Monday, December 19, 2011

The Middle Way: Tibet Leads by Example

Siddharta Gautama or Buddha, as he is more commonly known, preached on the Doctrine of the Middle Path. Today, his spiritual descendent, the Dalai Lama seeks "to bring about stability and co-existence between the Chinese and Tibetan peoples based on equality and mutual co-operation."

In a diplomatically rare position, the Nobel Peace Prize winner recognizes the needs and interests of three parties in the Chinese-Tibetan conflict: the Tibetan desire for increased autonomy and respect for their culture, the People´s Republic of China's need for national unity and the international community's call for a peaceful region. The Dalai Lama claims that although the 17-Point Agreement was biased in favor of the Chinese, he agreed to comply with the treaty to avoid further conflicts, but the PRC military violently attacked Thasa, the Tibetan capital. While in exile, he declared the the agreement void due to Chinese aggression, but since his return he has expressed willingness to negotiate.

The Middle Way approach is not a choice made solely by the Dalai Lama because it is a democratically supported policy. Among the requests made by the Central Tibetan Administration are being "governed by the popularly-elected legislature... an independent judicial system... (management of) religion and culture, education, economy, health, ecological and environmental protection.On the other hand, the Chinese goverment would be allowed to keep a limited number of troops in the region and control of international relations. Both countries should agree to increase their sincerety, respect for human rights and efforts towards reconciliation.

This non-violent approach is one the greatest political implementations of balance. The Middle Way can be implemented in any international or intranational dispute. If all leaders agreed to promote peaceful coexistence with among all groups, the world would be a safer, more stable and mutually benefitial place.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Nietzsche: Fighting Fire with Fire

In the 19th century, Nietzsche argued that since Plato, Western Civilization has been too concerned with the Apollonian aspect of the world. The Greek god of light, Apollo, represents order, structure, rationality, the direct opposite of Dionysus, god of ecstasy, drunkenness.  Examples of Dionysian energies are the arts and other creative pursuits.

Ourorobos: Greek symbol for "eternal recurrence"
The German philosopher also claimed that religions and other beliefs such as Plato´s theory of forms were a severe flaw in humanity´s thinking because they dealt with speculation and were concerned with "other-worlds" instead of reality. Nietzsche argued that the weak used these ideas as an escape, due to their incapacity to deal with life. If a person is willing to live in a cyclical universe of "Eternal  Recurrence" where life is repeated over and over again, that would prove that he or she has come to an absolute acceptance of reality.
Perhaps Friederich Nietzsche´s most controversial idea is the idea of the √úbermensch or Overman. The Overman is a new creature that he believes will result from the overcoming of humanity´s defects and its evolution into something greater. This new being is characterized by its "self-confident, self-reinforcing, self-governing, creative and commanding attitude" which has also come to reject all forms of morality and emerged even more powerful from the resulting nihilism.

One example of the overcompensations made by this philosophical giant is illustrated by his excessive admiration of the individual in opposition to society, the Dionysian over the Apollonian, which if  implemented into society would result overtime in an opposite, but equally flawed reality. However, his awareness that he is not a √úbermensch suggests that he knew that he was an imbalanced thinker as well and that someday his excesses would be overcome.

His adamant opposition to "other-worldliness" is also unbalanced. It is not unreasonable for him to challenge people´s obsession with Heaven, alternate realities and additional "other-worlds" as a reason not to live present life, the only certain one, to the fullest. If one is strict, there is no place in Nietzsche's philosophy for plans for a better world, which is in its essence an "other-world". However, he proves himself wrong with his prediction of the Overman, because it is a "detachment" from reality too. It is impossible to live only in reality without considering, to some degree, other possibilities.

Further evidence of Nietzsche´s imbalance is the Nazi´s use of his ideas to justify their actions and promote their ideology. Although it is true that Nazi Germany distorted and cherry-picked Nietzsche idea´s, his extremist positions, without any clarification that moderation is needed, facilitated their abuses and crimes.

Did Hitler believe he was the first Overman?
Nietzsche goes overboard in his deconstruction of morality. It is perfectly fine to challenge morality to the smallest detail and to submerge into a nihilism, but only as a temporary state of transition between inherited values and the Overman. Nietzsche predicts a new mentality with the overcoming of nihilism and morality but provides very little help about how humanity can reach that new stage.

Nietzsche´s philosophy can be seen as an intellectually violent reaction to the excesses and deficits brought by idealism, religion, reason, morality and his own psyche. Nietzsche was raised in a very religious environment which understandably led to his rebellion against religion. The culture he lived in had become too stiff in regards to all these elements he opposed, but he sometimes failed to recognize that the ideas he condemns once started off as reactions to problems of the time and later became an imbalanced force. Religion and morality were a reaction to the savageness of a prehistoric man. Rationality and order were used to overcome superstition and anarchy. Nietzsche failed to see that his ideas could suffer a similar fate too.

Wicks, Robert. "Friedrich Nietzsche." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Summer 2011. Web. 11 Dec 2011. <>.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Communitarian Blueprint for a "Good Society"

Guy Fawkes, a symbol for opposition to totalitarianism

Sociologist Amitai Etzioni theorizes in his book The New Golden Rule that the best societies are and were those who managed to find balance. He finds that contradictory forces such as order and freedom, individualism and collectivism, tradition and modernity are not really incompatible, but actually complementary and enhancing if both of them appear in adequate doses.

The "widely held notion that in the West: that more freedom is better than less"  is strongly contested because continuous enhancement of freedom ultimately "undermines the social order upon which freedoms are based." One instance of excessive liberty is the American Civil Liberties Union support for the right to produce child pornography. However, Etzioni's opposition to a libertine society does not mean that he sides with traditionalists and social conservatives who "see few areas of behavior which they are willing to leave open to personal and sub-group choice". In this extreme, the Christian Film and Television Commission proposed a legal ban on any movie that has low moral standards, such as those containing "lustful kissing". In this scenario, the Communitarian approach encourages the protection of freedom of speech as long as there are no physical threats and "community-based, rather than state-based, mechanisms" to protect specific morals (unlike conservative morals).

The need for a good government illustrates the need for order
In addition, he also challenges the traditional right-and-left map for organizing political ideas because it puts opposing intellectuals in the same category. How is it that both religious fundamentalists, who favor strict determination of people's lives, and laissez-faire advocates fall under the right-wing denomination? On the other hand, both civil libertarianism and communism are grouped as left-wing ideologies.

Throughout the book, Etzioni provides numerous specific examples as he develops his thesis for the promotion of the abstract concepts of autonomy and order. Here lies another great theory that endorses the need for equilibrium and the condemnation of extremes. Without some degree of order, there are few choices available for libertarians. Without some degree of freedom, there is no value in norms and morals that are forced upon, and not chosen by individuals.

Etzioni, A. (1996). The new golden rule:community and morality in a democratic society. (1 ed., pp. xiii-118). New York,NY: Basic Books.