Adam Smith in World Politics? – Diplomacy Beyond Popular Images

image of a world map and a compass
Diplomacy needs among other things these very basic skills: The ability to look beyond images, propaganda and popular opinion.

Politics of peace need them too.

The Western world in my eyes is blinded in their view of the world, politics and negotiations by something almost amounting to idealism:

It‘s about money, in any shape or form, we are about it – and everyone else is too.

This is perhaps the most tragic misconception that will endanger peace in all parts of the world again and again:

Indeed certain factions of the Christian religions in the backwater of the rise of civil society around the 13th / 14th centuries claimed, in principle:

Wealth is the sign of God‘s pleasure.

Ever since an ever larger part of the world – especially rooted in the beginnings of the US society with the first actual settlers on the Mayflower representing that idea – are exactly of that frame of mind:
Be wealthy and God is with you.

Most Eastern societies from Africa, over Russia all through Asia in one way or another – in principle that is – value the community and the dignity of the individual even more.

Dignity!

I have spent most of my adult life around all manner of extremely peaceful, knowledgeable and kind people from the Near, Middle and Far East.
I have studied Persian poems and literature and have met other people from around the globe.
I have had the privilege to call books my friends in childhood and adolescence and still do. I studied languages and culture at a prestigious university and earned my M.A. degree there.

The most tragic misunderstanding between the Western world – leaning towards Adam Smith‘s ideas of economy – and the Eastern world – leaning towards trade among dignified, respected and proud tradespeople is that:

Dignity

The European literature of certain times and people as well as later stereotypes about life in the Eastern world – or the ways and means of trade and politics – is practically steeped in this painful repetitive almost ridiculous contempt:
If you know about their ‚purse‘, you know about their interests. Anyone with a contempt for money is stupid.

This is not the real driving force of mankind: Indeed, wealth was always craved, if people had gone hungry or even starved; but dignity and respect in combination with extreme poverty can be thought of in the East – not so in the West.

In the Western world, respect and the consequential dignity of a person – or a nation – are closely related, if not tightly interwoven with their monetary means.

In most parts of the Eastern world this is not the case. Dignity is a fundamental possibility that can be envisioned easily with little or no money.

Among nations dignity is crucial. Treat them with respect, dignity and regard, let them safe face.

And remember this fine part of the Christian bible that actually was originally written in that Eastern culture:

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

(Matthew, 25:40)


Author’s Note (April 2022):

In view of the latest developments I’d like to enlarge on this, make it clearer yet. The question after motives and real reasons is not always easy to answer. But if we are really interested in successful negotiations we need to do that. Not always is the answer to ‘cui bono’? : ‘money only’ as stated above.
Usually the attributes associated with money, or more money are actually much more important:
Respect, attention and power in certain circles.
Bluntly put: If it was about taking the Ukraine, they would have taken it long ago.

The question “cui bono” needs to be researched and answered in all directions of cause or effect or impact. Basic human motivators.

‘Chastity’ Revisited: Passion’s Pain or Joy…?

image of monastery hall in watercolour
Monastery – Free license courtesy Ecosia search engine

The religious aspect of the church trying to control passionate contemporaries putting their urges into action, cannot be overestimated in Christian regions, over the past couple of thousands of years.

A Question of Politics

But it also is basically a question of politics: Apart from food and drink and the need to ‘relieve yourself’ (discreetly put), human bodily passion is the strongest urge and many call it by rights the second most pleasurable among them. So, controlling it by making people afraid, as the Christian church has done for such a long time, means power over their minds. Which means, power over them.

I couldn’t agree more. What I also think is: It happens still far too often that people are irresponsible or downright careless. They ‘play games’ with their own or other people’s hearts just because they can.

Why hearts? Isn’t this about ‘bodily love, passion, lust’?

I’ve posted about this before.

Somehow the subject seems to come up repeatedly and a certain careful approach can easily be misunderstood by the uninitiated.

Review The Evidence

It has been made clear in the past couple of centuries by social sciences as well as medicine that passion in humans (or other organisms) is not singularly a matter of the body – uncontrollable – or, as it was posed for quite some time after the 1960s sexual revolution, just a human need, like having food and drink.

Since, simply put: If you do not drink or eat for a certain amount of time at all, you will die. You do not die from not having sexual intercourse.

