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Here are some of the feisty letters and e-mails that appeared in the print version of Radical Middle Newsletter from 1999 (year of our founding) through 2001. They're arranged in reverse chronological order.
To send YOUR OWN e-mail to the editor, just click on E-Mail the Editor.
Susan Collin Marks and I both very much liked your piece (“Tough on Terrorism AND Tough on the Causes of Terrorism: Our Only Hope,” November 2001). Indeed, we thought it was extraordinary. Congratulations.
You should have said more about the role of American corporate greed.
Your terrorism issue was right on target. I usually identify with the peace groups, but not this time.
It’s true that we need to be tough on the causes of terrorism, but that is not going to be easy -- e.g., family planning in the Arab world to deal with poverty.
Every time I’ve seen Iraq condemned for being in possession of weapons of mass destruction, the writer has neglected to explain why it’s OK for some countries to have such weapons and others not.
Your piece was excellent. You are one of the few people who understands clearly that this is a war between open and closed societies.
It seems to me that key to the war in the West is what to do about mullahs who use their mosques to incite anti-Western actions, hiding behind precisely our openness and commitment to free speech. In Muslim countries, I think the real war is a civil war, where moderates need to recapture control of Islam from the radicals. How to foment and support that civil war is the question.
Jerry L. Fletcher
It is time for Radical Middle Newsletter to show us the radical middle in the Islamic world. I know it is there.
The U.S. “share its wealth” to help end terrorism? Get real! You know the data. Right now the richest country in the world gives less development aid than the Europeans by a factor of 10 -- and half of that goes to 2-3 lackeys.
A radical middle solution must start [more realistically] by saying, Let’s increase the percentage of aid we give so that it reaches 0.7% of Gross Domestic Product (the U.N. goal) by the end of the decade.
We will not be safe while more than three billion people earn less than $2 a day, and millions more are unemployed.
We must systematically expand the number of jobs, and the ownership of wealth and property income.
Last weekend my wife and I drove the 265 miles from Martha’s Vineyard to the New York/New Jersey suburbs.
As I drove along, I kept thinking about all the cars on the road in the entire U.S. -- the amount of gas they are burning -- the resulting dependence on Middle East crude -- the way we close our eyes to the denial of human rights in crude-producing countries (not to mention what all this gas burning is doing to the Earth’s atmosphere) -- and I couldn’t help coming to the conclusion that the enemy is partly us.
We have protected a totalitarian regime in Saudi Arabia [in order to ensure access to its oil fields]. The goal of the terrorists’ anti-American jihad is to drive the U.S. out of the Gulf region. For the U.S., therefore, the roots of the terrorist attacks lie in our dependence on Saudi oil -- and the only effective long-term solution will be to rid ourselves of that dependence.
This is absolutely feasible with technologies available today. For example, the gradual replacement of the U.S. car fleet with hydrogen-powered hybrid-electric cars would eventually save all the oil OPEC now sells.
The oil you and I are burning in our cars is not the cause of terrorism.
It is always a good idea to promote fuel economy. But to blame our purchase of billions of dollars of oil from the Third World for its lack of wealth or poor human rights record or hostility to the West is non-sensible.
All of America is dealing with survivor guilt from 9/11. It is natural that we are reflecting on what WE could have done differently to save the lives of those who died.
My concern is that part of the policy agenda will be influenced not by material facts on the ground but by unresolved emotions. We need to heal ourselves before we begin to implement any major reallocation of trade, aid, and development policies. We need to be sober about these things.
Natural Law Party presidential candidate Dr. John Hagelin recently visited Washington to discuss using “consciousness technology” to prevent terrorism and bring world peace -- and he reports encouraging and rather amazing receptivity for this among Congressmen, White House officials, and private parties. Why aren’t you covering this?
Appreciated your point regarding the two necessary streams of activity related to Sept. 11. With respect, I suggest there is a third -- to do a fierce self-examination, and begin addressing the inequities within American society.
This may be the most important activity of all. A person or entity must first BE what they hope to create in the world. You can’t create equity and a civil society in Afghanistan if you don’t have equity and a civil society of the highest order in North America.
There is a profound planetary lesson emerging from Sept. 11. All the dead in this tragedy -- both killers and killed -- will in the long history of human evolution be seen as those beings who forced us, the living, to awaken to the full responsibility and care for all life on Planet Earth.
August T. Jaccaci
While I am a committed pacifist, I have become convinced that we must wage peace, which seems to me to be a good description of your article.
I know it seems like a paradox. But I have discovered that one must live with paradox in this world.
Many thanks for your perspective on terrorism. Finally, I’ll not feel so alone and an outsider.
I have rarely read a more ill-informed piece on biotechnology than your article “Coming to Grips With Biotechnology: Beyond Complacency and Fear" (June 2001).
You seem to have fallen for the highly simplistic and mechanistic accounts of the biotech industry. Why did you not consult scientists who know better? There are many of us around.
Congratulations -- with ruffles & flourishes -- for a first-class job of staking out the purposeful “middle way” between the pro- and anti-biotech forces.
Your article is a terrific comprehensive-but-compact assessment of the potential futures posed by biotech. I’d like to use it as a handout in conjunction with a futures workshop I’ll be conducting in New Zealand.
David Pearce Snyder
Unfreeze your imagination. THINK!
Oodles of big and small benefits here and now. NO way to assess consequences 10, 20, or 200 generations (of us -- or of strawberries, corn, elephants, minnows) from now.
The dozens of “new” species of mammals just discovered in the 1990s took millions of years to evolve. Who are we to decide their fates or meddle with their futures?
