Friday, July 12, 2019

Oscar Arias Sanchez

Oscar Arias Sanchez, born September 13, 1940 in Costa Rica, was the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987. He studied law and economics at the University of Costa Rica in the nation’s capital, San Jose. He became involved in politics and joined the National Labor Party. On completion of this degree, he completed his post-graduate work in the UK with a doctorate – his graduate thesis was entitled, Who Rules Costa Rica. He was also a recipient of the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism and a trustee of Economists for Peace and Security. He also was also the author of a number of books including, The Significance of the Student Movement in Costa Rica.

During the 1970’s he joined the Social Democratic party and entered public office in that era. He ultimately was elected to the presidency in 1986 when political torment and disorder plagued the region of Central American including a deadly civil war that was raging in Nicaragua – a situation that was further exacerbated by the involvement of the United States seeking to maintain its global hegemony.

Sanchez sought to find a peaceful resolution to the turmoil that engulfed the region. As a consequence of his efforts, he designed a plan in 1978 that was ultimately approved by the governments of El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. The goal of the strategy outlined in the plan was the implementation of free and fair elections, appropriate and verifiable safeguards for human rights and an end to foreign interference in the signatory countries internal affairs – this latter aspect of the agreement was particularly aimed at the United States government. In the process of formulating this agreement, Sanchez pushed back at the American government’s attempt to alter the peace plan that was signed in 1987. He also refused to grant permission to allow the United States to use Costa Rican territory to provide logistical support to the Contras.

The following is Oscar Arias S├ínchez’s Acceptance Speech, on the occasion of the award of the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, December 10, 1987

“When you decided to honour me with this prize, you decided to honour a country of peace, you decided to honour Costa Rica. When in this year, 1987, you carried out the will of Alfred E. Nobel to encourage peace efforts in the world, you decided to encourage the efforts to secure peace in Central America. I am grateful for the recognition of our search for peace. We are all grateful in Central America.

“Nobody knows better than the honourable members of this Committee, that this prize is a sign to let the world know that you want to foster the Central American peace initiative. With your decision you are enhancing the possibilities of success. You are declaring how well you know the search for peace can never end, and how it is a permanent cause, always in need of true support from real friends, from people with courage to promote change in favour of peace, even against all odds.

“Peace is not a matter of prizes or trophies. It is not the product of a victory or command. It has no finishing line, no final deadline, no fixed definition of achievement.

“Peace is a never-ending process, the work of many decisions by many people in many countries. It is an attitude, a way of life, a way of solving problems and resolving conflicts. It cannot be forced on the smallest nation or enforced by the largest. It cannot ignore our differences or overlook our common interests. It requires us to work and live together.

“Peace is not only a matter of noble words and Nobel lectures. We have ample words, glorious words, inscribed in the charters of the United Nations, the World Court, the Organization of American States and a network of international treaties and laws. We need deeds that will respect those words, honour those commitments, abide by those laws. We need to strengthen our institutions of peace like the United Nations, making certain they are fully used by the weak as well as the strong.

“I pay no attention to those doubters and detractors unwilling to believe that a lasting peace can be genuinely embraced by those who march under a different ideological banner or those who are more accustomed to cannons of war than to councils of peace.

“We seek in Central America not peace alone, not peace to be followed someday by political progress, but peace and democracy, together, indivisible, an end to the shedding of human blood, which is inseparable from an end to the suppression of human rights. We do not judge, much less condemn, any other nation’s political or ideological system, freely chosen and never exported. We cannot require sovereign states to conform to patterns of government not of their own choosing. But we can and do insist that every government respect those universal rights of man that have meaning beyond national boundaries and ideological labels. We believe that justice and peace can only thrive together, never apart. A nation that mistreats its own citizens is more likely to mistreat its neighbours.

“To receive this Nobel prize on the 10th of December is for me a marvelous coincidence. My son Oscar Felipe, here present, is eight years old today. I say to him, and through him to all the children of my country, that we shall never resort to violence, we shall never support military solutions to the problems of Central America. It is for the new generation that we must understand more than ever that peace can only be achieved through its own instruments: dialogue and understanding; tolerance and forgiveness; freedom and democracy.

