Monday, May 16, 2011

Is It Really a "War on Terror"?

I want to question the accuracy and value of the phrase, War on Terror. I personally do not see the war as really being against "terror". It is more accurately a war against inhumane ideas that lead to bondage. Therefore, it is a War On Ideas, or a War Against Bondage. I believe we should not fight an emotion. No human emotion is evil or abnormal. The feeling of terror is a normal and beneficial human feeling. I’d like to look at this beneficial view of terror from two perspectives.

First, from a practical socio-political perspective:

The Week magazine, and other sources, estimate that up to 10% of the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world are actively engaged in spreading some form of the old Sharia laws of Islam to all seven continents. My focus is on the most harmful and inhumane laws of Sharia, like stoning gay people, honor killings of women, limiting education of females, enforced clothing laws, teaching young boys to grow up and die for Allah, taxation of non-Muslims, religious intolerance, etc. I will not call them Terrorists. They are ideologues. It is their ideas that are dangerous and worthy of fighting, not their terror. This war that threatens the world is neither against Islam nor terror—but against ideas that lead to enslavement of the mind and body. So at the socio-politcal level, we are in a War Against Inhumane Bondage. The emotion of terror is actually very beneficial because it awakens, motivates and activates free people everywhere to do something to stop the infectious spread of enslaving ideas. We will never win a war against terror. We might as well fight happiness or grief. Terror, like all emotions, is a normal and beneficial human experience that moves people to transform intolerable situations.

Secondly, from a psychological perspective:

Psychologically, the emotion of terror is a very normal and beneficial human experience. Terror awakens the complacent human soul to the larger issues of existence—like one's core beliefs, values and priorities in life. Terror makes us conscious of suffering and injustice, of death and a host of other experiences that cause the soul to come up against something other than work, food, sleep and collecting more stuff. This psychological perspective is seldom taken into account by our politicians and by our culture in general. I am not talking about the “psyche” that is discussed in cognitive, behavioral and pharmaceutical psychologies. While there is a place for all of these approaches to human problems, they have virtually nothing to do with the soul per se. These therapies treat brain function, social behaviors and other assessable “scientific” phenomena--stuff that can be statistically quantified, measured and fixed with some technique or drug. When I use the word "soul" I am referring to that vague but very real "aspect" of sentient existence which moves us from our current level of consciousness to the next. This distinction between "soul" and most modern therapies reminds me of David Chase’s award winning HBO series, The Sopranos. In the pilot episode, mob boss Tony Soprano goes to a psychiatrist and receives a lithium prescription to treat his panic attacks. His wife Carmela finds out and is elated, saying to Tony, “Psychology doesn't address the soul--that's something else--but, this is a start.”

Soulful experiences of terror work on the complacent, unconscious static human being. Terror is like a hair or speck of dust under your eye lid, creating concentrated focus. Terror moves one to know him/her core self. Most of us want the "self" to have experiences of life, but few of us want to experience the life of the "self". Few people take time from their busy schedules to know their inner self and its judgments, motivations, worries, pleasures, inclinations, fantasies, dreams and behaviors. This is not bad--in fact I highly recommend being unconscious as long as it works! Being unconscious is a very pleasurable experience, but it almost always comes to an end, and most often that end comes through feelings of terror. The stark and icey feeling of terror has a way of moving one inward toward the core self. In the midst of a terrifying situation the really important things of life rise to the top and seemingly evaluate themselves while we feel like a mere spectator. It is as though someone is playing a scary video for us, revealing thoughts, feelings and points of view we didn't know we had. The soul expands at such times and psychic tsunamis rearrange our whole personality. To fight against this experience of terror is to wage war on the soul.

The Buddhist nun Pema Chodron tells us that terror and hope are wonderful feelings because they both push us up against the limitations of our current ego consciousness. The moment we are feeling terror we can be sure we are trying to flee from our current self, to leap over the present soul-making moment. To get rid of terror robs us of the opportunity to follow that emotional trail into the rabbit hole of consciousness and find the culprits that are keeping us from expanding. When terror is examined as an ally of psyche, and the disintegrating and reintegrating work of terror is realized, most often the terror will evaporate--its work is done.

