Insight and Commentary
By Janis Zingaro on April 27, 2021
The Gypsy on Politics and Religion
Janis Zingaro is "The Gypsy," a influential blogger and new contributor to Zen Sammich
I am neither Democrat nor Republican. I am neither Liberal nor Conservative. I find that every faction be it religion, political party or philosophy that labels itself, limits itself. These terms do not describe my disposition in their entirety. It is for that reason I coined the term: Convertibal. I am Liberal in terms of education, compassion, helping others and Conservative when it comes to killin’ folks (i.e. war, abortion, death penalty).
The thing that bothers me more than any is group think. All sides are guilty. It’s not enough to know what you think, you need to know why you think it, else you will never convince anyone of your point of view. Talking points annoy me. Logic is our salvation. So don’t be offended if I demand it, because especially in politics, that is what I am all about.
I find it humorous when people who do not like what I have to say accuse me of being a poor excuse for a Buddhist in their expert opinions. I have never once claimed to be a spokesperson, representative or otherwise of Buddhism. Ever. I defy the classification. I practice Buddhism, but I am not a Buddhist. I never implied that my practice makes me perfect nor a perfect example of how to behave. Everyone has their own path.
So that is that. I am not so much a religious Buddhist, although I do meditate. I know that it is in man’s nature to need to quantify every bit of data they take in, so for those of you who wish you understand my religious leanings, I would encourage you to learn all you can about the Bhagavad Gita as this can be seen as the most profound spiritual guide I have discovered in my quest. A quest that has spanned over 20 years, a search for the ultimate truth.
In essence, I believe I was born into the dharma of public service. It is not always pleasant, but it is a necessary job. My dedication to the truth stems from a belief that every conflict begins with a misunderstanding. The only way to clear up a misunderstanding is to get to the truth. Some people like to dance around this process. I am not one of those people. I will not apologize as a practicing buddhist for being true to my Kshatriya dharma. I find it possible, nay, inevitable that the two concepts are not separate. I understand people like to wallow in the mire of misunderstanding rather than face an unpleasant truth. My view is that it is not compassionate to stand by and allow that to happen without at least saying something. (And that regardless of how detrimental or damaging their actions have potential to be, people do not always appreciate reasonable input.) What I say may change no one’s mind. I only can plant seeds, I cannot tell them how to grow. But I fail to see the compassion in allowing another fellow human being make a huge mistake with out at least trying to reason with them, regardless of how uncomfortable it is.
By Rob Kreitlein on March 8, 2021
American Politics: Violent Edition
For the last year, my Facebook feed has been riddled with memes depicting images of armed individuals declaring their eagerness for the “boogaloo” (a not-so-cryptic codeword for civil war or armed rebellion) or showing screen captures of news channels with accompanying captions about his or her group being prepared and ready for a “civil war” or decrying and laughing about how decidedly unprepared their perceived adversaries would be for a civil war. This might be unremarkable in a conservative, anarchist or extreme left echo chamber of a feed but I follow both conservative and progressive groups and have friends on both sides of the spectrum.
Perhaps even more remarkable is that speculation of a “modern civil war” or “new civil war” is rampant even on mainstream media sites and channels like CNN, Washington Post, etc. If you don’t believe me, simply google some variation of “american modern civil war” and see what pops up. (For added fun, actually read some of the analysis pieces: the predictions are all over the map with some dismissing the speculation derisively as if it belongs on the same list of conspiracy theories with things like a flat Earth and fake moon landings and others practically guaranteeing it will happen.)
Of course, it’s not like context for this speculation is nonexistent. A bombastic, loquacious President, protests, counter-protests and riots, a pandemic. Gun sales at all-time highs, ammunition running scarce amid rampant hoarding (if you are not a gun owner and don’t have first-hand knowledge of these facts, you can google this, too, or just ask a gun-owning friend or family member. Their attitude in answering the question on a scale from “smug, knowing look” coupled with a terse “none of your business” to cursing and ranting about “hoarding assholes” will tell you everything you need to know about the relative size of their ammunition stockpile).
In the midst of this context, NPR.org published an article on 11 February 2021 entitled “A ‘Scary’ Survey Finding: 4 in 10 Republicans Say Political Violence May Be Necessary”. The article was a reporting on the findings of a recent survey conducted by the American Enterprise Institute about political attitudes of Americans after the 2020 national elections.
