Frame of Reference - Index

Vicesimus Unus Stele

Politics

1) If you think the transparent portion of politics is corrupt and disgusting, then don't even try to imagine what goes on behind closed doors. And to think there could even be a science of politics, this is surely the quintessential oxymoron.

Would the world be better if it followed the concept taught by M. K. Gandhi? "I do not conceive religion as one of the many activities of mankind. The same activity may be governed by the spirit either of religion or of irreligion. There is no such thing for me therefore as leaving politics for religion. For me even the tiniest activity is governed by what I consider to be my religion. [Thus even politics.]

"...To see the universal and all-pervading Spirit of Truth face to face one must be able to love the meanest of creation as oneself. And a man who aspires after that cannot afford to keep out of any field of life. That is why my devotion to truth has drawn me into the field of politics; and I can say without the slightest hesitation, and yet in all humility, that those who say that religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion means. [Nor do they know what politics means.]" (M. K. Gandhi, All Men Are Brothers, 1960)

2) Utopia is to politics as communism is to economics, an illusion based on a false concept of how human nature works. Larry Harvey of California, is just one of the latest practitioners of this mythical hope. With a humble beginning as a beachcomber, landscaper and bonfire builder near San Francisco, he has grown into a heralded leader (by virtue of publicity on the Internet) of independent minded, free-love anarchists. Each year around Labor Day (first week in September) since 1990 his followers (30,000 in 2000) have convened northeast of Reno, Nevada -- Black Rock City -- for a festival based on the philosophy that: "Static utopias based on a priori notions are doomed to failure." In other words, anything goes.

Much of the content of the festival focuses on avant-guard artistic expressions in many different media. Nudity is quite fashionable in the warmth of the waning autumn Sun. The original burning-man statue might be the symbol of Harvey's flight of creativity. One goal is to emphasize shock value and free people from passively consuming mass-marketed culture. The burning-man might be "...a primal symbol, a metaphor for our own fragile life." But then it might be just a sublimation of pyromania.

3) The Eskimo society is composed of far-flung groups of big families that included close friends. The sharing and interdependence in this family group should not be mistaken for 'communism' in the academic sense, it is more closely related to the beginnings of 'dynasty' on a modest scale leading to the development of a Band. The leadership in these groups of families was a headman whose title in the Eskimo language means "he who knows best." He obtained his position by achievement; he did not campaign for it, nor could he pass on the office to his sons or other relatives.

The nomadic family group did not have definite marriage or residence rules. Among some Eskimo groups the older sons might live with the father and the younger sons might live with their wives' families. Because of the extremely low population density, contacts between families was rare; a local group that came together during the winter was composed of fewer than a dozen families, perhaps related, although actual kinship was not emphasized.

The drama of life was certainly more complex than this brief explanation, but in this primitive political grouping there was no central authority to record and mete out justice. The Eskimo inhabited the broadest stretch of land of any primitive people on Earth. They circled nearly half the globe along the Arctic coast, a distance of some six thousand twisting and turning miles. Prior to the seventeenth century the Eskimo lived as far south as the Gulf of St. Lawrence and there is archeological evidence of their once having inhabited a large part of eastern Siberia with a few still living in Russia. The largest population probably did not exceed 100,000 at any single time. They refer to themselves as 'Inuit,' which is simply the plural for 'inuk,' Man.

When I visited Inner Mongolia, the native minority people in Ali River City proudly identified themselves as antecedents of the Eskimo people. Their 'banner' name is linguistically similar to the word Aleutian.

4) The beginning of Wisdom is to desire it. (Ibn Gabirol, Choice of Pearls)

The wise man should not walk with a haughty expression; nor should he walk with a slow gait, like a woman; or run about like a madman; or stoop like a hunchback; he should gaze downward, as though in prayer, and walk like a man preoccupied. (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, 5:7-13)

The truly wise are as liberal with their wisdom as clouds are with their rain. (Moses bin Ezra, Shirat Israel)

To be in the company of a wise man is like going into a perfumery: you may not buy a thing, but the sweet scent will cling to you for a day. (Abot de Rabbi Nathan, 11:14b)

One can reasonably hope that those actively involved in politics will both obtain and use wisdom to guide their decisions.

