Donald Andrew Henson II

Posts Tagged ‘Democracy’

Buddha for President

In American Enlightenment, American Society, Religion and Government on April 8, 2013 at 12:00 am

Wat Po 2009

I am unequivocally opposed to an established religion in a democracy. Furthermore, I do not believe that democracy is a product of religious belief; more specifically I do not believe that the American Constitution is based on Biblical precepts. Anyone who reads the document and has any understanding of history knows that it is a product of the Enlightenment. If the God of the Bible had been the true inspiration behind it, it would have a lot more to say about eating pork, cleansing oneself from blood contamination, and not spilling one’s seed on the ground.

It goes without saying that, in my opinion, the ills of this country are not due to the fact that we have strayed from God. Getting ‘more God’ into our government would make things worse, not better. If you are not convinced, let me remind you of some examples of pious societies – Oliver Cromwell’s England, Puritan New England, Spain of the Inquisition, Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, present-day Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, David Koresh‘s Waco, Texas, and Jim Jones’s Jonestown, Guyana. If it’s God-and-guns you want, immigrate to the dozen or so countries across the globe that consistently make the ‘don’t travel here for any reason’ list, and leave this country alone. I’m sure you think that running things according to your religion would be kinder and gentler than my examples – so did the Kool-Aid sipping acolytes at Jonestown.

Are there countries that have no interest whatsoever in making their societies ‘more godly’? Yes, there are. They consist of the 20-odd countries that usually outrank the US in ‘happiest places’ and ‘best places to live’ polls that haunt the Internet. These countries, with much lower crime and poverty rates than our own, decided long, long ago that religion had no role to play in government, and their peoples are happier and healthier because of it.

Seriously, no one in the religious mainstream – measured at it’s broadest swath, from Fred Phelps to any lesbian Episcopalian pastor – is truly interested in having the government involved in our personal religious beliefs – no matter what they say to the contrary. Freedom of religion is what allows you to be as loony as you like; once you start trying to legislate morality, you get a religious practice that looks a lot more like the Church of England, and no American is interested in that, not now, not two centuries ago.

So tell your Congressman to give it up already. We all know that the vote to close down the one and only abortion clinic in the state of Mississippi sprung not from any moral conviction, but from the desire to squeeze every last vote out of the uneducated crowd, from Honey Boo-Boos’s inbred cousins to the cast of Swamp People.

However, if I were forced to choose a religion that I think would work well with our American system, I’d have to go with the teachings of the Buddha. Now, I know what you’re thinking – Westerners who get involved in Eastern mysticism are about the flakiest individuals you will ever meet. It’s hard not to think of the words ‘Buddhist’ and ‘Hippie Narcissist’ together. And the Dalai Lama is charming enough in a ten-minute interview, but I don’t think his outlook would be particularly reassuring to Wall Street. But hear me out.

First of all, Buddhism isn’t technically a religion, as it eschews the belief in a deity.This is probably why it never displaced Hinduism in India, its birthplace. In the land of thirty-five thousand gods, they would have accepted the addition of another one, but never the subtraction of them all. In fact, the Buddha considered a belief in god one of the ‘attachments’ or illusions that bring us so much misery. If your life is going to hell and your god never steps in to help you out, you add an additional heartbreak added to the one you are already experiencing. It’s devastating to have your crops destroyed by a storm; to think that your god could have stepped in but didn’t, that you’ve angered him or her in some way, that some deficiency in your worship may have indeed caused it – this is even worse.

In America, whenever a tragedy occurs, a Hurricane Katrina or a stock market crash, we get the added pleasure of a Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell, high and dry and insulated by hedge funds, telling us that we ourselves are to blame for disappointing God in some way. Or that God is trying to teach you something through your cancer. Or that the richest 1% in America own 40% of the wealth because God has decided they are good stewards – and you are not.

Getting rid of the deity would remove so many roadblocks to becoming a more rational society in America. These problems that seem impossible to solve – global climate change, gun ownership, gay marriage, etc., would all become so much easier to solve when one side couldn’t claim to have the ‘mind of God’ on their side.

Secondly, Buddhism addresses directly the most negative aspect of capitalism – suffering. Market societies, efficient as they are, produce winner and losers. In past generations, almost everyone got to win a little bit, and the losers were few. Today, the winners win big, and everyone else gets the crumbs. A lot more people are left out in the cold. Buddhism doesn’t lay a guilt trip on you for being one of the losers – it makes you realize that even the so-called winners enjoy a temporary advantage at best. Since winning and losing is all about chance, there is always hope that the wheel will turn in your favor – but in the end, we will all suffer loss, all get sick, grow old, eventually die.

