I read articles about the trouble in Afghanistan.
One says the troop size we had there was small enough that we could’ve stayed indefinitely. (Atlantic)
Another that the troops will just be shuffled to other areas in the region and all we’ve done is lost the ability to maintain order and tamp down extremism in Afghanistan.
Are such statements true?
An op-ed by an Afghan general says that once Trump signed the withdrawal date, the Taliban knew they had won; and that the Afghan’s had been trained to work with US intelligence and air strikes and were ineffectual without them, and the corruption of the Afghan government meant troops often lacked basic supplies; but still they fought on, until they were completely abandoned by their president (who fled the country) and the US (who stuck to the leave date, even as they saw that the Taliban was going to win). (NYT)
I read a piece by Ezra Klein in which he went through several different withdrawal options and the disasters that they might’ve brought with them, concluding that this withdrawal was not great, but it is difficult to know what the right withdrawal was. (NYT)
I read an article by an Afghan trying to get vulnerable Afghan’s out of the country. He spoke of people being beaten and shot by the Taliban as they try to leave, even as the Taliban promises general amnesty. People whisper into the phones as they beg for his help. He and many others are trying, but the situation sounds hopeless for many.
Maybe we should’ve stayed forever.
There is no way to make up for leaving 300,000 Afghan allies in the hands of the Taliban.
Will we get that number down to 200,000?
Or are actually more people at risk than that late-August NYT article estimated?
And can we possibly get all US citizens out?
And their families?
Even from a purely Realpolitik point of view: this is the information age; at least a decent sampling of the terrible things that happen to our stranded allies will probably be known by many.
And that bit of Realpolitiking is besides questions of how our anticlimatic evacuation and the Taliban’s triumphant return / seizure of many US weapons affects our ability to defend ourselves against international terrorism.
Maybe we should’ve never gone in, but once we were in, how could we leave?
So what now?
And how should a nation weight concerns Realpolitik versus concerns of the heart?
Or are there win-wins that wisdom would reveal if we’d open up to wisdom?
And how do large groups — parties, governments, nations, worldbodies, worlds — open up to wisdom together and together find their way towards what is best for everyone?
In this instance?
I don’t want those who worked with the US and our allies in Afghanistan for a free and open Afghan society to be tortured to death, to have their heads chopped off after they had to watch themselves bleed out after their hands were chopped off.
This is what I am afraid of and what makes me feel like we have failed.
Maybe that won’t happen.
But already you hear of beatings and shootings, and the US military is not yet completely gone.
This is human evil.
It is an avalanche.
Thought evil may sometimes be organized or in some sense orchestrated, in it’s gut, it is crazed, a beserker, a Viking raping and pillaging some small coastal town, burning the hut of a woman who fought a little too successfully against his penis, her throat cut now and her vagina wet with semen and mud. In spots evil is certain it is right and proud, yet deep inside it is panicked, terrified, desperate to win a game it started without realizing that to win it would have to consume everything, dominate everything, destroy everything, become the only thing that ever was and ever will be.
If wisdom is true, and all is one; then evil has reality exactly upside down: it would make some frantic individual impulse, within some individual’s physical and emotional boundaries the One Truth. Well, evil often goes group, goes political, goes wider in some sense, allows and encourages the illusion that the individual subsumed within some group is part of a tidal wave of victorious and in certain moods righteous and in others well sure imperfect but justified and understandable ascendancy, thriving, forward-charging, world-gobbling. Evil, whether it be the tyrannical impulse of an individual or of a people, is always certain that wisdom is wrong: evil claims we are not all one Light, but rather, the One Light is Us, and by possessing the One Light, we have unique rights over Them.
But evil is a thing of degrees. We are none of us fully free of evil or fully contaminated with it.
So how do we push towards the better and away from the worse?
What is the path that brings people together into a true insight and meaningful response to the One Light?
How to avoid the illusion that that’s what we’re up to when we’re really serving individual and group pride, greed, fear, lust, desperation?
That’s a general question.