5) Most Asians believe that Buddhism and Communism are basically opposed. To Buddhists, man is not primarily an economic creature, his purpose is spiritual. The essential difference is in the words: "Believe nothing, O monks merely because you have been told it... or because it is traditional or because you yourselves have imagined it. Do not believe what your teacher tells you merely out of respect for the teacher. But whatsoever, after due examination and analysis, you find to be conducive to the good, the benefit, the welfare of all beings -- that doctrine believe and cling to, and take it as your guide." Thinking this way would lead one astray from the teachings of Mao.

Confucius seems to have attributed a potent influence to ritual. He did not explain the meaning of Ancestral Sacrifice prevalent during his age, but he understood the political consequences of freedom of assembly and ritual. He insisted that if you try to keep the people of a country orderly by chastisements, they will flee; whereas if you "keep order among them by ritual, they will keep their self-respect and come to you of their own accord." This is true even in Western cultures where there is a high degree of public education. The Communist regime of both China and the Soviet Union may have taught this lesson to historians again.

6)

The Oak Tree

Always dark, quiet
in silhouette or in leaf.
But so brilliant
to condense the wisdom
of life into a nut. (IJ, 1998)

7) One year after Mohammed's death the forces of Islam burst out of the Arabian peninsula into 'the dark ages' overtaking an unsuspecting world. Under the skilled generalship of the first three caliphs, Abu Bakr, Omar and Othman, it took less than two decades to secure the richest principalities of the Near East.

Syria fell in 635, Iraq in 637, Palestine in 640, Egypt in 642 and in 650 the entire Persian Empire. So swiftly did Islam's on-rushing armies advance they had scarce time to convert or govern their new domains. They exacted tribute which funded their enterprise, and granted tolerance to all who paid. Yet in ever-growing numbers, hordes of their conquered subjects embraced the new dynamic faith, at least nominally. Conquest carried the Arabian forces east to India, west to the Atlantic into Spain, Portugal and France. At last in 732, in a decisive battle, they were halted by the Franks near Tours. This dynamic religion carried with it political control, inspired laws and governed the lives of the people like no other religion on Earth before or after! This became the golden age of Islam.

8) "The foundations of the Atlantic slave trade were established in the sixteenth century by Spanish colonists, who were no strangers to the institution of slavery. Prior to Columbus's voyages to the Americas, the Spaniards held Muslims, black Africans, Slavs, and even other Spaniards as slaves. In fact, the number of African slaves in Spain and Portugal was increasing during the years preceding Columbus's voyages, reflecting a decline in the use of other groups as slaves.

"Under the circumstances, it is not surprising that the Spaniards in Hispaniola, the first colony in the Caribbean, asked the Crown to send them African slaves once the need for labor arose. This request was made in 1501, a mere seven years after the island had been colonized... The Portuguese were the pioneering European slave traders... the Portuguese had also made significant advances in shipbuilding, thereby giving them the ability to participate actively in overseas trading ventures... Prince Henry... 'the Navigator,' was one of the earliest of the Portuguese explorers... along the African coast in the 1420's [he] opened the way for the development of a European-African trade in black slaves.

"The first organized Portuguese expedition to capture black Africans and enslave them appears to have occurred in 1441... By 1450 the Portuguese had begun to transport an average of one thousand to two thousand African slaves to Europe each year... In 1452, Pope Nicholas V granted the Portuguese king the authority to attack and enslave 'the Moors, heathens and other enemies of Christ' who lived south of Cape Bojador... In 1479, Spain recognized Portugal's supremacy in the slave trade by signing the Treaty of Alcovas. The treaty granted Portugal the right to supply Spain with African slaves and accepted its monopoly of the African trade... By 1650, the Dutch, the English, and the French, among others, had joined the Portuguese in this human commerce...

