Regarding Stallman

I once went to a Buddhist meditation workshop where the teacher pointed out that if we were there in the room, it meant that we had not attained perfection, and that we still had something to learn. It's also true that if we still believe ourselves to be here on the planet, living a separate existence, we have something to learn. And what we have to learn is basically that there is an underlying unity upon which everything depends. Our world is an illusion because our perception is false. It is false because it fails to include awareness of the unseen unity that gives life to all that we see. Including ourselves. There are many ways to express this truth, and none of them are going to do it very well, because we are attempting to express the inexpressible. When we do so, contradictions emerge - a Buddhist will say this in a certain way; an Adwaita Vedantin will say it in another way, a shaman in a third way, and to our minds they seem to be contradicting one another. When it comes down to words, there are always going to be contradictions. Words are a vehicle for our thoughts, and thought cannot capture the reality that underlies the thinker and her thoughts.

At one and the same time we are imperfect beings caught in an imperfect, illusory world and we are also perfect, because that upon which we and our world depends is perfect and indivisible. Our world is going to be populated by imperfect beings for the same reason that we ourselves are imperfect. We look at others and separate them in multiple ways. We check whether they belong to our group, whether we can trust them, whether we should admire or shun them, whether we can get something from them like knowledge, money, sanction, sexual gratification, whatever.

Somewhere among these divisions we place an Epstein or an Einstein, a Polanski or a Stallman. We decide whether, on the basis of their deeds and statements, we approve of them. Our approval rating depends on ever-changing standards. Behavior that was permissible a few years ago may not be permissible now. Some behavior was never considered permissible, true. Sometimes we can acknowledge that a person has been a great artist or programmer or teacher, but that their behavior has been reprehensible in other ways.

It is better not to elevate any person to a place that is beyond reproach. In so far as they walk the earth they carry its imperfections. At the same time, no one deserves to be demonized, because they simultaneously embody perfection. Behavior can be angelic or demonic; and can be lauded or castigated. Human beings can be vehicles for both, but not consistently. There are no demons or saints in human form, and everyone is a mixture of traits.

Because we too are not perfect, we should neither demonize nor sanctify persons. We can aspire to and praise good behaviors, and should do so, even if we sometimes fall down from them. We should call out bad action when we see it.

Stallman is not just a good programmer, but is also a clear voice drawing attention to many kinds of injustice. Most of us can only wish for his earnest vigilance in doing so. I hope he will continue to write his political notes, and will continue to read them even with the knowledge that his own behavior* is not above reproach.


*I should have written "and statements" or something similar, because the recent controversy was not about what he did, but what he said.  I have previously heard criticism of his own behavior, though nothing authoritative.  Anyway, in terms of behavior, he has now resigned from MIT and the Free Software Foundation.  The latter say that they "welcome the decision."


Coming to grips with the world in the Trump era

I don't know if anyone has figured out yet how to deal with Trump and the new era he has forced upon us.  It's questionable whether the normal state of opposition to regimes that we don't approve of is sufficient in the case of Trump. Many journalists seem to have adopted a total opposition that confronts Trump's lies with their own exaggeration, however sometimes this is necessary in the case of a leader whose worst sins are not lies but deeds.  He is a danger - no longer just a danger but effectively detrimental - to American and world democracy.  He is beginning to unravel and undermine efforts towards handling climate change, upon which our future depends.  He is damaging relationships between the U.S. and the world. He has brought in a team of tycoons with narrow interests that are unfavorable to Trump's own constituency.  He is indicating an appetite for increased military spending.  He is limiting advances in women's rights.  And there are many other dangers and uncertainties ahead.

Continue reading

The Rich Are Getting Richer, Part the Millionth | Mother Jones

It's not easy finding new and interesting ways to illustrate the growth of income inequality over the past few decades. But here are a couple of related ones. The first is from "Survival of the Richest" in the current issue of Mother Jones, and it shows how much of our total national income growth gets hoovered up by the top 1 percent during economic recoveries. The super-rich got 45 percent of total income growth during the dotcom years; 65 percent during the housing bubble years; and a stunning 95 percent during the current recovery. It's good to be rich.

via The Rich Are Getting Richer, Part the Millionth | Mother Jones.

Across conflicts

I'm sorry nowadays that I didn't see more of Pakistan, when I was there in the 1970s. I took the train up from Zahedan in southern Iran, through Baluchistan to Quetta, where I broke the journey for a night, before continuing to Lahore and the Wagah border. It would have been interesting to see Waziristan and Chitral, back in those safer times.

Now, when I read a book about Pakistan it is with the knowledge that I'll probably never set foot there again. Partly because I have too many connections with Israel, partly because visa applications to India come with pointed questions about visits to Pakistan and a few other countries.

But Pakistan interests me none the less, and when I heard about a new novel by Fatima Bhutto, I pre-ordered it. Though only finished it now. It's a fairly slim volume, but extremely well-conceived and written. It tells the story of three brothers and two women residents of the town of Mir Ali, in northern Waziristan. The storyline takes place in the space of a morning before Eid, though with many flashbacks to earlier times. It appears at the start to be a fairly routine morning for the brothers, with the one exception that they have decided to pray in different mosques, for reasons of safety. But gradually we are brought into a story of love and betrayal, desperate acts and crude compromises. Painful questions that hang over this fiercely independent border town are expressed and work themselves out through the lives of the characters.

There's much in Mir Ali that resembles Palestine, or many another area of the world that deals with occupation, and the difficult decisions it spreads before the occupied. Whereas the menfolk, realizing the impossibility of their goals, falter, only the two women in the story preserve their bravery and self-respect, even if grief, horror and broken promises have made them crazy. It's a sad tale, a hopeless reflection. Mir Ali may have been exploited and abused by outsiders, but ultimately what unravels its proud independent spirit is the desire for riches from outside: for cellphones, consumer goods, business deals and foreign study. The alternative to being co-opted is to match the enemy in ruthlessness and inhumanity. Either way, the battle is lost. Only the green pine-fragrant forests surrounding the town, themselves rustling with cells of violent jihadists, offer any intimation of integrity.