Which brings me to my argument here and anywhere else in this blog if you care to check:

Although it has been represented to be two separate things, namely lust and love – they are just two aspects of one and the same thing: Emotions, feelings are closely intertwined with our body and its reactions.

We start breathing hard when the object of our desire is close. Our heart starts beating. We may feel ‘butterflies in our chest’ or just a wonderful warmth all over.

There is ample proof that all this is not to be treated lightly.

That’s all I ever mean or advocate – in so many words, sometimes even less words used:

Take Good Care of the Fire

Take good care of your or other people’s hearts, be responsible. Because for all the time mankind anywhere on this world can remember, arts, music, poetry and literature as well as fairy tales have called human passion and love what it actually is:
A fire, it can be wonderful to have around, warming, fiery, full of light – but it can burn, like a firebrand, and destroy all before it.

So, treat it – and yourself – with kindness and respect – as you would a good friend. And do unto others as you would want them to do unto you…

Open Letter to the US Democratic Party

drawing of USA map as a shape

(I sent the following to the Democratic Party of the United States and its Senate Majority Leader, Chuck Schumer:)

“Ladies and gentlemen, hello esteemed party of long standing and its representatives [Hello Mr Schumer,], for lack of a more personal[/formal] address,

I am a German who lives in Austria. I am extremely concerned about how things seem to be in your nation/country.
I am also very surprised to learn that the democratic party seems to be bent on supporting D. Trumps 2nd run for office?
Are none of you smart enough to see the signs?
He was on the brink of overthrowing (albeit rather clumsily the 1st time) a democratic parliament only a couple of months ago! Hitler and his 3rd Reich were almost the same! He failed the first time and even went to prison for a while. Then, he tried again. I hope you know what dreadful and cruel results that had!
Do you not know history well enough?
Do you really believe that a nation such as the U.S. would never be in danger of becoming a real dictatorship? History – if only outside the US – should be able to teach: Ever since mankind ‘invented’ the concept of democracy around 2000 years ago in Greece, Europe, history has shown us again and again and again that *no country is safe* if its parties and population do not watch out.
Greed and the decision to do as one pleases and disregard others, the community at large, are eternally there, alongside other human traits.
I would earnestly and seriously ask you as well as your and your party’s supporters to reconsider and unite behind a president such as Joe Biden: Free of most of the more mundane shortcomings (be that drink, adultery or worse, please excuse this rather realistic yet blunt mention) as far as I can tell, he has great plans and he and his supporters should see your party indeed united!
I am sorry that I feel like saying: “Shame on you to be so careless about this government – or D. Trump’s so obvious plans!” Have you forgotten that the majority of supreme court justices have been named by him?
I would a little pathetically declare: “Wake up.” (Sorry, here comes the blunt version: “Wake up, d…n it.”)
PLEASE!
D. Trump has caused so much unnecessary pain and suffering as a president the first time around!
Your country needs fresh impulses to bridge gaps – not create ever deeper rifts.
Have a heart and say no to more greed and short-sightedness!
Countries all around the globe are painfully dependent on US (foreign) policies.
Watch out, be smart and careful! This may be your last chance, really.
Kind Regards”


Author’s note: The tone of this letter is rather less businesslike or formal or polite than I have used on similar occasions.
I feel the matter to be urgent. I hope to catch the attention of the politicians concerned – as well as others who might be able to do something directly – this way, better, in this case.
The idea being of course that instead of first caring about their own interests, the democratic party politicians who recently refused support will think again: D. Trump whose name I do not really like to bring up at all, has already started his own alternative to Twitter. From day 1 he had and still has enough wealthy supporters who are interested much more in their bank accounts than anything else. Underestimating ‘enemies’ is foolishness, as the old saying has it:
“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”
See also the documentary on D. Trumps life and background broadcast on PBS, created by award-winning documentary producer Michael Kirk, for details.

‘Reading the signs’: In archaeology as well as in history, journalism, psychology or in criminology one thing you learn early, if the teaching is of any use at all:
Gather your material carefully, check back with existing facts and start putting a line of reasoning together that fits all the facts.
Anything else will not hold water.

Destiny…? – The Choice of Reaction

image of sunset and a pair of human legs in sports shoes walking

Especially in hard times you comparatively quickly learn one thing:

Walk on, let go, do not look back.

