Dialectical Problem Solving…
Macrobiotic teacher, George Ohsawa, described “macrobiotics” as the “biological and physiological application of the dialectical conception of the universe.” In his writings, his primary focus was not so much to introduce macrobiotics but more to introduce this “dialectical conception” (or yin and yang view) of the universe which he referred to as the Unique or Unifying Principle. He called this view of the universe as the “magical spectacles” from which, he claimed, could be used to solve all the world’s problems.
I don’t profess to have the answers to the world’s problems or that dialectics can, indeed, solve them but I do hope to share with you examples of applying dialectical thought in areas other than macrobiotics including politics, economics and world peace. I hope to introduce you to the larger vision and understanding that George Ohsawa and Michio Kushi were trying to teach the world. That vision and understanding is the application of the dialectics of the ancient Far East, also known as Yin and Yang.
Dialectical thinking is common and people do it often without even thinking about it. It involves seeing things from a larger perspective and seeing things in terms of opposites like imagining how things might appear if reversed. It is imagining oneself in the shoes of another and is like, for example, applying the golden rule of “do unto others as you would have others do unto you” yet even more so. Using dialectical thought, as opposed to medical or nutritional science, George Ohsawa arrived at his conclusions that is macrobiotics, which has proved to be quite useful for many.
I hope you enjoy the examples below!
1. Obama and Health Care Reform
There was a great editorial on Health Care Reform that appeared on the Huffington Post by Polictical Consultant, John Neffinger entitled “The 3 Lost Lessons of Healthcare History: Will Obama Re-Learn Them in Time?” His article perfectly illustrated the possible use of dialectical problem-solving for the Obama Administration in order to pass the Health Care Reform. In short, the strategy suggested by Neffinger that the Obama Adminstration should have taken to win Health Care Reform was to “Go Left” and in this case that would mean to relentlessly pushing for a Single-Payer Universal Health Care Plan that eliminates all Health Insurance Companies. By pushing the agenda towards the Left, the Right would be pulled toward the “middle” and then, in the end, would have come up with the Public Option plan. Unfortunately, Obama did not do this. Instead he went for the “Middle” and has had a hard time pulling the Right towards the middle. Meanwhile the Left has become disillusioned as well. He would be wise to listen to John Neffinger and apply the lessons of dialectics to all of his future endeavors.
There is another lesson here for all of us to look at. We tend to be reactive and inflexible regarding our political positions because we identify ourselves so closely with them and in doing so become so fixed upon them to the point that we are ready to vote, demonstrate, protest, boycott and even take up arms and kill and die for them. Yet, except for those basic rights of individual freedom that we all appreciate and strive for under any and all circumstances, most other political positions are relative and circumstantial and even forgotten overtime. If we only stood back and looked at events from a larger and longer perspective and see how they change overtime and that, for most part, the logic of our stance on things often becomes reversed in the future.
That said, the current Health Care Bill, that has passed through Congress, may prove to be more or less ineffective due to enormous amount of pressure imposed by private health insurance lobbyists and other special interest conservative groups. The Right could have their field day accusing Obama for wasting Government money on an ineffective program – a program that they helped to keep ineffective! The Left may become disillusioned because the system will not have changed as much as needed. The division between right and left may continue to remain in place in a stalemate and the only way for Obama to break it would be to do what he should have done in the first place, which is to shift his position to the far Left. But it is too late at this moment. For now he will have to continue to do what he does best and that is to maintain a moderate progressive position. Meanwhile, even though the passing of a Health Care Reform Bill is historic, the shortcomings of making significant changes might cost him his second term. Real Health Care Reform may have to wait for yet another administration. (See this Washington Post article for additional information). We shall see.
2. The Global Economy
The fall of the Soviet Union ended the polarity between capitalism and socialism. Since then, the powers that be have done everything to further the free market corporate agenda from removing trade barriers with NAFTA and the WTO to dismantling workers’ unions and outsourcing jobs to developing nations in order to exploit non-union low-wage workers. Without the distraction or threat that was Soviet Socialism, the capitalistic free market world no longer looks as ideal as it once did. The greedy profiteering that originally inspired socialist movements during the industrial revolution are becoming apparent again from war profiteering to unchecked Government bailouts given to top corporations, not to mention exploitative labor practices and the destruction of the environment around the world. What the world is experiencing now is an unstable economic transitional period created by the vacuum that used to be the socialism of the Soviet Union. In accordance with Hegel’s dialectics what should naturally follow is a synthesis of both capitalism and socialism ideals. What will that look like?
The marriage of capitalist with socialist ideals could be one that continues the present paradigm of free market (wasteful) consumerism yet tempers it with Government and non-profit subsidies for the poor. It will allow the rich to get richer while providing the poor with just enough money for them to exist as consumers and be preyed upon by the rich. The money flow will be from the poor to the rich who then pay taxes to the government which, in turn, subsidizes the poor with enough money so that they can continue to buy from the rich and on and on.
But this cycle can only exist as long as natural resources and cheap labor continue to be available in abundance. When those resources run out then we will have no choice than to shift to a sustainable global economy for our own survival. We have been warned of Peak Oil and Global Warming and yet melting ice caps and rising oceans are still too abstract to motivate most people to change the way they live.
Today, the world is focused on being “green” yet what is being done to change the system of disposable consumerism, which is the primary cause of our environmental problems? What do we do with our hybrids, solar panels and compact fluorescent light bulbs once they’ve become expired? Do they end up in the same landfills where the gas guzzlers and incandescent bulbs reside? Will they end up as part of that monstrous patch of garbage floating in the sea? Despite these “green” products, which are definitely a step in the right direction, we are not fully addressing our wasteful behavior and are just maintaining the same economic paradigm that continues to destroy our world.