“I know well you share what we say to all members of the international community, and particularly to those in the East and the West, with far greater power and resources than my small nation could never hope to possess, I say to them, with the utmost urgency: let Central Americans decide the future of Central America. Leave the interpretation and implementation of our peace plan to us. Support the efforts for peace instead of the forces of war in our region. Send our people ploughshares instead of swords, pruning hooks instead of spears. If they, for their own purposes, cannot refrain from amassing the weapons of war, then, in the name of God, at least they should leave us in peace.

“I say here to His Majesty and to the honourable members of the Nobel Peace Committee, to the wonderful people of Norway, that I accept this prize because I know how passionately you share our quest for peace, our eagerness for success. If, in the years to come peace prevails, and violence and war are thus avoided; a large part of that peace will be due to the faith of the people of Norway, and will be theirs forever.”

As a testament to Sanchez’s effort towards peace, Costa Rica remains to this day a model for the transition to a peaceful and stable society.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

A World We Need to Imagine

Since the dawn of human civilization, the state of humanity has been a reflection of the contradictory forces that are an integral part of the nature of individual existence. As sentient beings, we have the capacity for enlightened thinking, creative imagination, surprising inventiveness and a remarkable capacity to understand the forces in the universe that shape our existence and propel us forward. Using these innate capabilities as tools for human development, much progress has been made to improve the human condition.

However, bundled along with these qualities of our collective consciousness, are those aspects of our nature that have a decidedly opposite effect. These include our capacity for violence; our tendency to fear that which we do not fully understand; our tribal inclination to be in community with those who are like ourselves and to treat with suspicion those who are different and, most importantly, to allow the “darker” emotions to shape our behavior.

The end result of these contradictory forces has produced an historic record of human existence on this remarkable planet filled with periods filled with wondrous achievements and astounding progress and those overshadowed by utter darkness and despair. It seems that at times, the human capacity for unimaginable hatred, brutality, violence and cruelty seems to know no bounds. The historic record, in this regard, speaks for itself.

In spite of the collective impact of these often-conflicting influences, human civilization has managed to endure and to move forward. In the twenty-first century, as humans, we are approaching two very divergent paths towards the future. What currently seems to be the most likely of these possibilities is being shaped by a number of forces. Due to our remarkable strides in understanding of our own biology and the nature of the world around us, humans have come to be the dominant species on planet earth and our numbers are constantly increasing. Together with this reality, modern humans have come to expect a level of comfort, convenience and personal individual fulfillment that may, if not reasonably constrained, impact the earthly environment that sustains us to the extent that the future of the species may be endangered. Together with this trend, there is another force at work. Many nations that are currently held together by a sense of belonging to a larger community of individuals of similar beliefs, values, ethnicity and expectations are being challenged by an influx of those considered foreign and, therefore, treated with suspicion and fear. The prospect of the possible loss of national identity has unleashed a deleterious movement towards fascism. Recent human history has demonstrated just how dangerous this proclivity can be.

In my judgment, it is time for each of us as members of our species to begin to avert this collective movement towards a future that can imperil all human prospects by embracing an entirely different approach to living. It may have to begin by imagining an entirely a new way. The beginning of this process resides in an introspective assessment of self. First, we must determine what actually motivates our behavior; what moves us forward in life and what is the source of our values. This takes effort and concentration but is an essential ingredient for change. It requires a commitment to be courageous, honest and true to ourselves.

Once this initial work is accomplished, the next step would be to determine that which we truly value. I believe that at the core of this evaluation would be a world filled with peace; a future for the coming generations in a sustainable environment with a diversity of living beings on this beautiful and remarkable planet and a world where each person regardless of their ethnicity, race, gender, place of origin and system of beliefs is valued and appreciated as our equals.

If this possible future is what we truly desire, the first steps towards its actualization is shattering the invisible yet potent barriers that prevent us from encompassing those who are apparently different from ourselves. The most effective means to accomplish this is through the beauty of human communication – to disrupt the isolation that so profoundly reinforces suspicion and fear. We are, after all, members of the same species with the same characteristics, the same architecture of the brain, the same biology, the same drives, emotions, yearnings and desires. It is through real human communication that we would naturally come to appreciate the value of our differences.

