A friend of mine was an editor on a new book, essentially a memoir of a photographer’s experiences in Afghanistan during the Soviet war there. It’s a cross between a graphic novel and a photo journal.   This book comes highly recommended by the New York times; I think the best thing they said about it is this:

It is impossible to know war if you do not stand with the mass of the powerless caught in its maw. All narratives of war told through the lens of the com batants carry with them the seduction of violence. But once you cross to the other side, to stand in fear with the helpless and the weak, you confront the moral depravity of industrial slaughter and the scourge that is war itself. Few books achieve this clarity. “The Photographer” is one.

This speaks to me of one of the sad truths of war that I have such trouble wrapping my mind around: how people can honestly sit back and say “sure, let’s just go kill some people” when confronted with a problem.   I hope this book succeeds in communicating the foolishness of such an attitude to some people who currently suffer from it.


A dear friend sent me this the other day:

Keep Making It

It’s from http://www.holymolecartoon.com, by the artist Rick Hotton.

Conservatives Live in a Different Moral Universe — And Here’s Why It Matters | | AlterNet

Haidt identified five foundational moral impulses. As succinctly defined by Northwestern University’s McAdams, they are:

Harm/care. It is wrong to hurt people; it is good to relieve suffering.

Fairness/reciprocity. Justice and fairness are good; people have certain rights that need to be upheld in social interactions.

In-group loyalty. People should be true to their group and be wary of threats from the outside. Allegiance, loyalty and patriotism are virtues; betrayal is bad.

Authority/respect. People should respect social hierarchy; social order is necessary for human life.

Purity/sanctity. The body and certain aspects of life are sacred. Cleanliness and health, as well as their derivatives of chastity and piety, are all good. Pollution, contamination and the associated character traits of lust and greed are all bad.

Haidt’s research reveals that liberals feel strongly about the first two dimensions — preventing harm and ensuring fairness — but often feel little, or even feel negatively, about the other three. Conservatives, on the other hand, are drawn to loyalty, authority and purity, which liberals tend to think of as backward or outdated.

Two Three posts that seem pertinent to peace, to me. (And apologies to Dan if he was hoping to use his on this site soon!)

Yet Another Unitarian Universalist » Blog Archive » American Left with a sense of humor?

Inspirations and Creative Thoughts: Ignorant Addiction to Transcendence

ETA: Celestial Lands » Blog Archive » Why I Don’t Carry or Handle Firearms Anymore

Today Andrea and I went to have lunch at our favorite Indian buffet. There was a guy hanging out in front of the H&R block next door to the restaurant, sitting on a milk crate. There’s a tendency for there to be aggressive panhandlers there, and the only available parking spot was right in front of the guy. So when I got out of the car, I walked around the back of the car because I didn’t really feel like interacting with the guy.

Maybe this sounds pretty craven, I don’t know. The guy wouldn’t be there if he had a better place to be. I don’t know why he’s there. But obviously he needs help. And at the same time, I don’t feel like I can really help him. For example, he might be there to buy drugs (we witnessed a drug buy there a little later on). I don’t know. He might just be hungry, and want some food.

Avoiding him didn’t work. He came after me, and pretty forcefully demanded to know if I wanted my windows washed. I was feeling beset, and I responded with a pretty forceful “no” while hastening away from him. Not something I’m proud of, but there it is – it was my natural reaction in the moment. I didn’t want to connect with the guy. Yes, in principle I want to help him, but in practice I wanted him to leave me the hell alone.

So now I’ve been unkind to someone who’s so much worse off than me that it scarcely bears contemplation. Why? Because I felt put-upon. Not exactly threatened, but sort of threatened. My space invaded. Lies told to me (the guy didn’t have window-washing equipment that I noticed, although I wasn’t looking that closely).

Why do I mention this here? Well, obviously I don’t feel that my behavior was constructive or appropriate. But what does that have to do with war? This.

The United States is a rich country. We have powerful weapons. Not necessarily the right weapons, but powerful weapons nonetheless. If someone comes at us, we can answer them. The force behind our answer might not be appropriate, but we can definitely answer them. In fact, because we are so rich and powerful, the force behind our answer almost has to be disproportionate. Right now we’re in trouble off the coast of Somalia because we are using cannons to swat gnats.

We see this kind of response at every level of our society. I lash out inappropriately at the homeless guy. The police lash out inappropriately at petty criminals and legitimate protestors. Corporations lash out inappropriately at people who they feel are cutting into their bottom line. The People lash out, possibly inappropriately, at financial workers. And when three thousand of our countrymen and women were killed, we lashed out inappropriately in Afghanistan, first, and later Iraq.

