My Review of Madeleine Albright’s Book Fascism: A Warning

UN Flags

I have known about Fascism for quite a while. When I opened this book I realized that I did not quite understand what it was, where it came from or its dangers to democratic society. Fortunately, Albright answered all these questions for me including her caution about the implications of Fascism for our future.

She described it as a form of authoritarian rule which includes total control by the leader of a country, appeal to ultra­nationalism, and power being centered in the leader rather than lying with the citizens. She described Mussolini as taking large sums of money from banks and corporations while feigning concern about the working class. He put on a show for people, distributed and sold personal products under his name, was a good politician but had very little understanding of diplomacy, rejected input from his advisors and saw his own judgment as the only correct one. She also described Hitler as answering questions with lies meant to reassure the public, thinking and saying that being a Barbarian was honorable, removing civil servants he saw as not loyal, taking control of the arts and journalism, using mass media (radio in those days) to capture attention of the masses and making persecution of those who could not defend themselves seem like national self defense.

Albright also discussed the nature and exploits of a variety of other Fascist leaning leaders including Chavez, Erdogan, Putin, and the Kim dynasty. Last but not least comes Trump who has showed most of the characteristics and antics previously used by Mussolini and Hitler. Trump accepts bullying, autocracy and civil rights violations by autocratic leaders without comment. He appears more comfortable with them than with our traditional allies with whom he tends to pick fights.

Albright sees Fascists and Fascist leaning leaders as invoking “America (or any other country) First” as a way of justifying their tendency to do whatever they please. They feel entitled to do what they want for no legitimate reason or just make one up with no foundation. She sees their unpredictability as a personality trait rather than as a strategy to accomplish anything productive.

How do they gain power? Fascist leaders appeal emotionally to people who feel disenfranchised from what they feel is owed them or those who feel afraid of others, often ethnic or political groups differing from theirs. Although this fervor is fanned by social media, it existed long before computers and spread through personal appearances and the use of more traditional media.

What can we do? We can learn to ask pointed questions of those who claim to be acting in our best interest. We also need to reconnect with each other, understand each other’s fears and sense of loss as well as starting to work together as individuals and society to address these concerns. Once we ask them the right questions, we can elect leaders who will act responsibly.

I highly recommend this book as a way to understand the real challenges which face us and to help us learn to listen to each other to find mutually acceptable ways of approaching our challenges.

Review by Joseph G. Langen, Ph.D., author of From Violence to Peace 

 

 

 

 

 

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Review of Hohn Meachum’s “The Soul of America”

Review of The Soul of America

By

John Meachum

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 My worst fear lately has been that this country is crumbling. Opposite factions seem to be pulling our society apart at the seams and I wonder what, if anything, will be left of us when it is all over. I started reading Meachum’s book with trepidation, fearing that it would make me feel even worse about our eventual fate. Remarkably, I did not feel the same way by the time I finished the book. Our country has been here before and yet survived.

I tended to think of our initial settlers and the statesmen who founded and tended our nation in its infancy. I imagined them as being of one mind, hopefully with the best interests of our country foremost in their minds. I guess I should not have been surprised to be reminded how different various factions were and remain so to the present day.

I think of the leaders who brought out the best in the expression of our national soul. Machum lays out for us that not one of them was of a single purpose. Each of them felt a need to compromise to some extent on issues which divided the nation in order to accomplish anything at all. These leaders were human after all and also represented people with many different beliefs and priorities. Bringing everyone together was a monumental challenge to our past leaders and some did a better job than others at bridging the divide.

In the end, our soul is not cut of one cloth but is rather a patchwork quilt of widely disparate energies often pulling the nation in opposite and contradictory directions. For the most part, many of those with strong opinions had the welfare of our nation in mind along with their own deeply seated beliefs. Yet they often disagreed on how to best bring the nation together.

Trump is only mentioned once in the book. Yet our current age and the state of our soul has us pulling in many contradictory directions yet again. We don’t currently agree on what is best for us or on how to get to a point where we can agree on the direction we should take from here.

One glaring example is the issue of racial equality versus white supremacy. This tension has hounded us from the early days of the American experiment. We have certainly made strides toward equality but fear and prejudice have continued to pull us apart. We still have quite a bit of work to do to become one nation making up the soul of America. We have been at this stressful point of tension many times before and somehow have brought ourselves back from the abyss. We need to discover a way to once again come together in our common interest. This is the challenge which faces us all in these trying times.

Review by Joseph G. Langen 6/5/2018

 

 

Wisdom of the Aged

Mom and siblings

 ‘Age’ is the acceptance of a term of years. But maturity is the glory of years.

~Martha Graham~

In my early years, several older people became very important to me and stayed that way throughout my childhood. They are all long dead but I still think of them from time to time and remember the hours I spent with each of them them.

