A Philosopher Looks at the Syrian Refugee Issue

One of my favorite blogs is Justin Smith. He’s always worth reading but this is particularly good.

One of the memes circling around the French Internet shows the mayor of the town of Roanne telling a huddled group of refugees that they cannot stay, since they are not Christian. “Neither are you,” is the reply.

Yes, some people are so ignorant as to believe that all Syrians are Muslims, but the most relevant clarification is not that some are not, but that that is irrelevant to the refugee crisis.

At the popular level in Europe, there is both dispiriting xenophobia and its opposite, a seemingly unprecedented preparedness to welcome the refugees and to take responsibility for their well-being. State officials have so far tended to play to the interests of the xenophobes, mostly not by expressing outward xenophobia (with plenty of exceptions of course, as with the mayor of Roanne, or with Hungarian president Viktor Orbán), but by classic buck-passing, insisting that the crisis is someone else’s problem. This is particularly the case for the poorer countries of the EU to its south and east, which are of course also the countries that are so placed as to first receive the refugees travelling by land (and, more perilously, by water). The absence of any obvious authority, either at the union-wide level or in each individual member state, reveals, like no other situation has since the EU’s expansion to include former Soviet Bloc states, that transnational body’s utter impotence and irrelevance.

American liberals and progressives love to fawn over the great liberal democracies of northern Europe with their advanced welfare states and their commitment to fair distribution of resources to all citizens. Yet as long as these societies continue to adhere to a sharp political and moral distinction between citizens and outsiders, between those who are in the system and those who are outside of it, what they have accomplished is scarcely any more worthy of praise than the sort of ‘socialism’ we see practiced within major corporations. European social democracies that extend medical care and education to everyone who has theirpapers in order, while expelling irregular migrants in nighttime raids and strong-armed police operations, are not truly egalitarian societies, but protection rackets. The extent that European citizens are today, en masse, resisting this arbitrary distinction between citizen and non-citizen, in order to come to the direct aid of the Syrian refugees, is precisely the extent to which Europe is living up to its claim to be Christian.

Populism for the coming darkness

   Somewhere in cyberland, I recently saw an article that the rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump reflect the fact that a large part of the population recognizes that the wheels have come off our society and its political processes. This should not come as a surprise to anyone paying attention to the faltering of America and the world in general. Both Bernie and Donald are essentially populists – they just disagree about causes and cures.
   One type of populism is based on recognition of one’s humanity and the humanity of others, a brotherhood-of-Man feeling. The other type is based on recognizing only one’s own self and group. For one, power means the ability to benefit everyone. Fo the other, it means the ability to benefit one’s self. One type founded the utopian communities in the 1800s; suffered and died for other peoples’ rights, safety and quality of life; union organizers, civil rights supporters, etc. And National Socialism was a populist movement of the second type. Continue reading

Life 2.0

   
Like everyone, my life has seen multiple transitions from one stage to another. My recent experiences seem to have imparted a flavor somewhat different from previous changes, in that for the first time, the changes are physical rather than intellectual or emotional. It got me thinking back about what Willie Nelson called:
      Running through the changes
      Going through the stages
      Coming round the corners in my life.

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Connections and connections and connections

Wise Old Indian says:
(How come we don’t have sayings of old Drunk Uncle Billy Bearpaw?)
  A man must discover who he is.
  A man must discover where he comes from.
  A man must discover why he’s here.

   I’m still working on #1, have a growing understanding of #2 and have at least discovered #3.
I’m here to learn and appreciate.

   When I was growing up in rural Colorado, I didn’t feel much connection with my contemporaries. For the most part, they prided themselves on being anti-intellectual, clung tightly to their ignorance and bullied anyone the least bit different or smaller. I was quite small for my age until my high school ‘growth spurt’ & was the teacher’s pet, so I came in for a lot of nastiness. Eventually, I learned to look out for myself, becoming a good boxer and wrestler who could think and act faster than the assholes, so they learned to leave me alone. That did not suddenly open the door to socialization and while I’m not anti-social, I decidedly failed to develop the usual social skills of teenagers. Continue reading

Dreams….?

   I’m with a group of hang-glider pilots bound for the top of a cliff on some island in Polynesia. Looks a lot like Diamond Head in Hawaii. As we’re schlepping our gear, we’re joined by a group of ‘natives’. No idea who they are and even the locals don’t seem to speak their language nor do they speak English. They range from mid-life to pre-teen. All have painted faces a la  Melanesians. Each has the same particular symbol painted on his cheek (no females seem to be in the crowd). As we start up the back of the cliff, they drop back and watch. One smiles and we exchange thumbs-up.
   We all set up and launch. I find a thermal and am soon sitting about 3500′ above the beach. Normally, one kind of ‘sloshes around’ in a thermal to ‘feel out’ the configuration and find maximum lift, then ‘cores the thermal’, ascending in ever-rising circles. Instead, I decided to trace in the air the pattern I saw painted on the cheeks of the natives.
   Wham! I am instantly lifted to about 20,000 in a matter of seconds. Aside from the thin air and extreme cold, it scares the living shit out of me (almost literally). I think, “Hey, if you’re looking for my limits, you just exceeded them about 15000-feet ago”. It – whatever IT is – relented and stopped the elevator. I cranked the kite 90° vertical and dropped like a rock until I got back down to about 5000 feet. Catching my breath, I headed for the tip of the island, which had a small fishing shack and bar. Figured I deserved a beer. Once I started descending, the natives had followed my progress in crowds, VERY excited. I was tired, still trembling. I landed the glider and collapsed, gasping for breath, then walked over to the shack and was handed a beer.
   The natives talked excitedly to an old man sitting aside, watching the world go by. He caught my eye and motioned to come sit beside him. I plopped myself down and offered him a swig. He sipped a bit of beer, obviously as a gesture of courtesy. This man had no paint on his face, but I saw the mysterious symbol on his upper left chest. He leaned back and looked intently at me, then called out to someone in a language I cannot identify – and I’m a linguist. A woman came up bearing a black goo. He painted the symbol on my upper left chest, to match his decoration. A second woman provided a paste which he plastered over the symbol. By signs, he indicated I was not to wash off the paste until after 5 days.
   That symbol, which I cannot identify and will never forget does not appear on my body. But if there’s something deeper than the bone, flesh and skin that I’m familiar with, the symbol is there for all to see who know how to look deeper.
   I think of the Lakota Sioux blessing/farewell “Mitake Oyasin”. It literally means ‘All My Relations” but the idiomatic meaning is “We Are All Related”. I can’t really say what the native symbol means, but it connects me to every human on earth. And probably all who have ever lived or will live; and probably all living things since Day One. I am blood-brother to the first bug oozing out of the primordial slime; and to the Dalai Lama; to you and probably to the rocks that lie underfoot.

   We are born alone. We die alone. In between, we can only learn to appreciate life – and each other.
The late Richie Havens sang;
  We are all alone
  Each one his own
  We are all alone… together.

With all that solitude, remember to be Alone    Together

Viewing Life Differently

  For reasons of no particular interest here, a perfect storm of conditions recently caused my first-ever COPD flare-up and subsequent five-day hospital stay, the only time in 77 years I’ve been in for more than same-day surgery. The process left me somewhat chastened and realizing that using good genes as an excuse to ignore my health was probably not a viable long-term option. I will therefore have to take seriously the task of regaining and preserving as much as possible of my health going forward.

  The process also left me with some memorable experiences which I will chronicle here, in case anyone’s interested.
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