Take this long view (or a longer one), and there is no “middle” or “third” voice on this question. The “radical” position -- the root position -- must be deeply conservative: Against further hubris. For humility in gratitude for the creation.
Your information on genetically engineered foods is sadly lacking. I wonder who is paying your sources.
Consider: There’s a powerful link between the 1994 approval of the genetically engineered bovine growth hormone and the dramatic surge in lymphatic cancer after 1995.
Consider the recent lawsuit against Fox-TV for trying to force its reporters to lie [about such subjects].
I have applied your Radical Middle analytic technique to nuclear energy as it looked in 1953, which is comparable to your viewing genetic engineering issues in the year 2000. This is what you would have written in 1953:
“The anti-nuclear people are wrong about nuclear power. Their Armageddon worries about atomic fission getting out of hand, creating more Hiroshimas and a general spreading of nuclear radiation, are unnecessary exaggerations. And they ignore the great benefits from cheap power and the potential for salt water distillation that will create wealth for many poor colonial nations.
“On the other hand, pro-nuclear power people are exaggerating the benefits. They often talk about cheap power; it will be cheap but not free.
“Overall, a Radical Middle analysis favors nuclear power for its great benefits to the poor of the world.”
In the biotech issue you write, “For 35 years the idealistic fragment of my generation has been arguing that only politics can save us. Not technology.” Now you appear to want to argue the reverse.
It feels off to me to ask whether science, religion, technology, economics, politics, whatever, “determines” the future. It’s analogous to getting stuck in nature-vs.-nurture rhetoric: They interact without beginning or end.
I am completely dismayed at your pseudo-savvy labeling of pro- and anti-biotech people as “Masters of the Universe” and “Saviors of the Universe.” Name-calling is a sleazy way to try to gain converts to your argument!
Nowhere have you addressed the effect of all this do-good food production and edible-vaccine production on the exponentially exploding world population, the basis of all our big problems.
Well, Mark and other frankenfood cheerleaders, who's sorry now? It didn't take long for an accident to occur with the use of genetically engineered foods -- as everyone knows by now, a sample of Taco Bell's taco shells was found to contain a form of g.e. corn not approved for human consumption.
I have begun to suspect that the real Mark Satin has been taken hostage and replaced by a differently programmed model -- the Stepford Mark Satin. The real Mark would not be so incredibly far off the “mark” on globalization and biotechnology as the Stepford Mark has demonstrated.
Please, someone, find and unchain the real Mark and give us back the real Radical Middle Newsletter.
The entire concept of the radical middle is a hard sell. You are no doubt aware of this.
The radical middle is a bit like interdisciplinary studies. A lot of people may genuflect to it, but in reality it’s hugely controversial -- a war zone.
The committed lefties and righties reject the radical middle for not fitting into their “us versus them” bisection of the universe. Our polarized political process also works against it.
Please, persist. In time Radical Middle will acquire a wide acceptance. I’ll keep my stack of back issues handy to offer to likely folks along the way.
Dear Subscribers: Several of you wrote or called this fall  asking me to respond to the letters criticizing my biotech article. So, here goes. . . .
The principal criticism we received was that the article was “ill-informed,” to use Fritjof Capra’s phrase. I disagree! As anyone who even skims the article will see, I thoroughly familiarized myself with the writings of the leading pro- AND anti-biotech scientists, including those of the two most prominent anti-biotech scientists (Ruth Hubbard and Mae-Wan Ho) and those of the most prominent anti-biotech polemicist (Jeremy Rifkin). The article is even structured around many of the key issues they raise!
It is true that I found the writings of a third strain of “cautiously optimistic” scientists -- at Princeton, Penn, M.I.T., Cal-Davis, the National Academy of Sciences, the British Academy of Sciences, and elsewhere -- more persuasive. But I don’t see how that makes me, ipso facto, uninformed. Surveys consistently show that over 95% of U.S. scientists reject the extreme anti-biotech position.
Perhaps it’s true that, as Art Rosenblum suggests in his letter, they’ve all been bought off by the biotech industry. Or maybe they’re all “highly simplistic and mechanistic” scientists, as Fritjof Capra suggests in his letter. My own research, though, found that the vast majority of scientists on all three sides of the biotech debate (pro-, anti-, and cautiously optimistic) are admirably sensitive to the ethical, social, and ecological issues involved. The world of high-stakes science has changed for the better over the last 20 years, in part because of the efforts of activist science writers like Art and Fritjof.
Stan Perrin points out -- correctly -- that an unapproved form of genetically engineered corn recently entered our food supply. But I don’t see how that proves Stan’s point, that humans can’t be trusted with high technology. If the government had adopted the strict monitoring standards called for by the National Academy of Sciences -- and this newsletter -- the unapproved corn would be sitting in some silo now, underneath the moon.
Lois George-Smith is offended that I used the terms “Masters of the Universe” and “Saviors of the Universe” to refer to the extreme pro- and anti-biotech forces. She feels such “name-calling” is “sleazy” or worse. Ah, Lois, a little humor never hurt anyone. “Masters of the Universe” was originally Tom Wolfe’s moniker for Wall Street bond traders (to whom he was by no means unsympathetic). And “Saviors of the Universe” is meant to poke some serious fun at what’s become of the idealistic wing of my generation.
Yes, we got some big things right -- the early civil rights movement, Vietnam. But later, we got a lot of things wrong -- Cambodia, school busing, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the marriage relation, the moral equivalence of U.S./U.S.S.R. . . . At this point we’ve used up our chips, and the shrillest voices among us can only benefit from being laughed at a bit.