This article was posted to Facebook by Zen Sammich’s Mark Reid and a robust discussion ensued. This discussion then became the subject of a wide-ranging Zen Sammich podcast episode featuring Reid, Andrew Rickles and this author. The reader is encouraged to view the podcast (episode 22, parts 1 & 2) at https://redcircle.com/shows/b6c352f0-8ba1-4291-a06f-73f4b2fb7299/episodes/6035f2db-3365-4b1a-865a-f7214bd8464e?fbclid=IwAR0TA7X04pqXKjZ9xMiugMbnj4_pQjxwRo__Nwj-D6qTD2eyCA7x0WtwH_Y
and read the NPR article at https://www.npr.org/2021/02/11/966498544/a-scary-survey-finding-4-in-10-republicans-say-political-violence-may-be-necessa?fbclid=IwAR0kXFC_BC6myBgnL1dMP7lft8EtfC1o7v7nFkyC8vFu1Cgnz_CVtxKOdig
In discussing these survey results on the podcast, I asked (rhetorically) whether or not we were assuming these survey results were a good or bad thing. The consensus was generally that violence = bad and therefore the threat or contemplation of violence is bad, as well. As we further drilled down on these ideas, Mark expressed the belief that the idea that citizens of America could stand up to the government and the US military for any length of time was not very realistic.
If you have viewed the podcast, you obviously know I vehemently disagreed with Mark’s analysis, however, it is worth noting here that he is in good company. As second amendment advocates frequently cite one of the central purposes behind citizen-owned arms as a “protection against tyranny by our government”, critics of this expansive view of the second amendment cite the impossibility of citizens being successful against the might of the American military.
California congressman Eric Swalwell once cited America’s nuclear arms as the central reason why armed citizens would be no match for the US military. Even our current President has weighed in on this debate. President Biden once famously said, “The fact is, if you’re going to take on the US government, you’d need an F-15 with hellfire missiles.”
Which brings us to the two-pronged thesis of this article: One, is violence (or the threat of it) always bad? And two, is the idea of American citizens standing up to the government and military a laughable concept, as our elected leaders and podcast hosts would have us believe?*
This second question is a fairly loaded question and involves some heavy-duty analysis. It is also heavily contingent on which groups are doing the revolting and under what circumstances. Accordingly, for reasons of brevity and the author’s rampant ADD, this article will be divided into multiple parts with this piece (Part 1) dealing solely with the first question in our thesis, whether violence is an acceptable form of behavior and, to a lesser degree, an acceptable form of politics.
Part 2 will be a general analysis of the legal framework under which the federal military might be utilized in an insurgency and the general question of whether or not the technological imbalance between the government and its people represents an insurmountable obstacle as a threshold question.
Further chapters are necessary to examine the specific groups who might possibly engage in an insurgency since the likely success of an insurgency movement in the United States would vary greatly, depending upon who the insurgents are. Accordingly, Parts 3-5 will analyze specific groups and situations, such as an Anarchist/Communist/Antifa variety insurgency (Part 3), a right-wing extremist/Boogaloo Boys type insurgency (Part 4) and then an issue-specific type insurgency such as one involving gun owners in the face of severe government restrictions or outright gun bans (Part 5).
“Violence Isn’t the Answer”
–Your mom, probably
If you grew up in America, Europe, Japan or some other developed, stable country, you’ve likely been conditioned to believe that violence or the threat of violence is nearly always a negative. Perhaps while growing up you encountered that old saw, “Violence isn’t the answer.” Possibly even from your mother, or a schoolteacher, perhaps. Or maybe you’re just a human being. Fear of violence or human aggression is one of the most common fears found in human beings. It’s so universal, in fact, that you will not find it listed in most psychology texts as a “phobia”, yet it is found in approximately 98% of the population. After all, there’s no point in diagnosing someone with something that nearly everyone suffers from.
Given that violence typically spurs a phobic response (increased heart and respiration rates, adrenal gland stimulation, etc.) and most people in the developed world have also been intellectually conditioned to abhor it, it’s no wonder that violence tends to be a media obsession or that NPR would label contemplation of violence to be “scary”, as they mentioned in their headline. But is violence always bad and is it truly never the answer?
