War is the oldest trick in the book. Why are we still falling for it?

When our grandchildren ask us, “didn’t you know your government was lying to you?” how will we answer them?  These deceptions are well-described more than a century ago.  It has been several centuries that great numbers of working people have known their worth, have demanded their just desserts.  They have had able leaders. They have stood firm in their resolve. Those with wealth know well they cannot prevail with force alone, and have deployed the printing presses under their control, as well as the gendarmes they command to retain their power.

Un peuple sous la menace de la guerre et de l’invasion est tres facilement gouvernable. Il ne reclame pas de reformes sociales, il ne repousse pas l armement ou l equipement militaire. Il paye sans broncher, il se ruine lui meme, et ceci est favorable pour les syndicats, les financiers et les fers de lance de l industrie pour que la terreur patriotique entraine l abondance du gain.  — Anatole France, né cette journée en 1844

A people under the menace of war and of invasion is very easy to govern. It does not claim social reforms, it does not cavil over armaments or military equipment. It pays without haggling, it ruins itself at it, and that is excellent for the syndicates, the financiers, and the heads of industry to whom patriotic terrors open an abundant source of gain.  — Anatole France, born this day in 1844

On croit mourir pour la patrie; on meurt pour les industriels.

You think you are dying for your country; you die for the industrialists.

We have the power

David Hume found

“nothing more surprising than to see the easiness with which the many are governed by the few and to observe the implicit submission with which men resign their own sentiments and passions to those of their rulers.  When we enquire by what means this wonder is brought about we shall find that as force is always on the side of the governed, the governors have nothing to support them but opinion.  It is therefore on opinion only that government is founded and this maxim extends to the most despotic and most military governments as well as to the most free and the most popular.”

His words are particularly appropriate to socieities in which popular struggle over many years has won a considerable degree of freedom.  In such societies, force really is on the side of the governed, and the governors have nothing to support them but opinion.  That is one reason why the huge public relations industry and the most immense propaganda agency in human history reached its most developed and sophisticated forms in the most free societies, the US and Britain.  The propaganda industry arose about a century ago, when people came to understand that too much freedom had been won for the public to be controlled by force, so it would be necessary to control them via their opinions.  The liberal intellectual elites understood this as well, and thus they concluded that “we must discared democratic dogmatism about people being the best judges of their own interest.  They are not.  They are ignorant and meddlesome outsiders who must be put in their place, for their own good, of course.”  [Chomsky does not source this quote, but it is from Walter Lippmann]
                                                                — Noam Chomsky

Clean for Gene

When I was a sophomore in college, my classmates and I put on clothes we would never wear on campus and went knocking on doors to promote Gene McCarthy in his challenge to the Vietnam war, and to Lyndon Johnson’s presidency.

When Democrats and Republicans alike talked about Victory over Communism, McCarthy had the courage to talk about fool’s errands, about atrocities, about peace as a virtue.

McCarthy had an academic’s clarity of purpose, a poet’s temperament, and a politician’s love of connection with the people.

The maple tree that night
Without a wind or rain
Let go its leaves
Because its time had come.
Brown veined, spotted,
Like old hands, fluttering in blessing,
They fell upon my head
And shoulders, and then
Down to the quiet at my feet.
I stood, and stood
Until the tree was bare
And have told no one
But you that I was there.
—Eugene Joseph McCarthy was born on this day in 1916.

Being in politics is like being a football coach. You have to be smart enough to understand the game, and dumb enough to think it’s important.

A modest proposal

I just received a survey in the mail from the Democratic National Committee asking about my priorities.  There were about a hundred check boxes, but not one related to peace.  (But several asked if I wanted to raise our military profile or “stand up to Putin”.)

Here’s my proposal.  At present, the US military budget is more than 1/3 of the world’s total, more than the next ten countries combined.  That doesn’t include the black budget, hidden from Congress and from the American people, which according to this Michigan State Univ study is three times larger than the official accounting on which the chart below is based.


Effective immediately, I propose that We the People demand our legislators take action to end the black budget and limit the official budget to the sum of Russia + China together.  This comes to an 80% reduction.  Starting tomorrow, we spend only 1/5 as much on guns and bombs.