Michael Phillips thinks my arguments for biotechnology are like 1950s arguments for nuclear power, and for that reason alone, beyond the pale. Michael’s letter made me sad -- his book The Seven Laws of Money (1974) was a deep early influence on me, and you like to imagine your mentors will always be integrating new information. But life rarely works according to the ideal.
In Michael’s world, nuclear power is apparently still the secular version of the Devil, just as it was for him (and me) in 1974. But science does not stand still, and the new generation of nuclear facilities is substantially safer than the last (see Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Rhodes’s article in the Jan./Feb. 2000 issue of Foreign Affairs). Plus it’s become increasingly likely that we’ll devise an effective high-tech solution to the hazardous waste disposal problem in the not too distant future (see, e.g., prominent futurist Joseph Coates’s online book 2025).
If all goes well, nuclear power and a variety of renewable sources of energy may combine to usher in the Age of Sustainability . . . just as I suspect biotechnology and organic agriculture may ultimately combine to provide a comprehensive solution to the world food crisis (a vision enthusiastically embraced by some scientists at the last AAAS annual meeting -- see our article "Scientists Discuss, Debate Burning Political Issues While Press Sleeps").
These radical syntheses -- nuclear/solar, biotech/organic -- may seem odious to certain members of my generation. But they are the stuff of life to bright people half my age (e.g., the kids I went to law school with), many of whom aspire to bridge the best of their parents’ and grandparents’ visions. And of course such syntheses are appealing to those on the “radical middle.”
The appeal is more than aesthetic. The same month that the unapproved corn passed into our food supply, it was announced that genetically engineered rice varieties had been developed that could both overcome vitamin A deficiency (which causes millions of Third World children to go blind) and provide extra amounts of iron (a godsend to the billions of people around the world who rely on rice and suffer from malnutrition).
Surely it’s immoral to ask such people to continue to suffer until “we” can change global values, make a universal democratic revolution, and implement a worldwide organic farming regime. Anti-biotech extremism in an imperfect world is no virtue, and cautious, responsible biotech optimism is no vice.
Your article "Humanitarian Military Intervention: The 'Peace Movement' of the '00s?" (January / February 2001) is nothing short of an insult -- unintended, I’m sure -- to the real peace movement.
The real peace movement deplores the cowardly bombing of Iraq and Serbia and the other interventions you mentioned, and is even more committed to nonviolence than when you were connected to it in the Vietnam era.
We are working out a bold, visionary alternative to military intervention rooted deeply in Gandhi and bidding fair to pose the most creative challenge yet to the global war system: Unarmed, nonviolent “peace teams.”
This is not only a vision for some ideal future. Over 40 NGOs, several of which I’m proud to work on in some capacity, have been carrying out courageous nonviolent interventions of one kind or another with telling success, despite the lack of organization, training, funding and -- as your article illustrates -- recognition. But you can consult Liam Mahony’s Unarmed Bodyguards (1997) or Thomas Weber’s Gandhi’s Peace Army (1996) for some background.
Can you point to a single place where military intervention, cynically called “humanitarian,” has been able to “create stable social and economic environments,” as you put it? If you really think this is possible, let me send you some of the daily e-mails I get from Kosovo.
No, there is no way to peace -- peace is the way. And I’m glad to tell you that the real peace movement of today is quite aware of that!
Michael N. Nagler
Dear Michael: There is nothing “unintended” about Radical Middle Newsletter. My article was a carefully crafted insult to the U.S. peace movement, which I know as a brother, having been deeply involved in it from the early 60s to the early 90s. More important, my article proposes a non-pacifist alternative to it -- not the U.S. government’s self-interested seat-of-the-pants blundering, for God’s sake, but the humanitarian military interventionist stance being worked out now by such sensitive and experienced global actors as Kofi Annan (Ghana), General Dallaire (Canada) and Bernard Kouchner (France).
I suspect nonviolent peace teams can -- and will -- be made an integral part of the fully developed interventionist vision. But to make them the only alternative to the current horror, the only defense force the peoples of the world can muster against mass torture, mass shootings, mass butchery? Oh, please: Some things are more important than U.S. activists’ moral purity.
You write that the new military-interventionist peace movement feels “we have an obligation as human beings to stop the slaughter of innocents.” How about not enabling the slaughter in the first place?
The U.S. is the only industrial democracy that opposed the International Criminal Court against war crimes. The U.S. supported the genocide of one-third of the people of East Timor, initiated the sanctions against Iraq that have led to the deaths of almost a million children, and escalated the Kosovo conflict from 2,000 dead in 1998 to 20,000 today.
Turkey spent so much money on weapons from the U.S. that it couldn’t afford equipment in case of earthquakes.
And you want more military meddling?
I agree that we need a new, real-world-oriented, non-pacifist kind of peace movement. Even in the Sixties some of us noticed that the good, peace-loving tribes in the valley were invariably crushed by the tough, lean hill tribes, and any peace movement worth its salt needs to ask why.
I’ve discovered two books over the past year that are particularly helpful. Roy Baumeister’s Evil (1997) looks at evil individuals. (He concludes that evil can be “fun” and that morally self-righteous attitudes -- e.g., “I believe in peace, you believe in war” -- are often rooted in violent impulses.) R.J. Rummel’s Death by Government (1994) focuses on government mass murder and genocide.
These books offer at least two messages for a new and vital peace movement. First, we need to look synergistically at individuals and governments. We can’t just focus on one or the other.
Second, we need to be more focused on preventing government mass murder as an upfront objective. Which means we should recognize -- even appreciate -- that at times the U.S. can be persuaded to stop murder by governments (whatever its other motives).
