October 25, 2010

Affirming the intrinsic worth of all conscious beings

There are certain kinds of events that take us out of ourselves, that allow us to transcend or break out of the egocentric circle of concerns that all too often binds our thinking life. A possible beginning is a romantic episode in which another conscious being becomes a passionate object of interest. The being of the other assumes an intense importance that, if it lasts long enough, can mature into an appreciation of the other as a kind of hero, struggling against existential limitations to which they are ultimately destined to lose. This mature appreciation of the other would be an ugly narcissism if focused on the self; but focused on the other, it can be a model for, eventually and personally, affirming the intrinsic worth of all conscious beings.

Written by Joe Frank Jones, III, from "Introduction to The Pluralist symposium on Ralph D. Ellis's 'Spiritual Partnership and the Affirmation of the Value of Being'.(Critical essay)." in the Fall 2006 issue of The Pluralist, preceding Ellis's long essay "Spiritual Partnership and the Affirmation of the Value of Being"
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Update 10/26/10:  I note that today the splendid William Harryman posted sentiment that one should be compassionate with oneself in his Integral Options Cafe blog:  "Om - Create Time for Self-Compassion."

The issue rages on, for me.  Are there times, or people, for whom being compassionate with oneself is appropriate? Are there others of us that are better 'served' by always batting our ego down in whack-a-mole style!?  I guess we each need to choose for ourself, BUT the choice we are inclined to make is, perhaps, not the best for us. 

October 18, 2010

Unselfishness is at the core of solving world problems

The big evolutionary idea that I think is going to transform our thinking in the social sciences in the next 10 years is group selection. What this means is that we actually have all kinds of mental equipment for suppressing self-interest, for working for the common good, but only when we are basically at war with another team. We can be unselfish, we can be cooperative, but that is activated by intergroup conflict.

If we are attacked by space aliens, I think we humans will unite pretty well. But until then, it’s just very, very difficult for us to solve any sort of dilemma that requires people to sacrifice for the greater good—unless it’s the greater good of their team versus another’s.

So it’s really a shame that global warming has become so politicized. We are capable of solving some things, like taking lead out of gasoline. There are some regulatory changes that have been made that weren’t so politicized. But once it becomes politicized, it’s very difficult to achieve global cooperation.
Quoting Jonathan Haidt, from a recent discussion with Michael Bergeisen, posted at the Greater Good website.  Haidt is best known for his 2006 book The Happiness Hypothesis.   "His [forthcoming] book focuses on the psychological foundations of our moral and political views, exploring how recent discoveries in moral psychology might help us get past the culture wars and create more civil forms of politics."

October 15, 2010

Steiner is dead

This is the third quote I've posted from Sebastian Junger's amazing new book, War.  The first quote is found here; the second here.

The story here is about how close Steiner came to death.  Writes Junger:
The book's back cover.
Steiner lay there unable to see or move, wondering whether the things he was hearing were true. Had he been hit in the head? Was he dead? How would he know? The fact that he could hear the men around him should count for something. After a while he could see a little bit and he sat up and looked around. The bullet had penetrated his helmet to the innermost layer and then gone tumbling off in another direction, looking for someone else to kill. (The blood on his face turned out to be lacerations from stone fragments that had hit him.) The other men glanced at Steiner in shock — most of them thought he was dead — but kept shooting because they were still getting hammered and firepower was the only way out of there. Steiner was in a daze and he just sat there with a bullet hole in his helmet, grinning. After a while he got up and started laughing. He should be dead but he wasn’t and it was the funniest thing in the world. “Get the fuck down and start returning fire!” someone yelled at him. Steiner laughed on. Others started laughing as well. Soon everyman in the platoon was howling behind their rock wall, pouring unholy amounts of firepower into the mountainsides around them

“It was to cover up how everyone was really feeling,” Mac admitted to me later.

Three Humvees drove down from the KOP to pick up Steiner, but he refused to go with them — he wanted to stay with his squad. When the platoon finally started running up the road toward Phoenix [the name of an outpost; not the Arizona city], Steiner found himself floating effortlessly ahead of the group despite carrying sixty pounds of ammo and a twenty-pound SAW [stands for Squad Automatic Weapon, a light machine gun]. It was one of the best highs he’d ever had. It lasted a day or two and then he sank like a stone.

