An Angry Reply to Tom Perez

 

Here’s the reply I just sent to Tom Perez,  Chairman of the Democratic National Committee at  democraticparty@democrats.org:

Tom –

You just made me very angry.  What you wrote is deceptive.

Senate Republicans did not just vote to repeal our health care.  They voted to debate repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

Yes, Congressional and Senate Republicans are trying everything they can to repeal the ACA and yes, they may yet succeed.

But hysteria makes it LESS likely that we can continue to block their cruel program.

Stop using every excuse just to seek donations.

Commit yourself and the Party to a health care system enough of us will vote for.

We will keep losing elections if you keep up this nonsense and I will continue NOT donating to our Party.

Sincerely

— Martin

And here is his email that got me riled up:

Senate Republicans just voted to repeal our health care — so we’re going to vote them out of office. Help us raise $100,000 to elect Democrats today, and get your donation matched.

Martin, the nightmare just became real: Senate Republicans voted to move forward with health care repeal. It’s only a matter of time before a repeal bill lands on Donald Trump’s desk and he eagerly signs it into law.

I’m devastated. Millions of Americans will lose their coverage, millions more will face skyrocketing premiums that put the care they need out of reach, babies born with chronic illnesses could hit lifetime caps on coverage before their first birthday — this is not who we are.

So here’s what we have to do now, Martin: pick ourselves up and get back to work so we can kick every single Republican who votes to take our health care away out of office.

We want to raise $100,000 before the end of the day to start laying the groundwork to win back the House and Senate, and a group of generous Democrats has offered to match it dollar-for-dollar. Chip in $3 or more right now to help us get there and get your donation matched.

Tom

Tom Perez
Chair
Democratic National Committee

The Democratic Party will almost certainly remain ineffective while Tom Perez and others who just want donations are in office.   We must do all we can to motivate them to change while simultaneously working to replace them when they ignore us.

To Senator Schumer

 

Here’s my reply to the email I got this morning from info@chuckschumer.com:

Dear Senator Schumer –

I do hope this will be helpful.

In the middle of your email, you write:  “But resistance alone is not a recipe for progress. We also need a plan to improve the lives of the American people.”

That was exciting to see.  I couldn’t agree more.  So I clicked on the link to learn about your plan.

What did I find there?  No plan.  Nothing about what you will do.  Just another appeal for money.

I’ve said it before and I fervently hope I don’t keep having to say it.  I will only donate again when the Democratic Party commits to real changes and begins to market them well.

We aspire to be a society that prioritizes human flourishing over profit for a tiny minority.

Achieving that requires a theme with a long term program – the equivalent of tax cuts for Republicans.
It requires coordinated marketing to build unstoppable demand and mitigate cultural concerns that now divide us.

Any elected Democratic Party politician who is not committed to that program must be replaced.

Sincerely

And here’s the email from Senator Schumer:

Dear Martin,

It has been six whole months since President Trump took office. Six whole months of hearing the Trump administration claim they would “drain the swamp,” but instead continued the same old Republican agenda where government works for billionaires instead of the rest of us.

Yet, thanks to the activism and acts of resistance of this movement, the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress do not have one major victory on the books. Not a single one. But resistance alone is not a recipe for progress. We also need a plan to improve the lives of the American people.

The truth is Americans deserve higher wages and better jobs, lower costs of living, and a better future to look forward to. President Trump and his corporate cronies promised voters all this and more — but instead he gave Americans a raw deal. Everyday Americans deserve a better deal.

Today, I’m joined by leaders from the House and the Senate in announcing the Democrats’ bold economic plan that works for the middle class. Government should have your back, working for you and the millions of hard-working Americans who make this country what it is. If you believe that Americans deserve a better deal like I do, check out our new site to learn about our plan and add your support.

We have given President Trump and Republicans a chance to lead. We have given them every opportunity to come to the table and work with us to get things done for the American people. They have not done their jobs, and they must be held accountable. It’s time for Americans to demand a better deal.

Thanks for joining me,

Chuck Schumer

Senator Schumer sounds as if he has at last realized a plan is necessary, he even says he has one, but then all he offers is an appeal for money.   Please join me in demanding change.

To the Chairman of the DNC

 

Here’s my reply to Tom Perez, Chairman of the Democratic Party, at democraticparty@democrats to help me remember what I wrote, and in the hope that you’ll join me:

I hope this helps, Tom.