It’s puzzling, indeed, that American citizens would regard violence thusly. Our very existence as a country is based on a violent insurrection. The abolition of men and women being held in involuntary servitude and the continued unity of our republic is based on violent acts. In other parts of the world, fascism, genocide, theft of natural resources and violations of state sovereignty have all been rectified-or, at least, ameliorated-by violence or the threat of it. Israel’s continued existence is protected by the threat of violence since several of its neighbors have repeatedly vowed to “drive them into the sea” and several invasions have been repelled since the 1940’s. Even in cases where a full “regime change” isn’t realized, many violent demonstrations and riots have resulted in government and institutional concessions, social and political changes and the formalization of rights and protections for certain groups or activities.
When presented with these facts and this history, most would agree that, sure, violence has a place. Sometimes. Probably very rarely. And only when we agree with the reasons for its use. Which brings us to the final point here about violence and its uses. Violence is a contingency. It’s the remedy to its own disease. Faced with violence, there is no other option available to prevent its use against you. If someone physically assaults you, talking to them-to the extent that you’re able to do so while being pounded-will not likely save you. Violence is the only reliable recourse available to stop violence. And it’s also the only reliable recourse available when you have no power or you’ve exhausted all other means to rectify your situation.
Sitting down and refusing to work was not a viable strategy for slaves to obtain their freedom. They had no power over their masters or the system that created their condition. Their plantations were rural, far-flung from one another and they had no access to communication with others similarly situated. They would simply be tortured or killed if they rebelled. Those who sought to help were likewise powerless to end that “peculiar institution” through legislation, social shame or rhetoric. Our forefathers in the original colonies had exhausted the legitimate means of legal redress and formal protest. Violence is a “break glass in the event no other legitimate, legal means are available” option.
Of course, many people point out the relative success rate of non-violent, peaceful protests in bringing about social and political change. Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, Nelson Mandela are all examples of protest leaders who successfully utilized non-violent forms of protest. Indeed, history suggests non-violent protests are almost guaranteed success if a critical mass of participation in the protest is reached (3.5%, according to one recent study).
The answer to this argument is that not all situations lend themselves to non-violent protest. First, these methods of protest are only viable in somewhat free societies to begin with. In countries with strict totalitarian controls in place, large gatherings are impossible and groups are intercepted or arrested before this critical mass can be reached. Second, swift, brutal violence early on in peaceful protests can render them impotent and suppress further efforts at building support. In either of these situations, violent action is often all that is left by way of options. For an example of peaceful protests being rendered impotent by overwhelming violence, one need look no further than the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing in 1989. The Chinese government pulled back local troops who were reluctant to engage the peaceful protestors and brought in far-flung units who were more amenable to the orders being given and the protest was successfully broken up.
Our founding fathers here in America viewed violence as a political necessity, burdened as they were by an empire that felt like their input was largely unnecessary in their governance. And after the dust settled they also realized that, despite the institutions they’d created and the mechanisms they had invented to check federal (and state) power, tyrants could never truly be prevented. Therefore, in their minds, ready access to arms would serve as a handy check against a tyrannical government deciding that peaceful protest could simply be stifled.
This point brings us to the second question of our thesis, is it possible for American citizens to stand up to the government and military? This question will be considered in Part 2, coming soon.
By Caroline Exum on January 4, 2021
Smelling Flowers Through The Mask
Encouraging Words for 2021
Here we are. A brand new year. I know some of us didn’t think we’d make it. But, we did. Against the odds and only a little worse for the wear.
I know 2020 did not go as planned for a lot of folks, but I think in some ways, we learned to stop and smell the flowers a bit. As much as you could smell the flowers through a mask, due to the pandemic, we are still powering our way through in the New Year. But, I feel confident we will see the other side.
Or we won’t. Honestly, I don’t know anymore. What I do know, I am proud of a lot of us. We stood brave and strong with each coming disaster 2020 – or life in general – tried to throw at us. We proved that we have things worth fighting for and we will fight for them. Make no doubt about that. We will fight tirelessly with humor, resolve, and grace. We will go forth into this new year and hold onto the things we fought for: our humanity and gratitude.
As Lizzo said, each and every one of you is a survivor. And you will still be a survivor in 2021. Because that’s who you are. 2020 has made you stronger, smarter, more aware, and resilient.
