Tag Archives: Japan

Precept versus Practice

Christianity purports to hold love as a value and through precepts such as “love one another” attempts to make it an essential aspect of a religious life. However, the evidence for its practice by Christians is sparse, at least in my experience. Even Christians who seem to exemplify the precept often report something different. For example, the “saint” Mother Theresa has often been offered as an example of Christian compassion and love. On the other hand, I’ve read that she denied this and attributed her behavior to a sense of duty. In short, she seemed to be saying that she acted according to a behavioral form, that is, she acted according what she thought she should do not from how she experienced the world around her and how she felt toward that world.

What is missing here is the lack of practices that develop the ability to be love in the sense that Jesus meant and contemporary spiritual teachers mean. To hold love as a value and advocate for it is simply not enough. Without specific practices designed to actualize love in one’s way of being, love as a value is an empty shell, and a precept such as “love one another” is meaningless. Thus, the result is someone who acts according to an idea or belief about what love should look like but does so not out of love but out of duty or some other motivation.

By way of a concrete analogy, consider a military recruit on a rifle range where marksmanship is valued. The recruit is given the instruction to aim true and shoot straight (precept). Unless this recruit arrives already adept in the use of a rifle, he or she will be largely clue less about how to implement the instruction. What the recruit needs is a practice that develops the skills necessary to aim true and shoot straight. This requires someone skilled in the practice to teach it to the recruit who in turn then engages the practice until the desired level of skill is achieved. Such a practice may have multiple components, such as, body position, breath control. sighting, adjustment for wind, trigger compression and extinguishing reflexive actions; e.g., closing the eyes when firing.

I would suggest that what Jesus and many other spiritual teachers mean by love is grounded in an ability to moderate the ego-self in which its needs and wants are primary and other people’s needs and wants are secondary or even irrelevant. It is only when one has learned to stand aside from the ego-self and its inherent self-centered- ness that it is possible to be love and to engage the world from love. Some spiritual traditions have practices that help one learn how to stand aside from the ego-self. They also have practices that target specific problems that need to be overcome, such as negative feelings toward someone in particular that make it difficult to stand aside from the ego-self that harbors those feelings.

To my knowledge, Christianity has no such practices. Or, perhaps I should say, it has had individuals who developed such practices but they were suppressed and prevented from becoming a part of the religion. In many cases, the person who developed the practices and exhibited their effects was isolated or declared a heretic and in some cases put to death. In contemporary times there has been some effort to introduce the practice of meditation into Christianity through the Centering Prayer movement. One of the earliest advocates was Fa William Johnston who went to Japan to proselytize and took up Zen as a way to better understand the culture. He got more than he expected (Christian Zen, 1971).

 

The Monetary Factor in the 2008-09 Economic Downturn

          To see the role of the monetary factor one must look beyond the present or even the recent past. One could go back to the late nineteenth century or earlier, but the problem really got underway with the creation of the Federal Reserve by the Woodrow Wilson (D) administration in the early twentieth century (ostensibly to prevent recessions — that’s worked out really well hasn’t it?).

This was followed by Franklin Roosevelt (D) taking the U.S. currency off the gold standard (and confiscating gold from citizens) during the depression and thereby significantly devaluing the currency and giving the Federal Reserve a larger financial space in which to operate. Devaluing the U.S. currency in effect inflated the money supply, which allowed paying off government debts and obligations at a discount. The USG agreed to continue redeeming obligations to foreign governments in gold but at the new set price, which significantly discounted the obligations.

The problem really began catching fire with Lyndon Johnson (D) and his Great Society (War in Vietnam, War on Poverty and Medicare), which greatly increased federal debt and obligations. At the time, I recall reading an article in the “New Republic” lamenting the long-term economic effect this was going to have. The effects didn’t take long to catch up as the Richard Nixon (R) administration found itself potentially facing foreign government obligations and demands for more gold than the U.S. had in its reserves. Thus, Nixon was faced with either potentially defaulting on some or all of the obligations or finding a way to appear to be meeting them. Thus, Nixon took the U.S. the rest of the way off the gold standard declaring that the U.S. would no longer meet obligations to foreign governments in gold (implicitly saying we didn’t have the gold to meet the obligations we had incurred). In short, the U.S. dollar became fiat money.

This contributed to the runaway inflation of the 70s and a further devaluing of the currency. The original link between a dollar and an ounce of gold was 1:1. It is currently around 1200:1. It was during this period that a scheme, devised by Henry Kissinger, for tying the value of the dollar to the price of oil by forging an agreement with oil producers to price oil in dollars in exchange for U.S. military support. One side effect of this scheme was to significantly elevate the power and importance of big oil companies. The U.S. government (USG) under both Democrat and Republican administrations has continued merrily on down this path, which can only end in financial ruin and economic chaos. The Russian devaluation in 1998 should serve as an object lesson.

Recent political administrations seem hell bent on achieving “pedal to the metal” speed as we careen toward the immovable wall represented by what appears to be unavoidable insolvency. I’m not necessarily an advocate for tying the value of the dollar back to gold but it needs to be tied to something that isn’t easily subject to political whim. It is after all supposed to be a store of value.

In short, the USG has declared de facto bankruptcy twice. The first time was in the 1930s and the second time was in the 1970s. It appears we’re facing a third episode of de facto bankruptcy, except this time there appear to be no exits from the burning house of cards. Some think it could be avoided by economic growth but the kind of growth required is only found in entrepreneurial dreams. Even leaving aside such an unlikely degree of growth, the tax and other policies that define the U.S. economy mitigate against much economic growth at all. Low economic growth may have a silver lining in that the issue arising at the intersection of ecological degradation and economic growth would be mitigated. 

We will be indeed fortunate to generate enough growth to tread water at or near our current levels. Look at the Japanese economy of the past two decades and you’re probably looking at the U.S. economy for the foreseeable future. The one major difference is that Japan had a huge cushion of private savings to soften their economic fall. Another option would be to simply let the house of cards collapse. This would be very economically painful and disruptive and there is not any stomach for it, especially among the political class. A third option that some see, based on a flawed understanding of the what ended the depression, is massive government spending to stimulate growth, which produces growth in the same sense that “speed” generates energy. What pulled the U.S. out of the depression was not the economic activity generated by public programs and then war time spending but the industrial infrastructure destruction of war that left the U.S. as the only industrially intact economy in the world. The recovery from the depression was thereby produced by manufacturing and exporting goods to the rest of the world, until their infrastructure was replaced and they began competing with us rather than depending on us.

Of course, there is the insane solution, a nice little tactical nuclear war that wipes out a lot of infrastructure around the world but not most of the populations while leaving our infrastructure intact. A somewhat less insane strategy would be to start a nice big conventional war (something along the lines of Vietnam) in the irrational belief that the war will stimulate enough economic activity to bail us out of our mess. At best such a war would provide a temporary distraction while digging the hole deeper. Iraq and Afghanistan won’t do it. Iran maybe?