What do you mean when you write: “all of us who believe that health care is a right for all Americans”?  The ACA does not provide that.

You write: “Republicans are determined to take away health care from millions” and ask me to give you money to: “throw them out of office.”  The Republican proposals are appalling, but…

What health care system is the DNC committed to instead?

Democrats keep losing elections because many voters want to throw US out of office and others don’t care enough to vote to keep us IN office.  Why?  They don’t know what we stand for.

Every other advanced economy provides universal health care and spends far less than we do.  Decent people can disagree about whether or not health care is a human right but there is no denying that every way other nations provide universal health care costs less than ours.

Is that what you want me to donate for?

Sincerely

— Martin

Here’s what I replied to:

Martin —

Tonight, because of millions of grassroots Democrats like you who banded together and fought against it, Republicans’ attempt to take health care away from millions of Americans failed again.

While this is a victory for basic human decency, for the families who rely on the Affordable Care Act, and for all of us who believe that health care is a right for all Americans, the fight is far from over.

Republicans are determined to take away health care from millions. We saw it when Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, and Senate Republicans worked in secret, behind closed doors, to write a bill that would have given massive tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires, paid for by cutting working families off from the care they need.

They ignored the overwhelming opposition of their constituents — and now we’re going to make sure their constituents throw them out of office.

Help build the foundation to take on these Republicans in every state, elect Democrats who will protect every American’s access to health care, and take back our majorities in Congress. Chip in $3 or more tonight.

Thank you, sincerely, for everything you’ve done to stop health care repeal. Onward as we continue to fight for the values we believe in.

Tom

Tom Perez
Chair
Democratic National Committee

To the CEO of the DNC

 

To remember what I replied to Jess O’Connell at democraticparty@democrats.org, and hoping you’ll join me, here’s my reply:

What would you do with the money if I gave it, Jess?

I have stopped donating until the DNC commits itself to and campaigns compellingly FOR legislation that benefits not mega-donors but we the people.

Sincerely

— Martin

To the following appeal:

Martin —

You marched, you called, you protested, you spoke up, you signed petitions, you made sure Republicans knew that if they voted for the GOP’s health care bill, we’d vote them out of office. And it worked. Mitch McConnell couldn’t get the votes for his truly dangerous bill.

So pat yourself on the back — and then get ready to get right back in the fight, because Republicans are making their next move.

McConnell just set a date for the next health care vote on Tuesday. And the repeal bill they’ll be voting on is no different from the last version! It would still cause 22 million Americans to lose the health coverage they rely on.

Clearly, Republicans are grasping at straws. But they want to score political points with their far-right base by saying they voted to repeal Obamacare, even if it comes at the expense of millions of American lives.

I need you to pitch in $10 or whatever you can now to help Democrats fight back against the GOP’s health care repeal. They won’t give up, so neither can we.

We’re the last line of defense. Thanks for stepping up.

Jess

Jess O’Connell
Chief Executive Officer
Democratic National Committee

Human Flourishing or Vast Profit for a Tiny Few

 

Our society has for decades been changing for the sole benefit of a tiny minority.  I want it to change for all of us to flourish and I am now committing myself to help make it so.

We have been pouring money into a political wasteland where the Republican Party is no longer a thoughtful counterbalance to progressive impulses and the Democratic Party is simply anti-Trump.

Both major parties must be transformed because a society dominated by either one will be unfair.

I will focus chiefly on the Democrats, making modest and conditional contributions to half a dozen or so influential individuals and emailing them often.  I began this way:

Dear Congress(wo)man/Senator/Governor xxx,

I hope this is helpful.

As a life-long Democrat I am appalled that Democratic Party leaders have not learned from our defeats at every level of government.  I believe they must be forced.

I’m writing to you because party leaders will not notice I have stopped responding to their barrage of appeals to pay for uncoordinated advertising.

What I will do, however, is support you to establish a well marketed Democratic Party program of change for a better world.

Opposing what Republican leaders are now proposing is of course necessary but it simply is not enough.  We must be FOR changes that most voters want, and we must market them well.

We aspire to be a society that prioritizes human flourishing over private profit for a tiny minority.  Achieving that requires a long-term program — the equivalent of tax cuts for Republicans —  of coordinated marketing to build unstoppable demand and to mitigate the cultural concerns that now divide us.

