Tag Archives: ideology

Deepak Chopra: Can We Create Peace in Egypt?

If you’ve been following the news in the past few weeks then you’re undoubtedly aware of the troubling political violence erupting in Egypt. In one week, alone, more than 900 people died, prompting EU-affiliated countries to suspend arms sales to the country.

In this episode of “Ask Deepak” on The Chopra Well, Deepak is joined by two young Arab women leaders to discuss the current situation in Egypt and the steps to creating peace and resolving conflict.

Does taking sides, as Deepak says, perpetuate conflict? Or is there ever a line at which we should take one side to help overcome another? Do you believe we can change the world by shifting our own consciousness? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below!

Thumbnail credit: Mosa’ab Elshamy / Flickr: mosaaberising

The Fire Next Time

If it wasn’t so sad and infuriating, it would be comical: firemen letting a house burn down because the owner hadn’t paid a $75 fee?  In America?  If you heard that such things happened in the Wild West, or if you saw it on a TV show like “Deadwood,” you still might think it’s awful, but you wouldn’t be shocked.  But in the 21st Century?  It’s an attention-getter all right, and it can’t be dismissed as a local aberration, not when conservative commentators are defending the fire department’s actions in the lofty language of values, and not when free market ideologues are trying to privatize everything from healthcare to education to, yes, firefighting. 

The two sets of responses – outrage from liberals, approval from conservatives – highlight two different ways of looking at the world. And once again the bloggers and talking heads on the left are making the mistake of defining their position in terms of morality and compassion. Of course, morality and compassion are at the heart of the matter, but those arguments will never convince free market conservatives.  They’ll just argue that their values – which amount to tough love – are superior in the long run to the mushy empathy of bleeding hearts.  Glenn Beck, for instance, said that disasters like a house burning down are necessary to teach people not to sponge off their neighbors. Others have said that one lost home is a small price to pay for getting people to act responsibly.  Jonah Goldberg (no relation, thankfully) wrote that the incident would "probably save more houses over the long haul" since the people someone else called "jerks, freeloaders, and ingrates" would surely now pay their bills.

This is the logic that ensues when one takes the ethic of “personal responsibility” – something no one would consider a bad thing – to an extreme. And while you might think such reasoning is absurd you’ll never convince those who see it as air tight.  A far more pragmatic strategy is to speak to the opposition in their own terms.  Namely, their pocketbooks.  Leaving things like fighting fires to the vicissitudes of the free market costs all of us – conservative and liberal, rich and poor – cold hard cash.

What would have happened, for instance, if human beings who might otherwise have been rescued unharmed were maimed, disfigured or disabled in the fire?  They might have to go on welfare instead of working and paying taxes.  They kids might not be able to go to college, which means they’ll earn less and therefore contribute less in taxes.  What if their insurance companies didn’t cover the cost of their treatment?  They would have to rely on Medicare and other public services.  Ohmigod, more government spending!  What if the fire spread to other homes?  Imagine the cost of the lawsuits.  What if utility lines, roads, parks, transportation links or other communal properties were damaged?  Think of the repair bills.  More government spending!  What if the homeowner had paid the fee and the firefighters didn’t know about it because of a bureaucratic glitch?  More lawsuits!  And so forth.  These are just a few examples of how letting the house burn can lead to taxpayer expenditures that dwarf the cost of putting the fire out and – in an obvious win-win – billing the family after the fact. 

Such obvious reasoning also applies to major issues such as healthcare costs and regulatory oversight.  But conservative ideologues don’t think that way for two reasons: 1) when facts and reason get in the way of strongly held beliefs, cognitive dissonance arises, and that’s not very comfortable, and 2) they’re either incapable of perceiving our interconnectedness or they’re unwilling to look it squarely in the face.

But those who do see that all living beings are connected to one another – more concretely, measurably and instantaneously than ever before – need to make that point not only in ethical and moral terms, but in non-mushy, non-sentimental, bottom-line pocketbook terms.  That has a far better chance of breaking through the mindset that thinks “I got mine, and the ingrates who can’t take care of themselves need to learn a painful lesson.”