Theodore C. Kraver
According to peace activist David Hartsough, four minutes’ worth of global military expenditures ($5 million) could begin operation of an unarmed “international Peace Force” with 200 active members and 400 reserves!
“Humanitarian military intervention” is not the new face of any peace movement I’m a part of. And I am shocked that you can characterize the pacifist peace movement as some sort of superficial, idealistic, no longer relevant fad of the past.
Those involved in that movement have for years been chronicling and warning about the various world situations -- as well as calling for the supportive and creative action needed to avoid the tragedies that have come to pass.
It is lack of response to those calls that leads us to where we are.
Further, a little history research will show that most, if not all, of these situations have grown out of imperialism. Under the guise of spreading enlightenment -- Manifest Destiny, whiteman’s burden, making the world safe for democracy (your thing) -- imperialist powers impose their world view upon those who do not “cooperate.”
Those who object to humanitarian military intervention often claim that it’s imperialism.
Actually, no major country practices imperialism anymore, for two reasons:
The end of imperialism provides a tremendous opportunity for improving the world, and humanitarian military intervention will help.
If you are actively seeking to disassociate yourself from the ethos of your former newsletter, NEW OPTIONS, then with "Humanitarian Military Intervention" you’ve succeeded.
The gentle humility of the young, assiduous seeker has been replaced by the sharper edged global perspective of the experienced pundit who -- “surprise, surprise” -- can now stick tongue in cheek and make a point with mere irony.
You end your article with the words “I can hardly wait,” referring to the possibility that the world will respond to savagery and slaughter with “humanitarian” military force. Why did this cause a huge knot to form in my stomach?
I was surprised to see a discussion of “income support” in your newsletter (“Maybe the Election Will Shame Us Into Sharing Our Wealth,” November 2000). The vast global experience of income redistribution is negative.
In the few Scandinavian countries where extensive programs were in place for long periods, those programs are now being dismantled. In communist countries, they failed or were eliminated.
“Basic income” or any other euphemism for income redistribution cannot occur in a moral or economic vacuum. Either drop the subject (like most educated people already have) or find some new way to approach it.
I really enjoyed your report on ways of closing the income gap in the American economy. However, the Louis Kelso proposal for universal access to corporate dividends is only “radical” (as you called it) in the light of our current conservative, neoliberal economy. To many of us it’s simple fairness.
I was Louis Kelso’s first competitor as CEO of the AESOP Company in San Francisco more than 25 years ago. He had the right objective but, with the exception of the ESOP, his tools and ideas were inadequate. Even sympathetic economists rejected them.
Thanks for mentioning me in your article on wealth sharing. FYI, the U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network was recently founded by scholars and activists including Fred Block of UC-Davis, Pamela Donovan of SUNY, and me to encourage discussion on the basic income proposal and serve as a link among supporters.
Is my book, The $30,000 Solution, too radical for the radical middle?
I was one of the “guaranteed income” advocates discussed in the Karl Widerquist policy paper you mentioned. But who’d know it from reading your article?
The planet is given to us without cost, and rent is our “civilized” way of stealing that huge subsidy from one another. If we would put all unearned income in a pool and divide it among citizens, each adult would receive $30,000 per year.
That is the right, or moral, thing to do, and does not rest on arguments about costs, or effects on work, or the number of children people might have (all issues you harp on in your article).
Robert Schutz, Ph.D.
I enjoyed your article on sharing the wealth but suggest you may have overlooked one extremely important element -- sharing the work.
One of the major popular demands for wealth sharing has centered on work sharing -- limiting the hours people worked so more people could be employed. Anders Hayden of Toronto has just written an excellent book examining the rationale for and possibilities of reduced work time (Sharing the Work, Sparing the Planet, St. Martin’s, 2000), and I have a chapter in Lonnie Golden, ed., Working Time (Routledge, 2000).
Enjoyed the wealth issue, especially the italicized opening. I believe a fresh political initiative is in order that affirms as its first principle and priority the enhancement of life in all of its forms.
I was grateful to receive your menu of wealth sharing schemes. All of them are worth serious consideration . . . if we are to take our economy as a given. However, this we must not do, for the economy as now structured underlies our environmental mayhem.
The continuous expansion of the economy is doing us in. And none of your wealth sharing schemes discourages economic growth. Indeed, most of them would further it.
To transform our economy so it can meet all people’s needs and reasonable desires while the level of production stays the same (or is lowered), I suggest a more complete and egalitarian sharing of the wealth than anything you propose: I’d give each person a comfortable “citizen’s income” as a right of birth.
I would sever the link between work and income. Work would not be for money, it would be for its own inherent pleasure or for the gratification of meeting the needs of others.
This may sound TRULY “radical” to your ears. But daring may be needed to achieve the conservative goal of saving life on Planet Earth.
Dear Subscribers: I agree with Michael Phillips that it’s incumbent on us to craft solutions as if history mattered. That’s why I steered clear of any starry-eyed Soviet- or Maoist-style wealth sharing proposals in my article, and that’s why I deferred to the Philip Robins social-psychology book, which convincingly demonstrates that many people in U.S. guaranteed-income experiments lost their sense of pride or purpose.
Carla Theodore doesn’t answer Robins. Nor does she acknowledge what happened when communists tried her schemes (even down to trying to determine what desires are “reasonable”). Nor does she respond to all the material we’ve been citing to the effect that current and expected advances in information technology, genetics, materials technology, and energy technology WILL make it possible for (responsibly conducted) economic growth to continue.
It is fun proposing “radical” solutions that fly in the face of history, human psychology, and 21st-century technology. Our task -- the radical middle task -- is different.