Finally, the life of the Buddha fits into that American motif of privileged Americans spending their lives helping move our society in a positive directions. Siddharta Gautama began life as a prince, but decided to live an ascetic life in hope of improving humanity. Everyone knows that the rags-to-riches stories are a relic from the American past, and, unless you become a basketball player or a reality TV star, such a thing will not happen to you. We’re not interested in what the little guy has to say – let me hear about how the world works from guys like Donald Trump and Warren Buffet.  The guy with nowhere to lay his head isn’t relevant to today’s America.  From Thomas Jefferson to Mitt Romney, American politics have always been a place for the privileged to give something back to those less fortunate.

And by the way, that last paragraph was meant to be sarcastic – in case the Mitt Romney reference didn’t tip you off.

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8 Ways to Fix America

In American Economy, American Society on August 19, 2012 at 2:50 am

I just ran across an article from a year ago entitled Eight Ways to Fix Our Politics, which was posted in Newsweek and the Daily Beast. There are some excellent ideas that would get rid of the gridlock we currently have, namely –

  1. Stop letting the political parties determine how congressional districts are divided.
  2. Change the way elections are funded.
  3. Eliminate party primaries in favor of open primaries.
  4. Let the popular vote determine the outcome of elections.
  5. Change the way congressional committees are put together.
  6. Eliminate secret holds on appointees.
  7. Change or eliminate the filibuster.
  8. Eliminate the debt ceiling.

Most of these have something to do with weakening the present two-party political system, something that I am very much in favor of. Did you know that political parties are not even mentioned in our constitution? Why do they play such a big role today in our politics? It seems that the GOP and Demos are locked into an endless cycle of fighting and one-upmanship, where the goal is for the party to win – the country itself be damned. The others have to do with money arguments – and that got me thinking about some of the larger problems in politics and in the country in general.

Our capitalist economic system – when working well – is the best system the world has ever seen.  However, it does have its flaws, which have been on display the last 2-3 years. Democracy is the best political system in the world. When these two systems are working as they should, operating in a check-and-balance sort of competition, America is hard to beat. The problem is that over the last decade or more, the two systems have been involved in a destructive, incestuous make-out session, a Wall Street / Washington love-fest, in which the interests of anyone who doesn’t have power or money haven’t mattered very much.

Because of this neglect, there are a lot of things that are broken in this country, not just our politics. This got me thinking about how to fix some of the other ills we are facing as a country as well. I agree with the fixes in the Newsweek article, but I think we can do even better.

Get the money out of our political system – all of it. CNN’s Jack Cafferty reports that Congress’s wealth has increased by more than 25% during the height of our current recession. Peter Schweizer’s recent book Throw Them All Out  details how almost everyone in the legislative branch is using insider trading, cronyism, and land deals to enrich themselves at our expense. We can’t really have a democracy – and we can’t really accomplish any of the other things we need to accomplish – as long as our government servants are not looking our for our interests. Federal elections should all be federally funded – all donations or use of personal wealth should be illegal. PACs should be transparently funded. We all need to realize that a dollar and a vote are not the same thing – everyone, no matter how rich they are – has only one voice in our political forums; no one should be allowed to have thousands.

Congressional Elections are Fixed in America

(Photo credit: davemakkar)

Require that everyone vote. Australia, Belgium, Singapore, and at least two dozen other countries around the world make voting mandatory. It’s ridiculous that a country with as much international power as ours often elects its leaders without even a majority in this country participating. Both political parties are constantly trying to disqualify certain voters, or qualify certain others to their political advantage. If everyone voted, these kinds of shenanigans would come to an end, and the politicians would have to promote ideas that appeal to everyone, not just partisan wingnuts.

Do everything possible to weaken the two-party system. The Newsweek article sort of beats around the bush on this point – it’s time someone came out and said it. George Washington was very unhappy that the nation began to develop two very strong parties right from the beginning. We either need more viable political parties – or none at all. Our country is locked into a perpetual Yankees-vs-Red Sox rivalry that is destroying us. The future of our country is too important to leave it up to political gamesmanship. We’ve got to end the polarization that the parties are encouraging and figure out how to work together again to solve some of our biggest problems.