Once, humans truly embrace one another as equals, then, and only then, can we collectively move forward to shape the future to meet our fondest desires and ensure a sustainable environment for the species.

Alternatively, succumbing to our tendency to tribal affiliation will not save us. Quite the opposite, it would enhance our isolation, exacerbate our fears and lead us on a path to further disruption and ultimately to social disintegration as history has repeatedly shown. We do have the capacity to finally and ultimately shatter the cycle of violence and retribution that has been such a recurrent theme throughout the human journey.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

A Tale of Two Nations

In regard to the current national climate, in my estimation, it is a misnomer to regard the United States as being made up of so-called “Red and Blue” States where the attributed color is associated with the dominance of one of the two major political parties, i.e. Red signifying the Republican Party and Blue signifying the Democratic Party. This apparent schism is more closely related to a division based upon opposing world views regarding the very nature of the social contract and a vision of the future that is not simply bounded by State borders, political party affiliation or purely regional differences.

There are those who perceive themselves as having so-called “progressive” values and tend to align themselves more often with the Democratic Party. These values include -
  • Belief in the value of an inclusive society that incorporates a broad diversity of ethnicities, cultures, ideas and lifestyles. As a natural consequence, immigration of peoples of color and varying cultural, social and religious beliefs is readily tolerated
  • Acceptance of the predominant role that science and technology play within the context of the modern world. It naturally follows from this viewpoint that climate change is of immediate concern and that religious belief has a more tenuous hold on everyday life
  • Support for the Commons – those societal institutions that reflect the basic needs of individuals living in community that include health care, housing, a living wage, adequate nutrition, etc. This conception predisposes the belief that a major role of government should be actively supporting these institutions
  • Strongly held belief in basic human, social and economic rights for all individuals regardless of gender, sexual orientation or cultural identity and the rule of law within civilized society
  • Perception of the United States as being a cooperative, productive and not an “exceptional” member of the community of nations. This global outlook is not likely to support the use of violence abroad to support purely nationalistic interests.
This does not necessarily represent an all-inclusive listing of the shared beliefs of those individuals who are affiliated with this segment of society

The other predominant group includes those individuals who espouse so-called “conservative” values that also have a strong regional affiliation. These values include –
  • Strongly held idea that this nation essentially belongs to what is defined as the white race. This notion represents such a considerable aspect of the underlying worldview that the immigration of peoples of color into the United States is seen as a threat to the very foundation of national identity.
  • Powerful affiliation with the Christian Religion especially in regard to the support of traditional values. As a consequence of the predominant role of this religious sentiment in everyday life, issues such as a woman’s right to an abortion are seen as a significant violation and repudiation of this philosophical outlook. From this perspective, modern science and technology is held suspect and climate change is seen as being essentially incompatible with religious belief and sentiment
  • Rights of the individual outweigh the rights of the larger community. From this perspective, the role of government is clearly delineated, and government action is often seen as an unwanted intrusion and repudiation of those rights
  • Highly nationalist view of the position and role of the United States within the community of nations. This worldview regards the United States as being exceptional among nations and, therefore, has every right to exert whatever force is required to maintain and achieve its own national interests.
This description of the overall beliefs of this group is meant as a summary and does not include all the subtleties and finer details of this worldview.

These differences, as described, are so divergent that they tend to clash and come into serious conflict with one another. This divergence explains the unavoidable reality that the national government has come to a serious and disquieting standstill. There is, however, a strong generational component to this division – the younger generations are clearly more progressive in their outlook and lifestyles. If this affiliation remains intact among the young as they mature, the future direction of the nation will necessarily become more unified with the passing of time for obvious and apparent reasons.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Regarding the Mythology of our Alleged Greatness as a Nation and a People

The current state of the country as reflected in the profound ideological split within the political leadership that currently resides in the nation’s capital clearly points to a nearly impassable divide among the nation’s people. This division is profound and has been extant for many generations and was especially exacerbated in the post-Civil War era notably following the abysmal failure of an attempt at “Reconstruction” (1865-1877).

