Archive for the ‘My moral code’ Category

By the time that we American Jews begin our commemoration of the Shoah, the first round of the 2017 French Presidential election will be over.

That is significant.

At the very moment that we are praying that the horror of the Holocaust will never again befall our people, the moment when we hear from the few remaining survivors of the Nazi death camps, it’s likely that Marine Le Pen – the daughter of an avowed anti-Semite who is the farthest of the French far right – will receive sufficient public support to make it to the final round.

The French racist hyper-Nationalism which puts Ms. Le Pen into this position is not unique.

As we pray that such a horror will never befall our people again, many of us pray that such atrocities will never befall ANYONE again. But, as we do so, our American President is hell bent on beginning to build a wall on our southern border before he reaches his 100th day in office. Our American President sends congratulatory messages to dictators who’s people stupidly grant their leader additional powers. Our American President was elected on the specific promise to turn away refugees just like our country disgracefully did to European refugees who’s return trip sent them right into the National Socialist gas chambers.

But it does not end with Le Pen and Trump.

Throughout Europe there is a rising tide of Antisemitism. Around the world, Antisemitism is weakly disguised as anti-Zionism. America is immersed in Islamophobia. Radical Islam perpetuates the myth that even Muslims have insurmountable divisions that can only be solved through mass murder. The UK would rather leave the European Union than to embrace diversity. And an insane child is leading North Korea toward World War III.

In other words, every year I quote Robert Nozick and every year I come closer to believing his statement that the Holocaust may have demonstrated that our species is indeed unworthy of survival. I can’t bring myself to embrace that, though, and here’s why:

I believe that humans are no more than the latest round of primates. I believe that we are not really all that special. But, I also believe that we have been given, by God or by chance (who knows?), the unique capacity to reason and, as far as we know, a uniquely sophisticated linguistic ability. Together this is a powerful toolkit. With it, we have the ability to change our destiny.

We can use those tools to accelerate our demise as Kim Jong Un is want to do. But we could also delay it by thousands of generations, perhaps even permanently change its course. But to do the latter takes the courage to fight the forces of hatred, misogyny, xenophobia, and fear-mongering through which everything “other” becomes a tool for evil dictatorial “leaders” to take control of our societies. To turn toward good we need only use our reason and our communicative capacity to help enough others to realize that we can, indeed we must, turn away from evil.

And so, as we approach Yom haShoah 2017, my hope is that all of my coreligionists will use our commemoration of the past to rededicate ourselves to the realization that the past can and will repeat itself if we are not each individually a force for change.

I am the grandson of Russian immigrants. My father’s parents came to America in the very early 20th century. They were Jewish and the main reason they came was to escape and Antisemitism. 

Grandma and grandpa came from a place where, as a minority, they were hated – to a place whose founding principles were equality and liberty – well, at least for white folk. All that they, and others like them,  wanted was a chance to make a life not mired in hatred. Grandpa’s first way of earning a living was to own gumball machines.

So, I give a danm about others partly because I am just rwo generations removed from immigrants; immigrants who embraced America’s dream –  and I am proud of that. 

The American dream is eroding now; eroding at an unprecidented rate; leaving in it’s wake both sadness and disdain for anyone who’s not a gun-toting rich white Christian. Most horrific is that this is happening in a part of the world where every gun-toting rich white Christian is an immigrant! 

What has this to do with Passover? Easy. 

On Passover one of the greatest mitzvot is to welcome strangers into your home. This is because, just like the gun-toting rich white Christians were in America, we were once strangers in the land of Egypt. We embrace “strangers” because we WERE strangers. Not only that, if we let liberty continue to erode, we could become them once again. 

It happened in Russia. It happened in Germany. If you think it won’t happen in America the I beg you to open your eyes and polish up your critical thinking skills. Because… it is.

On Passover especially, we don’t build wall; we open doors. We don’t exclude strangers; we embrace them. We don’t detest diversity; we embrace it. 

This must happen for everyone, every day. Only then will we open the door and will Elijah stay for longer than just a swig of bad wine. Only then will Eliahu ha navi hearld the messianic age. Or, for we who do not believe in all the theology, only then will people stop treating each other like shit and embrace dignity and love.
This Passover I urge you to RESIST hate and embrace all humanity. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan “Mr. Trump, tear down (the plans for) this wall”.

Hag Pesach Someach!

Dear Mr. President. 

I know you are doing exactly what your supporters want. They are happy to see you “doing what you said”. I will admit, that is a rare trait and I know why your supporters approve. I, personally, don’t approve – but the magic of American polity is that I don’t have to. 

There is something else magical about the American political system. That is its built in infrastructure of checks and balances. As you do all the things that you promised your supporters, I urge you to remember that this system is not only critical but it is, to paraphrase you, exactly the unique attribute that “makes America great”. If you want to “make America great again” then the you should strengthen, not weaken, our system.

Please remember that there are 3 branches of government. The whole purpose of that is to have these crucial pillars of checks and balances. 
Understand that the position you hold is only one of the 3 pillars. As you pursue the will of your supporters, you must not forget the other 2 pillars. 

Your power is expressly limited and that is on purpose. Perhaps the pillar most associated with these checks and balances is our independent judiciary. I urge you to remember two things.

First – You are a president not a king.

Second – Just because a Judge does not agree with you does not make him a “so called Judge”. 

Please learn to deal with the rest of our government with professionalism and respect. You are but one of 3 EQUAL branches. In fact, if you read the constitution you will find that yours is the most limited branch of all. 

Our Declaration of Independence freed us from the rule of a king. Our Articles of Confederation tried, but failed, to loosely bind us. Our Constitution came into being to truly unite the people of this land in a way that created a single federal government but not a single governing body. It is a work, however flawed, of genius. But, it only works with 3 equal branches and a politically independent judiciary. Let it work.