Our economic message resonates, but we are creating powerful reasons to vote against it.   As Fareed Zakaria points out here: https://fareedzakaria.com/2017/06/30/the-democrats-problem-is-not-the-economy-stupid/ “More people prefer the [Democratic Party] views to those of Republicans on taxes, poverty reduction, health care, government benefits, and even climate change and energy policy … [but] Democrats need to talk about America’s national identity in a way that stresses the common elements that bind, not the particular ones that divide … stay true to their ideals, of course, but yet convey to a broad section of Americans — rural, less-educated, older, whiter — that they understand and respect their lives, their values and their worth.'”

We can hope to gain seats in 2018 and 2020 but we will not achieve a mandate unless we make a long-term effort.  Republican leaders started getting where they are half a century ago as Bruce Bartlett points out:  http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/06/24/intellectual-conservatives-lost-republican-trump-215259  “In the wake of Goldwater’s defeat, many conservatives concluded that their philosophy was insufficiently well-grounded in the social sciences and lacked an empirical foundation. For example, Goldwater talked about privatizing Social Security, but had no plan whatsoever for how to do it. Hearing his rhetoric on the subject, those receiving Social Security assumed, not unreasonably, that they would just be cut off.”

Although we must build an equivalent infrastructure of think tanks and media for lasting change, we can quite soon begin to succeed because our theme, economic justice, is already popular.

Our program will only succeed, however, if it is based on the values we all share, not on those that divide us.

I am counting on you to convince our Party’s leaders to make the necessary changes.  Please let me know if I can help.  I will be watching.

Preaching to those who agree will not make our future better and ranting at those who do not agree makes it worse.  We must focus on values we share.

And because only politicians can establish government changes, we must above all convince them to make the changes we want.  

That will require persistent and emphatic effort.  I hope you will join me.

Words and Reality

Language is the decisive difference between us and other chimpanzees with whom we share 98% of our genes.  We can articulate and review our thoughts.  We can listen to and reflect on what others say.  This enormously amplifies our ability to learn.

But we ought to be much more wary of words.  They only point to things.  Too often we confuse the name we give a thing with what it points toward.  I’ll get to that in a moment.

First, something an empathetic friend helped me see.  She responded to my post about recognizing that I don’t exist“What you have written about your life is intriguing […] and a little heartbreaking”.  What I saw is a new level of how blessed I’ve been.

My life has never, since I started work, anyway, felt “a little heartbreaking” to me.  I’ve encountered a mix of circumstances, some quite difficult, but I was blessed to accept them and take action, not suffer.

My aim in my no-self post was to show a series of paths I took that were misguided.  My experience along that route to nowhere was a sense of adventure, though.  It was like being on a long trek through different lands.

So I’ve been reflecting on why I was blessed to feel that way.  Two powerful forces were at work.  I’ve mentioned the one known as Florence, my mother who felt there was no challenge she could not surmount.  I’ll say a little more about her, then some about the force in my father, Leonard, that I had to oppose.

Florence grew up in a Catholic orphanage.  She loved children, trained as a nanny and worked first for a wealthy English couple then in Italy for a marquess.  She loved Italy and would have stayed longer but the marquess had to replace her when he was sent on a diplomatic posting to Hitler’s Berlin.

She never said much about that time but it was evidently happy.  She explored with enthusiasm and one of her very few possessions, a picture of a chalet in the mountains on my bedroom wall, likely sparked my own Himalayan treks.

Leonard’s mother died before he was a year old and his father, Whalley, was jailed for refusing to fight in WW1, so he was raised by his beloved grandmother until he was eight.  When Whalley remarried, the three of them joined one of his younger brothers in Akron, Ohio.  Whalley, who hated the cold, was happy when he was offered the chance to operate a citrus farm in extreme SW Texas.  He knew nothing about farming and not a single citrus tree was there but he loved it.  So did Leonard but his step-mother Edith hated the heat even more than Whalley hated the cold, so after a few years they returned to Ohio.

When Whalley was unable to get a job in the Great Depression, he and Edith returned to England.  Leonard stayed to graduate from High School and the friend with the farm offered to fund his college education but Whalley sent him a ticket back to England where, not knowing British history, he did not qualify for the Civil Service as Whalley hoped.  That was when he began giving film shows for the Peace Pledge Union.