Any workable answer needs to be applicable to the changing circumstances of individual and group life.
I am staying at a home near a channel through which flows billions of dollars of freight, like all the time. The grass has gotten very green and annoyingly long and mosquito-ridden because August has been so wet. The gardens thrive in their own quiet ways. At the back of the yard, near a tall wooden fence, is a wooden chicken house on wooden stilts, and a little chicken pen covered in octogonal wire mesh.
As per my instructions, I throw table scraps to the chickens. They charge out and cluck and stride and peacock their heads-through-tailfeathers, and peck with mad gusto at bits of fruit, a squished tomato, the butt of a carrot, an egg dish topped with olive oil, and other delicacies. Once I got to close to the mesh with a bit of apple in my fingers and plump speckled hen flapped up into the tiny bit of sky between us, jammed her hard beak through the mesh with a clang and rattle of the structure, grabbed the apple, and flopped down to earth to terrorize it. She would’ve just as happily eaten my finger.
If I were to fall down in the chicken coop unconscious, I think they would eat me.
Chickens are not our friends. They are small and weak, and they do not understand technology, strategy, or most anything except squawking and pecking and gobbling. It is their weaknesses, not any spiritual insight, moral resolve, practical restraint, or anything else that one might reasonably call a “strength” that keeps our pet chickens from devouring us.
Chickens are evil. They are wanton lust. They want only to eat and take it easy. Perhaps if there were a rooster about they’d also like to breed. They would just as soon eat you as look at you. If another chicken dies in the coop, they might very well eat it before the owner notices the death. I’m not talking about starving chickens. I am talking about chickens who being fed daily and are already plump from a life of lazing and gorging. They might protect their chicks from predators. But that’s not enough to call them “not evil”. Terrible criminals often pamper their own children and those friends who consistently please them.
Humans are complicated. They are not good. They are not bad. They are broken. Twisted on the inside, like metal legs and cross-beams that hold up a water tower, but rusted, and collapsed in upon themselves, so torn ends, sharp and curving, stick out at all angles. Who can help them? Chickens are like that too. Chickens are broken on the wheel of their own maniacal hopes and fears. Who can help them? Stupid, petty, greedy little monsters.
But humans thought is wider than chicken thought. Human thought can grow the space to reflect, not just on stratagem and soulless risk-benefit analyses, but also on the One Light.
How do we stop the evil within our thoughts and actions, both individual and shared?
But that’s a trick: It is an evil trick to pretend we can completely stop the evil.
“We are working to bring about salvation, on earth and/or in heaven: that is our blank check, that justifies any possible word or deed we might choose.”
That is an evil trick.
It is perhaps The evil trick.
Is evil — both in chickens and humans — the misapplication of the spiritual impulse — the longing to connect meaningfully as individuals and groups with the One Light –, turning it away from real engagement in insightful, active Love; and towards the illusion that we can possess everything, including the One Light?
But surely chickens have no spiritual impulse. They just want to be safe and comfy while they stuff their stupid beaks.
And yet the longing to be safe and comfy and full to overflowing impels the thoughtful mind/heart/body to seek wisdom. Particularly in social animals, for whom personal thriving is naturally bound up in group thriving. Social animals cannot truly feel like they are fully safe and thriving unless they are part of a community that is safe and thriving, and their relationships within others in that community are satisfying–that is to say, there are good feelings and meaningful connections between them and others.
To the degree an individual gains insight into the truth about their own mind/heart/body, that individual knows that they cannot believe in, care about, or understand their own thoughts and actions except to the degree that they follow their own internal rules for thinking and action. A human must pursue accuracy, honesty, clarity, and competency if they are to have any faith in their own thinking/feeling/acting. But to the degree one is internally accurate, honest, clear, and competent, one is aware that our great longings for safety and thriving are bound up with and even underlie our need to be accurate, honest, clear and competent: we need to be these things so we can know where we really are, and what we really need, and how to fit ourselves within what is really going on so as to move towards more of what we really need and away from what is really destructive to us. And here, as social animals, we also cannot deny our need to have things be truly OK between us and others, and here arises the undeniable need for love and meaningful community. But put that all within a vague desperate longing, for ever more safety, thriving, OKness. And what do you get?
