Saturday, October 01, 2011

Jimmy Carter, Capabilities, War and Mindfulness

A few short entries on several miscellaneous books I've recently read and reviewed.

With all the stuff going on with the Palestinian bid for statehood these days, I decided I needed to get my hands on some Jimmy Carter texts - as I know he's been influential in the field.  I picked up and read through - but was able to skim through much of - his two texts.  His Palestine:  Peace Not Apartheid text is not new - but I had not read it.  It raised quite a bit of "drama" for him - and reasonably so - and I think even he would agree that his use of "apartheid" was challenging - though I think it is helpful that he labeled the problems there in this way, too.  Sometimes "calling something out" helps frame the dialogue.  An important text, with good ideas.  More recently, Carter wrote, We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land.  This text was written at the time when Obama was coming into office, with specific attention to direct conversation to what Obama could do "now" (2007) to effect change.  Had the suggestions been heeded, perhaps change could have been effected.  It seems, now though, the idea of a two-state-solution is null and void.  A pointed review on the death of the two-state-solution and the failure of diplomacy for Israel can be read here.

Though it wasn't on my agenda, I picked up and read, What The Heck Are You Up To, Mr. President? - Jimmy Carter, America's "Malaise" and the Speech that Should have Changed the Country.  Since I was not yet ten . . . barely 8, in fact, when this speech was delivered - it was not on my "radar screen" as a child.  But, I have read the speech as an adult and I appreciated it.  I have thought more than once about how very different so much of the world would be right now had we opted for wiser stewardship, and more fiscal accountability with respect to energy in the 1970s - as it seems to me much of our current spirit of war is motivated in ways we do not want to admit - by our dependency on foreign sources of oil.  Alas.  The text was a fascinating look at the situations that gave rise to President Carter's speech - and the author wove in major "movements" and movies and issues from the 1960s and 70s that set the stage for the speech.  The final words of the text itself, sum up the central importance of the text - and the speech - when Mattson writes:

This book also assumes that Carter's speech still resonates to this day.  Consider the speech's major insights in light of the present.  We are still a nation dependent on foreign sources of oil and lacking a national energy policy that searches for alternatives.  So, Carter's suggestion that America had to generate a sense of national purpose and a 'common good' to fight the energy crisis doesn't sound all that distant.  We are still a nation infatuated with private self-interest, whose civic culture seems torn apart, a nation that still 'bowls alone,' as on political scientist recently described it.  We are still a culture that prizes consumerism and materialism, whose pop culture seems vapid and distracting at best.  Foreign wars still warn us against thinking of America's greatness in simplistic terms, as if it can be easily projected throughout the world without a blowback.  So, in the end, this book ends with a question about 1979 as a turning point.  Are we so certain that the turn taken was the right one?  To remember Jimmy Carter's speech today allows us to ask that question with the sort of moral import it deserves.

 I skim read Empowerment:  The Art of Creating Your Life as you Want It.  I don't buy into the notion that we can "vision" and "see" our future and "create" it as a possibility in the same way the authors propose, so the book was not too captivating for me.  I am not a believer in "visualization" - though I do think it is important to consider possible futures and plan for possible outcomes.  Not a book I woureallld recommend, but the book did offer numerous good "exercises" where persons could respond to self-reflective questions that would give them opportunity to consider their life and re-think their goals/perspectives.

I really wanted to like the book, War Is A Lie.  While I liked many "glimpses" of ideas in the book, I found the book very difficult to read and discovered, after I was well into it - that the book had been self-published - and, sadly so.  I think David Swanson has good ideas and important insight.  His book has key research data that does inform its content in important ways - but the ideas and the logic and the history "bounces" all over the place in a way that made it difficult to discern how/why he "bounced" from one idea to another.  The titles of each area are clear enough - but the content within each chapter read, to me, as a scattering of ideas - from various points in time in the history of America - and in the history of the world!  I wish the 350+ text was cut in half - at least - I think a good editor would do that.  Tighten the text and the ideas and - and produce a better book with the same theme.  The chapters, if they were better written, have great titles!  "Wars are not fought against evil."  "Wars are not launched in defense."  "Wars are not waged out of generosity."  "War are not unavoidable." "Warriors are not heroes."  "War makers do not have noble motives."  "Wars are not prolonged for the good of soldiers."  "Wars are not fought on battlefields."  "Wars are not won, and are not ended by enlarging them."  "Wars news does not come from disinterested observers."  "War does not bring security and is not sustainable."  "Wars are not legal."  "Wars cannot be both planned and avoided."  "War is over if you want it to be."

I'm piecing my way - on a causal basis, through, How to Train a Wild Elephant & Other Adventures in Mindfulness.  Based on several experiences I had this summer in Thailand, I am certain my life is now having - and will have - greater fullness and meaning as I learn to be more mindful.  I work too hard, sign up for too many things, get too involved, and personally self-distract in many significant ways - all to my own detriment.  I'm trying to slow down more - and "take in" what life has to offer me.  I think, every-single-day - about being more perceptive of my life, having and receiving better communication - and of insuring I don't have any misplaced anger in my life.  And, this little text offers several practices (53 of them, in fact) for being more mindful.  As I use a few of the mindful practices, I am, indeed, more attuned to the patterns of my life - and to those in my life with me.  I find myself to be more attuned with people  - and to people - and I find myself to be more "easy-going" - though this is very hard for me.  Robyn picked up this text for me, and I'm glad she did.

And, finally, Creating Capabilities:  The Human Development Approach.  The book operates more at the theoretical level -- though this is important for outlining her perspective.  And, here, even for the sake of my own time, I'll cite another reviewer from who wrote succinctly:  "In Creating Capabilities, Martha Nusbaum provides a lucid overview of her version of capabilities theory, which is a theory of justice built on the idea that a society is just if it enables individuals to achieve their potential as human beings. Capabilities theory stresses both the importance of enabling people to develop inner, personal abilities and their living in a society that permits them to use their abilities. In a sense it integrates concepts of liberty and of equality and of postive and negative liberty, concepts that are often viewed as in tension with each other. Prof. Nusbaum also comments on the similarities and differences between her view of capabilities and that of Amartya Sen.  Capabilities theory is an important alternative to traditional and contemporary theories of justice, including John Rawls' theory of justice as fairness. This book makes the theory accessible to non-philosophers and could become important in discussions of what the nature of a just society and a just world should and can be in the 21st century."

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