That is why I don't like the phrase, War on Terror. I see the world fighting a War Against Bondage. I suggest that we stop fighting the terror, and instead, we should openly feel the terror and explore our unconscious assumptions, values, projections, prejudices and actions. Psychological iconoclast Thomas Szasz says, “There is no psychology; there is only biography and autobiography.” Through terror, you can come to know your self in ways you never could without the experience. Let's fight to keep our American freedoms, but cease fighting the soul-making experience of terror.

Saturday, May 7, 2011


As modern westerners have increasingly dominated nature with technology and great inventions, making external life easier, safer and more secure—we have concurrently neglected the soul, the internal life, or character. The neglect of the internal for the advancement of the external requires a compensatory response from the psyche. The internal will find a way to restore balance. The inner and the outer, spirit and matter, like the electrons in an atom, always work in tandem and dance together to make a whole. Psyche will restore balance through dis-ease—allowing the external phenomena to proceed to their logical conclusions that those ends might complete their arc and swing back the other way like a pendulum. Internal psyche will call us back. How?

Addictions, disorders and afflictions arise from Psyche, outside of and apart from human will. These dis-eases serve to turn us back to the internal life, to attend to soul. Pandemic obesity caused by external consumption is making us sick, depressed and miserable—forcing us to abandon external concerns and to examine and feed our malnourished souls. A heart attack has a way of rearranging priorities in a literal heartbeat. Rampant drug use (legal and illegal) and ubiquitous alcohol consumption give us external chemical highs, but then force us into the depths—hitting bottom, to see our neglected souls. Greed and obsession with money, career and stuff result in recessions and depressions which leave us bankrupt and depressed—forcing us back into reflection and soul-tending. Relationship and sex obsessions leave us eventually alone, insatiate, and often bitter-- forcing us to look inwardly. Our American political process has gradually abandoned soul along with religion, calling for external solutions through rational policies and messianic politicians—and we are all raging at the other party. Psychotherapy focuses on statistics, diagnostic manuals and averages, assigning labels and standard treatments that “reprogram” the brain or body—and few are much happier. Even our western spirituality often turns to a kind of external solution as we look to theological systems, metaphysical techniques, spiritual books, seminars, teachers and intellectualized quick-fix “scientific” religions that leave us shallow and dissatisfied--forcing a spiritual crisis which drives us back into our own neglected souls.

The solution is in the disease. Each of these external failures, mostly unconsciously, are forcing us back to the radical or root source—our own bereft self or soul in need of care--not a cure. The care must come from powers that were prior to all externals, and greater than all human inventions which make life easier, safer and more secure. There is no quick fix or herd solution. Decades of soul neglect have left an overgrown internal topography. Most will not hack their way through, but return to the food, drink, relationship pursuits, technological distractions and other external answers. Most prefer the disease itself to the hard work of self knowledge--not self obsession, but deep self knowledge. But can't we change? Can't we decide to fix the problem and change our individual life?

The bad news is that this is primarily a collective problem afflciting the entire western psyche. While most of us think we can solve our problems with the right effort, maany are finding failure after failure. When individuals try to “overcome” their particular problem--which we call addictions, neuroses and afflictions--they do not know that their struggle is against a larger psychic assault on western externalized values. The neurotic “onslaught” by a compensatory psyche is not personal, but exists in pandemic numbers for the corrective of the collective soul. The corrective is bigger than the individual's obesity or drug problem, bigger than the democrats or republicans salutary policies to fix the economy. The psycho-emotional epidemic in America is from a cultural neglect of soul. Some sort of larger "victory" will arrive when a significant number of people learn that self knowledge and character need attention—that the soul must be seen, heard and attended to on a scale that will shift the western soul. Technology, industry, herd solutions, statistical and formulaic social agendas and all of the great academic rationalisms must learn to co-exist with and even surrender at times to psychic agencies which operate inwardly, individually and apart from external human consciousness.

However, if one does per chance work to achieve success, recovery, and “healing” in his/her area of addiction or affliction--it almost always requires much time and attention put on elusive and enigmatic self knowledge, and always a compassionate return to society with a message of soul over stuff. If these two criteria are not met, the successful changer will inevitably return to some external solution--and lead the proverbial life of quiet desperation.