BOYZ OF PHILLY
I liked your article “Futility, Fury, and Hope Outside the Republican National Convention” (September 2000), but boy oh boy, it sure seems like our ideas are the captive of our life cycle hormones!
I kept hearing your 50-year-old self talking. And I know that his chances of real dialogue with a 19-year-old would be as limited as your 19-year-old self’s were with the 50-year-olds of 1969.
I really liked your "Outside the Republican National Convention" article, and I especially liked your coverage of Philadelphia Police Commissioner John Timoney.
Delicious irony -- and appropriate comeuppance -- that a top cop should prove to be your tough and humane hero.
Has your mind been taken over by Paul Harvey?
You begin your Republican article by setting up a 19-year-old girl as a strawman! And why would you stay in a house that doesn’t meet your cleanliness standards?
I know people at St. Vincent’s Church in that same Germantown neighborhood who would have put you up in clean surroundings, and the radicalism would have been more intelligent than what you heard.
Roland W. James
I slept in the same bed as you the next night and for the week thereafter in Philadelphia. I was sorry I missed meeting you, as I deeply identified with your 1980s self.
I was in Seattle and then attended both Shadow Political Conventions -- the one in Philly and the one here in L.A. Your dismissal of the CONTENT of those events as the same old left-wing propaganda struck me as arrogant, wrong-headed, even conservative. The radical middle is the status quo with a nice smile.
I found your description of the violent “nonviolence” of the Philadelphia protesters easy reading, but when I finished I felt as if I'd been wasting time in a porn show.
Yes, “nonviolence” is often stupidly violent. But underlying your writing I sensed no awareness of our planet’s crisis, new in its history. For all their faults, the protesters are aware of what we must confront.
Robert C. Murphy, M.D.
I thought your "Outside the Republican National Convention" article was on target in some respects, and off base in others
Like you, I’ve become deeply depressed by leftist demonstrations and by the many horrors you nicely describe -- the embrace of probable killers like Mumia, the push toward anti-intellectual groupthink, the proclivity toward violence (while proclaiming nonviolence), the disrespect to the very society they’re trying to save, the confusion of individual and sexual gratification with serious social change strategies.
And still, despite everything I just said, I found your report disturbing.
I think you’re guilty of some of the same oversimplifications that you observe in the protesters. Rather than portray the real complexity of these young people, you transformed them into two-dimensional stick figures.
Yes, they may be naive about many issues and say some dumb things. But these same young people are also doing some extraordinarily noble activities like fighting sweatshops overseas through campus investment policies or working to create space for a serious third party in America. Pointing to a few thoughtful Republican kids only compounds the stereotyping, since I’m sure a more critical look at their views would find some naive and dumb positions as well.
Mark, please search harder for the diversity that’s right in front of you. Only if we appreciate ALL the strengths and weaknesses of the left and the right can we chart a promising new political course.
Michael H. Shuman
Dear Subscribers: I agree with Michael Shuman when he says I should honor our diversity. If there’s a political publication that regularly draws on a wider variety of sources than Radical Middle Newsletter, I haven’t seen it. In the current issue alone, we draw on everyone from the Secretary of the Army to the radicals at ACORN!
Michael’s real beef with me -- Robert Murphy’s, too -- is that I am not more open to one fragment of our diversity, that of “the protesters.”
Dear Michael, dear Robert, I couldn’t be more open to the protesters. Issue #6 examined their views on globalization, #10 their views on biotechnology, #12 their tactics in Philly. If I haven’t been impressed so far, it’s not from lack of interest.
And if you sense a certain personal intensity in my pieces on the protesters, that’s only natural. I cast my lot with them for three decades (1963-1992), and it’s hard for me to revisit their warmed-over Marxist ideas and Yippie tactics without wincing.
Although I like many of them personally, I think it’s absurd -- and even dangerous -- to imagine that they’re collectively more “aware” (Robert’s word) or “noble” (Michael’s) than millions of other caring people in this country. People who don’t taunt cops or damage public property. And for God’s sake, Michael, of course I know they’re “complex.” One of the points of my article is that their complexity (humanity) fails to connect because of their hyperalienated attitudes and boorish behavior.
How does one relate to a movement that embodies a former self? My own solution -- and there are no perfect solutions -- has been to imagine the boy I was at the age of 19 and ask, What did that person need to hear from a movement elder?
Did he need New Age-style “understanding”? Or did he need some battle-scarred veteran to point out, perhaps too rudely, that his ideas and tactics were puerile, and that he owed an obligation to his movement (and himself!) to stop with the self-sacrifice, already, and become all that he could be, personally and professionally?
Stankiewicz is right (first letter above) -- I’d have loathed anyone who talked to me that way. But their message would have stuck in my craw.
So, Michael and Robert, don’t think my article was insensitive to the protesters. It was written for them and for the boy I was as much as it was written for you.
STEP ON THE GAS, ACLU
For a long time now I’ve been unhappy with the stands the ACLU has taken on so many issues (“Goodbye, ACLU -- Today We Need Communitarians and 'Technorealists,'" July / August 2000). But because of habit, I kept sending my check in.
Thank you for wording so precisely what I think is wrong. This time I’m sending a donation to the two “post-ACLU” organizations described in your article.
Joen Fagan, Ph.D.
For a good while I’ve been feeling queasy about some of the ACLU’s actions -- in addition to those you named, particularly their taking money from a tobacco company and supporting “smokers’ rights.”
When the letter came a few days ago asking for my membership renewal, I didn’t feel like responding, and buried it deep in my collection of solicitations. Just now I fished it out and tore it up.
