Category Archives: Daily Life

Applying the Principles of Aikido to Combat Terrorismby Steve Kanney

First let us look at the enemy, so to speak. I heard of a story on a Muslim talk show where a 3 year old child was interviewed. The subject was how the child felt about Jews. While you might expect the interviewer to be objective and the child fairly normal, instead the child was clearly brainwashed and the interviewer helped complete the child’s thoughts in the malevolent form expected by the audience. What was truly remarkable was the mundane manner in which a 3 year old child spouted off hateful comments towards the Jews as if self evidently true. In some ways it was reminiscent of the trial of Eichmann, the Nazi torturer who sat calmly by as witnesses testified to his atrocities. When asked if it was true, he remarked in a matter of fact manner that he was just following orders. In fact, after the Holocaust, social scientists engaged in substantial research finding that the majority of average people would harm or even risk accidentally killing innocent people if they were ordered to do so by an authority figure. They did not lose their sense of ethics, but suspended it in favor of a perceived authority figure.

With this underpinning, mischievous individuals within the Islam whose view of the world is distorted  manipulate people to create a narrow view or oversimplification of their conflict with the west by echoing historical conflicts such as the Crusades. These individuals propagate anger which is based upon a distortion of reality. Then when their distortion of reality takes on a life of its own, suddenly it generates more anger. This situation is disastrous. When we look at the broad population of people willing to hate and kill Americans from the Muslim world, we look at their “training” and the traditions of hatred spanning centuries, solving the problem is clearly daunting.

As the source of the problem, we can look to the poverty and exploitation of the Arab world. Certain jealousies are developed and hatred directed to us, as we do have the responsibility for exploitation to acquire oil and have benefitted economically. Further, a certain rigidity in thinking about religion is an additional factor. Perhaps the view that there can only be one Allah, and the existence of a multi-religious society such as America is a threat to this view. This factor really highlights a lack of education on their own religion, as Islam itself is more open to people of other faiths and abhors violence. Ultimately, these factors are combined with enormous hatred, strong willpower and determination leading to suicide bombing.

The problem is clearly long term in nature. So adopting a short term solution will not address the underlying cause. Short term solutions are very important – we need to patrol our borders and try to stop terrorist acts in any manner we can. But without addressing the underlying long run causes, for every Osama bin Laden we kill, we can expect 3 more to pop up.

The long term solution needs to address the education, poverty and oppression of the Arab people. Rather than separating them from us, we need to look at all of humanity as one family. We need to view the world in pluralistic form and help each group to find the peace and happiness we all seek in our lives. Different approaches will certainly apply to different populations, but we all aspire to the same goals. In the Arab world, the common man on the street has been unjustly treated by their governments in many cases. In our relentless drive to acquire material possessions, we traded oil for the well being of our Arab brothers and sisters. Many of these governments were replaced by other oppressive forms, but the man on the street still blames us to some degree. We need to take personal responsibility to improve the lives of these people, both individually and through our government.

We also need to work towards improving their education. While education may include technical knowledge which will enable them to elevate their lifestyle through better jobs, education of the heart is also included. Fortunately many Arabs already have a natural affinity for the Muslim faith, which when properly practiced includes ethics, compassion, nonviolent responses to problems, alleviates hatred and promotes peace.

When we consider a large swath of the Arab population as having a distorted and oversimplified view, we might consider that such a long term plan would not work. Many “Soviet citizens” still march to their death in support of Lenin and hating the west. In fact, people who have been brainwashed may never inspect the assumptions underlying their “training.” That said, if we educate the young and as many of the elderly as will accept new information, and then we take away the reasons the Arab world may hate the west by working to eliminate their poverty and oppression, long run results will clearly be improved. We will cut off the new supply of potential suicide bombers, and the current batch is limited. Over time our risk of attack will decline and eventually come to an end.

While it may be difficult to embark of such a program of education and improvement in social conditions in the Arab world, we need to consider the alternative should we wish to end terrorism. The short answer is we really don’t have any. The short term patchwork of preventing attacks cannot work on its own as more suicide bombers are born every day. The Arabs in question suffer from a distorted view of the source of their own misery which is used to promote anger. Only by communicating with them on the level of their perceived misery, that is ending their poverty and oppression, can we challenge at least their determination if not the underlying view itself. Educating the mind to become more open, flexible and ethical further undermines their view. We must prioritize the needs of these people above our own relentless pursuit of material gain or suffer continued risk of violent attacks.