You don’t even need resolutions. Those will get broken and you’ll be disappointed in yourself. You just need to do what Maya Angelou said, ’“Stand up straight and realize who you are, that you tower over your circumstances.”
A lot of new days ahead. Be mindful. Be aware. Be Humble. Be honest. Be open and most importantly, be strong. As 2020 has forced us to realize, we really don’t know what’s coming. But we can prepare for everything.
By Jenn Agnew on November 3, 2020
Loving the Inner Clown
“The child is in me still and sometimes not so still.” - Fred Rogers
The year was 1987. I was in the sixth grade and had just received an invitation to my friend’s birthday party, which also happened to fall on October 31st. So, it was to be a Halloween themed birthday party. You must understand, my parents were very conservative missionary Baptists in a rural state. They thought of Halloween as a satanic holiday that was strictly forbidden in our house. As a child, I never walked door to door collecting treats with other kids in my neighborhood. Our Halloween tradition was hiding in a dark house, pretending to not be home, and watching disappointed kids ring the doorbell. I always longed to join them at least once, and now I had my chance.
I had no idea this event would become one of the more embarrassing stories of my life. I also didn’t know this would be my first boy/girl party. I was filled with glee that I had convinced my mom it was a birthday event not a Halloween party. We were on our way to buy my first costume! What would I pick out? A traditional Halloween costume like Frankenstein or Dracula? No. Would a space alien or a cheerleader be right for me? Not my style. I saw the props set up in the aisle of the store and went straight for it. The clown!
I picked out a rainbow wig, red nose, squirting flower, and a rubber chicken complete with giant shoes. Everyone will love this, I thought. It will make them happy and people will like me.
As I excitedly arrived at her house the 80’s music filled the air. I was decked head to toe in the most ridiculous get up imaginable. It was the height of Madonna’s popularity, and all my girlfriends had their sexiest, off the shoulder, outfits on with fishnets, sprayed up permed hair with earrings, topped with glitter eyeshadow. I had not even been allowed to pierce my ears. I felt so ashamed, and they all seemed so petite and adorable to me.
I should also explain that on top of this humiliation I was the Blind Melon “bee girl” of the class. I had a much larger build already and was taller than the others. I was not quite developed and still in my chubby stage with red hair, big rabbit teeth, and a huge overbite. When it was time to play spin the bottle for first kisses I passed from embarrassment. Later that Christmas the boys went on to poke my tummy with a comment about a “bowl full of jelly” that stuck with me for the rest of my life.
I eventually slimmed down and got my teeth fixed after two years of braces and three years of headgear every night. I became an adult and could wear as much glitter or makeup as I wanted. I could dress up how I liked. Nevertheless, deep down inside, I still felt like the clown girl at that Halloween party.
Over the years, every time I felt down or criticized myself or someone else criticized me, that little girl got her belly poked all over again. It took until my forties to realize that this little girl – this clown inside – was my true inner child people talk about. What I began to realize after years of struggling to love myself was that I needed to be loved in return for who I am, instead of trying to be something I’m not. As a mom of three with two clone daughters of myself and a son who has my attitude, I understand more about how to love my inner child too. The clown inside was simply a sweet, innocent girl that was not ready for first kisses or Madonna. She just wanted to make people happy. She wanted to be accepted and loved.
I later found my inner clown’s platform on social media. I discovered I am a meme queen. I cannot resist a good joke and bringing my friends a daily dose of laughter has brought me many moments of joy. My inner clown is dancing with glee these days, snorting laughs every time I see a chubby cat joke, a classic pun, or even political humor that suits my tastes.
I realized that my key to happiness is reaching out to that inner child and holding her like I do with my own children. I love her unconditionally now no matter what. I believe we all have our own inner clown girl. Yours might look different or have another name, but perhaps the hurt you might have experienced carries through adult life just the same. Take my advice, it is time to let your inner clown play again.
By Mark Reid on November 1, 2020
The Two Japanese Words Everyone Should Learn
Forget Konnichiwa and Arigato, Kaizen and Ikigai Are the Most Useful to You
When I read online articles and blogs I am frequently disappointed by how much dillydally goes on before telling me what I am looking for. So, I won’t do that here. The two words you should know are “kaizen” and “ikigai.” They are more useful to you because they can literally change your life for the better.