"The vast majority, approximately ninety-five percent, were distributed to the societies of Latin America and the Caribbean. Only about five percent ended up in the British colonies of North America..." The African captives were distributed as follows:
British North America 500,000
Spanish America 2,000,000
British Caribbean 3-2,500,000
French Caribbean 1,600,000
Dutch Caribbean 50,000
Brazil 5-4,000,000
Danish Caribbean 50,000

"...The slave trade differed from other forms of business in one important respect: the trading goods were other human beings. It is this crucial difference that explains the horror of the slave trade and the moral revulsion that it would later produce." (Colin A. Palmer, "The First Passage: 1502-1619," A History of African Americans, 2000)

9) The Inca Empire of Peru, (1100 AD - 1400 AD) comprised tribes and petty states which became consolidated under a dynasty of warrior-administrators. At its height, somewhat before the first Europeans arrived, it covered an area of about 380,000 square miles, more than the combined areas of France, Italy, Switzerland, Holland and Belgium. Inca authority was led by heads of households through a hierarchy of increasingly important officials, every ten, fifty, hundred, five hundred, thousand, and ten thousand households, then to provincial officials, called 'they-who-see-all,' supervising jurisdictions containing forty thousand households, and so up to four great 'viceroys,' each in charge of one quarter of the empire and forming a council; finally at the peak of authority was the supreme and godlike Inca.

10) William the Conqueror (circa 1027-1087AD, or William the Bastard as he was originally known) is credited with the initial development of the bureaucratic state, a somewhat dubious honor. After he conquered the English landscape he transferred lands to his supporters and required them to provide military service in return for their land and undivided loyalty. He convened juries of locals to find fact and give a collective verdict under oath in land disputes. He commissioned an audit of the wealth of his subjects listing their holdings in the "Doomsday Book." His unchallenged domination of the compact kingdom in the British Isles and Normandy (northwest France) became a model for European monarchs for the next 800 years.

11) A historic step toward fair and judicious government was taken in 1215 when King John I was forced by his nobles and citizens to sign the Magna Carta. With that, even the actions of Kings must be subject to the laws of the land and judicial process and is considered the first step toward constitutional government in Western Societies.

12) Feminism became a political cause celebre in the 20th century. Women's Rights had a major victory in the USA when women got the vote in 1919, but the fight for equality and fairness is not over. Heroes of the 'women's movement' have succeeded and thrived throughout history, but only with adversity. Take the case of Eleanor of Aquitaine, (circa 1122-1204 AD) mother of Richard the Lion-Hearted and King John of England, who was born to aristocracy in France. She was unquestionably the most powerful woman in the 12th century after she became Queen of France, then Queen of England. She brought her French inheritance to her second husband, Henry II and set in motion hundreds of years of Anglo-French wars. Her life should be a case study for all those women who need inspiration to assert their wills over the artless society in which they endure prejudice and often overt discrimination.

13) The Aztecs of Mexico showed an extreme version of what some political scientists have called the 'garrison state.' They drew much of their inspiration from the earlier civilization of the Mayas and Toltecs, they built majestic cities and temples and had a strongly theocratic system of government. The Aztecs established their capital at the present Mexico City soon after the middle of the fourteenth century AD. They are considered a brusque and warlike people with all the men except for a few of the priests serving as soldiers. They arranged society in ranks and were given honors according to their war record. The people were divided into 'great houses,' military societies equivalent to the wards of a modern city. Chiefs were elected from the most distinguished warriors for an indefinite term, and a council of chiefs conducted the general government. Chiefs could be removed if they did not measure up to requirements, but there was a tendency for the positions to become vested in certain powerful families which formed a military aristocracy. At the head of the state was the supreme war chief or ruler whose position had become hereditary by the time Whites arrived to tumble the structure.

