A Straight Shot of Politics

A blog from a gentleman of the Liberal political persuasion dedicated to right reason, clear thinking, cogent argument, and the public good.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

I have returned from darkness and quiet. I used to style myself as "Joe Claus", Santa Claus’ younger brother because that is what I still look like. I wrote my heart out about liberal politics until June of 2006, when all that could be said had been said. I wrote until I could write no more and I wrote what I best liked to read when I was young and hopeful: the short familiar essays in Engish and American periodicals of 50 to 100 years ago. The archetype of them were those of G.K. Chesterton, written in newspapers and gathered into numerous small books. I am ready to write them again. I am ready to write about life as seen by the impoverished, by the mentally ill, by the thirty years and more of American Buddhist converts, and by the sharp eyed people [so few now in number] with the watcher's disease, the people who watch and watch and watch. I am all of these.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

A Wilderness Of Mirrors

I started this as another late night post from a brain too wound up to sleep. And a brain prone to lucid despair. The weight of writing it was too much for me then. But I am finishing it rested, albeit with a caffine starvation headache. No, I'm not doing anything so silly as "cutting back on my coffee", I simply got too involved with another project today to notice that I hadn't had any coffee until the pounding headache began to grip. Three Excedrin and one strong cup later, I am starting to chip at the wall of pain. But here is the start of my original draft:

My political adversaries comprise two groups, one of which I am in partial agreement with. The first group consists largely of the morally corrupt who recognize nothing except money, power, and contempt for others. They are boring beyond words and largely beyond help in this life. All one can do as a Buddhist is dedicate the good results of sincere practice to their eventual enlightenment in some future life. I do this every time I practice.

The second group consists of honest and sincere people whom the morally corrupt exploit for political advantage. These are the people with whom I often agree and among whom I have sustained [up to now] a real, if strained, dialog.

The honest and sincere people who are my adversaries, and who are largely Christian, agree with me on one important point. The United States is in the midst of a moral struggle and not a political one.

But my view of the moral struggle is not the same as theirs. Theirs, essentially, is that of a struggle against a nebulous consortium of evil demons: Muslims, illegal immigrants, gays, news organizations, liberals, and, and, and, and....Even the ones whom I like the most show lapses in viewing mere strong political disagreement as a struggle with irredeemable moral evil. In other words, lapses of plain common sense.

In my view, the real moral struggle is a struggle to continue to sustain plain common sense.

We can take any issue you please. We can take global warming, for example. There are certain objective things we can ask and answer about the issue. We can ask whether Greenland's ice cap is melting or not. We can ask how fast is it melting. We can ask what it will do to the oceans if most of it melts. We can ask what we can and should do about all of these things.

My adversaries simply refuse to ask these questions seriously. They act as if the answers to such questions are mere matters of opinion. And that is the abandonment of common sense.

They live in a wilderness of mirrors and the demons they see are the reflections of their own terrified faces. One of the useful things about this blog [besides the fact that the owner of it has a darn good left hook, which I know empirically because I have put my head in the way of it] is that it puts the reflections of self-loathing and self-horror at the head of every post.

Struggling against these adversaries is, as I said, a moral struggle. It is as much a struggle for their future--or, as they would say, their immortal soul--as it is a struggle for the public future of this country. The greatest flaw of most of them, even the one in the highest office of the land, is that they believe themselves to have moral principles without first establishing mental principles.

This is a subtle matter and one which is not wholly measurable with literal description. You can best point at it by reflecting that religious doubt is just as religious as religious faith. For many of my Christian adversaries, their political and social opinions are primarily a means of evading the problem of religious doubt.

You may wonder that I include the President among my Christian adversaries rather than among my amoral ones. Unlike many of my party, I take his Methodist Christianity seriously. He is no longer a drunken, drugged sot, as he once was, because of it, and that is an objective moral result. You do not get such things without some modicum of faith.

But the point of taking religious doubt seriously is the fact that merely accepting religious faith does nothing to address the underlying qualities of personality which make you a drunken, drugged sot. If you wish it translated into Christian terms, it does nothing to foster a sense of personal sin, and the humility which accompanies a sense of personal sin.