Another question that may arise from this discussion is whether hatred is learned or taught. The answer is actually both. A mind in a peaceful state does not move. There is no greed or hatred. On a fundamental level we can think of the notion we have of ourselves, which is inherent at birth. Greed represents pulling towards oneself things we believe will make us happy. Hatred represents pushing away the opposite. An infant definitely has both. As we learn more about our world we may experiment and find that relinquishing both the pushing and pulling allows a greater sense of peace to emerge. With sufficient quiet on our part, we may inspect our underlying assumptions about who we are and whether the objects we believe will cause happiness or misery actually do what we think. We may enter a world without distortion. Even someone who is brainwashed (i.e. taught to hate) can get tired of the lack of peace and happiness found from hatred and experiment to find greater peace. Eliminating these irrational emotions will result in a more peaceful and happier existence in every human being who ventures into this experiment.

So while we may fear that learned hatred can never be reversed or that hatred is inherent to our existence, we all have the tools to eliminate hatred and find a greater sense of peace within ourselves. The simple fact that all paths to happiness lead away from hatred can inspire some confidence in us that a long term plan such as this can work. By removing the superficial source of hatred through education and improved economic/social environment, even those brainwashed may find themselves freer to inspect whether their “training” leads to happiness or misery. Suicide bombing is quite an extreme event. We do have sociological studies that suggest the majority of people are willing to risk killing someone else if ordered by an authority figure and no penalty is present. How many would be willing to kill themselves when they have a comfortable life and exist in a more pluralistic/educated culture? People born into a culture of hatred spanning centuries can learn and the cycle can end, but it won’t happen overnight.

 

Global Community/Global Challenges Part I by Steve Kanney

Before taking a close look at the global community, we should first consider how we can best work with our challenges. We know that  the world has grown smaller. We no longer view governments by nation, but by blocks of nations. Industry spawned the truly global corporation and communication around the world via the internet is virtually instantaneous. As the world approaches a population of 7 billion people, we are being drawn together with constraints on natural resources as well as food and water, a crisis of pollution and the extinction of one after another species.Previously we tended to look at our environment as us vs them, whether the us is just oneself, one’s family, friends, nation, etc. The question we face now is whether this approach will enable the survival of the human race in the face of such challenges and worldwide interdependence. Would intelligent self interest suggest we continue with business as usual, or does our survival mandate we rather take responsibility to feed and cloth everyone without discriminating the clan to which one belongs? Common sense would dictate that the only way we will be able to deal with our challenges at this point is if everyone works together to take responsibility to solve problems faced globally rather than their individual communities.

We are all human and we are all equal. We may be different, some educated and some not, rich or poor, belonging to various religious traditions or ideologies etc. But we are all human and we all have the same wish – to be happy. And no one’s right to happiness supercedes the rights of anyone else.  With the shrinking of the world and increased interdependence, whatever we do will affect people across the globe. Our challenges are great enough that we need nothing but the best form of self interest – the most efficient form. Each civilization needs peace and prosperity to be stable and not act destructively through pollution or other means to harm the planet. The only way we can stabilize these societies is to insure their basic needs for survival are met at a minimum, even if they do not belong to our community. So the best form of self interest here is altruism, and we need it in larger doses than ever. We need to take universal responsibility to create a positive world for all human kind irrespective of the previous borders we thought important.

So we need to look to altruism as the real solution – just trying to get along is not enough. We need to develop it actively, flooding our environment in a positive manner. From this mind comes other positive qualities such as tolerance, forgiveness, confidence, etc. We can take bad situations and transform them into positive ones. The need for altruism is not limited only to those in the particular helping fields such as psychology or social work, etc. It is the responsibility of everyone in all walks of life. Then when critical conflicts arise, through the altruistic mind the impasse can be broken and more serious damage averted.

