A Revolution in Human Relations

I was greatly inspired by this blog post, Transforming Troubled Schools by Robert C. Koehler. It is heartening to hear about progressive, alternative conflict resolution initiatives being implemented in schools. The lessons learned here can and should be applied to all areas of society. The broader idea is a revolutionary transformation in human relations.

Restorative Practices Circle http://coto2.wordpress.com

As human beings, we are all interconnected, part of the larger whole we call “society.” No individual’s action can be interpreted in isolation from its societal context. We need to move beyond the primitive idea of punishing “offenders” and realize that in so doing we are only perpetuating the cycles of crime, violence, poverty,etc. that hurt us all.

In order to do this, we have to be able to let go of the ego that assures us that we ourselves are “good” but others can be wholly “bad.” There is no such thing as a purely good or purely bad person, there are only good or bad actions (if that). When someone commits a crime and we label them as “a criminal,” we strip them of their humanity. This not only tends to lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy for the “criminal” but also hardens our own hearts and strengthens our egotistical belief that “we” are good and “they” are bad.

The ills of society are a product of society. In order to cure them, both the individual and the larger community must work together, with compassion and respect toward all involved parties. For too long, we have tried to quarantine evil—ignore it, deny it, ascribe it to something outside of ourselves. It is time to face our true nature, to see the good and the bad in ALL of us. This includes not only acknowledging our own faults but, perhaps more importantly, acknowledging the GOOD in our perceived “enemies.”

Peace will never be achieved by fighting “enemies” or punishing “criminals.” Those are relative terms, used to divide us. The only label we can use to describe ourselves in absolute terms, the one label that applies to us all, is “human.” Peace can only be achieved by respecting our common humanity and choosing to unite, rather than divide.

The Right Thing for the Wrong Reasons: Ron Paul

What does it mean to do the “right” thing? Is it still the “right” thing if it’s for the “wrong” reasons? Can you do the “wrong” thing for the “right” reasons? How are people’s moral values manipulated by larger forces to support immoral causes?

These are questions that I seem to be coming up against a lot lately. It seems to me that most, if not all, of the horrors being perpetrated in our world today are allowed to continue due to the manipulation of people’s perceptions of morality. We all strive to be moral, but we are easily lead astray. There are several examples in current events that I’d like to point to in this discussion. Here is the first.

Ron Paul

This man’s name stirs up more impassioned arguments than any other in the political arena today. And for that, I love him. I think it is essential that we grapple with the ideas he presents and the contradictions they evoke in many of our consciences. I appreciate his candor and his commitment to principle (although, to be clear, I disagree with his principles). I admire his fearlessness in speaking what he believes. These are qualities sorely absent in most politicians today, and I believe that RP’s appeal to the masses begins there.

His appeal is further strengthened by his rhetoric of Individual Liberty. Because who doesn’t support the ideals of liberty and freedom? Indeed, at a time when our civil liberties are being increasingly eroded in the name of safety against “terrorism,” it is crucial to be speaking about these issues. But on what terms does Ron Paul support liberty and freedom? How does he ultimately believe these ideals should be manifested? These are equally important questions. The answers, according to Ron Paul, revolve around the ideas of individualism, private property, and the “free market”. Ron Paul wants an absolutely minimal federal government, with maximum personal freedoms.

While this may sound good at first, I believe it is crucial to dig deeper into these issues, to see what’s really at stake. His faith in the “free market” to balance out human moral shortcomings is particularly troublesome to me. Free Market Capitalism is predicated on exploitation of resources in pursuit of personal profit. And, in line with his Libertarian belief in individual liberty, this works out just fine, because it is an individual’s right to exploit whatever resources he can get his hands on in order to better himself, i.e. in pursuit of individual freedom and prosperity. This, in turn, creates an imbalance of power in society, where a handful of people can gain control of the vast majority of resources and thus exploit the masses of people, who must subordinate themselves to those who control the resources that they themselves need to survive. Clearly, this is precisely the situation we have today, with a fraction of a percentage of people controlling the vast majority of the world’s wealth, while billions of others suffer in abject poverty, with no prospect for freedom.

So is that the ultimate manifestation of freedom, Social Darwinism? Do only those (and the descendants of those) who most successfully exploit resources and their fellow human beings deserve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? I hope that for most people that answer is “No.” I hope that most people are compassionate enough to say “No, I do not believe that my ‘freedom’ should come at the expense of any other human being’s freedom.” But if compassion isn’t motivation enough for you, I will also point out that this unfettered exploitation wreaks havoc on the planet itself, the ecosystem that we all depend on to survive. If we do not change course, if we continue to pursue infinite growth with individual profit as our bottom line, then none of us will survive. We have reached a point in the evolution of our species where cooperation is truly pivotal to our survival.