You start getting these flashes of what could’ve been,” Steiner said. “I was lying in bed like, ‘Fuck, I almost died.’ What would my funeral have been like? What would the guys have said? Who’d have dragged me out from behind that wall?” Steiner was doing something known to military psychologists as “anxious rumination.” Some poeple are ruminators and some aren’t, and the ones who are can turn one bad incident into a lifetime of trauma.

“You can’t let yourself think about how close this shit is,” O’Byrne explained to me later. “Inches. Everything is that close. There’s just places I don’t allow my mind to go. Steiner was saying to me, ‘What if the bullet —' and I just stopped him right there, I didn’t even let him finish. I said, ‘Bit it didn’t. It didn’t.’”

October 14, 2010

Combat brings consequences

This is the second quote I've posted from Sebastian Junger's amazing new book, War.  The first quote is found here.

The sentiment here is in ways similar to the prior quote, but says some important things about what we impose on the brave soldiers we send into tough situations to fight for us.  Writes Junger:

The book's back cover.
Combat was a game that the United States had asked Second Platoon to become very good at, and once they had, the United States had put them on a hilltop without women, hot food, running water, communications with the outside world, or any kind of entertainment for over a year. Not that the men were complaining, but that sort of thing has consequences. Society can give its young men almost any job and they’ll figure how to do it. They’ll suffer for it and die for it and watch their friends die for it, but in the end, it will get done. That only means that society should be careful about what it asks for. In a very crude sense the job of young men is to undertake the work that their fathers are too old for, and the current generation of American fathers has decided that a certain six-mile-long valley in Kunar Province needs to be brought under military control. Nearly fifty American soldiers have died carrying out those orders. I’m not saying that’s a lot or a little, but the cost does need to be acknowledged. Soldiers themselves are reluctant to evaluate the costs of war (for some reason, the closer you are to combat the less inclined you are to question it), but someone must. That evaluation, ongoing and unadulterated by politics, may be the one thing a country absolutely owes the soldiers who defend its borders.

There are other costs to war as well — vaguer ones that don’t lend themselves to conventional math. One American soldier has died for every hundred yards of forward progress in the valley, but what about the survivors? … Ultimately, the problem is that they’re normal young men with normal emotional needs that have to be met within the very narrow options available on that hilltop. Young men need mentors and mentors are usually a generation or so older. That isn’t possible at Restrepo [an outpost in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan abutting Pakistan], so a twenty-two-year-old team leader effectively becomes a father figure for a nineteen-year-old private. Up at Restrepo a twenty-seven-year-old is considered an old man, an effeminate Afghan soldier is seen as a woman, and new privates are called “cherries” and virtually thought of as children. Men form friendships that are not at all sexual but contain much of the devotion and intensity of a romance. Almost every relationship that occurs in open society exists in some compressed form at Restrepo, and almost every human need from back home gets fulfilled in some truncated, jury-rigged way. The men are good at constructing what they need from what they have. They are experts at making do.

As for a sense of purpose, combat is it — the only game in town. Almost none of the things that make life feel worth living back home are present at Restrepo, so the entire range of a young man’s self-worth has to be found within the ragged choreography of a firefight. The men talk about it and dream about it and rehearse for it and analyze it afterward but never plumb its depths enough to lose interest. It’s the ultimate test, and some of the men worry they’ll never again be satisfied with a “normal life” — whatever that is — after the amount of combat they’ve been in. They worry that they may have been ruined for anything else.

October 10, 2010

War is Exciting

I'm going to post a few quotes from Sebastian Junger's amazing new book, War.  The book is highly informative and brilliantly written.  War, like the condition of being homeless, is something the public should know a lot more about.  Writes Junger:
War is a lot of things and it's useless to pretend that exciting isn't one of them. It's insanely exciting. The machinery of war and the sound it makes and the urgency of its use and the consequences of almost everything about it are the most exciting things anyone engaged in war will ever know. Soldiers discuss that fact with each other and eventually with their chaplains and their shrinks and maybe even their spouses, but the public will never hear about it. It's just not something that many people want acknowledged. War is supposed to feel bad because undeniably bad things happen in it, but for a nineteen-year-old at the working end of a .50 cal during a firefight that everryone comes out of okay, war is life multiplied by some number that no one has ever heard of. In some ways twenty minutes of combat is more life than you could scrape together in a lifetime of doing something else. Combat isn't where you might die — though that does happen — it's where you find out whether you get to keep on living. Don't underestimate the power of that revelation. Don't underestimate the things young men will wager in order to play that game one more time.