If we compare ourselves to various animals, such as wolves or bees, they work well in harmony with each other and take care of the group. Yet when we live in large cities, we feel more alone than ever. While we have made great strides forward in improving our lifestyles, it seems an over emphasis on the material aspects of life have removed us from the source of happiness and the ability to solve our more serious problems as they arise. We need to develop a genuine sense of responsibility for all of humanity and only  compassion, a spontaneous feeling of empathy and warm heartedness towards others, will allow us to cross the bridge and truly act on behalf of the people with whom we share this planet.

Next we will look more specifically at how to apply these ideas to solve the problems we face globally.

 

On Power by Steve Kanney

Let’s look at power for a moment. Power in the animal world may come mainly from physical strength. But as humans, as soon as we emphasized intelligence, physical power became obsolete. In the context of human existance, we will look at two types of power – authentic and temporal. Consider for example Stalin and Mohatma Gandhi.Which of these two individuals is respected and admired to this day? Both developed a mass of followers. Stalin accumulated power first through ideals and used the power for personal gain, which was destructive to the people he lead. He retained the power through violence and intimidation. But in the context of history how long did his power last? How many people were lead by his example and continued the direction he set even today? History tells us that he was broadly disliked internationally, but even more so his reputation was badly tarnished among his own people.

Gandhi, on the other hand, accumulated followers by peacefully bringing the attention of the world to great injustices and worked to benefit his followers. In reality, by short circuiting the injustices being done, he also stopped the disturbances created in the minds of the people inflicting harm to the Indian people. Everyone respected Gandhi, listened to his advice and supported him. In this way the energy of many people were channeled through him and he was able to overhaul the government of a major world power without any army. History here treats him as someone beloved by his own people and revered for the enormous task he undertook successfully. He is even respected in Britain. This power was more authentic and long lasting.

In our society many who have acquired power have done so through politics or success in business. Our first reaction may be automatic admiration for names such as Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet or Ronald Reagan. But these leaders are subject to the same criteria as Stalin and Gandhi in evaluating the exercise of their power.  In fact, leaders must be careful particularly about how they exercise their power, as their position allows them to affect far more people than those with little power. If they allow destructive activities, the results will not harm one or two people, but many more. Consider the head of Exxon who put off addressing global warming resulting from fuel consumption. They wanted to increase profits, but the resultant destruction to the environment now threatens far more damage than their profits can cure. Now they and their families must live in this world at greater physical risk, so they did not escape the consequences of their actions. To the extent you make destructive decisions as a powerful person, your consequences will be larger. For this reason, a sincere aspiration to develop authentic power versus temporal power is critical for those who attain leadership positions.

To insure proper use of their power by leaders in our political system, the structure attempts a healthy approach to diffuse absolute power in this country, preventing the Stalins of the world from gaining control. Distributing authority among 3 branches of government, frequent elections and freedom of the press all act to bring transparency and responsibility on the part of politicians towards those they serve. It is important not only for politicians to keep a close eye on their motivations to insure they sincerely serve the people properly, but also members of the press. Any dilution in the sincerity on the part of these groups will certainly lead to problems of the ilk described above. The protections we have against abuse of power in this country are good, but if not implemented with sincerity in our society, we may need something more.

On Money by Steve Kanney

Money is an important aspect of our society that lubricates the wheels of commerce. Looking at the history of barter and the gold standard, fiat currency is clearly better. In this sense money is undeniably a good thing. But our culture revolves around the accumulation of money, so how important should we view it in the whole scheme of life and why?Well, in Aikido we seek an ultimate sort of happiness not only for ourselves, but all beings. In that process we also need to produce a more temporal sense of happiness. For temporal happiness we need peace of mind, good health, wholesome friends and then money – in that order. Peace of mind is key. If you had lots of money, no peace of mind, no friends and poor health, chances are you would not be very happy. But the person with peace of mind who is poor, with few friends and poor health would at least have a fighting chance to find some moments of happiness. In fact, with peace of mind they might improve their health with lower stress and also find some decent friends. But the person with only money and no peace would be less likely to work their way out of their problems. Even in the west we say you can’t buy happiness, or friends and good health for that matter either.Despite the tertiary importance of money in producing happiness, in the west it takes on a central role in our lives. If our GDP growth rates stagnate, we panic. But look at the people starving in Africa. They don’t even know what a GDP growth rate is!? They just want enough food to make it through another day.  This huge divergence between the wealthy and poor, not only among countries but within them as well, is a serious problem on a global level This gap should inform our views on money. Let’s take a closer look.

