organizing the world around you so that it makes sense, your way of putting order to what you perceive.

We all have a worldview. And not just individuals, cultures have a worldview. In fact, one of the things that defines a culture is a shared worldview, a generally-shared (but often implicit) understanding of how reality functions. That worldview can be radically different from one culture to another and can vary within a culture over time. For example, the worldview we hold today in this culture is dramatically different from the worldview held by the first wave of European settlers of North America in the 16th and 17th centuries. In fact, that also holds true for Native Americans, whose worldview now is quite different from that of the natives of that earlier time.

The point is, still, that no matter what the particular worldview is, every culture has one; without a shared worldview, a culture will fracture for lack of a bond to hold it together.

The same holds true for individuals: You have a worldview, you need to have a worldview as it is difficult if not impossible to function otherwise. Without a worldview, everything appears as chaos. Even something as seemingly basic and obvious as cause and effect is part of your worldview, a concept of how reality works. Imagine trying to function without any notion of cause and effect. That will give you a sense of trying to function without a worldview.

More important to my immediate purpose is that within your worldview, there is a more limited version of it which applies to political/moral/ethical considerations. That sort of worldview drives your sense of right and wrong, proper and improper; it informs your convictions about what should and shouldn't be.

For most people, forming that personal worldview is part of maturation. Again for most people, that worldview doesn't change much once it is formed. It can, but not usually or even then by very much. Even what appear to be such changes, for example in political beliefs, often enough are not changes in basic concepts that constitute a worldview but in the interpretation of events and experiences in light of that worldview. Your worldview, that is, is part of your basic psychological make-up - and that doesn't change easily once formed.

So having said that, what I want to do is lay out what I think are important elements of how I reached the final, you could say mature, form of my worldview.

Perhaps the most important thing to say is that I am, in many ways, "a child of the '60s," having come to political awareness during that brief (and, some would have it, mythical) interregnum marked at one end by the Sgt. Pepper summer2 and at the other by Altamont - or, if you prefer a political description, by Flower Power and the Days of Rage.

For those of you who are less than about 55 and have no idea what those terms mean, you can look them up. For now, it's enough to know that we're talking about the period of say, 1967-1970.

Like most - at least male - members of my generation, it was Vietnam that initially drew me beyond vague "concern" into concrete involvement: Even for those of us "safe" with draft deferments - and again, that's something that folks now maybe can't relate to, the fact that there was a military draft, under which you could be required under pain of lengthy imprisonment to join the Army and go wherever they sent you, even into a war you thought criminal - but even for those of us with deferments, who could feel confident that at least for now you couldn't be drafted, the war was always there. It swirled around us like a mist, a fog, it tugged at us like an undertow, it threaded in and out of our lives, our future, our consciousness, and the only way you could ignore it was by making the conscious effort to do so.

In fact, I think that those of what I'll call the "Vietnam generation" have a greater understanding of the impact that World War II had on our parents than those of the "Iraq generation" have of the impact Vietnam had on us. Because no matter how you measure it, the Vietnam War - which is properly called the Indochina War because it involved Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia - was a much bigger war than Iraq or Afghanistan ever were.

For example, peak US troop strength in Iraq was 168,000 and the peak year for Iraq and Afghanistan troop strength combined was fiscal 2008, at 188,000. Peak US troop strength in Vietnam was over 536,000, nearly three times as many - and by the way, South Vietnam, where the vast majority of those troops were, was about 2/5 the size of Iraq.

US troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan combined, up to May 2 of this year, total 6,800. US troops killed in the Indochina War totaled over well over 58,000 - well over eight times as many. US wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan combined reached just under 50,000; those wounded in Indochina were over 300,000, over six times as many.

So yes, a much bigger war. Significantly more troops, significantly more wounded, significantly more dead. And for those of us who questioned the war, who asked our government about the whens, wherefores, and, most importantly, whys of the war, it seemed that each of the "answers" we got just raised at least two new questions.

I had been to that time what I now call a "right wing liberal," a type that is now commonly called a "liberal war hawk," that species of American political animal that's at least fairly liberal on domestic issues and clearly conservative on foreign policy, a type whose philosophy I later summed up as "hooray for justice, beauty, truth, and Kill Commies."