I also feel uncomfortable with many of the stands the ACLU has taken recently. Nevertheless, the issue of individual rights versus the common good remains highly complex.
It is really encouraging that there are now several groups working on a “balanced approach,” but it is still only a very early -- and often naive -- beginning. To prevent potential abuses, we will have to realize fully what individual rights and liberties we are giving up and what the (possible) implications are. And no one articulates that better than the ACLU.
Therefore, I will continue to support the ACLU -- as well as the communitarians.
Dr. Terry Schansman
You deserve high praise for your criticism of the ACLU, civil libertarianism, and First Amendment fundamentalism. I wonder, however, if you will ever be equally challenging and critical of conservatism and, especially, corporatism.
Consider how Robert McChesney’s analysis of the ACLU differs from yours. In his new book Rich Media, Poor Democracy, McChesney not only attacks the narrow positions of the ACLU on First Amendment rights, he shows how the First Amendment has become both commercialized and corporatized -- thereby benefiting the very few while harming the vast majority.
We see this in political ads by candidates whose war chests are supplied mainly by corporate money. We see it in the violence and commercialism on children’s television (which has been banned or severely restricted in Europe). We see it in easy access to handguns.
Rights without responsibilities are a form of social violence. That was Gandhi’s point. Is it yours?
I’ve long thought the ACLU was too absolutist and I haven’t renewed my contributions to it. I certainly agree that they are not community-minded.
They have missed the nuances and delicacies of human responsibilities. They seem to bludgeon people with their abstract human rights.
I am grateful for what they were -- a wake-up call with regard to many harsh behaviors -- and now they, and the whole peace movement and civil liberties movement, and the NAACP, too, are going to have to re-think what they’re doing.
This age of ours requires new thinking and new action. Movements that are informed by psychological and spiritual understandings and a commitment to a healing process.
(Ms.) Gene Knudsen Hoffman
ARE WE GOOD AT IT?
Your report on the intellectual “feast” at the World Future Society’s Ninth General Assembly ("Feast of the 'Insider' Change Agents," October 1999) was generally admirable, given the many dishes available for sampling. But there was also your puzzling but passionate admonishment, “Wendell [Bell], Alvin [Toffler], Michael, for crying out loud: Invite more people in! ‘We are all futurists now.’”
None of us is against inviting more people in.
Bell was by no means trying to “draw up the bridges” but simply trying to raise the standard of futures-thinking (and doubtlessly trying to sell some more copies of his two-volume textbook, Foundations of Futures Studies). In their introduction to The Encyclopedia of the Future, Alvin and Heidi Toffler use the title “Five Billion Futurists” to suggest that everyone thinks about the future in some way.
As for myself, anyone who reads my publication, Future Survey, knows that most of the 50 futures-relevant books, reports, and articles reported on each month are not by “futurists” per se. Rather, I am looking for important ideas, both establishment and counter-establishment, that may influence the future -- or ought to. Some come from self-described futurists; many others come from individuals and groups that shun the label, or don’t know of it.
Of course “we are all futurists.” We always have been. The question is whether we’re good at it, given the growing complexity and dynamism of the world we seek to understand and manage.
RACE, RACE, RACE
At 78 I don’t care one whit about the racial issue (“Resentment and Transcendence at the NAACP Convention,” July / August 1999). There is none.
Every day black men and women -- in the course of buying the newspaper, riding public transit, getting into an elevator, meeting white colleagues, going to the supermarket, etc. -- suffer insults and demeanings, mostly from whites but sometimes from other blacks.
In four pages you were able to cram enough hostility and failed self-perceptions into your text to outdo the catalogue of stereotypes that fills the media.
That self-deprecating line in your Wendy Shalit review, “What a fool you are, Mark Satin,” is no substitute for exploration and study.
Please cancel my subscription. I find it insulting to have to pay you for your education in your 50s.
Your take on race was a breath of fresh air. While prejudice is still very much around, focusing on solutions for all seems like a much more fruitful approach.
For example, I’m currently writing [a piece] on the Comer School Development Program, which emphasizes that social development is as important as education in the life of a child -- any child, of any race.
Comer Schools take over the socialization process where families and neighborhoods have broken down. In addition, the schools often become centers and catalysts for change in inner city neighborhoods.
In reporting on the NAACP convention, you dismissed the assertions of racism in our culture as being of an earlier era and irrelevant to today’s world.
Indeed, much has changed -- and much hasn’t. White unawareness of the experience of being a person of color remains vast.
The black church burnings in South Carolina were old-fashioned racism. It’s dangerous. And the KKK still threatens people who challenge them. Meanwhile, young blacks are discovering that racism is alive and well in the professional world.
You don’t have to go from head-in-the-clouds to head-in-the-sand. Please get real.
Marianne Preger-Simon, Ed.D.
Dear Ms. Preger-Simon: I didn’t dismiss racism as outdated or irrelevant. I did suggest that it’s no longer the principal barrier to black progress, and that poorly conceived public policies and self-destructive behavior are more important barriers.
I thought your commentary on the NAACP meeting was largely right-on, but I think you went a bit overboard in dismissing the complaints about police harassment.
Even if certain drugs are being delivered by black males driving certain kinds of vehicles at certain times of night, this does not give police officers the right to harass every black male who fits that profile.
And yet that is what happens, and when it happens over and over again, it creates legitimate outrage. Wouldn’t you be angry if you were stopped every time you tried to pick up something from a store at night?
We are living at a time when there is tremendous fear of crime, and people feel a need for a simple label that enables us to tell criminals from honest people. Skin color has now become such a label. But it is morally wrong to rely on such a label, even if it works.