The poor countries have problems with low levels of education, population explosion (related to poorly educated women), and the elite often take the majority of the country’s assets. Then should they ever climb out of their abject poverty (think China & India), their new found wealth would place the world’s natural resources under unbearable stress.

In the western world, we enjoy high standards of living (although the rift between wealthy and poor has reached alarming levels) and better education. At the same time we absorb a disproportionate share of the world’s natural resources to support our lifestyle. Again, we spend our time worrying about the rate at which our GDP grows while a large portion of mankind worries about starving.

Low levels of education and dire circumstances in the poor countries act as contributing factors to terrorism in the west. We should not be surprised, as historically the result of a wide rift between rich and poor is typically political instability, of which terrorism is a form. Should everyone in China and India start driving a car, we will quickly find our lifestyles called into serious question as well. Our myopic concerns about individual nation’s GDP growth need to take a back seat to more pressing matters. In the west we cannot divorce ourselves from the poverty of the remainder of the world.

We tend to bring money into the center of our lives as we view it as having some sort of lock on the ability to produce happiness. As we have seen above, nothing could be further from the truth. We need to look at money as a practical tool; the view that it can do more only serves to distort our reaction to the world around us. We need to look at the status of the human race and spend our time figuring out real solutions to population explosion, starvation, resource allocation and low levels of education, all symptoms of the gulf between rich and poor. Then our energies and resources will be properly balanced and therefore allocated in the most moral fashion. Next topic is power…

The State of the World: The Legal System by Steve Kanney

In this blog we will take an approach that is more casual and looks to relate Aikido principles to our experience in daily life. We will start out observing the state of our world and comparing it to the principles of Aikido noting the differences. Later we will move into more practical individual problems in daily life.We will start with the legal system.

The point of the legal system is to promote the positive use of human activity. Totalitarian systems (e.g. communist) that provide unrestricted power to one ruler generally tend violate human nature. If we look at our history in the west, democracy as a form of protection for human rights began in Greek and Roman times. It was expanded in Europe after the dark ages and we added religious tolerance here in the US. So while our right to life (one named function of Aikido – see philosophy blog), liberty (another benefit of Aikido) and the pursuit of happiness (the other named function of Aikido – see philosophy blog) are clearly on track, the democratic systems may also leave some room for improvement.

Let’s step outside the box a little bit. While protecting human rights is obviously good, what about the protecting the rights of animals and the environment? Pollution in the industrialized society has been virtually unrestrained for 100 years and we are on the verge of destroying our own ability to live safely on the planet. Humans are not the only ones who suffered as a result. No one was imprisoned or penalized in any way for these transgressions against the environment.

What about animals? Obviously, we are somewhat at odds with the interests of animals in that some humans cannot survive on a vegetarian diet for health reasons. I suspect many animals may not feel our eating them conforms to their basic rights and we might have difficulty disagreeing. But if you look at the structure of farming, you will find we eat far more meat than necessary and the impact on the environment is potentially serious. Also, before we kill animals for food, our farms can be violently abusive towards them, again practically without penalty. We have animals work for us and are abusive as well.

The other point to consider is the implementation of these laws. Think about Bill Clinton’s response to the question of whether he had sex with Monica Lewinsky. Another example is a whistle blower who worked at Lehman Brothers and filed a complaint about their shady accounting practices. He was fired for his action, while the firm boldly misrepresented their financial condition, and the perpetrators of this act still were not brought to justice even after the demise of the firm. People in power, politicians and business leaders, seem to be subject to a different set of laws than the rest of society.

The purpose of the legal system is to inspire basic humanitarian values, and in our society many laws do work quite well. But to move more in alignment with Aikido principles, the laws should be applied consistently and some consideration for the rights of animals and the environment should be included as well. Next we move on to money and power…