Browsing Posts published by cholte

I am coming here to lay out a vision for peace. This vision is an attainable vision, a realistic vision, but also requires all the stakeholders in the Middle East to be honest with one another, with themselves, and make a commitment to work together with sincerity and courage. That is always harder than it seems when people are giving speeches.

The Speech I wish I could hear:

“Israel cannot endure at war with its neighbors forever. It cannot endure as a minority entity, forever, except as part of a confederated existence with its neihbors. Sooner or later it will need help. It’s neighbors currently need its help. Brothers cannot call themselves children of a one Great God if they treat one another with hatred and disrespect. When that God singles out an individual or a group it is to hold it to higher standards, not lesser ones. This cannot endure.”


“Therefore a real settlement is needed, a peace treaty between hearts and minds and not merely on paper or between governments. This requires that all parties recognize that they are contributing to the suffering of one another, and that they are suffering needlessly. There is no need for Palestinians to be stuck in enclaves within the historical territory of Palestine, Israel, Canaan, and Phoenicia. But there is also no sense to Jews being excluded from Moslem lands or being unable to build homes here and there.”

Written 2011/03/16

The Value of International Trade written 2011/04/22

People have to be able to trade surplus goods or goods produced specifically for trade, for things they marginally value more. Trade with South America for Apples, if the cost of transportation makes it worth it, represents relative value, assuming there is no ability to keep apples fresh all winter. Trade itself is a relative value. We need it to enhance our comfort and safety. It is a better way to adjudicate conflict over scarce goods than warfare.

Differences in resources are a reflection of political power, and differences in political power are a reflection of differences in resources. Ownership at root is power. Rule is ownership. It is the ability to measure out (rule) boundaries and enforce them. So when people can’t eat, sleep, or survive, it is a political matter as well as an economic one. There is no credible distinction between economic and political power except that economic power reflects possession while political power drives possession. The many kinds of power are usually exchangeable. Policy, Policing, Economics, Sociology, as well as law and government, are all about politics. Politics is about getting things done which is about organizing human affairs. It is only a bad word when people reify it and don’t understand it.

A morally disciplined alternative to violence

In the past survival has often meant enslavement and oppression. We can do better than that. Conflict will not be removed by applying logic to moral principles or practicing moral discipline, but some kind of trade off, some kind of trade can be worked out. It is in this arena that principled logic becomes valuable. By applying logic to moral principles, or practicing moral discipline, people can organize their actions so that those who need things can find something to trade for their survival.

Principled reasoning means that one works with established principles to ensure that they are applied factually, equitably, and logically. It is the basis of justice. People who don’t believe in social justice (such as Glen Beck admitted when debating Madison just before his rally last summer) don’t believe in applying principled reasoning to adjudicating differences. They might as well be on the side of tyranny.

Using Markets to Establish participation.

Usually when Free Market advocates advocate for “competition” they aren’t talking about warfare or oppression so much as finding ways to leverage innovation and comparative advantage to enable people to participate in trading instead of fighting. What they are advocating for is the ability of everyone to participate in markets on a somewhat equal basis.

The alternative to competition as war is to intentionally bring people into markets. This is the idea behind the “fair trade” movement. If people can establish trade goods, establish ownership over their property (either through purchase or through being allowed to claim for possessions), then they can have the assets necessary to trade for things they need that may not be locally available. If they can do that, the urge to bomb, maim, kill, kidnap or steal can be minimized. This reduces risk for everybody and so would be worth doing even if it didn’t increase the size of the overall relative human pie — but it does that too.

Pulling down the false God of Competition

When people make “competition” a God they usually wind up talking in terms of war. They don’t want Mexicans and Latin Americans coming to the USA because they fear the competition. Or they fear competition from China on economic goods. Or they’ll claim that Chinese goods are superior to American Goods and they welcome competition because it makes them wealthier. It was a truth when Mao and Lenin said that Capitalists would sell their enemies the shovels with which to bury them. Anything for a quick buck.