The lesson Leonard drew from all these upheavals was, the best he could do was endure.  His happy memories of the farm in Texas and of High School predisposed me to be happy in America but they compounded his yearning for stability.  He was apprehensive about new upheavals anyone with power over him might create.

What my friend’s comment about “heartrending” showed me is, I always understood more than I recognized about acceptance and suffering.

Now a more dramatic example of the power of words.  The Zen master who was my first Buddhist teacher told us one morning:  “If you really want to end suffering, stop creating it”.

Hearing that in a receptive moment, I got a glimpse of what acceptance means and that I had been blessed to practice it much of the time even though I hadn’t understood the word before.  I’ve mostly done as my mother did and my father did not, recognized negative circumstances, not felt sorry for myself and taken action for change.

Here’s a second set of thoughts provoked by a response to my post.  Richard wrote:  “The intersection of physics and psychology gets pretty strange doesn’t it? I’ve done a lot of thinking about the implications of quantum physics, and our worldview. Mostly, it’s been a bunch of circular waffling. The only thing I’m fairly certain of is that our model of reality is flawed, probably because of some version of the “you can’t see the true reality from within the system” problem.”

I circled, too, until I saw that although I have no self, I do exist.  We can discern the structure of reality from within the system even though we can’t quite see how it operates.

We manifest from an ever changing force field, as does everything we perceive, so from that perspective, we don’t “really” exist.  But  our actions change the force field, so in fact we do exist.  How to think about that?

Nothing that is perceptible to us sentient beings can be found in the force field, yet every sentient being is a point of consciousness with the capacity to act.  That means we exist in more than one way, only one of which, the form that takes action, is a form in the way we imagine.

Consciousness is the great puzzle to brain scientists.  Is it a product of the brain, or somehow separate?  I sense it’s separate but what has made all the difference for me is recognizing that we exist in a form that, because it has no intrinsic nature and is utterly imperceptible to our senses, to our way of thinking does not exist.

The reality of sentient beings takes threefold or twofold form in Buddhist metaphysics.  The form that acts is the nirmanakaya, the conscious form is the sambhogakaya, and the imperceptible one is the dharmakaya.  The first two are also thought of as one, the rupakaya, to highlight that the form with no properties is the ultimate level of reality.

There’s a vast mass of logic about why and how reality is multi-fold but it remains in the end a mystery to our intellect.

What we can be certain about is that matter manifests from energy.  We can start by thinking of matter as congealed energy and energy as liberated matter, but when we use quantum physics to examine what’s going on we see that you and I, for example, exist in both forms simultaneously.

Or perhaps we exist in three forms, the three kayas, which we could rename Tom, Dick and Harry if that feels less foreign, or Romeo and Juliet if we’re thinking about the two forms.  It’s only what the words point toward that matters.

I’ve noticed some changes since I began getting glimpses of what all these words are pointing toward, that what seem to be separate beings are not separate, that we are all manifestations from one ocean whose currents flow without boundaries, that we are all eddies in a maelstrom of pure energy.

The less separate I feel, the less indifferent I become.  My impulses are more kind, I’m more prone to compassion than anger, and I’m less grasping.

The energy flows that manifest as Martin are changing because I’m watching them, and the longer I watch, the more sensitive I become to the eddies that manifest as other beings.

Yes, the way this multi-fold reality works is a mystery but now I know how to proceed, acting that way is deeply happy-making.

Civic Duty in the World of Social Media

My parents didn’t but most men went to the pub every evening and most women went to the Women’s Institute everye day seventy years ago in the farming village in England where I was a kid.

They went to talk about the news.  Much of it was local gossip but there was also a lot of national and international news on the radio that provoked debate.

Most people just enjoyed the entertainment but some of them very much wanted their neighbors to see sense.  The same sense they saw, of course…

That was how opinions about current events were formed.

Then came TV and the start of a new culture where men and women no longer so rigidly segregated themselves socially.

And then came social media.  Now we can have neighbors we never see but with whom we can chat or just listen to every day.

One way I’m different from my parents is I can’t stop myself from trying to get everyone, myself included, to see sense.  Social media gives me that opportunity and it also offers a fascinating challenge.