Ever since the colonization of North America by Europeans in the 17th century and the subsequent formation of the Democratic Republic of the United States, a multiplicity of atrocities were committed against the native American population resulting in the near genocide of that people and the horrific imposition of slavery upon African peoples forcefully brought to this continent for the sole purpose of economic gain. Even to this day, these crimes against humanity have not been effectively acknowledged, and, as a consequence, blatant injustice and inequality persists.

The notion of white supremacy remains intact and has been given a new breath of life within the current political climate. It should be noted that the region of the country in which overt bigotry and hatred are particularly evident is in the Southeastern part of the United States – the area that was once the very heartland of the institution of slavery. White supremacy, however, is not simply a regional issue – it is extant throughout the nation. As a consequence, it is not only African Americans that feel the brunt of this backward and bigoted “philosophy” – it is also directed at people of color in general and even those who are culturally distinct. It is my contention, that the current fear of the increased numbers of immigrants attempting to come through our southern border has its origin in the belief that they are not our equals – that they are effectively inferior and, therefore, pose a danger to our way of life and institutions. This inherent aspect of the American reality is treated much like that proverbial, “elephant in the room.” Disturbingly, this belief in white supremacy represents the support structure and ultimate rationalization for white privilege that is a fundamental aspect of life in America.

This attitude is not reserved for residents of this country but has also become effectively embedded within the fabric of our interactions with other nations. The atrocities committed by this country against various peoples throughout this world as a result of military intervention – using the enormous firepower of our military establishment – has been directed primarily at much poorer nations, usually from countries with people of color and differing substantially in cultural outlook. If one were to tally the numbers of innocent lives lost in these militaristic adventures in the post-World War II era, they would number in the tens of millions. In none of these major military exploits was the nation’s security or well-being ever at stake. There are, of course, political and even moral rationales made for these wars – The Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf Wars for example – but the results are, nonetheless, the killing of many, innocents in completely avoidable confrontations.

In spite of this reality, it does not necessarily mean that the future direction of this nation will remain unchanged. It is essentially up to the willingness of its people to look with honesty at its own history and the real consequences of national policy and political choice with a determination to make insightful and meaningful change. The future vitality of this nation is dependent upon the degree of commitment that its people have regarding the fundamental aspiration of this country to achieve true human equality with the utmost respect for law and social justice for all. This will have to be the work and effort expended by the next generation. Let us hope for the best.

Monday, May 06, 2019

The Profound Significance of the Prospect of the Re-election of Donald Trump as President of the United States

Should Americans decide to choose Donald Trump as their President at the poles in the coming election, the meaning of this choice will become abundantly clear. It would then become patently obvious that as a people we would have effectively and possibly irreversibly abandoned the democratic principles we claim to hold so dear. It would establish that we, as a people, are in agreement with the highly destructive and corrosive belief in white supremacy especially since his election directly followed the presidency of Barrack Obama, the nation’s first African-American to hold that office. This choice would be a clear rejection of the reality of the broad diversity of the American population and an overt refusal to acknowledge the all-inclusive character of American life that was a predominant aspect of Obama’s worldview. The re-election of Donald Trump would be a clear indication that racial prejudice, hatred and overt bigotry are attributes we aspire to.

Should Donald Trump once again become the nation’s leader, it would have effectively established once and for all the real character of the American people; for, the implications of such a choice are enormous and unavoidable. The character of this man made so disturbingly apparent over his years in office would have had the complete endorsement of the American people. Foremost among these are his transparent lack of any suggestion of an underlying moral compass. He has consistently shown himself to be an individual personally corrupt who overtly uses any means at his disposal to bend the will of others to suit his own personal ambitions. He is not adverse to using intimidation to get his way; to employing tactics of personal humiliation and character assassination to undermine those have the temerity of oppose him; to embrace the idea of torture as an acceptable methodology to apply to the supposed enemies of this country; to enlist the help of foreign nationals in achieving his own political ambitions; to consistently not only distort the truth but effectively use the lie to promote his own agenda and to repeatedly attempt to undermine the rule of law and disregard the separation of powers that is such a fundamental aspect of the US Constitution.