Thus, while I am glad to hear a major political figure saying that we need to end our imperialistic wars, I also have a responsibility to go beyond the surface of his stance and figure out why he holds that position and what he proposes in its place. When I do that, I see that Ron Paul is not opposed to war for moral reasons but for financial reasons. He believes we spend too much money on our military, particularly in foreign wars for “nation building.” His National Defense plan is based on isolationism, i.e. do what’s best for our country and let the others fend for themselves. Again, if this doesn’t bother you on a humanitarian level, at least consider the impracticality of this stance in our current global economy and our common planet of inhabitance. Moreover, his reinforcement of the notion that our foreign wars are truly based on “nation building” or “policing the world,” when clearly they are based on imperialistic motives, leads me to conclude that he is either lying through his teeth or profoundly naive.

In conclusion, to go back to my original thought on “the right thing for the wrong reasons” and our distorted perceptions of morality, I believe that Ron Paul’s anti-war, pro-liberty positions are an example of both. It took me some time to reach this conclusion, as I was initially drawn to his positive qualities mentioned earlier and the surface of his stances. But once I started to really look into his positions and fight my urge to cheerlead for anyone who opposes war, it became unquestionably clear that Ron Paul was not the progressive candidate I so wanted him to be.

It’s sad, really, that our political field is so devoid of decency that Ron Paul would be the only glimmer of hope to a mass of people desperate (still, 4 years later) for change. Certainly, some of these people really do believe in Ron Paul’s ideals and plans—if I’m lucky, they will descend upon my blog to defend him to the death. With those supporters, I will just have to agree to disagree. But I believe another large portion of his supporters have simply been lead astray, either not understanding the true ideological basis for his seemingly progressive stances or supporting him despite this, as the new “lesser of two evils.”

This blog post is aimed at those supporters, the ones who fell in line with Ron Paul by default of not having any other candidate to believe in. To you, I say: Please rethink your stance. Do not resign yourself to simply supporting the lesser of two Evils. Demand Good. Demand real change, though it has no political figure as its face. We simply cannot afford to fight for anything less.

Ideology of Truth & Justice

I am a seeker of Truth and Justice. I will not put political ideology above either of those things. I will not defend someone who uses dishonest means, even if I agree with their ends. Propaganda is propaganda, no matter who spews it. Violence is violence, no matter who the victim. You reap what you sow. Simple as that.

I want a revolution. But if a revolution is based on violence, dishonest propaganda, and/or dogmatic ideology, I want no part of it. Because a TRUE revolution is one that has the courage and creativity to break free of the prescriptive chains of ideology. Anything less than that is just a change in regime. Do I think that some form of Socialism or Communism would be better for our world than Capitalism? Yes. Will I do “whatever it takes” to bring Socialism/Communism into being? No.

First off, such blind allegiance goes against my commitment to TRUTH. If all of my debates use a particular political ideology as a springboard, then I am not really seeking truth, I am only seeking to reaffirm my beliefs. Do I see truth in the theories of Communism? Yes. Will I continue to question them even as I attempt to bring them into action? Absolutely. Because all ideologies are flawed. And yet we all must live according to ideologies in one form or another. We are all guided by beliefs. But the question is, do we cling to our beliefs and ideologies as omnipotent, indestructible absolutes? Or do we use them to guide us towards an ever-evolving truth and understanding? I choose the latter.

This stance is not only consistent with my personal core value of seeking Truth but I also believe it is the only way to build a successful revolution. A legitimate revolution must come from the masses of people. The existing masses of people have a wide variety of backgrounds and beliefs. In order to unite, we must respect each others’ opinions and work towards consensus. This includes listening to and considering the opinions of people we instinctively disagree with. Because no individual is in possession of complete or absolute truth. We must recognize and resist the tendency in ourselves to preach and to indoctrinate others to our beliefs. Our collective knowledge and creativity is what gives us strength. If we do not approach one another from a position of openness and humility, we cannot unite. It is not an easy task, but our humanity demands it.

Moreover, our humanity demands that we remain committed to JUSTICE. Committing to do “whatever it takes” to bring a particular political ideology into being goes against a commitment to justice. The ends do not justify the means. The intentional killing of another human being is never OK, in my opinion. So if it takes killing and oppressing “capitalists” in order to bring about a better system, I will not support it. We must find a way to break the cycle of violence that plagues our species. Oppressing our oppressors does not make us free, it just changes our role in the continuation of oppression.

Some say it can’t be done, non-violent revolution. I say that attitude is selling ourselves short. I say that attitude is cowardly and amoral. We must stick to our principles, even in the face of certain defeat. Because what is the worth of a victory gained by contradicting your own moral values? It is no victory at all, in my eyes. As Gandhi said, you must BE the change you wish to see in the world. When all human beings can BE what they say they wish the world to be, THAT will be the real revolution.

*I appreciatively welcome respectful comments, counter-arguments, and cooperative discussion.*

The Evolution of a Revolutionary

I feel like a new Me was born in 2011. I experienced a definite, profound shift in consciousness that propelled me headlong into social activism. Occupy Wall Street is primarily to thank for that. And yet, really, all that OWS did was give me a space to become who I have always been, who I was always meant to be: a Revolutionary.

The minute I heard about OWS (at about Day 7), it was like the whole world shifted into a new gear. I knew that it was going to be big. I knew that is was big. It seemed so obvious to me. And yet no one I talked to in the first couple of weeks to seemed to share my excitement. Even people more involved in social activism than myself seemed unfazed. Or perhaps because of their long-standing involvement in social activism they were unfazed, unconvinced that this would be the movement they all had been waiting so long for. But it was.