We all learn, with varying success, how to persuade others face to face and how to recognize when we’re the one who is mistaken.  But how to do that when we’re not face to face?

This is my first post in many months.  While renovating the house and surroundings of our new home outside Gettysburg, PA over the past year and moving our stuff from Maine I had no time for carefully researched posts.  Instead, I began posting links to the work of others on Facebook.

Now, I’ve dealt with the huge backlog of comments here (10,188 of them spam from bots) and I’m working on a piece about my current understanding of reality.

I have more building and yard work still to do but it’s less urgent so I’m starting to aim now for a new balance between that work along with my ongoing attempt to make sense of events, creating original content here about domestic and foreign policy here, and curating the work of others on Facebook.

But because I have to think about things before I speak, I won’t be on Twitter.

Maslow Misapplied to Nations

I was excited 35 years ago to see the rewards for structuring data into quadrant charts.  That was for me!  And management consulting with those charts was fun, but I saw how misleading they can be and at last returned to product and business development.

The chart tool began as a guide for business and product strategy, the idea being that you’re in trouble in the bottom left where your competitive advantages are few and small.  You must develop more and stronger advantages to soar to the profitable heavens on the top right.

BCG Advantage Matrix

Learning how to use and not abuse that tool has continued to be useful.  What provoked this post is research from 1981 to 2014 that is well illustrated by this animation but misleadingly presented in chart in the Findings & Insights summary linked to on this page.

The religion-based labeling is accurate but, in the two-dimensional chart context where the goal is to move from bottom left to top right, it is misleading.

And in this article by a different researcher the data is naively misinterpreted to suggest that capitalism transforms national values toward the political left.

So this is an example of tool abuse.  The data points are real, the research is valuable and the animation of changes over time is meaningful.  But the complex underlying reality is distorted by a static chart labeled in this way.

Nations' Survival vs Self-espression

The World Values Survey (WVS) researchers describe the two dimensions as follows:

  • Traditional values emphasize religion, parent-child ties, deference to authority, traditional family values and national pride
  • Secular-rational values place less emphasis on religion, traditional family values and authority
  • Survival values emphasize economic and physical security, are relatively ethnocentric and feature low levels of trust and tolerance
  • Self-expression values emphasize environmental protection, tolerance, and participation in economic and political decisions

The researchers say the data show that as a country moves from poor to rich, it also tends to move from traditional to secular-rational.  The move is a tendency not inevitable because values are also highly correlated with long-established cultures.

And there is movement in both directions over time.  The USA, for example, is in 1989 a little toward the traditional end and quite far toward self-expression, then it grows more traditional over the next decade, less so in the next, then steadily less traditional and less concerned with self-expression.

The writer claiming that capitalism transforms national values so nations labeled Islamic will, if they embrace capitalism, naturally move toward Protestant heaven, confuses correlation with causation.

His explicit blunder is conceptualizing nations as people to which Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” apply.

Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needs

Maslow illustrates how, if we have no food, all we care about is getting our next meal, but once we have that, we start caring about how to get the next meal and the one after that, and if we secure a reasonably dependable supply of basic needs we put effort into friendships, then start working for the respect of others, and finally devote effort to self-actualization.

Here’s a simpler way to see what Maslow was driving at (hat tip to Lexy):

Lexys-Version-of-Maslow

What Maslow’s hierarchy does not show is how circumstances impact the motivation of nations.  It can’t because nations are not people.  They are made up of people whose situations can be very diverse.

This comment on the naive article (click on the link and wait for it to scroll down) summarizes what the research actually illuminates:  “Economic and political systems, and culture/psychology interact with each other in both directions … autonomous individuals create capitalism, safety creates capitalism, peace creates capitalism.”

The top left is not unalloyed heaven because “increasing empathy and mutual respect [and] the breakdown in social capital go hand in hand with secularization and the domination of the market.”

And good governance is a prerequisite: “the state monopoly of coercion helped create the safety required for the large social networks of trust, and individual autonomy.”

According to the US Census Bureau, 15%, i.e., 47 million Americans are living in poverty meaning “a lack of those goods and services commonly taken for granted by members of mainstream society.”  That includes more than one in five of all chil­dren under age 18.

The WVS research, excellent as it is, can tell us nothing about the value those 47 million Americans place on traditional vs secular-rational values.

And we would be utterly mistaken to imagine they over-value self-expression relative to survival.