My grandmother was literally my second mother. My father was away in World War II and I spent my first few years at her house. I remember her gentle ways which my mother adopted. She was a quiet soul who preferred to be in the background rather than the center of attention. I remember large family gatherings throughout her house. She would sometimes withdraw to the kitchen for her single glass of beer. She would often invite me to sit quietly with her. I was away in the monastery when she died and I was not allowed to attend her funeral. That has always been one of my main regrets in life.

Her husband, my grandfather, was also jovial. I remember going to work with him at his drug store. Sometimes I sat in the back room with him as he counted out pills for his customers’ prescription. I always found something to do in the drug store but always stopped to survey the candy counter, considering what candy I would choose when it became time to close up the store. At his funeral, talk turned to whether he had ever been angry in his life. Once when they were young two of my uncles chased each other through the house after being told not to. The second time they raced by, he got out of his chair but then sat back down chuckling, realizing he could not catch them.

Mr. and Mrs. Slater lived next to my aunt and uncle. They had first names I am sure but I never knew what they were. For some reason, they and my aunt and uncle did not get along well although I never learned why. Once when I was very young, I was visiting my aunt and uncle and playing with a ball in the back yard. It went over the fence into the Slaters’ yard while they were entertaining guests. I sheepishly approached the hedge and was invited over to fetch my ball. I also stayed for watermelon and later visited them whenever I was in town. They had a copy of Land and Sea which I loved looking at with its drawings of real and imaginary sea beasts. I spent time with my favorite book whenever I visited. This was of course after our traditional cookies and milk. When I reached high school age, they gave me the book thinking I was old enough to care for it.

During my elementary school years, I met Mrs. Muckle, a widow who enjoyed sitting with me at her house sometimes after school. I don’t remember how I met her but was glad I did. We adopted each other and became fast friends. When my family moved to the suburbs, I thought I would never see her again. Then she answered the door at the local parish rectory one day and we renewed our acquaintance.

I met other older people but these were the ones I remember most vividly. They were all peaceful people. I never learned if any of them had faced difficult times. I assume they did. I have learned that most everyone does. Now I have reached the age all of these favorite people had attained when I knew them. They all brought joy to my life and helped me forget my childhood cares. I hope I can be of some comfort and encouragement to children and others I encounter as these five did for to me.
 

Rising from the Ashes

Auschwitz

Our obligation is to give meaning to life
and in doing so to overcome the passive, indifferent life.

~Elie Wiesel~

Recently I had the privilege of listening to Eva Abrams tell her Holocaust story at the Criminal Justice Day in Batavia, NY sponsored by local community groups.  The theme of the day was surviving and thriving after trauma. I have read accounts of the Holocaust and seen movies presenting various aspects of the events involved. Yet they seem to be fading from the memory and awareness of the public these days. This has happened despite their central place among the events of the twentieth century. This was the first time I have heard a live first hand account from a survivor’s own lips.

Ninety-­two year old Eva made her way to her seat with the help of her walker.  She sat next to her daughter Bonnie who helped her with translating certain words into English. She was born in 1926 in Oradea, Romania and was sent to Auschwit with her family when she was seventeen.

Eva shared her story of life in a ghetto, in Auschwitz and digging trenches as she struggled to stay alive after walking across Europe for forced labor digging trenches. All these years later, she is a vibrant articulate survivor who has risen from the ashes of her Holocaust experience and managed to reconstruct her life in a meaningful way.

I tried to imagine what it would be like to walk in her shoes. I have never come close to death especially under the gruesome conditions she endured. Would I have been able to find the physical and emotional strength to make it from one day to the next? If I did survive, how would I think of my experience in a way which might allow me to rebuild my life? I have heard it said that what does not kill you makes you stronger. I wonder what lies within a person to allow him or her to climb back from the brink of a horrible death and find a meaningful life.

I thought about this for several days after Eva’s presentation. How could anyone survive her ordeal? What could I learn from her life? How could her inspiration lead me to make more of a contribution to my fellow human beings? None of these questions has an easy answer. Yet it is not necessary to answer them to draw strength from her example.

I have had misfortunes and setbacks from time to time in my life although nothing which compares with Eva’s experience. Yet I have been able to learn a little about my own inner strength by learning from my challenges rather than letting them get the best of me. Eva had help at her most desperate moments and used that help to find new reserves of strength. I have learned to appreciate those who have been there in my time of need. I also plan to help others in their time of need whenever I can. What lessons can you draw from the stories of those you encounter in your life?

My review of Johann Hari’s book, Chasing the Scream

A Review of Johann Hari’s Book, Chasing the Scream

 The opposite of addiction is not sobriety–it is connection

~Johann Hari~

Chasing the Scream cover

I discovered the existence of this book several days after a certain president announced his opinion that drug dealers should be executed. He would have felt a kinship with Harry Anslinger, the chief architect and champion of the war on drugs which took root in the 1930’s. His opinion was that illegal drugs were evil and so were people who sold and used them. Both sets of people and drugs themselves became his targets for eradication.