In the bible there is this story about a God-fearing and pious man called Lot – and Lot’s wife. When God in this story tells Lot that he and his family should flee his hometown in order for God to be able to let an earthquake destroy its population as a sign and a punishment, they do so.

And although they are told to follow the guardian angel and on no account look back so as not to be turned into pillars of salt – Lot’s wife is disobedient: She looks back. She is turned into a pillar of salt – and so to this day lives in the (sub)-consciousness of many a Christian or Western person. Not Lot on his own merit, but by his wife’s action, and thus ‘Lot’s wife’ has become immortal.
For looking back.

On the surface the story tells us that being pious means being protected. Yet, I also think that the looking-back part of the story is the most important aspect:

However serious or even catastrophic the situation may seem: Looking back saps your strength and your energy to go on. Continue with life.

I’ve found that true many times, and even though I have seen lots of hardship, pain, suffering and death of loved ones, I also consider myself lucky, compared. I have seen love too, closeness, friendship – and being ‘connected’ to other human beings who know a thing or two about life as well.

The idea seems global really, Buddhism has it, other religions and cultures know it:

Letting go of suffering, walking on, try to avoid pain that may be obvious in advance, from experience…
The choice of what happens is not always ours – the choice of reaction is. Always.

Distraction – Internet – Productivity – or: Us?

In recent years documentaries and books as well as blog articles tell us how disruptive the internet is to our work ethics, how problematic it has become for people to constantly check their phones and so on social media about their latest ratings, the newest trend, even if only purported, or the most scary news.

Of course, with any new technology, it is added, this means we should be careful, not to say beware: dreadful things are happening, people become dumb, or dumber through the internet, more distracted, less able to focus.

But as I posted before, history can teach us: neither these warnings nor the idea of a new technology or medium being dangerous to the average person’s mind is really new.
When Gutenberg invented printing, the church and other ‘forward thinkers’ predicted dreadful consequences, for minds as well as morals of the population.
When radio came first into being, it was a wide-spread fear that those waves would damage brains or thinking or make impotent or even criminal.
When TV arrived on the horizon and was made available to the masses, the same happened, all over again.

The presumptions in all of this are:

  • There’s an actual average level of the mind of humans that can be damaged or ‘pulled to depths of iniquity’.
  • There’s a crucial point where certain kinds of knowledge or insight might cause the ‘fall from grace’ to happen again, the paradise-situation and first sin all over again: eat the fruit of enlightenment or insight and you will be disgraced.

What all of these prognosticators disregard sadly, are some basic truths of history and humans that are not all nice to look at but still true:

  • For thousands of years dreadful crimes have been committed, cruelty and torture, by the inquisition, an institution of the Christian church, as well as feudal landlords, have inflicted pain and suffering and death on innocent people.
  • Wars have caused actions of killing and torture the average mind shudders at. Rape, hunger, sophisticated torturing, you name it. And most of the time mankind exists, there was no internet, no social media and no radio, books or TV around.
  • People, in throngs, used to visit public hangings and punishment that was institiuonalised torture, many a scary movie these days would shy away from depicting.
  • Women were called ‘witches’ and tortured and burnt at the stake long before any of the abovementioned media were around, again, no radio, no books, no TV or internet.
  • People always have exchanged sensations, told stories, true or false, ‘spun yarns’ and – looked for excitement in an often too boring reality.
  • The ballads that were sung, the shallower of the plays in mass theatre productions, ‘wall newspapers’ that would pay tribute to any of the today’s tabloids, were in abundance long before analogue or digital technology were even thought of.

If anything, in many parts of the world with higher education levels and more well-paid jobs available, cruelties have decreased – except for times of war, which ‘behave’ according to precedent – and according to crimes’ statistical records that cover around two centuries now.

So, I like to put it rather like this, as someone said somewhere a couple of years ago:
‘Smart, educated people will smartly use and become more smart with using media, dumb ones will become dumber.’

It means responsibility again, too:
the better we ourselves learn to discern and also teach our children discretion of good or bad or the best media, the more hope is in it, for all.

Religious Books, Truth, Knowledge – and the Fellow Being!

Religious books these days are taken as basis to judge people. As if people following Islamic traditions were equal to what is found in the Koran.
As if every Christian you can meet would be exactly the way the bible states.

A more stupid approach cannot be imagined: people who study religion for a living, who are either university fellows or academics in the field of one religion or even religions as a subject, will tell you how contradictory the bible can be in only ‘one book’.
Take the old and the new testament and place them side by side and find out what values are purported there:
you will be amazed.