Identity, Independence and Kindness

Although everything is in every instant changing, which means everything flawed can be perfected, that’s not what Mr. Ego sees.  He’s afraid if he relaxes even for an instant, bad things will come to pass.  He is a deluded Jeeves devoted to caring for a Bertie Wooster whose nature exists only in his imagination.  That he exists only in mine does not make his activities less real.

Mr. Ego and I have been together so long and he is so very diligent; he usually has me believing I am what he imagines.  On rare occasions I do wake up and tell him I’ll be OK, he can go on vacation, but he doesn’t because if he does, I will no longer have an identity.  He thinks that would be very scary.

Psychotherapists say Mr. Ego manifests soon after we are born and develops well into adulthood.  “Saying ‘NO’ is one of the earliest signs of individuation”, according to GoodTherapy“It is a statement that I am separate from you and want something different … individuation is … learning what we want to say NO or YES to [and] acting according to what we want and do not want.  It is a statement of who we are (ME) and who we are not (NOT ME).”

Mr. Ego starts by teaching us to say NO and unless we’re very lucky, it’s all downhill from there.  He teaches us to want and not want, to see everything as ME or NOT ME and to reject everything that is NOT ME.  He teaches us, in other words, to be selfish.  Therapists consider individuation normative, meaning something that should happen.

In fact, our belief that we have an identity, are part of a group and should have a home makes us unhappy and unkind.   Our imagined identity, “I am the kind of person who…”, says we are solid and we should make our situation more so, more dependable.  We should instead rejoice that nothing is solid because that means everything really can become more perfect.

A way to dispel the illusion is to recast our identifier from noun to verb.  That makes Martin Sidwell not an explorer destined always to be an explorer and implicitly never doing anything else, but an exploration taking place at this moment.  Thinking of ourselves as verbs eliminates a big part of the harm we cause by believing we have an identity.

Believing we are part of a group is also a problem.  If I think of myself as Buddhist it seems I am different from Christian but if I am practicing techniques that helped others grow more kind even to those who are abusive, I am practicing how to love and turn the other cheek.  The program that helps me is different but the goal is the same as Jesus taught.  I am not different from Christians, Muslims or others.

Keeping the goal clear is especially hard if our group’s identify is that of a people defined by its religion.  A dear friend who recently gave up her long standing role as spiritual leader at her synagogue said:  “What I realized is important is my values.  People I’m close to have the same values.  My rabbi’s are different and we’re not close.  Trying to lead those with his values to a different way can never be helpful.”  But being Jewish informs so much of what a Jewish person does, thinks and feels.  Recognizing what my friend did must have been very, very hard and acting on the recognition must take so much discipline and courage.

The recognition my friend came to may be even tougher for Tibetans whose identity is so deeply associated with not only religion but also their homeland.  Home is our idea of the ultimate refuge.  As Robert Frost wrote: “Home is where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in”.   My Tibetan friend who only ever wanted to be a nun was expelled from the nunnery by the Chinese government after the Beijing Olympics.   A third of all Tibetan monks and nuns were forced out then after Western journalists reporting the Tibetan protests went home.

Jews whose ancestors were driven from their homeland milennia ago now have Israel.  The homeland Tibetans always had began to be destroyed just as Israel was established.  No wonder Tibetans yearn for that lost world  even though there can be no such place of safety.  It is so hard for any of us to recognize that and the idea of nation makes it so much harder.

China’s rulers always try to control the lands to their north and west because invaders from there have always swept in.  The dynasty that ruled from 1644-1911 was established by invaders from Manchuria.  As soon as the Communists won China’s civil war in 1949 they set out to control all China’s peripheral territories.  Tibetans lost not just their independence as a nation but increasingly also their culture.  The monasteries were destroyed, monks imprisoned, Chinese-language schools set up and masses of Han Chinese settlers imported.  The Tibetans were to become Chinese to make China safe.

We think nations help us to be safe because nations have armed forces for defense.  By identifying with a nation, however, we feel separate from people in other nations.  We think they are different and we become afraid or jealous of our fantasy of what they are.   Our struggle for independence in fact makes us fearful.  The Chinese rulers’ treatment of Tibetans is motivated by fear, as is exiled Tibetans’ yearning for a Tibet they may never have known and that no longer exists.