A little history

When the British moved into their economic imperial mode they limited the ability of their colonies to compete with workers in Britain. One unforeseen consequence of this is that many of the colonials ended up moving to Britain, but the other consequence was that their colonies were basically run on an organized kleptocratic model that amounted to war by other terminology. The only comparative advantage available to colonials was as a source for raw materials. The British stripped out the wealth producing (and thus real wealth) of their colonies by neo-colonial methods in China [with help from the rest of us] and by open colonial oppression in their other colonies. In the process they opened themselves to imports from Britain, enriched a few folks at the top, and were able to put a benevolent face on what was basically a parasitical empire.

But asset stripping, kleptocracy, and monopoly are never long term beneficient policies as there are real benefits to local people being able to participate in the world-wide economy and manufacture and innovate themselves a place in international markets. Aristocracies by their very nature oppress people, but local aristocrats are created by the very process of creating imperial aristocracies, and so Comercial imperialism as practiced by the ancients, by Athens, Venice, and Britain, is self limiting. Eventually the locals can’t afford to buy goods made in the central country and either start making them themselves, or become a burden on the country oppressing them, which usually can’t understand that it created all the poor people coming over its borders or angry at them. The common folks in the Imperial power usually don’t benefit from it and they get tired of it too.

Neo-Colonialism enlists help from local elites in doing the same thing to just about everybody but promises to be a longer lasting phenomenom because it enlists local powers to oppress and disguises its oppression under hypocritical practices of principles such as “free trade” or “international order.”

An Alternative

In the long run both colonialism and neo-colonialism are limited phenomena, unstable phenomena, and detrimental, degrading to human survival.

What makes an international system work is limited competition based on innovation and genuine comparative advantage combined with improvements that “float everyone’s boat” rather than amount to war by another name.

To get there we need economic, political and legal systems that recognize the importance of the common good and that enable people to acquire property, acquire tools, trade goods and services, and then trade those goods and services for their needs. Such a system cannot be based purely on competition because that simply invites warfare. It cannot be based on forcible distribution or redistribution except to the extent that any legal system needs to enforce rules. Ayn Rand was right to make that point. What she didn’t seem to be willing to recognize is that capitalism is a forcible system as much as communism was. (She also was historically and fact challenged but what the hay).

Principles of a Viable Market

To do that we have to recognize that market creation is a governing function. That innovation and creativity have to be rewarded by policy and economic allocation. And that in order to have a market society that works for everybody, everybody must be able to trade something of value. When the participants are equally free to participate in transactions — that is a free market.

These require laws. Workers can only exchange labor for a middle class life if they have the opportunity to make a living wage. Entrepreneurs can only innovate if they have access to capital. The wealthy will get wealthier without doing much; as long as they can practice usury and can govern other People’s money. They need to be taxed and regulated. Producers need some stability to stay in markets. Vendors as well. There have to be agreeable limits for everybody involved, else people turn competition into war.

For the past 10 years I’ve been more into studying Judaism than my old Buddhism. Not that I’ve stopped studying Buddhism, it is just that the subject matter expanded and my old critique of religion in general “The Three powerful enemies” kept expanding until I realized it was a universal critique.

The Three Powerful Enemies Are Alive and Well

Recent events reminded me that the three powerful enemies are alive and well. Perverse, ambitious, attention seeking religious “leaders” still like to pretend that they are even-minded, high minded, or caring individuals and pretend to be offering objective facts, or inciteful critiques, or panaceas for people’s ills; when in fact all they are doing is trying to figure out a way to make cents from people’s dollars. I’ve been trying to make sense of it all, but it really makes sense now. How can I fault a person for needing a business model for his religious beliefs. After all the traditional idea behind the buddhist monk was that he’d give away his dharma to followers, and the followers would in turn give him something to eat. The issue becomes when he has nothing to give, or what he gives isn’t very good — does he or she still deserve to be fed? Well, for most of us it’s “don’t quit your day job.” But you can’t fault people for trying.