For me, it undoubtedly was. Two weeks after hearing about it, I quit my job and bought a one-way plane ticket to New York. The rest is history, as they say. I’m now back in Chicago, as committed to the movement as ever, with revolution at the forefront of my consciousness and all other concerns on the back burner.

That’s probably the best way to explain it: my revolutionary spirit has now taken center stage, though it was always there in the background. As I look back further, I can see glimpses of a Revolutionary in all of my former selves. Like in 2007, when I inadvertently got caught in the middle of a student protest in Chile, complete with tear gas and military tanks on the streets, and I liked it. Or the inexplicable camaraderie I felt with the protagonist in The Motorcycle Diaries when I saw the movie for the first time in 2005. Or the fact that the only book I read in high school without resorting to Cliff’s Notes was Fahrenheit 451.

I have always been fascinated by human nature, deeply moved by the collective tragedies and triumphs of our species. It was only a matter of time before I harnessed my own potential and actively began working towards shaping the evolution of our society.

Isn’t it strange how everything seems to make sense in hindsight, almost as if our life “choices” were inevitable? And yet, in the present moment, we spend so much time worrying about our decisions for the future. For me, that fear has mostly subsided. I am no longer afraid of what decisions I will make in the future because I know that I’m already on the right path—the path of personal and global revolution.

The Other Side of Apathy

For every apolitical, apathetic citizen in the United States, there is an enraged activist doing jumping jacks trying to get their attention.

Ok, so it’s extremely wishful thinking to imply that the ratio is 1:1. Realistically, it’s probably more like 100,000:1. But, on the bright side of economic despair, I think the gap is closing more and more each day. As people’s economic situations worsen, they begin to ask questions—about themselves, about their situation, and, hopefully, about the larger system at play.

Eventually, most people reach a point where they acknowledge some level of systemic injustice. However, a majority end up either underestimating the scope of the injustice or, more tragically, underestimating their power to change it. Who hasn’t thought to themselves, Well, what could I possibly do to change anything? And while it is true that no individual has the power to single-handedly overthrow a system, it is also true that no system can be overthrown without a mass movement made up of individual human beings. This paradox is one that keeps the masses of people trapped in an isolated and isolating illusion of helplessness.

For those of us who have escaped this trap and made the leap to becoming “activists,” one of the biggest obstacles is overcoming the frustration that comes along with trying to awaken people out of apathy. In this frustration, we often leap to the other, equally unproductive, end of the spectrum. We can become so single-mindedly focused on the injustices of the world and how we believe they can or must be solved that we become intolerant of or impatient with those still unaware or apathetic to the cause. This in turn alienates the very people we need to reach in order to create a truly unified, peaceful and just world. This counter-productive frustration takes on many forms. As I become more active myself, I am increasingly aware of these impediments to revolutionary change, both within the various organizations and individuals I meet, as well as within myself, as my own activism grows and takes on new forms.

At the organizational level, it begins by accepting the paradox of sociopolitical organization itself: having a plan of action requires a certain amount of ideological confidence, and yet it is this very confidence that can turn into the self-righteous dogma that plagues the evolution of human society. No organization is immune to this. And if an organization is going to succeed, it must acknowledge this. Any organization that does not address this paradox as a core element is dangerous, in my opinion. We must appeal to and encourage people’s critical thinking abilities if we want to attract individuals to join and effectively contribute to a global, unified revolutionary movement. An organization that proclaims to have it all figured out will only attract blind followers, not future leaders.

At the level of the individual, we begin by practicing humility and patience. We must acknowledge that, as human beings, our selves and our ideas are imperfect. We must remember to not take ourselves too seriously and remain open to the possibility that our ideas may be mistaken or at least able to be improved upon. We have to listen to others respectfully and respond in earnest pursuit of the truth, not in defense of ourselves or our ideas. This is humility. But insofar as we are confident in our ideas, we must also exercise patience in relating them to others. Supposing that there is some ultimate good or truth that we are all aiming to ascend toward, we must be mindful that not everyone is at the same level of ascension and refrain from judging others based on their current situation. We must have the patience to try to help others ascend without placing expectations on them.

Myself, I have only recently made the jump from Passive Conscientiousness to Active Revolt. It has been a liberating, empowering, and dizzying transition. I’m still figuring out how to best channel my energy, how to pick my battles, how to engage other people in productive discussions, how to not get burnt out and frustrated. It’s amazing how quickly I went from relative passivity to immediately wanting (and, on some irrational level, expecting) the whole world to jump into activism with me. It is a lesson in humility and patience that I think I will continue to struggle with for a long time. On the other hand, I have also been devouring information and building the knowledge base that fuels my activism and increases my confidence. This too is a perpetual process of learning.

It seems to me that these two opposing lessons constitute the ultimate balancing act of an activist: finding the equilibrium between confidence and humility that allows us to keep ourselves and our cause moving forward. My goal as an activist, and as a human being in general, is to never give up on this struggle.