We should then announce that we will limit our future military spending in the same manner, never to exceed the next two rivals combined, so that as other countries reduce their military, the US will follow them in disarmament.

*Saudi Arabia is a special case.  Historically, they have been the largest supplier of crude oil to the US, and in order to avoid a huge balance of payments imbalance the House of Saud royal family has purchased far more American hi-tech weapons than any other country.

Temperament and Culture

Fact: In Inuit communities that have not yet come under the influence of Western economics, the people seem preternaturally serene.  Domestic violence is unknown, and violence of any kind is rare.

As viewed through the eyes of an academic psychologist, this is about individuals who have more inner strength and self-control.

What NPR is permitted to say about it:  It’s because parents don’t yell at their kids or punish them, but tell them morality tales instead.  How Inuit Parents Teach Kids To Control Their Anger

What NPR doesn’t or can’t say: Maybe they don’t have any anger that needs controlling.  Inuits live in tightly interdependent societies, where no one is left out, everyone is included.  There is much more cooperation and sharing, much less individual competition.  The wide individual differences in wealth and status that we take for granted are unknown in Inuit villages.

Maybe the anxiety that we carry with us and have come to think of as ‘the human condition’, maybe it’s not the human condition, but an artifact of our Western culture.  Maybe there’s another way to live, which doesn’t produce the isolation and self-doubt that are facts of everyday life for most of us.

We believe that man’s nature is uncaring and selfish, and that it is control and authority and discipline that tame our wild instincts so that we can be nice to each other.  We believe that indigenous people had little so they must have been fighting over the little they had.  We thought we could bring them both prosperity and the civilizing influence of law and central control.

Maybe we should focus more on what we have to learn and less on what we have to teach.


Shanthi. Repeated as here, a formal ending to an Upanishad. “The Peace which passeth understanding” is a feeble translation of the content of this word.
— T S Eliot

Though Eliot drew this phrase from the New Testament, his translation is a step in the right direction, because it calls forth a mystical faith. We cannot know with certainty that we are safe; and yet we can experience a perfect peace.

It may be that a word like shanthi is culture-bound, that it is a project in cultural expansion for any Westerner to try to approach the fullness of what is conveyed by the word. Indeed, that is what we are reaching for each time that we say “shanthi” in preference to “peace”.

The English word “peace” began as a description of the state of relationships among nations, and only in Middle English was the meaning extended to encompass personal behavior. Shakespeare’s usage may be translated in the vernacular as, “Shut up.” The phrase “inner peace” dates only from the close of the 19th Century, when awareness of psychology was first taking root in Western culture.

In contrast, “shanthi” was used first to connote a condition of the soul, and the notion of राष्ट्रों के बीच शांति (“shanthi among nations”) is an expansion outward from there. This is no surprise. We get that shanthi is a state of mind. We have all had times when we are more anxious, and other times when we are more calm, and we may imagine, by extrapolation, a state of perfect calm, of not wanting anything to be different, an intuitive knowledge that the world is perfect, and that this place and this moment are an aspect of that perfection. We may have experienced something like this state, rarely, and we may suspect that there are practices and philosophies that might enable us to know shanthi more deeply.

We may even suspect that we live in a particularly restless time in a particularly restless culture, and that there are other cultures in which it is easier to be satisfied with what is. We may have harbored (without explicitly articulating) the idea that too much peace leads to complacency, and that the reason that Western technology has leapfrogged past the rich scientific and artistic traditions of the East in the last 200 years has something to do with the churning dissatisfaction of the Western mind. Could it be that the Oriental mind is hamstrung by “too much peace”—complacency, fatalism, resignation? Ambition, the conviction that things might be made better, the determination to rally the will for a lofty aim—these qualities may seem to us to be incompatible with shanthi.

Brahms put a lot of work into every measure that he composed, writing and rewriting, trying different arrangements, editing, and ultimately burning most of his compositions, sharing with us, his public, only those he considered to be most satisfying. Mozart, in contrast, spoke of receiving entire operas in a moment of inspiration, after which it remained for him only to write down the notes, as though taking dictation from God, with nary a correction or an afterthought. Brahms’s music is richer and more complex than Mozart’s; perhaps this can be achieved through angst and obsession. But Bach seems to be a counter-example; his music appears to be worked out with an intricate, rational plan that would determine every note—to our wondering ears, it would appear the simultaneous requirements of counterpoint and harmony might OVERdetermine every note. And yet, contemporary accounts of Bach suggest that he improvised fully-formed 3-part fugues on the keyboard, and that he worked in a mode much closer to Mozart than to Brahms.