I know how easy it is to want to be the king but, we the people don’t want a king. You won an election. Now govern according to the rules.

Please give it some thought and let me know if you want me to send you one of my Cato pocket constitutions. I’m happy to share.

Your citizen,

Steve

Because of the insanity going on in the United States right now it seems an opportune time to step back and consider what really matters. Our country does not now seem well disposed to people who need our help. We are turning away from immigrants, away from the homeless, and away from compassion. It seems like a good time to share the next chapter of my Faces of Need Photo Essay. I’d like to do that now.

Recall that “Faces of Need – Portland” is an ongoing project that I started at the end 2015. It’s purpose it two-fold. First, it brings attention to the humanity and dignity of every Oregonian. Second, it reminds us that even in a land as blessed as Oregon the problem of hunger continues unabated.

I hope you find power in these images and that they remind you – as I’ve said before – that every human being is a unique and wonderful creation, worthy of love, respect, dignity, shelter, sustenance, and compassion.

Peace, love, and light y’all,

Steve

 

Faces of Need: A Photo Essay (Part 2)

By: Steven Craig Bilow

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Ya know… It costs me about $9.00 a week just to get my New York Times on the weekend. Today, I could not even read past the front page. I’m saddened and utterly horrified by the actions taken by our government this week.

If you don’t understand why I find this so upsetting I beg you to look at the specific actions of the German government in 1933. For the first time in history I’m not scared for we Jews. I’m scared FOR people who my government wants me to be scared OF.

Islamic extremism is clearly the most horrific application of religious dogma since something like 1099. It should be feared and it must be stopped. But once you turn a billion people into “the bad guys”, you have tried to solve the problem in a way that contradicts everything I thought this country stood for. The guys who most promote American exceptionalism just removed the primary thing that makes America exceptional.

Build a wall. Lock the doors. Adopt 17th century failed isolationist economic policies. Promote hate. Bundle it up with propaganda about protecting the people. What do you have left of the “shining city on the hill”?

 

 

Some people hate my diatribes against political candidates, religious zealots, anti-rationalists, creationists, science-haters, war-mongers, racists, misogynists, antisemites, homophobes, and my whole cast of characters. Some people love them.

People of different backgrounds also have widely different responses to my posts on loving each other, respect for every individual life, the ethics of war, respect for religious diversity, struggling with rationalism, respect for atheists, and love of our lonely little blue rock in space.

To be honest, I don’t really care and here is why.

I began this blog as a way to keep myself writing. It was for me. I blog as if I were writing in a diary. The only difference between this and a private journal is that I think about whether what I write here is something I’m willing to let others read. It’s a diary but it’s not private.

My one unshakable belief comes from Aristotle and is simply this: “The unexamined life is not worth living“. I believe that we humans are distinguished from other mammals simply by our power to reason. I don’t know if that is really true because I have a 50 year bias toward cetaceans given to me by my mentors Greg Bateson and John Lilly. But, from what I can know without talking to orcas it seems we are unique in our capacity for reason. Most of us under-utilize that blessing and some of us use it for monstrous purposes. But, for me personally, thinking, pondering, debating, considering, arguing, and examining are the reasonable paths to being fully human.

My blog, therefore, does not try to convince you of anything. It does not try to insist that I’m right. In fact, I admit that I’m often not. All this blog does is to give you an unobstructed view into my personal self-examination. I have a substantial private life. But the part of my wrestling with God, biology, philosophy, and existing which I choose to expose is, herein, an open book.

So, I’m going to continue to piss you off sometimes. I’m going to let you watch my struggle if you so choose. You can’t get me to stop doing that even if you negatively react to my posts. All you have to do is stop reading them if you don’t like them. Personally, I hope that you continue to read this writing for many years to come. All I hope is that I challenge you to think; and that by exposing my self-examination I somehow help you, yourselves, to grow.

I’m grateful to all of you whether you like me and my writing or not. You challenge me to think and I hope the challenge is mutual.

In deep gratitude and love for you all: Happy Thanksgiving.

 

 

One of my 2017 resolutions is to be more positive about things. I am no longer going to be negative and cynical. I am starting now.

I am very positive and enthusiastic about Donald Trump’s national security selections! This is great news! When these guys start World War III we will all finally be able to find out who was right about The Messiah at the end of days. This is exciting news for everyone I am being very positive in my thinking about it. What a great start!!! It feels so good to be thinking positive!

Ok. Sarcastic bullshit aside, just seriously consider this…

Suppose you wanted to build a nationalist state based on the values of racial superiority. misrepresented religious dogma, fear, state power, limited civil rights for selected classes, deportation, torture, and the internment of those deemed untrustworthy. Um… I dunno… maybe like the Third Reich in… oh… 1933, 1935… you know… like that. Hitlerish, perhaps. What would your first step be?

I have a cool idea!!!

How about putting 3 fringe, homophobic, islamophobic, misogynistic, exceptionalistic, racist white men in the positions of intelligence agency director, chief legal council, and national security advisor? Hey!!! That just might work.

Now, I’m not saying that anyone would do such things. I’m not saying that they’d be done with evil intentions. This is the 21st century and we’ve become an advanced, enlightened society. Surely that would be impossible.

We need to work hard on all levels to make sure everything stays perfect and I’m glad our CIA director, for example, will always be above politics. But, who knows what could happen. I don’t know.

What I do know is that there are many open jobs now and I’m torn. I can’t decide if I should apply for propaganda minister since I’m such a good writer or director of the secret CIA prison system in case my blog posts end me up in one of them anyway.

God Bless the Trump security team. I feel safe now.