The impetus for the majority of us to change our wasteful ways will come only when it impacts our daily lives. As most turn to macrobiotics only when their life is threatened, similarly, people will change their economic ways only when it affects them personally. When that happens then everything could transform into its opposite in accordance with dialectic principles. For example, the idea of property ownership could be reversed where instead of “people owning land” then it will be land owning people. Instead of “ownership” we might consider that we are being granted the responsibility of preserving the land as care-takers, like the Native Americans did. If we held ourselves responsible to return things that we own back to their original natural state then our economy would look completely different.
Imagine a future global economy where the true cost and responsibility of ownership is factored into the value of everyday goods. Imagine a future where oil companies are responsible for safely disposing all the refuse derived from petroleum products from plastic bags to CO2 emissions. Would they continue to drill for oil? Imagine a future where food and drug companies are held liable to pay for the medical costs of the population. Would they continue to produce junk food and useless medications? Imagine fishermen being charged with the task of replenishing the ocean with as much fish that they remove from it. Farmers would be responsible for ensuring the natural evolution, propagation and diversity of wildlife. In this future, it will pay to be poor and to have less because they will have more free time to live, play and enjoy life. Are we ready for this type of future economy?
One thing to be concerned about is that there may be a point of no return when all attempts to reverse the global environmental situation will be too late and where we will end up with the same fate as those who used to live on Easter Island; an island nation whose population resorted to cannibalism for lack of natural resources. It would be wise of us to remind ourselves that, like Easter Island, the Earth is an island also and therefore we should take the time to figure out when exactly this point of no return is and take action before it’s too late. 350ppm (see: 350.org) of CO2 emissions is only a beginning.
3. Nuclear Disarmament and World Peace: questioning “Peace Through Strength”
The surprise Nobel Peace Prize for President’s Obama on October 9, 2009, not surprisingly, generated a flurry of opinions from both his detractors and supporters. In a matter of hours after the announcement reactions from News shows appeared on YouTube. Among them were, as expected, criticisms from Fox News including the following clip of Bill O’Reilly interviewing Conservative Radio Host Laura Ingraham. What struck me about this clip was Laura Ingraham’s position of “Peace Through Strength” which served as her basis to criticize Obama and his foreign policy.
I am sure that President Obama agrees with Laura’s position of “peace through strength” as do, probably, every US Citizen and most people around the world. “Peace through strength” is a common, if not a core, position of defense, protectionism and national survival. It was popularized by President Ronald Reagan and others to justify having and developing weapons, building a strong military, maintaining a level of intelligence secrecy and even launching preemptive strikes against potential threats. It helped him win the election over Carter and has since been the Republican stance on foreign policy and anything that suggests diplomacy is considered by them to be weak.
In the past it was the basis and logic for stockpiling nuclear weapons during the Cold War and was the justification to maintain peace through “Mutually Assured Destruction” (MAD) between Russia, China and the US. It was also echoed in President Theodore Roosevelt statement, “Speak softly and carry a big stick”. Long before Roosevelt, a similar quote in Latin “Si vis pacem, para bellum” meaning “If you wish for peace, prepare for war” was attributed to Roman military writer, Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus. This principle seems to make sense, especially when one had less-than-friendly aggressive neighbors desiring to conquer your lands, take all your resources and enslave you, your family and all your friends.
Yet “Peace through strength” only works as long you are on the side of “Strength”. If you happen to be on the side of the “weak” then things don’t look so great and can be quite miserable. In fact, if you look at any historical conflict from the side of the “weak” then you’ll find every type of human rights crime possible from slavery, genocide, rape, exploitation, abuse and theft of land and natural resources.
One exception to this was the work of Mahatma Gandhi. Without using violence and weapons, Gandhi used the strength of numbers in passive non-violent resistance and was able to force the more powerful British out of India. Yet, today, those of us who live in affluent countries like the US continue to uphold the creed of “Peace Through Strength” without truly considering what it’s like to be on the side of the weak and in spite of Gandhi showing a way of strength through non-violence. (Why, indeed, does India have a standing army?)
The affluent nations are not alone in living by this paradigm. Trying to fill the vacuum that was created by the fall of the Soviet Union, Iran and North Korea continue to uphold their own version of “Peace Through Strength” as they try develop their own nuclear arsenal much to the dismay of the rest of the world, especially the United States, champions of the creed. The future of maintaining “peace through strength” will only lead the entire world down a path of detente through mutually assured destruction as it was during the Cold War.
While Obama made bold promises of nuclear disarmament, one can only imagine what the distant future will be like in arms reduction talks. While all of us desire to live in a nuclear free world will we have the courage to do so? Do we trust each other fully enough to be certain that no one would be hiding a cache of weapons – just in case the other guy lied about getting rid of all his weapons? In a climate of fear and mistrust no side will ever completely give up their “strength”. This is “peace through strength.”
This detente may never be resolved unless we address the paradigm of “Peace through strength” from a dialectical point of view. If we realize that such a position can only exist at the expense of and because of the yielding and surrendering of the Weak then perhaps we might be able to resolve this problem. If you think about it, it is really the Weak who are creating the peace, not the Strength. The correct paradigm is the reverse: “Peace through Weakness” and not “Peace Through Strength”.
“Peace Through Weakness” is the full yielding and surrendering of all defenses, arms, power and fear. It is embracing all and living from a place of unconditional love. This may seem like an impossibility given our present world that is filled with fear and aggression but that is what has been going in every situation where the “strength” has conquered the “weak”. But until there is a recognition and respect by all given to the Weak for creating peace then we will not have a true and lasting peace. I believe that will change one day. It will happen when we no longer have any choice but to live in peace and with unconditional love and, on a personal level, it can happen with any one of us right now!
Peace be with you!
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