Buddhists use the term “skillful means” – upaya in Sanskrit – to indicate that teachers should convey ideas in ways that each student can understand and internalize.  Those of us who care about the state of the world need to use some upaya as well.

 PHOTO (cc): Flickr / Big Whiskey

A Proposal for the Free Marketeers

Almost every major problem facing society these days—financial reform, unemployment, environmental disasters, the energy crisis, climate change, etc.—seems to be framed as a choice between free markets and “big government.”  What it really comes down to is trust: do you trust government bureaucrats more than corporate executives? Frankly, I don’t trust either group without reservation, and it seems to me a good argument can be made that both too much regulation and too little regulation can cause problems. But, the way things have gone in recent years makes it perfectly plain that the burden of proof is on the conservatives. 
Liberals who want solid governmental oversight over investment bankers and giant conglomerates are not, for the most part, leftist ideologues; they’re pragmatists acting out of self defense.  Face it, no one would have dreamed up the EPA if manufacturers didn’t insist on polluting our air and water. We wouldn’t need the FDA if food and drug producers didn’t put contaminated products on the market. We wouldn’t bother with an SEC if brokerage firms didn’t try to pull the wool over the eyes of investors. 
Meanwhile, libertarians and other free marketeers try to convince us that we’d all be better off if the government would only get out of the way so the good people running corporations can do their thing. I suggest they save their breath. Instead of trying to win an ideological argument, they should focus on their own allies and make corporate leaders prove that they’re worthy of our trust. Let them demonstrate that they’re capable of consistently acting with honesty, integrity, and a sense of public virtue. After all, virtue is supposed to be a conservative value, and so is accountability. And right now the evidence is against the free market argument. Given the events of the past two years—not to mention most of modern history—we’d be idiots to trust any CEO who runs something bigger than a clothing shop. 
Here’s my modest proposal: corporate big shots should create a self-policing body with real teeth. Many professions have organizations that hold their members accountable. Doctors have the AMA; lawyers have the Bar Association; and psychologists, social workers, and others have their equivalents. Of course, these associations do not eliminate the need for laws and public oversight, but they keep the need for regulation to a minimum by exacting a heavy price on members who violate their ethical and behavioral standards. Their penalties are effective deterrents; revoking someone’s membership can seriously damage his or her career.
I would urge responsible corporate executives to create a legitimate professional organization across their many industries. Offer membership to anyone at the level of, say, vice president and higher, and sign up some big-name CEOs right off the bat, so the association starts out with credibility. Set the bar high with a rigorous behavioral code, not just regarding obvious ethical violations, but also issues like how employees should be treated, remuneration policies, non-deceptive advertising and marketing, the impact of corporate decisions on communities and the environment, and so forth. Maybe even steal an idea from physicians, and start the code with “First do no harm.” Then show us you’re capable of enforcing the standards, so violators feel the pain, with financial loss, shame-inducing exposure and career-threatening ostracism. In short, make it really a bad idea to act against the common good. 
In other words, corporate leaders have to do what parents expect their misbehaving teenagers to do: prove they can be trusted. If, in due time—say a decade or two—the public is satisfied that corporate executives can be counted on to act more like virtuous citizens than greedy, selfish scoundrels, liberals will have no excuse to spend our tax dollars on excessive regulation. Until then, we have no choice but to ask our government to protect us.
I’m not holding my breath, but just in case some corporate honchos are paying attention, here’s my final suggestion. Name the organization the Association of Business Executives—ABE, in honor of the president whose name is synonymous with honesty. Live up to that acronym, and even the staunchest lefties might agree to a looser grip on your free market.