Dear Mr. Rockwell: There are bad policemen, and I acknowledge that in my article. But the role of grown-ups in the social change movement cannot be to make romantic excuses for the often astronomical disparities in black and white crime rates.
In his great gangsta-rap album, Ready to Die (1994), the Notorious B.I.G. occasionally got beyond celebrations of robbing, cop-baiting, and drug dealing to express genuine remorse, as in this line: “Back in the day our parents used to take care of us / Look at them now, they even scared of us.” We need to be there for the Notorious B.I.G.s of the world when they reach the point of remorse, but we can’t be if they’ve watched us continuously excuse or downplay their misbehavior.
Thanks for including how you feel about what you report. Such honesty supports the credibility of your efforts.
As for racism: In our 1960s rush to minimize or eliminate the differences we saw dividing people, we equated the races, declared black and white the same. It’s an attitude that trivializes important distinctions, limits dialogue, and keeps the real issues of ignorance and fear at a distance.
Differences are important in establishing identity and in making meaningful choices that support growth and evolution. Let’s be as forthright as possible about the functional and the possibly dysfunctional, possibly complementary (possibly both?) differences among the races.
The Rev. Bob Goings
Your report on the NAACP convention tells the truth in a way that few others are doing. I have African-American grandchildren, so I have a personal stake in hoping the “race card” will be played less, and Eric Holder’s “American card” more.
Your NAACP story is an eye-opener. I’m glad the young members are not necessarily following their elders’ mistaken lead!
After all the suffering to change America, I can understand why so many NAACP leaders focus on prejudice rather than acknowledge their great successes. The world is far from perfect, and humans are cantankerous creatures. But racism is a widely recognized evil now, thanks in part to the NAACP’s efforts.
New battles are on the horizon today. In my experience, many young people -- as you noted -- seem to recognize the need for discipline, education, responsibility, and seizing the opportunities opened for them by the civil rights movement. Some of their elders may still be fighting the last war. Others may need “victims” in order to sustain their leadership positions.
Catherine G. Burke
In your report on the NAACP convention, you wrote about your desire to find a “non-race-based language” for describing the obligations you feel we “owe each other as human beings.”
My sense is that we must find not only a non-race-based language, but a universal language -- to describe obligations we literally owe each other and the planet if we are to survive as a species and advance as a civilization.
Joseph R. Simonetta
We are a firm of futurists and do nothing but explore the future for all kinds of clients. As I size up the situation, we are the most diversified futures research firm in the U.S. and probably in the world.
Currently, we have projects for about 70 corporate clients, mostly Fortune 100 and 200 companies. We have also been involved, I judge, with more black organizations than any other futures group I know of.
I liked your commentary on the NAACP convention. They seem unable to come to grips with several of the most important trends in the black community:
-- The 70-30 split between those who are making it and the 30% or so locked in trans-generational poverty, ignorance, poor work ethic, and so on;
-- The rise of ethnic hostility in the black community, particularly that directed at and reciprocated by Caribbean, East African, and West African immigrants;
-- The plea, not yet dominant but probably growing, that the agenda of the 1960s has largely been met, and that the new phase of activity should include being treated just like “whitey” at the workplace -- and, commensurately, enjoying the benefits of education and training at the workplace that “whitey” gets.
An effective public program can lie in many directions. But the NAACP seems to be moving away from what had been its most successful gambit -- using legal strategies and building public sympathy for those strategies. It seems to me that the stridency one finds now is not a loud and unequivocal plea for justice, and rather too much emphasizes hostility, prejudice, and the system working against blacks.
I prefer a more positive view. I don’t believe in the attitude of “thanks for small blessings,” but success is success. And a positive strategy is likely to draw more people in support than a negative one.
Joseph F. Coates
NO, NO, WENDY
In her book A Return to Modesty, Wendy Shalit has taken the choices feminism has provided and decided that she wants to be a modest virgin ("Modest Women, Honorable Men," March 1999). Fine. But to argue that women generally should adopt her choice as their own is to restrict -- again -- the kinds of choices women might make.
No doubt she wants company, and no doubt there are others who will heed her call. That’s fine too. But she should recognize that others will reject her modest proposal, and do so loudly; rudely.
If she is willing to accept that, I’d count her a feminist. But if she isn’t, I’d count her an anti-feminist.
Your comments about Ms. Shalit’s book reflect your propensity to impose on others a greater uniformity of belief and behavior than is likely to be achieved.
My wife Marjorie and I became teenagers in the 1920s. Many of our classmates had “sexual modesty” commitments similar to Ms. Shalit’s. One thing we’ve noticed is that every human undergoes changes of perspective such that their present behavior is likely to be inconsistent with their past behavior.
It may be maturation; it is not hypocrisy.
John R. Ewbank
Wendy Shalit’s book places most of the responsibility for behavioral change on women -- and your uncritical review seems to support her in this. We suggest you always choose at least one other book to review that gives us an alternate view.
In addition, we suggest that your laudable acknowledgement of “past mistakes” does not require that you lurch to the other extreme. Life is too complex and mysterious to be satisfied with an “either-or” response, which we get most of the time from the media.
Ronny Barkay & Liz Cohen
Your doe-eyed review of Wendy Shalit’s book prompts us to send you a complimentary copy of our recent book, Golden Marriage.
Not only do women AND men need to rediscover the lost virtue and return to modesty. The whole marriage institution in America needs to discover the “secrets” of durability which are detailed in the story of the first 50 years of our 60-year marriage.