In effect the re-election of Donald Trump would, in my estimation, mark a turning point in this nation’s brief history. It would have established that we have effectively abandoned democratic principles and it would represent a profound corruption of the American spirit. To elect this particular individual to such an eminent status would be to condone corruption; to accept the lie as a legitimate tool of governance; to wholeheartedly embrace the idea of white supremacy and to open the door to an entire panoply of national policies rooted in ignorance (climate change treated as a hoax being a troubling example), anti-intellectual fervor, mindlessness, extreme partisanship and ultimately, tyrannical rule.

There is, in effect, a definitive fork in the road and it will effectively be our choice to make as to what path we ultimately take.

Monday, April 08, 2019

A Personal Revelation

I arose this morning to grey skies on an early April day in the year 2019. In the midst of this adjustment to the introduction to a new day, I experienced what I consider to be a revelation of considerable importance.

This concept revolves around the theoretically somber reality of the end of life. The present is literally flying into the expectant arms of the past and my days of being a sentient creature cavorting on this wondrous blue pearl suspended as it is in the seemingly endless cosmos are diminishing as they must. I was struck by the idea (certainly not a new one) that death is the final and magnificent letting go. That moment when the breath ceases, the heart stops and the brain ceases to function; when the self dissolves into that space of absolute quiet where reality has no name, is the time when all connections dissolve and all earthly cares and concerns are immediately extinguished. This may sound somber and unforgiving, but, in my judgment, it is a fundamental reality that lies within the bedrock of existence. For that reason, it makes perfect sense – as the beginning of a personal saga is initiated with the first breath, it must end with expiration of one’s last breath. All stories have a finite existence – even our own.

Within the formidable crucible of existence, I have learned that in attempting to control as best I could the environment that I moved through, I, in fact, control absolutely nothing. Time and the galaxy of choices I have made, have moved me forward, and the ineluctable flow of events and the blossoming of circumstances within that simmering and ever-changing caldron of reality have a rhythm and momentum that cannot be impeded. Life has taught me that any attempt to control this process is essentially useless – a monumental waste of precious energy.

As a consequence, I have resolved to keep this reality deeply imbedded within my conscious life and use this perception as a filter through which pass the constant flow of experience within the purview of the present. I choose to approach my final days, whenever that time becomes evident, with that kind of clarity.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

The Unmasking of America

With the ascendancy of Donald J. Trump to the office of the President, we have come to witness the unmasking of America – a thorough debunking of any idealistic notion we may have had regarding the American character. This man even when campaigning for the nomination for the presidency in the Republican party had shown himself to be a person of almost limitless mendacity. Candidate Trump repeatedly displayed an unambiguous contempt for women and a mocking scorn towards his opponents. He demonstrated on many occasions his lack of an intellectual grasp and understanding of the complexities of national issues both foreign and domestic.

In spite of these apparent limitations, he succeeded in winning the election. With a plurality of the American voters horrified by this outcome, he validated their worst fears. Trump has subjected the nation to a veritable roller coaster ride of crazed policies especially around the issue of immigration that have clearly shown him to be an extreme nationalist and a white-supremacist devoid of any significant measure of compassion or empathy for the American people. He has been described as a narcissistic personality with no true moral center.

The fact that he continues to have a significant following, reveals the great chasm that exists in American life demonstrating that the hallmarks of white supremacy – intense bigotry, hatred and a marked capacity for violence - remain very much with us as a people.

This reality should be no surprise to those who have lived long enough to have experienced first-hand the nadir periods in the recent history of American politics. The periods I refer to revolve around the dark days of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War, especially. In each of these unsettling times, the underbelly of American life was thoroughly exposed. In each of these instances, resolutions were ultimately found, and social stability was restored.

The current reality is one of those seminal eras. What makes the present political climate disturbingly different, however, is that both sides of this rift have no desire to find common ground. Without a willingness to compromise, a democratic system of government stagnates and can become totally ineffectual. For a democracy to remain vibrant it is up to its people to demand from those in power that they truly serve the interests, concerns and well-being of everyone.