14) In the Zulu kingdom (south Africa) the armed power of the king maintains over-all authority. Yet the king did not exercise this authority through a single structure of administration. All subjects had a direct loyalty to him, but through three linkages: 1) through provincial chiefs, 2) through royal princes, 3) and through age-regimental commanders. Differing groups of men were banded together in these differing links with the king. Their various leaders engaged in intrigue and tried to win adherents and control power; princes even struggled for the kingship itself. Struggles and rebellions, ironically, confirmed the over-all unity of the Zulu and the authority of the king. (Felix M. Keesing, Cultural Anthropology, 1958)

15) Thomas Jefferson was the principle author of the Declaration of Independence, often regarded as "...the most important event, humanly speaking, in the history of the world... It was '...the signal of arousing men to burst the chains' of their oppression, 'and to assume the blessings and security of self-government'."

As explained in his own personal valedictory only ten days before he died: "All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, for a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God. These are the grounds of hope for others. For ourselves, let the annual return of this day [Fourth of July], forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them." (Merrill D. Peterson, The Jefferson Image in the American Mind, 1960)

16) "The injection of God into the government of the United States was the most sensational plank in Joseph's [Smith, 1843-44] platform. It would have meant a repudiation of democracy in favor of a one party state... reducing Congress at least two thirds... Pay them two dollars and their board per diem... he advocated a drastic reform of the American penal system. Turn the jails into seminaries of learning... Make work upon roads and public works the punishment for crime, and reserve rigor and seclusion only for those guilty of murder. Abolish imprisonment for debt, and pardon every convict, saying to him in the name of the Lord: 'Go thy way and sin no more'... Then in a complete reversal of his earlier stand he advocated freeing the slaves. Let the slaveholders be paid for them, he urged, out of the surplus revenue arising from the sale of public lands." (Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 1971) Half of these ideas were progressive for the time. But then as now it is too common a practice for narrow minded religious leaders to run for President to publicize their doctrine. Jessie Jackson and Pat Robertson are a few of the modern gadflies.

17) "I do, however, want to emphasize that anthropology should be not only the study of savage custom in the light of our mentality and our culture, but also the study of our own mentality in the distant perspective borrowed from Stone Age man. By dwelling mentally for some time among people of a much simpler culture than our own, we may be able to see ourselves from a distance, we may be able to gain a new sense of proportion with regard to our own institutions, beliefs, and customs. If anthropology could thus inspire us with some sense of proportion, [expand our frame of reference] and supply us with a finer sense of humor, it might justly claim to be a very great science." (Bronislaw Malinowski, Magic, Science and Religion, 1948)

Thus a good politician must be a master of history to know our connection to 'Stone Age Man,' and would do well to be a master of humor so we don't take ourselves too seriously.

18) How does political power grow? The Charisma of an attractive leader is like the force that surrounds a planet like Saturn, not necessarily logical or consistent but somehow persuasive. Astronomers have discovered six new moons, bringing the total for Saturn to 24. That gives Saturn more moons than any other planet in our solar system, making it the most democratic? These new moons are small and of irregular shape, but every moon counts, just like every vote counts for a politician. These moons were probably captured long after the initial formation of Saturn, which by any standard is the most beautiful planet after Earth. Does Saturn's spectacular charisma and beauty explain the attracton of so many moons?

19) "Passive resistance is a method of securing rights by personal suffering; it is the reverse of resistance by arms. When I refuse to do a thing that is repugnant to my conscience, I use soul-force. For instance, the government of the day has passed a law which is applicable to me. I do not like it. If by using violence I force the government to repeal the law, I am employing what may be termed body-force. If I do not obey the law and accept the penalty for its breach, I use soul-force. It involves sacrifice of self.