Hari writes extensively about Anslinger and the army he headed as well as about Billie Holliday the renowned jazz singer who died of a heroin overdose and Arnold Rothstein, an early drugpin. During the course of the book, Hari also gives thorough coverage to drug users, drug dealers, police, people who work with drug users, and researchers. He also documents research findings, and alternatives to a war on drugs.

Hari admits that it was difficult for him to let go of the traditional wisdom regarding the evils of drugs and of those who use them. He also struggled with the idea that drug eradication is the only effective way to approach the problem. I must admit that it was initially also difficult for me as a reader to imagine viewing drugs in any but the traditional manner.

The author documents the burdens to society imposed by the war on drugs making the problem for society much worse than it was when drugs were legal. He points out clearly how little we learned from alcohol prohibition. Crime increased significantly with the advent of prohibition and decreased with the end of prohibition. Yet we saw the best way to deal with the problem of illegal drugs as following the same path we took with alcohol. Although the subtitle of Hari’s book is “The first and last days of the war on drugs,” it does not appear to me that the last days are in clear sight.

Yet research and social experiments suggest that there are rational alternatives. Research with animals and later with people discovered that addiction is not primarily due to the nature of the substances ingested. A much greater contribution to addiction is lack of a sense of worth, lack of social connection and the feeling of not being useful to society. As Gabor Maté puts it, “The core of addiction doesn’t lie in what you swallow or inject–it’s the pain you feel in your head.” Hari also brings in the effects of institutional racism leading to greater drug use by people of color.

The author also details the success of programs in countries such as Switzerland and Portugal and efforts in the states of Colorado and Washington to bring about legalization of drugs in various ways. Such approaches often involve supervised use of drugs paired with counseling to help users improve their sense of self, start to feel human again and find a way to contribute to society.

The book is presented in a narrative manner leaving you with a sense of knowing the individuals on all sides of this problem. It might be difficult for you to change your thinking about drugs, drug use and users after the extremely long tradition of seeing this as a problem to be eradicated. Approaching it this way has led to a drain on society socially as well as economically. I would suggest you give this book a try. You can always go back to your old way of thinking if you choose but if you have any humanitarian leanings, I have a feeling you will learn to think differently about this problem.

 

13 HABITS OF RIDICULOUSLY PROLIFIC WRITERS

Sometimes, writing less leads to deeper, more creative thinking.

Have you ever wondered how some writers manage to write thousands of words every day — while you can barely squeeze out 500 words after an hour of trying (and failing) to focus? How do so many successful writers publish so much — even though one success could carry their careers for years?

These are the habits of writers who cannot stop, who refuse to stop, who somehow  do this writing thing and don’t suffer creative burnout in the process.

(Excerpt from Meg Dowell’s article in A Writer’s Path- read more)

America: Corporation or Society

another brick

Integrity is essential and irreplaceable. It is the most valuable asset
for a person, a company, or a society seeking to build and progress.

~Rex Tillerson~

For several centuries America has worked to become a society in the sense of being a community with common laws and customs. We have made progress toward this ideal over the years although we have always had more to do to “form a more perfect union.” This was our goal stated in the preamble to our constitution. Our country has always had more to offer to people of wealth and power than to those less fortunate. We have had times of progress toward meeting the needs of all or citizens and times when the needs and wishes of the few outweighed the needs of the many.

We find ourselves in a time when many of the safeguards to our well­being are being dismantled piece by piece on a daily basis. Those in power act in the interest of themselves and of their powerful allies. Protection of the environment, providing for our health, provision of the basic necessities including clean air and water are now being undermined or discarded outright. Years of work to develop positive relationships with other nations is being undermined or simply cast aside. The idea of cooperation with other countries is being discarded in the interest of America first. Efforts are underway to cleanse America from immigrants whose presence and contributions made us so successful in the first place.

The Corporation Project of the Frank Bold law firm describes the purpose of a corporation first stated in the 1970’s as being to maximize shareholder value. All other goals were seen as secondary to the extent that they were considered at all. I don’t mean to suggest that all corporations are so callous. There are quite a few which have served to enrich society as well as their financial holdings. Yet the corporate culture has focused largely on short term gains with all other considerations becoming secondary at best.

In my opinion, those leading our country at present show a clear corporate mentality about our country in the sense of putting money first. The welfare of our country, our planet, our environment and our global community have all been relegated to secondary consideration with financial gain as the chief focus. In the process, wealth, resources and power become concentrated in fewer hands as the process of corporatizing America continues.

History has shown repeatedly that a course of events such as the one we find propelling us now eventually leads to revolution and overthrow of the few left at the top. Those who are there now are betting that their course will be sustainable in the near future which is their chief frame of reference rather than the greater good of all the world’s citizens which requires a much broader outlook.

Those in power will be happy to continue on their merry way as long as they are allowed to do so. We are currently seeing rumblings of a groundswell of dissent questioning the status quo which I see as unsustainable. The options are evolution of thought and mutual cooperation toward a national and global society or revolution when dissent reaches the tipping point. The choice is ours. What do you choose?