Why? Because merely having faith in God, in Christ, in Allah, in something or someone else bigger, better, and more powerful than you are does nothing to address who and what you really are. And you wear who or what you really are for all to see. If you can't or won't look at it, it will rule your actions for good or evil no matter how strongly you believe in what "higher power". And the good or evil you do will follow you inexorably like the Eye of God followed Cain in the desert. So will your defiance of plain common sense.

Indeed, such religious faith without address of your real and personal qualities as a human being is the source of the blackest spiritual pride.

It is also the absence of the firm mental principles that need to ground the assertion of moral principles by anyone. For religious doubt is not doubt of a Diety. The Diety is not self-evident in our common world. This is why Christianity, say, must be held to with "faith". If God were interviewed on Larry King tonight and was taking questions from around the country, there would be no need for "faith" whatever. And disbelief in God is as much a matter of "faith" as belief in Him. His non-existence is no more self-evident than His existence. Real religious doubt is doubt by you about you.

The firm mental principle which must ground your assertion of any moral principle is the fact that you are limited. You are not omnicient. You are not automatically right or good or even sane in whatever you think and whatever you do. In fact, a good percentage of the time you are wrong, bad, and nuts. Keeping from being wrong, bad, and nuts is a constant mental struggle which the wrong sort of "faith" projects on the actions of others in the blithe assertion of personal omnicience, rightness, goodness, and sanity.

When you do this, you are really wrong, bad, and nuts.

I find that my adversaries do this quite frequently and I strongly suspect it pervades the public policy of our most Christian President. But there is always room for doubt whether, in believing this, I, myself, am not being wrong, bad, and nuts.

As a Buddhist, I not only cleave to and practice Buddhism as a religion, I also sustain an abstract intellectual interest in my own struggles to be a Buddhist. I have an equally abstract intellectual interest in anyone else's struggles to be a Christian or a Muslim or whatever. When I have written about Buddhism here it has been in that spirit, under the assumption that the readers find spiritual struggles interesting, too.

Why I find Buddhism, and, particularly, the Tibetan tradition of it which I practice, intellectually riveting is that virtually everything you do in it is a confrontation with who and what you really are. And it is undertaken, in part, with the goal of achieving "enlightenment" which is simply the total accomplishment of sanity and common sense, a state where mental principles and moral principles are finally unified and need no "faith" to sustain them.

The way I have been taught to practice Buddhism is like riding a burning razor in the middle of a windstorm. That is why it is interesting. And also why it is painful. Inordinately painful, because it is real; because, as we Buddhists say, "life is suffering", and no mere "faith" in someone or something else is going to make it any better.

What is the point of faith without such pain? None that I can see. The moral struggle to sustain common sense is the use of that pain as the starting point for all judgments. And when I, or anyone else, abandons this, we are condemmed quite literally to the Wilderness of Mirrors.

In this life the Wilderness of Mirrors is bad enough, but it is not absolute. The mere fact that totally abandoning common sense causes you to frequently stub your toes [if no worse] keeps you sane to the degree that you cannot ignore everything in life which contradicts your opinions.

But after death the Wilderness of Mirrors can turn into an endless chamber of horrors where any form of objective common sense is no longer possible. And this is the danger that I strongly believe most of my Christian adversaries face without realising it. Not because they are Christian, but because, essentially, they are not Christian enough. Because they have religious faith without religious doubt.

It is not fashionable to say such blunt things about the followers of other beliefs. But I care little for fashion and I care a lot for the future of my Christian adversaries as well as that of all beings. And the reactions my adversaries have to me when I do say such things can be quite personally painful. But I will ride that burning razor into the very wall of the storm, if need be, if doing so alerts anyone to the horrid danger of the Wilderness of Mirrors. The need to do this, and for this very reason, is the bedrock of my own "faith".


Blogger Alexandra said...

"They live in a wilderness of mirrors and the demons they see are the reflections of their own terrified faces. One of the useful things about this blog [besides the fact that the owner of it has a darn good left hook, which I know empirically because I have put my head in the way of it] is that it puts the reflections of self-loathing and self-horror at the head of every post."

Joseph you do say the nicest things, I am almost blushing...

2:31 AM  
Blogger Joseph Marshall said...

Flattery has always been my long suit.

A decade and more ago, art was my business. I still take it more seriously than most Americans. In that spirit I would recommend to you the remark of Friedrich Nietzsche that when you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you.

10:15 AM  
Anonymous Enlightenment said...

Speaking of a wilderness of mirrors...