Fix our ailing infrastructure. Living in Beijing for 3 years before coming back to the US, I got used to roads with no potholes, modern bridges and superhighways, state-of-the-art trains and airports, clean, bright, modern buses that run on natural gas – and a host of other conveniences that make life in an American city downright medieval by comparison. Our business can’t compete in the coming century when our grandparents were the last ones who bothered to pay to build a new runway or port. I think it’s Thomas Friedman who said that if a person who knew nothing of history were asked to look at the infrastructures of Germany, Japan, and the US, and, based only on those observations, ascertain which country won WWII – he’d come up with the wrong answer every time.

Stop empire building / financing expansion of big oil. Many Americans may be unaware of how India became part of the British Empire. There was a joint stock company called the British East India Company that began investing in spices, tea, and other commodities in India and in other places in the Far East. The success of this company made its investors – including many members of Parliament – fabulously wealthy, and provided cheap raw materials to England’s factories. Every time there was a skirmish of some kind between the Company and the locals, the British Army would arrive to pacify the area, and turn it into a ‘protectorate’. The British government ended up colonizing all of India this way – not because there was a public discussion and decisions were made that empire would be best for the country – but because big business decided that’s the way it should be.

Our situation is the same – big oil and other industries make investments abroad that bring enormous wealth to a select few investors – and to countries like Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, and Venezuela, countries that do not share our democratic vision – and then tax dollars are spent to protect our ‘national interest’ in these areas. Why do we stick our military noses into Iraq and Afghanistan, yet ignore similarly belligerent regimes elsewhere? Oil, money, the interests of big business. It’s time we do a bit of nation building here in our own country, if you ask me.

I’ve got a few more ideas that are much more controversial, including making everyone go to public school. But it’s 3am and I have to work tomorrow, so I’ll save those for my next post later this week.

God Is Not Speaking To You

In Religion and Government, Religion and Society on June 9, 2012 at 1:17 am
English: Book of Job in Illuminated Manuscript...

God Speaking to Job – Byzantine

If you’ve stuck with me through the last couple of posts, thank you. Talking about prophecy and how God speaks in general is some pretty obtuse stuff, and it’s bound to draw some discontent from different corners.

I’ve said all that I’ve said in the last couple of posts to say this – God is not speaking to you. Whether you want to call it prophecy, God revealing his Word to you, God speaking to your heart through ‘impressions’ – what have you – there’s simply no independently verifiable method to prove what you say is true. If you say that you can verify that God has spoken to you because you can compare it to the scriptures, I have to ask how you know the scriptures are valid, or at least that your interpretation of them is the correct one. If you can only answer that you know this because God has revealed it to you in some way – then your logic is completely circular.

I know you want to think God talks to us, because we talk to him all the time. But we have to face the fact that most if not all of the ‘impressions’ that drop into our minds are simply our own thoughts. We imperil our democracy if we refuse to do so.

Deciding that your opinions are ‘God-breathed’ in some way, and that mine are just the machinations of a fallen nature undermines the idea of democracy. Our laws are to be based on what’s best for the common good, what the majority of the populace decides – not on what one group’s God wants. Saying that God is the author of your convictions is just a way of elevating your opinions – and discrediting mine.

It also makes it impossible to compromise to get anything done. Anyone who grew up in a large family knows that no one can have what they want all of the time. Everyone has to compromise from time to time for the good of the family as a whole. Democracy works the same way. If Christians get what they want all of the time, America would be a very unhappy place for people of other faiths or no faith at all.

If you feel, for example, that God told you that tax cuts for wealthy people are good for the economy, then if would be impossible for you to compromise with someone who felt differently, or to vote for someone who proposed such an idea. No amount of data or academic proof would be able to dissuade you of your opinion. Any everyone knows that when God tells you something, you dare not compromise. Who would ask you to compromise what God told you? Well, only Satan of course. So the other party must be driven by the spirit of the Antichrist.

You can see why we’re not getting much done in America these days. I lived in China and other Asian countries for just over a decade. They’re eating our lunch when it comes to building roads, airports, and other infrastructure, and they’re investing in education at ten times our rate per capita. The reasons why China is pulling ahead of us are complex, to be sure. But one reason why is that everyone believes that the only solution to their problems is themselves. Also, no one ever accuses the other political parties of being motivated by demons.

If it comforts you to think that God speaks to you about the intimate details of your life – who am I to deny you that comfort? But if I think that the problems we are facing in this country can be solved if we just all figure out how to work together – who are you to deny me and my descendants a happy and prosperous future?

Talk to God if you like – but don’t pretend that every idea that falls into your head comes from him.

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