Herb & Margaret Dimock
If you liked Wendy Shalit’s book, you should have a look at [a book I recently wrote with Jeffrey M. Schwartz and Patrick Buckley, A Return to Innocence: Philosophical Guidance in an Age of Cynicism (Regan/HarperCollins, $22)]. Writing it totally changed my view of human nature.
It also marginalized me. Most American Buddhists are Rousseauian liberals and most conservatives are Judeo-Christian, so who can hear this book, with its celebration of innocence (in its original meaning of “not harming”) and its paean to the lost art of self-command. Both camps were like, huh?
I liked a lot of Shalit’s book. She has a point, I think, about male sexuality, in particular, needing to be humanized. The Bill Maher attitude that “I’m just a male animal, and proud of it” is such a sad waste of (as the Buddhists would say) a human incarnation.
We Baby Boomers may have thrown open the floodgates to meaningless sex. But unlike our juniors, we can still remember a time when inhibition and prohibition rendered sex mighty and mysterious -- or, honored its actual might and mystery! -- and, even for males, kept it all wrapped up with the hope of intimacy and romance. And when all is said done, it was better sex!
GLOBALIZATION: AN EXCHANGE
Thanks for highlighting my book The Post-Corporate World in your article "Globalization vs. Localism: Our Real Political Debate" (January / February 1999). Although I am saddened that you have self-consciously abandoned idealism for pragmatism a la Thomas Friedman [author of The Lexus and the Olive Tree], I appreciate the fact that you presented my views accurately and are as up-front in making clear your own beliefs and values in your new incarnation as you were in your NEW OPTIONS incarnation. Your personal integrity is clearly a constant that links the two.
One of the few things in your essay to which I did take exception is your observation that Friedman “devotes big chunks of his book to suggesting ways we can help other nations preserve local cultures and the environment and enhance economic opportunity for all.” While he makes mention of such concerns, it is with the admonition that nothing must be done in the interests of equity and the environment that would hinder the freedom of the “electronic herd” [multinationals and investors - ed.]. Friedman does express nostalgia for the olive tree, but in the end he seems quite prepared to sacrifice the olive tree of his neighbor for the Lexus in his own garage.
I’m also inclined to chide you for slipping rather lightly over a fundamental issue: the contradiction between rule by money traders and corporations solely intent on short-term profit, and the goal of a world in which everyone has a crack at a decent life, including generations as yet unborn. The Mark Satin of yesteryear would surely have given more attention to my arguments that rapidly deepening inequality and environmental stress are virtually inevitable consequences of the interlocking institutional dynamics of financial markets and the corporate sector as we now know them.
In any event, I appreciate the recognition you have given my work and am proud to be held up as a proponent of the leading alternative to Thomas Friedman’s vision of a soulless world ruled by rapacious money traders and corporate monopolies.
David C. Korten, Ph.D.
When you first announced your new newsletter, I assumed it would be just a continuation of NEW OPTIONS. But now I see that you -- like some of the rest of us -- have moved to the next level, and I have decided to subscribe.
I like Friedman’s book. Willis Harman, too, in his last years, recognized that if we’re going to build a sustainable world then the big corporations (properly humanized and revamped) will play a major role.
Belden H. Paulson
I appreciate your shining the spotlight on issues of economic globalization. However, I was dismayed to find your ultimate conclusion rested on whether Korten’s or Friedman’s approach was more appealing to the interests and desires of you and your law school buddies.
Clearly, globalization “works” for the small percentage of the population that is in the inner circle of corporate success, at least for the moment. But is that a good enough reason to embrace it?
Sarah Ruth van Gelder
David Korten’s antiglobalism is misguided, but it’s certainly not unusual anymore. It has become the new orthodoxy on the left, where people are adopting the sort of pull-up-the-drawbridges mentality that used to belong to the right-wingers.
You can still find conservative antiglobalists like Pat Buchanan, of course -- but nowadays the strongest invective against globalization is to be found in the editorials of the Nation, the books of Korten and William Greider, the newspaper columns of Molly Ivins, the policy statements of Ralph Nader, and the manifestos of radical environmentalists.
This is quite a change. It used to be the liberals like Woodrow Wilson and FDR who fought for the creation of international governmental organizations, and -- further to the left -- the Communists who sang the Internationale and dreamed of a global order in which nation-states would wither away. In those days you could count on the conservatives to celebrate parochialism and oppose dilution of national sovereignty.
Today, as we move into the first truly global civilization, the thinking on the left of center is increasingly united in the conviction that the best way is to go back -- back to isolated communities, back to nations, back to the simple life.
There are good reasons to be concerned about some of the effects of globalization; they don’t justify the negativism that writers like Korten tap into.
It is both ironic and sad that the kind of people to whom we could once look for daring visions of the future are now being dragged reluctantly into the 21st century. There was a time when the word “progressive” really meant something. It applies less and less to the American left, which is turning into a bunch of grumpy reactionaries.
Both Friedman and Korten trivialize globalization by placing too much emphasis on its economic dimensions. But at least Friedman conveys a sense of excitement and hope, a recognition that we live in an amazing, enormously promising, time.
Walter Truett Anderson
WAY TO BEGIN!
The sentence that stands out for me in your first issue is, “I want to acknowledge the complexity of life.”
This attitude is intrinsic to any attempt to relate successfully, at least in a significant way, to today’s world.
ABOUT THE RADICAL MIDDLE CONCEPT
GREAT RADICAL MIDDLE GROUPS AND BLOGS:
SOME PRIOR RADICAL MIDDLE INITIATIVES:
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SOME PRIOR WRITINGS BY MARK SATIN:
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