"Up to the year 1906, I simply relied on appeal to reason. I was a very industrious reformer. I was a good draftsman, as I always had a close grip of facts which in its turn was the necessary result of my meticulous regard for truth. But I found that reason failed to produce an impression when the critical moment arrived in South Africa... and it came to me that we should refuse to obey legislation that was degrading and let them put us in jail if they liked... in 1920, I became a rebel. Since then the conviction has been growing upon me, that things of fundamental importance to the people are not secured by reason alone but have to be purchased with their suffering... Nobody has probably drawn up more petitions or espoused more forlorn causes than I and I have come to this fundamental conclusion that if you want something really important to be done you must not merely satisfy the reason, you must move the heart also." (M. K. Gandhi, All Men Are Brothers,1960)

20) American society is very different today (in the 21st century) than it was in the 1960's and much of this difference is the result of the life's work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Many of the reforms that have been incorporated into the US political system and not insignificantly around the world (The Union of South Africa most notably) are due to the success of Dr. King's non-violent, civil disobedience. Voting rights, school desegregation and fair housing and lending policies are among the crucial issues he confronted for which our society is made the better. He taught more than non-violence, he taught activism in the guise of non-violence. Where he saw wrongs, he acted to force correction, through confrontation and persuasion. He worked within the legal system to remove injustice. He saw America divided by racial hatred, bigotry and ignorance; thus he preached integration, equal opportunity, love and compassion. It is a great sadness that he did not live to see the victory of his righteous indignation.

Strongly associated with his legacy is the powerful concept: to judge men and women not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

21) The City of Portland, Oregon, had a poetry contest at the occasion of the dedication of their statue. The new bronze statue, which is a symbol of the city, genuflects in tribute to the industrious people (and presumptive poets) who contribute their lives, each in their own way to make a healthy body politic. Among the losing entries was this clumsy ode to politics and civilization:

Ode To Portlandia
Once a city by a river
Where people blithely came and went.
Now we give homage to the giver
Of life, of art, and money spent.
Symbol of unity and praise,
Oh Portlandia! Help us raise
Our thoughts to exalt art and toil,
And glorify this town, this people, this soil.

(IJ, 10-31-1985)

22) "Complete civil disobedience is rebellion without the element of violence in it. An out-and-out civil resister simply ignores the authority of the State. He becomes an outlaw claiming to disregard every unmoral State law... Submission to the State law is the price a citizen pays for his personal liberty [and safety]. Submission, therefore, to a State law wholly or largely unjust is an immoral barter for liberty... civil resistance is a most powerful expression of a soul's anguish and an eloquent protest against the continuance of an evil State [or law]... Indeed one perfect civil resister is enough to win the battle of Right against Wrong." (M. K. Gandhi, All Men Are Brothers, 1960)

23) Propaganda is the communication of information beneficial to some point of view, usually that of those who provide the selected data in a special way. "...propaganda, is set in motion with the specific purpose of influencing a certain effect." Whether in advertising, marketing or politics, propaganda is intended to create a favorable impression for the product or policy. The first impression of propaganda is usually biased with the use of "gimmicks, loaded words and half-truths. If presented effectively, the propaganda may be absorbed unconsciously." Both the "...appealing nature of the advertisement [or message] and the manner in which it is presented" make it successful. This relies on the fact that "...each of us has a pre-established concept or image of ourselves, as we are, and as we would like to be... utilizing the association principle... [To be successful] present the ideas simply, pleasantly and with an easily deducible conclusion, rather than complex ideas... and we would probably remember the name of the product [slogan] if it is repeated often and associated with other pleasant ideas.

"Our perception [of the concept] is also affected by our concept or opinion of the announcer and the value we place on his information. Even before we consider the credibility of the statement, the value judgments we make regarding the authority of the speaker may cause us to accept or reject his statements... the announcer's speaking voice and the way he is dressed, may also affect our judgment of him... our cognition acts as a selector, refining, clarifying, and relating the incoming data to previously organized data [in our minds]... We would be more likely to accept stimuli that would reinforce and correspond to pre-established opinions -- consistency model of attitude -- than to stimuli contradicting or conflicting with these opinions." (SJ, "Perception-Sociology," 1972) Our frame of reference determines both how we perceive and remember the information we hear, and then how we act on what we accept.