There are two Tibetan words for independence.  “Rang btsan” means not dependent on anything else and signifies the freedom we associate with independence.  “Rang mtshan” means an independent self and signifies what we associate with being an individual.  Both are pronounced rang tzen, are usually spelled rangzen in the West, and both suggest more than they mean.   Nations are not truly independent and neither are people truly individual.  Geography does not define a people nor is any man an island.  Borders are just ideas that create suffering and limit our compassion.

Opening our hearts to feel the terrible suffering of Tibetans and others can lead us to feel compassion both for them and their abusers whose delusions lead them to their terrible actions.  Then we can try to help both, for only in that way can suffering be ended.  We really can do this if, as in this beautifully rendered Imagine There’s No Rangzen, we think independently.

So many ideas.  We have this relentless urge to get things identified, situated and dependable.  We’re determined to define who we are and take action against what we are not.   But it can’t work.  How could such a program succeed when nothing can be fixed, when everything is arising in every instant from an ever-changing assembly of causes?

One of the first great Tibetan teachers in the West said it this way:  “The bad news is our airplane is crashing and we have no parachute.  The good news is there is nowhere to land.”  Mr. Ego got us into a vehicle he said would take us somewhere safe, if it didn’t crash.  His fear of crashing distracted us.

That’s why it’s so hard to recognize that in fact we are crashing right now precisely because we imagine we have a fixed identity, we belong to a group whose rules are sacrosanct and we will be protected from those who are not like us by the nation where we live.  We are creating our own fear.

We could instead accept the good news, train ourselves to dispel habitual reactions that grew from our misunderstanding, and grow more happy and, more importantly, more kind.

Seeing, Feeling, Thinking and Blogging

Last November I lost my glasses in Kathmandu.  I was taking classes and couldn’t hold texts far enough away to read, so I bought drugstore reading glasses.  With them what’s close is clear but all else is blurred.  Without them only what’s distant is clear.  The new prescription glasses I got yesterday should make everything clear but the optician said: “It will take you a couple of days to learn where things are”.

Seeing:  I’d never thought about it in that way.  I hadn’t noticed the feedback loop where my brain directs my eye muscles to change focus between what’s close and more distant.  It happens fast so I imagined everything is always in focus.  I’d have realized it’s not if I’d thought about it, but there never was a reason to.  With the new glasses I must learn to tip my head up and down so my eyes see through the right part of the lens.  That requires practice.

Feeling:  Last night I finished the first book I’ve read by Ron Rash, “The Cove”.  I intend now to read everything he ever wrote.  I knew early on how the story must end, not the specific outcome but what the situation makes inevitable.  Half way through, I wanted to stop.  I was feeling what the protagonists feel, knowing I’d do the same as those I liked, and that I share the weaknesses of those who would do harm.  The story is sadder even than I anticipated, and utterly convincing.  Why choose to experience such feelings?  Because I understand a little more.

Thinking:  Yesterday, I heard on the radio about the Ku Klux Klan in Maine in the 1920s.  I thought it was all about white supremacy and only in the South.  In fact, it was strong here, too, but with a different target, Catholics.  There were violent anti-Catholic riots here in the 1850s.  A mob inflamed by a street-preacher calling himself “The Angel Gabriel” burned a Catholic church, a Catholic priest was tarred and feathered, and there was much more.  In the 1920s, the Klan arose.  They whipped up the ongoing conflict between descendants of the English and the Irish and French-Canadian Catholics who came later.  Klan members were elected by many towns, as State representatives and one even became Governor.  There were daylight hooded marches, cross-burnings and Catholic homes were burned.  It was unsafe to speak French in public.  The Klan fizzled within a decade but their Governor later was elected to the US Senate and became a close ally of Senator Joe McCarthy.  How can anyone think it’s OK to do such things?

Blogging:  A day or two ago, a friend said: ” I like your posts about tax.  It must take a lot of work.  Why are you doing it?”  I always enjoyed the challenge of understanding things and the elation when understanding dawns.  Our society is not functioning well and the tax system is one important factor so I want to know what big impacts it has and how it could be changed to help society work better.  “Articulating what I think I understand is my best way to test if I do understand.  That’s why I write,”  I told my friend.  “But it’s not helpful if I don’t tell anyone when I see something important that isn’t generally understood.  That’s why I publish what I write.”