One thing that struck me as odd in the days after 9/11 was Bush saying "We will not tolerate conspiracy theories [regarding 9/11]". Sure enough there have been some wacky conspiracy theories surrounding the events of that day. The most far-fetched and patently ridiculous one that I've ever heard goes like this: Nineteen hijackers who claimed to be devout Muslims but yet were so un-Muslim as to be getting drunk all the time, doing cocaine and frequenting strip clubs decided to hijack four airliners and fly them into buildings in the northeastern U.S., the area of the country that is the most thick with fighter bases. After leaving a Koran on a barstool at a strip bar after getting shitfaced drunk on the night before, then writing a suicide note/inspirational letter that sounded like it was written by someone with next to no knowledge of Islam, they went to bed and got up the next morning hung over and carried out their devious plan. Nevermind the fact that of the four "pilots" among them there was not a one that could handle a Cessna or a Piper Cub let alone fly a jumbo jet, and the one assigned the most difficult task of all, Hani Hanjour, was so laughably incompetent that he was the worst fake "pilot" of the bunch, with someone who was there when he was attempting to fly a small airplane saying that Hanjour was so clumsy that he was unsure if he had driven a car before. Nevermind the fact that they received very rudimentary flight training at Pensacola Naval Air Station, making them more likely to have been C.I.A. assets than Islamic fundamentalist terrorists. So on to the airports after Mohammed Atta supposedly leaves two rental cars at two impossibly far-removed locations. So they hijack all four airliners and at this time passengers on United 93 start making a bunch of cell phone calls from 35,000 feet in the air to tell people what was going on. Nevermind the fact that cell phones wouldn't work very well above 4,000 feet, and wouldn't work at ALL above 8,000 feet. But the conspiracy theorists won't let that fact get in the way of a good fantasy. That is one of the little things you "aren't supposed to think about". Nevermind that one of the callers called his mom and said his first and last name ("Hi mom, this is Mark Bingham"), more like he was reading from a list than calling his own mom. Anyway, when these airliners each deviated from their flight plan and didn't respond to ground control, NORAD would any other time have followed standard operating procedure (and did NOT have to be told by F.A.A. that there were hijackings because they were watching the same events unfold on their own radar) which means fighter jets would be scrambled from the nearest base where they were available on standby within a few minutes, just like every other time when airliners stray off course. But of course on 9/11 this didn't happen, not even close. Somehow these "hijackers" must have used magical powers to cause NORAD to stand down, as ridiculous as this sounds because total inaction from the most high-tech and professional Air Force in the world would be necessary to carry out their tasks. So on the most important day in its history the Air Force was totally worthless. Then they had to make one of the airliners look like a smaller plane, because unknown to them the Naudet brothers had a videocamera to capture the only known footage of the North Tower crash, and this footage shows something that is not at all like a jumbo jet, but didn't have to bother with the South Tower jet disguising itself because that was the one we were "supposed to see". Anyway, as for the Pentagon they had to have Hani Hanjour fly his airliner like it was a fighter plane, making a high G-force corkscrew turn that no real airliner can do, in making its descent to strike the Pentagon. But these "hijackers" wanted to make sure Rumsfeld survived so they went out of their way to hit the farthest point in the building from where Rumsfeld and the top brass are located. And this worked out rather well for the military personnel in the Pentagon, since the side that was hit was the part that was under renovation at the time with few military personnel present compared to construction workers. Still more fortuitous for the Pentagon, the side that was hit had just before 9/11 been structurally reinforced to prevent a large fire there from spreading elsewhere in the building. Awful nice of them to pick that part to hit, huh? Then the airliner vaporized itself into nothing but tiny unidentifiable pieces most no