Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Response to the Paris Attacks

by Dee Newman

Conflict and violence are unavoidable. Striving to end them, though a worthy aspiration, has never and will never fully be successful. The actions of others are beyond our control. The only thing we can control is our response.

When others attack us, our instinctive reaction is to want to attack back. But, retaliation, simply adds fuel to the fire, encouraging further violence, endangering the lives of others and ourselves. The evidence of this is overwhelming. Just look at the hundreds of thousands of lives – American, Afghani, and Iraqi citizens - lost in our wars of retribution since 9/11. Our revenge has come at an enormous price – of lives and treasure.

The Paris attacks have sparked, once again, a massive wave of intolerance and anti-Muslim bigotry and vitriol. Thirty Republican governors have said that they would like to prevent Syrian refugees from entering their states, including Governor Haslam here in Tennessee. A number of right-wing Republican presidential candidates have promoted the idea of shutting down mosques and discriminating against refugees on the basis of their religion. A Republican state senator here in Tennessee has stated that it is time for the National Guard to round up all Syrian refugees who have recently settled in the state and to ship them off to who knows where. Republicans in Congress are threatening to cut off funding for refugee assistance while nearly four million Syrian refugees are pleading for asylum, as well as our assistance, compassion, and understanding.

These xenophobic responses to this unprecedented refugee crisis (which our wars of retribution have caused) are not only immoral and un-American, they’re extremely unwise. Discriminating against Syrian refugees doesn't make the United States safer. In fact – quite the opposite: it fuels hatred here at home and resentment and extremism around the world.

The truth is, attacking Muslim refugees makes us less safe. It feeds the extremist propaganda of the Jihadist. But unfortunately, there is a significant number of Americans who are afraid. And, they are being deceived and exploited by shameless, fear-mongering politicians. These politicians who are actively promoting fear and ignorance need to be relentlessly exposed and opposed with an equivalent amount of empowering truth.

While most aware and educated people recognize that one of the missions of the military industrial complex is to keep the majority of us ignorant and in a constant state of fear, unfortunately a large number of respected journalists, news reporters, and commentators continue to promote fear, ignorance, and bigotry while purportedly acting as truth-tellers and advocates for freedom and liberty.

Though I believe that vengeance is an unacceptable way of resolving disputes, I am not a pacifist. The defense of ones interest is morally justified. But, actions have consequences, which are often unintended and unforeseeable. Therefore, violence should only be used as a defense, as a last resort, when all else has failed.

Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks of you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything in return.”

He was telling us to reach out to others with grace, compassion, and understanding, especially our enemies. So, I say to you, especially those of you who call yourselves Christians, before your cries of vengeance get too loud, have you thought of how you might have turned out if you were brought up in another part of the world in degrading poverty and religious oppression instead of being raised in the richest nation in the history of the world with such incredible freedom and opportunity? Are you sure that you would not be a terrorist yourself?

I am not excusing the horrific murders in Paris and other parts of the world by ISIS, I’m just proposing that our cries for vengeance should be replaced with an appreciation for the grace of fate in each of our lives. Hopelessness, fear, and ignorance could cause any of us to become terrorists.

Is it not possible that if we did as Jesus asked and lived by the Golden Rule – fed the hungry, healed the children of poverty, reached out to everyone with compassion and understanding, and truly loved our enemies – it just might prevent or, at the very least, reduced the endless cycle of vengeance and retribution?

Friday, February 20, 2015

From The New York Time: Essay by Oliver Sacks

My Own Life

Oliver Sacks on Learning He Has Terminal Cancer

Credit Hanna Barczyk
A MONTH ago, I felt that I was in good health, even robust health. At 81, I still swim a mile a day. But my luck has run out — a few weeks ago I learned that I have multiple metastases in the liver. Nine years ago it was discovered that I had a rare tumor of the eye, an ocular melanoma. Although the radiation and lasering to remove the tumor ultimately left me blind in that eye, only in very rare cases do such tumors metastasize. I am among the unlucky 2 percent.

I feel grateful that I have been granted nine years of good health and productivity since the original diagnosis, but now I am face to face with dying. The cancer occupies a third of my liver, and though its advance may be slowed, this particular sort of cancer cannot be halted.

It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me. I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can. In this I am encouraged by the words of one of my favorite philosophers, David Hume, who, upon learning that he was mortally ill at age 65, wrote a short autobiography in a single day in April of 1776. He titled it “My Own Life.”

“I now reckon upon a speedy dissolution,” he wrote. “I have suffered very little pain from my disorder; and what is more strange, have, notwithstanding the great decline of my person, never suffered a moment’s abatement of my spirits. I possess the same ardour as ever in study, and the same gaiety in company.”

I have been lucky enough to live past 80, and the 15 years allotted to me beyond Hume’s three score and five have been equally rich in work and love. In that time, I have published five books and completed an autobiography (rather longer than Hume’s few pages) to be published this spring; I have several other books nearly finished.

Hume continued, “I am ... a man of mild dispositions, of command of temper, of an open, social, and cheerful humour, capable of attachment, but little susceptible of enmity, and of great moderation in all my passions.”

Here I depart from Hume. While I have enjoyed loving relationships and friendships and have no real enmities, I cannot say (nor would anyone who knows me say) that I am a man of mild dispositions. On the contrary, I am a man of vehement disposition, with violent enthusiasms, and extreme immoderation in all my passions.

And yet, one line from Hume’s essay strikes me as especially true: “It is difficult,” he wrote, “to be more detached from life than I am at present.”

Over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life.

On the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.
This will involve audacity, clarity and plain speaking; trying to straighten my accounts with the world. But there will be time, too, for some fun (and even some silliness, as well). 

I feel a sudden clear focus and perspective. There is no time for anything inessential. I must focus on myself, my work and my friends. I shall no longer look at “NewsHour” every night. I shall no longer pay any attention to politics or arguments about global warming.

This is not indifference but detachment — I still care deeply about the Middle East, about global warming, about growing inequality, but these are no longer my business; they belong to the future. I rejoice when I meet gifted young people — even the one who biopsied and diagnosed my metastases. I feel the future is in good hands.

I have been increasingly conscious, for the last 10 years or so, of deaths among my contemporaries. My generation is on the way out, and each death I have felt as an abruption, a tearing away of part of myself. There will be no one like us when we are gone, but then there is no one like anyone else, ever. When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate — the genetic and neural fate — of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.

I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.

Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.

Oliver Sacks, a professor of neurology at the New York University School of Medicine, is the author of many books, including “Awakenings” and “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.”