Learning from Our Own Suffering

The Jews do that part right. Christians make people priests and sometimes make them pretend they are holy people, when all they really should be is ministers to the church and community. The past month I’ve learned more about what it means to be a “minister.” Somebody has to bury the bodies and console the bereaved when people die, and that is the appropriate job for priests [as a classification] even as much as it is for them to marry young folks, and celebrate birthdays, parties and some kinds of holidays. Churches, Synagogues, Community Centers, mosques, they are there to form communities around. And Rituals are there to help people observe what is important to them. When they don’t do that they are empty things like an old pot whose plant died long ago. Even if a ritual puts people to sleep it is comforting because it is done with people.

Greatness is in Humaneness

And a great person is great because of the greatness of things he does. Which to me is things like helping the sick, helping the dying, and comforting the bereaved. The rest is all adornment. Does the Divine really care how people imagine it?

Sages Agnostic

I stopped being a Christian largely because of a debate I had with G-d. I’d say “where are you G-d?” What have you done for the people I care about? What are these miracles you talk about? I haven’t seen a burning Bush, and you don’t answer my questions.” Still, the divine tugs at me. At times I hear powerful arguments that arise from within. I am no sage. I am a common mortal. I don’t know if it is God, the divine within, the ineffable one, my subconscious. There is something to the concept. Just, God is not someone I can own, manage, or even prove exists. I’d be a “pretend” human being if I argued atheism or theism. I hope Universe is, or will be, awake.

Three Powerful Enemies as a Universal

But the truth of Nichiren’s warnings about the three Powerful enemies are greater than any particular religion:

“Miao-lo summarizes these three as follows:

  1. “The arrogance and presumption of lay people” or “arrogant lay people; a reference to those ignorant of Buddhism who curse and speak ill of the practitioners of the Lotus Sutra and attack them with swords and staves.”
  2. “The arrogance and presumption of members of the Buddhist clergy” or arrogant priests. ”These are priests with perverse wisdom and hearts that are fawning and crooked who, though failing to understand Buddhism, boast they have attained the Buddhist truth and slander the sutra’s practitioners.“
  3. “The arrogance and presumption of those who pretend to be sages” or arrogant false sages. “This third category is described as priests who pretend to be sages and who are revered as such, but when encountering the practitioners of the Lotus Sutra become fearful of losing fame or profit and induce secular authorities to persecute them.
  4. In On “The Words and Phrases,” Miao-lo states,

    “Of these three, the first can be endured. The second exceeds the first, and the third is the most formidable of all. This is because the second and third ones are increasingly harder to recognize for what they really are.”

    The thing I learned from Buddhism is that these are not merely “external enemies” but internal ones to pretty much any religious, political or even philosophical endeaver. Arrogance and presumption are a function of fundamental delusion and illusion, and are present in any of us potential. The only real guard against these enemies, is assiduous study, practice and validation of one’s spiritual behavior. Even real Sages, can act as false sages. That was my lesson learned. Worse, arrogant priests and lay leaders can distort what an actual sage said and turn it into something else, either by misquoting, misattribution, the arrogance of editors, or the simple “doctor play” of oral transitions. I learned that reading on T’ien-t’ai Buddhism and Buddhist history. The very effort to qualify the issue as being “false sages” is an attempt to distance the issue from the sources translating the writings.

    First written on 10/29/2011, original sources were in my own saved materials.

    Post Script, since I started this, the Gakkai and Nichiren Shoshu, probably deeply embarrassed by the ugliness their dispute showed, came to a resolution of their fight and decided to act like it never happened. I’m pleased to see this. But it was a display of the three powerful enemies at work.

    The horrible lesson is that even genuine sages and sincere scholars, can mislead people and push them away from achieving enlightenment. It is up to us individually to find our own way, yet we need wise and enlightened sources, because illusion and delusion, illogic and bad logic, are all over. This website is aptly named “Fraught With Peril” because reaching enlightenment is a fraught with peril enterprise.