bigger than a fist, unlike the crash of a real airliner when you will be able to see at least some identifiable parts, like crumpled wings, broken tail section etc. Why, Hani Hanjour the terrible pilot flew that airliner so good that even though he hit the Pentagon on the ground floor the engines didn't even drag the ground!! Imagine that!! Though the airliner vaporized itself on impact it only made a tiny 16 foot hole in the building. Amazing. Meanwhile, though the planes hitting the Twin Towers caused fires small enough for the firefighters to be heard on their radios saying "We just need 2 hoses and we can knock this fire down" attesting to the small size of it, somehow they must have used magical powers from beyond the grave to make this morph into a raging inferno capable of making the steel on all forty-seven main support columns (not to mention the over 100 smaller support columns) soften and buckle, then all fail at once. Hmmm. Then still more magic was used to make the building totally defy physics as well as common sense in having the uppermost floors pass through the remainder of the building as quickly, meaning as effortlessly, as falling through air, a feat that without magic could only be done with explosives. Then exactly 30 minutes later the North Tower collapses in precisely the same freefall physics-defying manner. Incredible. Not to mention the fact that both collapsed at a uniform rate too, not slowing down, which also defies physics because as the uppermost floors crash into and through each successive floor beneath them they would shed more and more energy each time, thus slowing itself down. Common sense tells you this is not possible without either the hijackers' magical powers or explosives. To emphasize their telekinetic prowess, later in the day they made a third building, WTC # 7, collapse also at freefall rate though no plane or any major debris hit it. Amazing guys these magical hijackers. But we know it had to be "Muslim hijackers" the conspiracy theorist will tell you because (now don't laugh) one of their passports was "found" a couple days later near Ground Zero, miraculously "surviving" the fire that we were told incinerated planes, passengers and black boxes, and also "survived" the collapse of the building it was in. When common sense tells you if that were true then they should start making buildings and airliners out of heavy paper and plastic so as to be "indestructable" like that magic passport. The hijackers even used their magical powers to bring at least seven of their number back to life, to appear at american embassies outraged at being blamed for 9/11!! BBC reported on that and it is still online. Nevertheless, they also used magical powers to make the american government look like it was covering something up in the aftermath of this, what with the hasty removal of the steel debris and having it driven to ports in trucks with GPS locators on them, to be shipped overseas to China and India to be melted down. When common sense again tells you that this is paradoxical in that if the steel was so unimportant that they didn't bother saving some for analysis but so important as to require GPS locators on the trucks with one driver losing his job because he stopped to get lunch. Hmmmm. Further making themselves look guilty, the Bush administration steadfastly refused for over a year to allow a commission to investigate 9/11 to even be formed, only agreeing to it on the conditions that they get to dictate its scope, meaning it was based on the false pretense of the "official story" being true with no other alternatives allowed to be considered, handpicked all its members making sure the ones picked had vested interests in the truth remaining buried, and with Bush and Cheney only "testifying" together, only for an hour, behind closed doors, with their attorneys present and with their "testimonies" not being recorded by tape or even written down in notes. Yes, this whole story smacks of the utmost idiocy and fantastic far-fetched lying, but it is amazingly enough what some people believe. Even now, five years later, the provably false fairy tale of the "nineteen hijackers" is heard repeated again and again, and is accepted without question by so many Americans. Which is itself a testament to the innate psychological cowardice of the American sheeple, i mean people, and their abject willingness to believe something, ANYTHING, no matter how ridiculous in order to avoid facing a scary uncomfortable truth. Time to wake up America.