Compare Versions and Ages

Take the Koran and study its Suras and find out how many of them are really applicable to modern life.
How much of it was dependent on living conditions and then recent changes ~1400 years ago!

There have been researchers who found that society before it was not only matriarchal – which basically means, women were considered to be the most important members of society and the ones who were free to choose their ‘mate’ when and how they thought fit.
It is said they would suspend a little bouquet of herbs in a certain place at their house’s front door to indicate to the current partner that he was free to leave because they had found someone else.

These researches are still in dispute among the traditional scientists of these fields. Some people would perhaps refute them just because they cannot bear the idea that things could have been so much more in favour of women.

Be that as it may: matriarchy and matrilinear societies and religions exist to this day. Matriarchy as the earliest form of society has been established!

To this day, in Jewish religion, the religious membership of a newborn is determined by the membership of the mother: is the mother a Jew, the newborn will be too.

Findings

What I am driving at with all this:
Religious books or scrolls are just that: books, with a partly very long established tradition of reading and interpreting them in the respective religious body.
Historians and social scientists were among the first who dared looking for the truth behind it.

And if you do only for a few minutes around Europe with the bible, as I suggested above, and afterwards go into the ‘streets’ of your home town and try and find people that are like that… I’ll hand it to you!

So, stop comparing the Koran with people living in the Islamic tradition. And stop trying to make out that the bible was always the only truthful basis for the human rights act – in other words:
know them by their deeds!

The Church, Crime, Creation and the Freedom of Choice

The recent years brought to light something that is as disturbing and dreadful as it is tragic for many people: the Catholic church unearths more and more details about abuse that has been going on behind its walls at least for decades, if not much longer.

So far it seems, bringing to light and the first apologies by bishops and the Pope himself have been first steps to acknowledge what in fact is criminal behaviour in a religious body.

It could make people, who attribute a value to that faith as well as that particular belief, despair, of the church as well as religion or even life.

One is tempted to ask, why do we need a church at all? Or a religion, for that matter?
I think, Erich Fromm was right in stating that religion is an expression of the yearning for transcendence in man (and woman). Transcendence of life and the sometimes hard to explain pain and suffering we see every day.

I have been a Christian in my time – and in some ways where people grow up and are raised, the respective history and prominent religious orientation of a society are important for mind and thinking – the frame of mind of a human being.

In this context modern Christians could be tempted to despair because the message in the later part of the bible, the gospel is focused on neighbourly love. On goodness and on God’s grace for all that have sinned on the day of resurrection.

This made Dostoevsky in one of his great novels, “The Brothers Karamazov” ask, how it could be that a gracious and judicious God could allow suffering, and especially the suffering of innocent children.

To me, one of the most wonderful answers to this almost eternal question has been given by John Steinbeck in “East of Eden”. The main character one day realizes that his faithful Chinese servant of many years is not only highly educated but a scholar. His servant tells him that after studying the bible in its common English translation and the Hebrew original, and especially the chapter Genesis, whose interpretation modern Western society is based on to a great extent, he found one sentence particularly striking and its interpretation crucial to what was going on in a great part of mankind.
‘Thou shalt go forward into the world and rule it and subdue it…’

Quoting Steinbeck’s text from memory at this point: he goes on to say that after years of study, he found the verb ‘shalt’ had been wrongly translated from the Hebrew and instead of ‘shalt’ it should be ‘mayest’.
From this would come the realization, that God hadn’t just entrusted his creation to mankind in a sense of commandeering action and correcting human errors himself where necessary.

Rather, the term ‘mayest’ encompasses the idea, that – human beings are also entrusted with choice – the choice between good and evil – every day.

To me this is the most important answer to any wrongs, crimes, pain, cruelty and suffering we may observe or go through: there is always some choice a human being can make, in any situation.

Many people due to this special context grow up in the firm and mistaken belief that someone else is responsible for their deeds, be they good or bad.
They feel and behave even as grown-ups not much differently from childhood: a little ashamed now and again they still think, breaking the rules cannot be too bad, if no one finds out – or no one complains.

This idea of choice is also the idea of personal freedom in this sense: ultimately any choice we make, is ours. Whatever way we decide.

It is responsibility, for creation, for our neighbour, for ourselves.

Freedom of Choice.