A Friend Becoming A Stranger

I hung up the phone last night after talking to my best friend of 30 years.  I haven’t been able to think of anything else, since then.  So, I decided I needed to ask someone I admire to help me understand. She and I have spent so much time learning about different paths to spirituality, reading The Power of Now, Conversations With God together, and traveling to Las Vegas to see all of you wonderful teachers at the "I Can Do It" Events.  So my question is this:  She told me on the phone that the Mexican immigrants are ruining everything in CA.  They take jobs away from us and don’t want to work just drain the government, etc.  She called President Obama the Anti-Christ. She said he’s going to make medical care into socialism, etc.   
How can I reconcile this behavior with who I thought she was and accept or help her see exactly what she is saying.  I tried to ask her where she got those facts and she said, "I do my research".  Am I crazy?  It just seems that the "right wing extreme positions" (I don’t know how to describe that) cannot coincide with A Course in Miracle’s teaching of love and acceptance and abundance for all.  Help me, I don’t want to lose my dear friend but I don’t know how to talk about things with her anymore.  Thank you for any insight you may have for me.
It helps to remember that her political views are only her views, they aren’t who she is. You can still love and respect her fully for who she truly is, regardless of whether you agree with her positions on immigration and health care. I understand that this is a big adjustment from your long-term friendship of 30 years, where you enjoyed sharing ideas of self-empowerment through love and the development of consciousness.
This is a far cry from worrying about the Anti-Christ and Socialism, but for whatever reason, that is a part of her path now. Even though it is not your path, you can still hold her as a friend if you can agree to interact in the other areas of interests you hold in common that are non-confrontational. You don’t need to try to  convince each other of your respective ideas. Then agree to respect each other based on who you actually are, not based on your beliefs.


Our biggest “toxic asset”: ideology


The government is trying to solve the problem of toxic assets that have infected America’s biggest banks. But apparently it hasn’t disinfected its own toxic asset — political ideology. It was ideology that made House Republicans vote against the first bailout in September, a bailout proposed by their own party. Ever since, the same ideological stubbornness has led to constant obstruction of any Democratic-endorsed plan to end the economic meltdown. Since time is of the essence, it’s a race between history and ideology at this point. Hanging over us is the memory of the Great Depression, when Republican obstruction was a constant, year after year, no matter how dire the economy became.


What is ideology, and why does it have such a tight grip on the mind?


In its simplest form, ideology is group think. Neocons on the right think alike, as do liberals on the left. Each has an ideology. The problem is that group think can become so rigid that it forbids actual thinking, which needs to be open and flexible. We hear euphemisms like "philosophy," "tradition," and "mind set" that cloud the problem and make it hard for people to admit that they are victims of rigid ideology. Many Republicans feel that they are opposing every rescue plan that involves government spending because it isn’t part of their philosophy to be big spenders. This flies in the face of reality, however. Ronald Reagan tripled the national debt, and the past eight years under George Bush repeated the feat through runaway spending led by House Republicans.


The key point is that a philosophy opens your eyes to reality, while an ideology blinds you to reality. When ideology gains power, it forces blindness on others. North Koreans are starving but must still worship their benefactor, the "dear leader," or else. (This recalls the Soviet Union seventy years ago, when starving Russians lived in "a workers’ paradise" and the mass murderer Stalin was benign "Uncle Joe.") It becomes habitual for ideologues to turn suffering into a false rosy picture. Thus Iraq was touted by neocons as a fledgling democracy when in reality it was a killing ground for hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians.


Ideology freezes the mind. It substitutes a dogma for rational thought, and the dogma cannot be shaken. At this moment, free-market ideologues are unshakably wedded to permanent tax cuts that would beggar future government programs. Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican Party, absurdly declared that government has never created a single job. To an outsider, these are irrational lapses of the mind, but they are symptoms of a fixed ideology. If your dogma tells you that government is bad while creating jobs is good, then like a mathematical formula, government never creates jobs. How can bad create good?


The toxic asset of ideology, when masked by power, can force dissenters to keep quiet. But by extending a hand to the right wing, President Obama is doing more than promoting bipartisanship. He’s running a reality check. So far, the Republicans have stuck to their ideology in the face of dire need in the country. They are turning the free market into a morality-free market. The suffering of ordinary citizens demands as a duty that government relieve that suffering. The moral choice couldn’t be clearer. But the embattled Republican minority feels that its only chance for survival is to wish failure on the stimulus, the rescue, the bailout, and Obama’s administration in general. There is another alternative, however. The right wing could actually help in restoring hope and prosperity to the shattered economy. To do that would mean abandoning, or at least altering, their ideology. Blindness isn’t the only way to live, but it is if you refuse to open your eyes.

Published in the San Francisco Chronicle

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