My personal breaking point came when I heard the man who was then the commander of US forces in the war, I don't remember which one it was, say "We're winning the war, just give us six more months" - and I recalled having heard exactly the same thing six months earlier.

And of course, the war didn't end in six months, it dragged on for years more amid repeated promises that it was, really, already over.

The sort of, the term was and is, increasing alienation that generated plus mounting evidence of what the governments we supported in South Vietnam were really like eventually prompted me to - very shyly - attend a meeting of a local peace group. That was, if memory serves, in the fall of 1968. I still remember walking into this room in a church basement and being greeted by a tall man with a beard and a not-inconsiderable resemblance to Abraham Lincoln. In fact, he later added a mustache because he got tired of the Lincoln jokes.

Okay, you can relax; it's over now. I've no intention of inflicting my autobiography on you. But knowing the roots of my involvement in the movement may help to some degree to explain where I've wound up: I'm an aging hippie, an educator, and a political activist, the terms' order of presentation depending on circumstances and my mood of the moment. I'm also a democratic socialist/green with an anarchist bent and a civil liberties absolutist who has, by both logical conclusion and moral compulsion, a commitment to active nonviolence both as political tactic and way of life. The only isms I wholeheartedly endorse are skepticism and eclecticism.

I have also flippantly described myself at times as a socialist-anarchist-communalist-capitalist-eclecticist-iconoclast. After people's eyes stop glazing over, I explain:

I'm a capitalist in that I believe in the "Ma and Pa" store, the community-level enterprise, the small factory, the two- or three-store chain.

I'm a communalist in that I believe that cooperative ventures are better than competitive ones.

I'm a socialist in that I believe that beyond a certain size, profit-seeking enterprises cannot be trusted to be responsible to the communities in which they operate and at that point the community as a whole has the right and the responsibility to step in to exercise control and make decisions, up to and including assuming ownership.

I'm an anarchist in that I believe in doing that with as little government as necessary and with individual freedom and civil liberties being at the maximum possible consistent with social justice.

I'm an eclecticist in that I believe you can put this together into a reasonably coherent social philosophy.

And I'm an iconoclast in that - well, you may have heard that the I Ching is based on the notion that "the only thing that doesn't change is the fact that everything else changes." My version of this is that I believe "the only ultimate answer is that there is no other ultimate answer" and so if we ever did build a society along the lines I envision the first thing I'd do is to try to figure out what was wrong with that one and how it could be improved.

In doing this show, I'm guided by four editorial principles:

1) "To thine own self be true." Which, as I expect you know, is a quote from Shakespeare.

2) "The US isn't the worst - but it is the biggest." That's a quote from Joan Baez.

3) "Sometimes a bit of humor contains more inner truth than the most serious seriousness." That's from a chess grandmaster named Aron Nimzovich.

4) "No one but no one, no matter their ideology, political perspective, or status as 'left' or 'right,' 'revolutionary' or 'counter-revolutionary' can be by that reason exempt from either criticism or praise." That's from me.

The bottom line point is that I have always believed that in any political movement, everyone has some skill they can use, some skill they can contribute to advance the cause. While my list of inadequacies on any compilation of useful skills is quite lengthy, I do have some skill with words. With writing. Talking. Giving speeches. And like that.

So this, ultimately, is just another way I think I can be of use, another way to try to advance the idea of justice, another attempt to maintain the hope that is the only thing that keeps us going. It is, if you will, another candle in the rain3.

Year four started. Let's go.

1A lot of sources make it two words, "world view," but I think a one-word form is more appropriate because it is a single concept, one that is not "your view of the world" but, if you will, "the world of your view," the world (in the broadest sense) as you view it, as you comprehend it, including the limitations.

2Many sources refer to it as "the summer of love" but I prefer the term "Sgt. Pepper summer" because discussions of "the summer of love" often focus almost exclusively on Haight-Ashbury (San Francisco) without regard to the broader cultural shift of which "Hashbury" was merely the sharpest focus, not the source. With that limitation in mind, here are a couple of sources:

3Little sisters of the sun
Lit candles in the rain
Fed the world on oats and raisins
Candles in the rain
Lit the fire to the soul who never knew it's friend
Meher Baba lives again
Candles in the rain
To be there was to remember
So lay it down again
Oh, lay it down Lay it down, lay it down again
Men can live as brothers
Candles in the rain
- Melanie

Sources cited in links:

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