You can work yourself up into communism, or the magic of completely unchecked free markets, an infinite Caliphate, or strong warlordy we-annihilate-them rulers like Putin/Trump/Etc-Rulers-For-Life. That is to say: you can work yourself up into patriotic visions of heaven on earth via the subjugation of everything to some ideal and its power structure. Or up into the certainty that your understanding of God guarantees you eternal salvation and special rights and privileges here on earth.
You can work yourself up into fundamentalist religion, politics, ideology, and etc.
You can work yourself up into hedonism, living for the moment, for that momentary sense of an infinite explosion of safety and thriving that comes from enough pleasure in the right places. At least for a while.
You can work yourself up into rock n roll rebellion. As if drinking and flipping off the authorities was a real stand.
You can work yourself up into so many different things, in the name of so many different names, but always you are chasing infinite safety, thriving, fellowship, OKness.
Of course the quest is doomed to fail.
Except that it isn’t.
Not if there is a Light that Knows what is Best for everyone.
And we humans can relate meaningfully to It.
If Love is Truth and Goodness and Reality, then to the degree we know and follow Love, we join the One Light, which is an infinite expanse of safety, thriving, fellowship, Okness.
That possibility is both the saving grace of human existence, and it’s great complication.
Without it, everything is just atoms, void, and ultimately meaningless (both to the universe and us individuals, who cannot help but know that human meaning requires more than a forced sense of, ‘no, but this is really meaningful!’) and thus ultimately empty existential stands.
But once we accept the possibility that wisdom is Real — and we cannot actually escape it; even existential standers are deep inside submitting to the daydream that their existential stands are somehow eternally valid (humans cannot help it: we long to and cannot avoid trying to become Truly OK; not just seems-like-at-the-moment OK) — then we open ourselves up to our perennial error of disguising our lust for safe/thrive/OK/belong for some notion about how we have real insight into life and how it should be navigated.
So what do we do?
What do I do?
I’ve been writing the same essay to myself for a decade.
It makes no difference.
US Democracy is threatened by the Republican decision to win by changing election laws in ways that reduce Democratic voters.
It is threatened by the threat of another Trump administration: incompetent, corrupt, solidifying power by weakening the ability of other branches of government to check his power, perhaps this time doing more than just floating the idea of being made president for life, perhaps this time succeeding when he makes aid to foreign nations dependent on them smearing his political opponents, perhaps that kind of messiness no longer being useful since now when he calls state election officials and asks them to bend the vote in his favor they say yes, sir, Mr. President, sir, it is my patriotic duty, Mr. President, sir, to serve, Mr. President, Sire, not so much the people of this nation as its glorious and infinite ruler.
People who had believe in our promise of a freer, safer, more humane Afghanistan are dying, and more will probably die, and many may die in cruel and terrible ways.
I have been writing this essay for ten years.
I go around the merry go round on a shiny white unicorn with chipped enamel here and there but basically a pristine beast.
Humans can work meaningfully together by admitting that none of our ideologies mean anything to any of us, except to the degree we think and act accurate, honest, clear, competent, and kind–in ways that make communal living healthy, gentle, and joyfully together. Accepting this fundamental framework leads directly to the shared insight that ideas and especially words about God and Truth and Goodness are not the same as things like God and Truth and Goodness, and that we should all therefore — irregardless of what we may or may not say about such high ideals — submit to an open, fair and transparent process and to human laws enforcing our fundamental shared values of accuracy, honesty, clarity, competency, and kind shared decent resolve.
A liberal, secular government is the opposite of an anti-religious government. It is a government that protects our ability to relate to the True Good in ways that are meaningful to us. Theocracy, communism, fascism, unregulated capitalism: all these grand ideas that ask you to blindly follow some combination of government and ideas: they make it harder to tell oneself and others the truth about one’s honest but human and therefore difficult and uncertain attempts to grow in wisdom, in Goodness, in Godlight.