Were we beset by foes? Sure. Did we have a right to respond? Maybe so. Was our response constructive? Not in the slightest.

I was trying to avoid being hassled. I was hassled anyway. I feel like a jerk for what I did. Not only did I not accomplish what I hoped to accomplish by avoiding that guy who was hassling me, I made things worse – I made him feel worse, and I made myself feel worse. Was it okay for him to hassle me? No. Did my response work? No.

I think the analogy holds all the way up the spectrum, from me, to the cops, to corporations with lawyers, to the people, to our military response to 9/11. There was a stimulus, and it triggered a response. The stimulus and the response were completely disproportionate. And the outcome was not in any way satisfactory or useful.

I wrote the following peace sermon in 2007, and rewrote it for this past Sunday, April 5. I don’t usually care for my own sermons, but I thought this one was worth reprinting here.

I’m neither Christian nor not-Christian; it’s probably safest to call me a “post-Christian.” Although “post-Christian” can be meant as an insult, I like being a post-Christian. As a post-Christian, I can hold on to the best of the Christian tradition; and through the use of reason I can reject the parts of the Christian tradition that are obviously wrong-headed.

It’s just after the sixth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. Today is also Palm Sunday, that day when Jesus of Nazareth went to Jerusalem, and challenged the ethics of the regional political and religious leaders. Today, I find myself holding on to the best of the Christian tradition.

And I believe the best of the Christian tradition can be found in what is popularly known as the “Sermon on the Mount.” This is a sermon that was supposed to have been preached by the great rabbi and spiritual leader Jesus of Nazareth, long before he went into Jerusalem. Jesus and his disciples were going through the countryside in the land of Judea. Rumors began to spread through the countryside that a great and good and wise man was preaching with such authority and such deep humanity, that he was said to be the Messiah, the Chosen One who would lead the Jewish people into righteousness and freedom. Thousands of people flocked to hear this great man preach. His disciples found him a hill on which he stood while the people gathered around him. And there he preached a sermon that contained the core of his beliefs.

In that sermon, Jesus of Nazareth preached: “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

And then he also preached this:

“‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your [God] in heaven; for [God] makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly [God] is perfect.'”

Taken as a whole, the Sermon on the Mount comprises what is arguably the highest and best statement of Christian ethics. On this fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, I would like us to reflect on the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” To help explain what he meant by this, he offered a dramatic example of how we are to live this out in our own lives, saying:

“‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also….” [5.39-40]

That, my friends, is an utterly ridiculous statement. (more…)

The people in my family are all idealists with strong beliefs.  As you might imagine, many of our beliefs clash.  The conflict was messy and continuous until we learned a simple skill.

“Put it on the shelf.”  By this we mean that, if we disagree, and both sides have stated their positions, and listened, and elaborated, and still are no closer to agreement, we will put the disagreement away for a while.  No chewing it over yet again, no cleverly sneaking it into offhand remarks, etc.  For how long?  It depends on how big the issue is, and how much our disagreeing about it is affecting our day-to-day lives.  Sometimes we put it on the shelf for a week, sometimes for a year or two.

The thing is, if I believe something strongly, and someone dear to me persists in trying to change my mind about it, it can hurt or anger me.  I feel disrespected, ignored.  The harder they try, the more I dig in my heels.  How many times has your blood boiled when someone has said — either overtly or without even realizing it — “You have to agree with me.  In fact, you really do agree with me, and you’ll realize it once I’m done educating you.”

However, I do change my beliefs from time to time.  Sometimes I’ll learn something new and change my belief completely.  Sometimes I’ll just think about it in a slightly different way.  Sometimes it will just become less important to me as life goes in a different direction than I expected.   It can be a bit of surprise when I and a loved one take our disagreement “off the shelf” and talk about it again.  We may not disagree in the same way anymore.  My loved one may have changed his or her belief in a way I couldn’t have imagined (or finagled with all of my reasoning and persuasive skills).

Or not.  We might still disagree quite a bit, or even more.  So back up on the shelf it goes.

Is this easy?  Not always.  Sometimes, watching someone I love live out a belief that goes against my every understanding can be excruciating.  The past U.S. election, for example, was gut-wrenching in my house.  But my family members and I got many chances to respect one another, to be compassionate and gentle.  And we still don’t agree.