Debunking Popular Mechanics lies:
someone else debunking Popular Mechanics crap:
still more debunking Poopular Mechanics:
and still more debunking of Popular Mechanics:

Poopular Mechanics staff replaced just before laughable “debunking” article written:
another neo-con 9/11 hit piece explodes, is retracted:
Professor Steven Jones debunks the N.I.S.T. “report” as well as the F.E.M.A. one and the 9/11 commission "report":
N.I.S.T. scientist interviewed:
F.B.I. says no hard evidence linking Osama bin Laden to 9/11 which is why his wanted poster says nothing about 9/11:
Fire Engineering magazine says important questions about the Twin Tower “collapses” still need to be addressed:http://fe.pennnet.com/Articles/Article_Display.cfm?Section=OnlineArticles&SubSection=Display&PUBLICATION_ID=25&ARTICLE_ID

Twin Towers’ construction certifiers say they should have easily withstood it:
USA Today interview with the last man out of the South Tower, pursued by a fireball:
Janitor who heard explosions and escaped has testimony ignored by 9/11 whitewash commission:
Janitor starts speaking out about it and his apartment is burglarized, laptop stolen:
Firefighters tell of multiple explosions:
Eyewitnesses tell of explosions:
Interview with another firefighter telling of explosions:
Firefighter saw “sparkles” (strobe lights on detonators?) before “collapse”:
Other eyewitnesses talk of seeing/hearing explosions:
Surviving eyewitnesses talk of multiple explosions there:
Cutter charge explosions clearly visible:
The pyroclastic cloud (that dust cloud that a second before was concrete) and how it wouldn’t be possible without explosives:
Detailed description of the demolition of the Twin Towers:
Freefall rate of “collapses” math:
More about their freefall rate “collapses”:
Video footage of the controlled demolition of the Twin Towers:
Video footage of the controlled demolition of WTC # 7 building:
More of WTC # 7 controlled demolition:
Naudet brothers' video footage of the North Tower crash:
Photos of the Pentagon’s lawn (look at these and see if you can tell me with a straight face that a jumbo jet crashed there):
More photos of this amazing lawn at the Pentagon:
Very unconvincing fake “Osama” “confession” tape:
More about the fake “Osama” tape:
Fake “Mohammed Atta” “suicide” letter:
Commercial pilots disagree with “official” 9/11 myth:
More commercial jet pilots say “official” myth is impossible:
Impossibility of cell phone calls from United 93:
More about the impossible cell phone calls:
Experiment proves cell phone calls were NOT possible from anywhere near the altitude the “official” myth has them at:
Fake Barbara Olson phone call:
Where the hell was the Air Force?
More about the Air Force impotence question:
Sept. 10th 2001, Pentagon announces it is “missing” $2.3 trillion (now why do you think they picked THAT day to announce it? So it could be buried the next day by 9/11 news):
Unocal pipeline-through-Afghanistan plan:
Unocal pipeline-through-Afghanistan plan mentioned:
More on Unocal Afghan pipeline:
The attack on Afghanistan was planned in the summer of 2001, months before 9/11:
Pentagon deliberately misled 9/11 Commission:
Evidence destruction by authorities and cover-up:
9/11 whitewash Commission and NORAD day:
The incredible fish tales of the 9/11 Commission examined:
Jeb Bush declares state of emergency 4 days before 9/11 for Florida, saying it will help respond to terrorism:
Steel debris removal from Ground Zero, destruction of evidence:
Over two hundred incriminating bits of 9/11 evidence shown in the mainstream media:
Tracking the “hijackers”:
“Hijacker” patsies:
“Hijackers” receiving flight training at Pensacola Naval Air Station:
Several accused "hijackers" still alive and well, wondering why they are accused:
Yet the F.B.I. insists that the people it claims were the "hijackers" really were the "hijackers":
No Arabs on Flight 77:
Thirty experts say “official” 9/11 myth impossible:
“Al Qaeda” website tracks back to Maryland:
Al Qaeda videos uploaded from U.S. government website:
Operation: Northwoods, a plan for a false-flag “terror” attack to be blamed on Castro to use it as a pretext for America to invade Cuba, thankfully not approved by Kennedy back in 1962 but was approved by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and sent to his desk:

4:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just curious... so what would you recommend we do (ordinary Joes) 4 the next prez. election? Shall we all go AWOL? Behind every action or inaction is motivated by some form of a belief or ideology... So, whatever shall we do with this post modern and ever increasingly geopolitical structure that we hurl ourselves in2? The progressive movement have failed and this modern "democratic system" is increasingly becoming oppressive! But since we are so comfortable in our "american way of life" (whatever that means) the average American joe born or naturalized and the modern immigrants either too busy earning an honest living and no time to think and reflect or the quite a few who are just too indifferent! Any thoughts? 1 more thing what is your take on the politicians whether their democratic, republican, or independent... I mean for me they are all cut from the same cloth/fabric ---no zest for real raw moral uprightness of conscience! We can't produce great thinkers nor great leaders in our generation and I'm a post vatican 2 baby myself!

3:30 PM  
Anonymous joseph marshall said...

I think that is too harsh. I am writing this after the 2006 election which, whether you are a Democrat, as I am, or not, taught everybody in power that they have no monopoly on omnicience. In fact, it has sent the intelligent elements of the Repuplican party on a soul search for its mental principles, just as the 2004 "painting the map red" defeat did for us Democrats.

We do, in some sense, have a fresh start, despite the massive damage, here and abroad that has been done over the last 8 years. The candidates of both parties are a cut above in accomplishment and intelligence than many of the last 25 years. What we need to do is listen to them closely, even if it takes time away from other things, and see whether they manifest the clear mental principles that lead to genuine moral principles.

It is early days yet, but there are some hopeful signs that at least some of them will.

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