24) It is a popular political discussion to compare the 'character' of each candidate running for presidential election before deciding which to support. Character is the ability of an individual to conduct a virtuous life, or at least do what we decide for ourselves is right. There are three elements to the character of Man:

First Order Consideration: What kind of issues are moral and which not? We all have presumptions about what is and isn't of moral concern, but often we learn from radical political activists that something we had neglected is truly an urgent moral priority. There were more than 20 initiatives on the last ballot in Oregon, some of these were moral concerns which we had not been confronted with previously. In order to vote, we had to do some serious soul-searching. This is part of what I like to describe as "Di-sumption" as opposed to assumption. Dissecting assumptions, putting these on the table for discussion, then through a process of moral scrutiny make a decision.

Second Order Consideration: Develop a rational debate, moral scrutiny, even if only in one's private thoughts, of the pros and cons of moral dilemmas. These rational tools of analysis need to be developed and learned. Objectivity and honesty are certainly primary requisites, along with the courage to face squarely hard decisions.

Third Order Consideration: The strength and courage to do what is right. The habit of consistency and good manners. Take the best chosen course of action, and keep on it even under criticism and in turmoil. The 'strength of character' is found here. Self-discipline and fortitude are part of virtue, along with the deliberate desire to be virtuous and then the courage to succeed. We know we have the freedom of will to act as we choose, so our character is measured by our life's record. (see Vicesimus Alter Stele: Ethical Decisions, verse 10)

Yes, it is important to measure our politicians against this definition of character.

25) "I had one not-so-pleasant visit from two Americans, editors of the conservative newspaper the Washington Times. They seemed less intent on finding out my views than on proving that I was a communist and a terrorist... they attempted to show that I was not a Christian either by asserting that the Reverend Martin Luther King never resorted to violence. I told them that the conditions in which [Dr.] Martin Luther King struggled were totally different from my own: The United States was a democracy with constitutional guarantees of equal rights that protected non-violent protest (though there are still prejudice against blacks); South Africa was a police state with a constitution that enshrined inequality and an army that responded to non-violence with force. I told them that I was a Christian and had always been a Christian. Even Christ, I said, when he was left with no alternative, used force to expel the moneylenders from the temple. He was not a man of violence, but had no choice but to use force against evil. I do not think I persuaded them." (Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, 1994)

Can anyone count the many lives lost in seeking justice and freedom in South Africa? And certainly that story is not finished.

26) "Truth alone is but a weak motive of action with men, and hence there is always a great difference between knowing and action, between science and art. The man receives the strongest impulse to action through the feelings, and the most powerful succor... through those faculties of heart and mind which we have considered under the terms of resolution, firmness, perseverance, and force of character.

"If, however, this elevated condition of heart and mind in the General did not manifest itself in the general effects resulting from it, [if he did not inspire his troops' emotions] and could only be accepted on trust and faith, then it would rarely become matter of history [he would have lost the battle]." (Carl Von Clausewitz, On War, 1832) Fighting men are inspired by emotion and overcome fear not with courage but with righteous indignation or brutal anger.

27)

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the cause which impel them to the separation.
Thomas Jefferson's writing is so musical -- though it is a 'run-on sentence.'
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
These buzz words have spawned a huge and complicated body of law in the honest endeavor to approach these goals. Life in the Millennium of the 21st century offers hope that these noble ideals might be fulfilled.
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,
This is truly a revolutionary doctrine, that the people are the foundation upon which the government stands. For this reason alone I have always been very proud of my association with the USA. Of course we have to accept the obligation to do our part, whatever that is.

On to Vicesimus Alter Stele - Ethical Decisions