The more corrupt a state, the harder it is to be both decent and happy; and the easier it is to be indecent and happy. Therefore, the more corrupt a state, the more impossible it is to be both happy and joyful. And most of us are not wise or strong enough — especially in settings were we are afraid for our lives and livelihood and often lack basic necessities, let alone creature comforts — to consistently choose joy (spiritual insight and commitment and the concomitant Love for all) over happiness (feeling safe, and thriving, and loved).
But I’ve written this essay hundreds of times in ten years.
Alone, making no difference to anyone, except a little bit maybe at times to me.
If Republican legislatures pass voting laws that successfully limit Democratic turnout, and thus become more and more dependent on fixing elections and less and less dependent on meaningfully responding to the needs and wishes of most American; that undermining of Democracy is largely their fault.
If the Taliban shoves the gonads Afghans into the mouths of those same Afghans, then those individual Taliban members and the group within which they are operating are largely to blame.
Yet in all things, we all share some responsibility, and in close things, we share more. To the degree American Democracy dies, we all lose the ability to meaningfully relate to our fellow citizens about politics. We should fight to preserve it. Every time the Taliban murders an Afghans who’d spoken out against them in the 20 years we stood guard telling them they were safe to speak their minds, we lose a measure of international trust and soul, yes, soul — whatever that may exactly be, we know not, yet still we know it is the most precious possession of any individual or group.
I write these essays to myself. A few pounds and a little cleverness (mostly that of others) keep me from being eaten alive by chickens. Geography allows me to opine about politics without being dismembered and set upon a spike. Democracy will grow stronger or weaker depending on what? I don’t even know. I mean, I have an idea bout how to make it stronger (everyone votes, everyone is educated about the process and the current debates, the government is more open fair honest and transparent, everyone agrees to agree on the fundamental values and not be distracted from our fundamental duty to them, etc), but I don’t know how to navigate this moment so as to actually strengthen democracy here and now.
I write the same essay to myself for ten years. If chickens got bigger and stronger, they’d surge forth, devouring everything in their sight. If US Americans found themselves without any laws or order, many of them would surge forth, taking, killing, raping, maiming. The people that you meet, the people on the street, each day. And the others, well, they’d be much more violent then they currently are, and than they would ever want to be. Or I guess they’d just get killed.
We pray that wisdom prevail in our hearts and minds and in the minds of everyone in the world.
We know we have no enemies except the fear, greed, pride, and hatred within.
But that is much easier to remember when no one is kicking your teeth in, and so we pray for less and less corruption here, there, and everywhere.
So that we can all meet one another as humans.
We pray that Love be Real, and that you show us in what way Love is Real.
And that you guide us so that we can better follow the Love that is Real.
But we do we do?
We may write essays.
And we may pray.
But what do we really do?
What use are we to ourselves or anyone/
Teach us to pray, to meditate, feel, think, and act.
Teach us we pray.
But we’ve been praying, off and on for a long time.
What is our problem?
Is it that we don’t really mean it?
That we don’t really want Goodness and Love to be Real/
Or at least not in any way that might interfere with a leisurely Saturday morning of iced tea and essay writing?
So God, what do we?
Praying doesn’t seem to be enough.
We would to have your Love be Real and to open for real to that Real Love.
That would be a way forward.
That would be a prayer that made a difference.
But still our guts clench.
We turn away.
We don’t want to Know.
We want to be safe in our kitchens with our iced teas and laptops.
Please help us the best that you can given where we are now and what we are now willing to admit and to give.
And please within that little space of our existent wisdom, grow your Light so that we learn to pray for real, to mean it
when we say
make us wise, loving, kind, honest, clear, decent, actually helping ourselves and others live well joyfully sharing in your Light and your game of lights that make this world an illusion where Truth can be glimpsed and to some extent followed and adored for what It is.