Rembrandt might have meticulously adjusted each line, each brushstroke and each color until he found the effect that he was looking for. In a Japanese painting tradition, the artist prepares his unconscious with ritual and meditation, then picks up the brush and paints without technical effort…letting inspiration come to him through meticulous observation. The hand that guides the brush has already caught and executed what floated before the mind at the same moment as the mind began to form it, and in the end the pupil no longer knows which of the two—mind or hand—was responsible for the work. [Herrigel, Zen in the Art of Archery (1971)]

I have read accounts of Picasso painting his famous peace icon in just this way.

Framed Dove of Peace Print

Is it possible for someone from our culture to experience that perfect stillness that only comes from realizing the perfection of all that is? Well, of course it is possible, but it is not easy—and easy is exactly what we are reaching for, for if it is difficult, it is not shanthi. And to the extent that we are reaching or striving at all, we are not at peace.

Is it possible to live a productive life, to be part of a dynamic perfection that shapes and re-shapes itself, spreading trust and love and cooperation ever more widely—is it possible to participate fully in this program while still living in a deep knowledge that the whole is perfect, and experiencing the shanthi that can only come from that conviction?

Just as a working hypothesis, I want to propose that this is more than possible, in fact, that far the best way to be effective in all our arts and our projects is to act from an inner experience of perfect satisfaction with what is, to create our presence in the outer life from the shanthi that we experience within.

— Source ???

Coming soon to a world you live on: Pax Sinica

The United States has been in charge of the world since 1945.  Could anyone have done a worse job?  Despite huge increases in productivity, the middle class is stagnating.  Despite no challenge to US military might for the last 30 years, our country continues to be the world’s biggest bully.  We have abrogated treaties, undermined legitimately elected leaders in dozens of democracies (in service to our largest corporations).  We have bombed innocents and supported dictators and made a lot of enemies.

Some people are afraid of what might happen if when China’s growth carries her well beyond the US, and China becomes the reigning superpower.  I look forward to this time as probably a reprieve from violence and a restraint on international policing.

Image result for pax sinica

In American eyes, the contest between America’s and China’s political systems is one between a democracy, where the people freely choose their government and enjoy freedom of speech and of religion, and an autocracy, where the people have no such freedoms. To neutral observers, however, it could just as easily be seen as a choice between a plutocracy in the United States, where major public policy decisions end up favoring the rich over the masses, and a meritocracy in China, where major public policy decisions made by officials chosen by Party elites on the basis of ability and performance have resulted in such a striking alleviation of poverty. One fact cannot be denied. In the past thirty years, the median income of the American worker has not improved: between 1979 and 2013, median hourly wages rose cent—less than 0.2 percent per year.  In the same period, China has lifted 800 million people out of poverty and created the largest middle class in the world.


Many in the West have been alarmed by the enormous power Xi has accumulated, taking it as a harbinger of armed conflict. Xi’s accumulation of power, however, has not fundamentally changed China’s long-­term geopolitical strategy. The Chinese have, for instance, avoided unnecessary wars. Unlike the United States, which is blessed with two nonthreatening neighbors in Canada and Mexico, China has difficult relations with a number of strong, nationalistic neighbors, including India, Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam. Quite remarkably, of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United States, and the United Kingdom), China is the only one among them that has not fired a single military shot across its border in thirty years, since a brief naval battle between China and Vietnam in 1988. By contrast, even during the relatively peaceful Obama Administration, the American military dropped 26,000 bombs on seven countries in a single year. Evidently, the Chinese understand well the art of strategic restraint.

— Read more from Kishore Mahbubani at Harper’s Mag

John Keay looks at 2,500 years of Chinese history, and concludes that as the Chinese conquer foreign territories, they are usually content to leave in place local customs, cultures, and governments.