Google either one of these words and you are likely to find countless articles laying out the “elements” of kaizen or some Venn diagram trying to define ikigai. Indeed, it might be well worth your time to investigate both concepts further, but here I will get you started with the fundamental precepts of both. Kaizen means “constant and never-ending improvement.” Ikigai is your “life’s purpose.” Neither translate directly into English. We simply don’t have one word that carries the equivalent weight of either. So, it is worth exploring the depth of meaning implied to each. In so doing, you might get just a little better each day and have a sense of fulfillment while doing it.
You will find kaizen comes up a lot in business. It was popularized by Toyota many years ago and is undoubtedly why that company’s cars are often considered some of the most reliable on the market. They created a space for every employee to suggest improvements to the company – from manufacturing to marketing – no matter how small. The company even encourages it. But kaizen is also a philosophy of life. The essence is, that even if there is something in life you do well or that is going well, you can always make or do things better. Seems simple: try to be a little better everyday than you were yesterday, and hopefully improve on that tomorrow. Let’s say you feel overweight or unhealthy, it can be intimidating to see some exercise nut jogging or biking down the road, right? But what if today you just did one push-up or took a walk down the block? And the next day you did two push-ups or walked two blocks. You see where this is going. With an element of patience and a mindset of daily improvement, your physical and mental gains are almost limitless.
Ikigai has been associated with Japan’s long life expectancy for many years (check out a book called Blue Zones: Lessons on Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest). Sociologists, scientists and journalists have researched the phenomenon and derived many conclusions as to why this seems to be the case. I think it boils down to a sense of duty and fulfillment (which, in turn, generates happiness and a will to live). When I previously studied about ikigai, I recall reading a story of a fisherman in Okinawa who, at over 90 years old, continued to get up everyday and go fishing to provide food for his family. The family had other means of providing food, but for him, it was his life’s purpose. His life’s enjoyment. Whatever your life’s enjoyment, get up and do it everyday. Cultivate a sense of “this is my life’s purpose” from that thing that you do, whatever it is. You will be glad you did and probably live longer too.
By Mark Reid on October 16, 2020
Assessing Probability of Truth
It is time we revisit the fundamentals of how we reason what is true or false
We all disagree. On a lot of stuff. Politics. Religion. Which tastes better Italian or Thai food? Clearly the vast majority of what we take to be “true” is subjective. Then, why do we so often share our opinions in the form of absolutes?
I want to share a perspective I learned recently called Bayesian reasoning. I will spare the reader the detailed history of its origins in science and get right to the meat of what it is and how you can and should apply it to virtually every aspect of your life: Bayesian reasoning is the application of probability theory to what you hear and mentally digest. This is my definition, not wikipedia’s.
The essence of it goes like this. In general, someone tells you a good idea – maybe you hear a political pundit on tv make what seems to be a reasonably sound point – and the usual thing people will do is say “that sounds right… it’s true” or “that sounds wrong… it’s false.” What Bayesian reasoning says it that you say to every possibility “Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s false.” Thus, I will assign a probability to it being true or false. Then I will go collect data and ask “What would the world be like if this were true?”
Let’s be clear, this principle should apply to everything from going through your everyday life and in personal relationships to being an actual professional scientist. Outside of things like gravity or the sun coming up, there isn’t much truly objective truth out there. So, look, go read a Deepak Chopra book, or watch Fox or MSNBC, and if you are tempted to believe what you read or hear on tv, then test it. Figure out, if x were true then the following things would happen…
To put this into context, if I were to tell you that the sun will come up tomorrow or that gravity will operate in the same way as it did today, based on your knowledge and experience, you assess the probability of that to be 99.99999…% true. I mean, of course, the sun will come up and gravity will work tomorrow, but you can’t actually know that. So, if I tell you that “Capitalism is the best economic system in the world” or that “Democratic Socialism is the next step in the historical evolution of effective governance” or that “hey, I think that pretty woman over there likes you”; rather than wholeheartedly accepting or outright dismissing any of those points of view as true or false, perhaps it is more productive, more beneficial, to assign a probability of truth to either statement and test it out. If we all thought and reasoned more this way, perhaps, just perhaps, we might have more meaningful discourse and get more done. I don’t know though. What probability of truth do you give that idea?