Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Needs Response: Comment Please

A casual blog site may seem an unlikely place for philosophical discussion, but since my interests grow out of philosophy as well as political reality, I can’t resist. Besides, it’s summer and we can do with some musing. Writing each month about the problems in Gaza and Arab Palestine draws fire usually three or four fold and, then, there are the Christian Zionists who astound me in their kill and destroy mentality that belies what I know about Christ’s philosophy of love and brother/sisterly care for our neighbors, defined as everyone, not just those in our own tribe. It makes sense, then, to examine my own background, an occasion for which occurred when my husband brought home a book written in 1940 by Arthur H. Compton, a scientist-Christian of his era, who did much to shape the college I eventually attended, The College of Wooster in Ohio. Compton’s book, “The Human Meaning of Science,” is interesting because of behaviors and evils Compton could, then, point to (American-Indian Wars, Leopold’s Congo, Germany’s audacity and Japan’s Nanking massacre) as examples of using hatred to unify one group of power seekers: those who chose to use destruction for gain and ethnic superiority by cultivating blame and loathing of an easily identified group. Of course, Compton couldn’t have known about Viet Nam or Israel/Palestine or Iraq and Iran, but his message, vintage as it is, must have influenced the mindfulness expressed through classes at Wooster which, evidently, helped determine my world view. Compton’s theses written in 1940 are echoed today.

Reading along, words and thoughts jumped out at me. “To the member of a tribe which lives as an organized unit, only rights within this group are of importance [Israel, the US, Saudi Arabia and, of course, many others come to mind]. If a nation is self-sufficient, it may reasonably teach that promotion of the nation’s growth is the highest good. But when the world becomes a closely co-ordinated unit, it is clear that nothing less than the welfare of all mankind is an adequate objective for life. The rights of the individual must be interpreted in light of this great goal.”

I am pretty sure Arthur Compton wouldn’t have used the words “globalization,” “international wage legislation” or “terrorism” to describe individual behavior, but not the ways of nations. He knew, however, about the decline of the nation state, international economic cooperation, taking care of the natural world and he talked most about why, as the modern world evolves, we need to be our “brother’s keepers,” again, caring for everyone, even those well beyond our select group. He talks about the unity of hatred to really pull a people together and to do that quickly. “Hate,” he explains, “is the spirit of destruction. . . evil as in war is nearly always an idea or attitude that is contrary to the common good. . .[that] such attitudes are rarely to be overcome by force.” Sound familiar?

“Love,” on the other hand, he explains, “requires more time. . .the evolution of conscience. . . altruism implied by good will.” If love widens co-operation, hate, he says, carries the seeds of its own destruction. That’s what the great Bishop Tutu says today when he talks about the “moral laws of the universe” and about Israel “imploding” in response to gross deterioration from within.

Today, as I read Arthur Compton, a man who barely registered with me as a flit of a drama student at Wooster, I am astounded at the relevance of what he was saying before my Wooster days, when I was a mere baby. Long before Jared Diamond’s, “Guns, Germs and Steel” or “Collapse,” here was Compton talking about how races destroy themselves. Before “The Economist” editors wrote worrisome commentary comparing the American empire to the rising Chinese economic bloc, Compton was marking the decline of truth, “organized lying”, he called it. He well understood greed in international politics and in our own government.

Compton’s writing is indicative of the saying “there’s nothing new under the sun”. That’s all good and well, but as I bask in the summer sun, I risk self-delusion, hoping that somehow, those who oppose my humanistic point-of-view on Israel/Palestine will somehow renew their various religions’ emphatic charge that we are here on earth as representatives of the spirit of service and that we need to co-operate for the common welfare of all. I hope our government will evolve along with us to dismiss the quick fix: hate. Will we, instead, give love a chance. That will be something new under the sun.

Betsy

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