New Clear Vision

constructive commentary for the chronically farsighted
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Peace Lessons

July 10, 2015 By: NCVeditor Category: David Swanson, Politics

New Book Covers Familiar Terrain with Original Perspective

by David Swanson

I just read what may be the best introduction to peace studies I’ve ever seen. It’s called Peace Lessons, and is a new book by Timothy Braatz. It’s not too fast or too slow, neither obscure nor peace lessonsboring. It does not drive the reader away from activism toward meditation and “inner peace,” but begins with and maintains a focus on activism and effective strategy for revolutionary change in the world on the scale that is needed. As you may be gathering, I’ve read some similar books about which I had major complaints.

No doubt there are many more, similar books I haven’t read, and no doubt most of them cover the basic concepts of direct, structural, and cultural violence and nonviolence. No doubt many of them review the 20th century history of nonviolent overthrows of dictators. No doubt the U.S. civil rights movement is a common theme, especially among U.S. authors. Braatz’s book covers this and other familiar territory so well I was never tempted to set it down. He gives some of the best answers available to the usual questions from the dominant war-based culture, as well: “Would you shoot a crazed gunman to save your grandma?” “What about Hitler?” (more…)

Everyday Horrors

February 19, 2015 By: NCVeditor Category: Community, Politics, Victoria Law

New Book Shines Light on Routine Dysfunctions of Prison System

by Victoria Law

If you asked people who have spent years inside prison to write noir set inside prisons, what stories would they tell? In what ways would they reflect their own experiences? What would they say that might be missed by writers who have never spent a year inside a prison cell?

prison noirWith fifteen stories from writers in eight different states, Prison Noir gives readers an opportunity to find out. Each perspective is different and, while some offer different takes on similar themes, nothing is repetitive. The anthology’s first two stories, for instance, offer both a sharp contrast in prison relationships and a damning indictment of prison conditions.

Christopher M. Stephens’s “Shuffle” starts when Al, in his mid-sixties, returns from the shower and finds a cellmate making himself comfortable in the eight-by-ten-foot solitary confinement cell after eleven years alone.

Al despised the BOP’s [Bureau of Prisons’] policy of squeezing two men in a cell in the SHU [Special Housing Unit]. The old days were gone, the days when segregation meant single cells — true solitary confinement. As the prisons filled to overflowing and budgets tightened, the feds needed to get the most bang for their bucks. If that meant cramming two grown men crammed into a space designed for one, so be it. (more…)

The Art of Satyagraha

May 09, 2014 By: NCVeditor Category: David Swanson, Michael N. Nagler, Politics

Achieving ‘Victory’ With, Not Over, the Forces of Conflict

by David Swanson

Michael Nagler has just published The Nonviolence Handbook: A Guide for Practical Action, a quick book to read and a long one to digest, a book that’s rich in a way that people of a very different inclination bizarrely imagine Sun Tzu’s to be.  That is, rather than a collection of misguided platitudes, this book proposes what still remains a radically different way of thinking, a habit of living that is not in our air. In fact, Nagler’s first piece of advice is to avoid the airwaves, turn off the television, opt out of the relentless normalization of violence.

We don’t need the art of war applied to a peace movement. We need the art of satyagraha applied to the movement for a peaceful, just, free, and sustainable world.  This means we have to stop trying to defeat the Military Industrial Complex (how’s that been working out?) and start working to replace it and to convert the people who make up its parts to new behaviors that are better for them as well as for us.

It can seem out of place to shift from a discussion of the world’s largest military to personal interactions. Surely giving John Kerry a complete personality transplant would leave in place corrupt elections, war profiteering, complicit media outlets, and the assumption held by legions of career bureaucrats that war is the way to peace. (more…)

What Is It Good For?

April 18, 2014 By: NCVeditor Category: David Swanson, Economy, Politics

War Brings Peace and Prosperity, New Book Claims

by David Swanson

Ian Morris has stuck his dog’s ear in his mouth, snapped a selfie, and proclaimed “Man Bites Dog.” His new book War: What Is It Good For? Conflict and Progress of Civilization from Primates to Robots is intended to prove that war is good for children and other living things.  It actually proves that defenders of war are growing desperate for arguments.

Morris maintains that the only way to make peace is to make large societies, and the only way to make large societies is through war. Ultimately, he believes, the only way to protect peace is through a single global policeman.  Once you’ve made peace, he believes, prosperity follows.  And from that prosperity flows happiness.  Therefore, war creates happiness.  But the one thing you must never stop engaging in if you hope to have peace, prosperity, and joy is — you guessed it — war.

This thesis becomes an excuse for hundreds of pages of a sort of Monty Python history of the technologies of war, not to mention the evolution of chimpanzees, and various even less relevant excursions.  These pages are packed with bad history and guesswork, and I’m greatly tempted to get caught up in the details.  But none of it has much impact on the book’s conclusions.  All of Morris’s history, accurate and otherwise, is put to mythological use.  He’s telling a simplistic story about where safety and happiness originated, and advocating highly destructive misery-inducing behavior as a result. (more…)

Talking Peace

March 17, 2014 By: NCVeditor Category: David Swanson, Politics

On the Genius and Relevance of Erasmus

by David Swanson

Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus, who lived from October 27, 1466, to July 12, 1536, faced censorship in his day, and has never been as popular among the rich and powerful as has his contemporary Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli. But at a distance of half a millennium, we ought to be able to judge work on its merit — and we ought to have regular celebrations of Erasmus around the world.  Some of his ideas are catching on.  His name is familiar in Europe as that of the EU’s student exchange program, named in his honor.  We ought perhaps to wonder what oddball ideas these days might catch on in the 2500s — if humanity is around then.

In 1517, Erasmus wrote The Complaint of Peace, in which Peace, speaking in the first-person, complains about how humanity treats her. She claims to offer “the source of all human blessings” and to be scorned by people who “go in quest of evils infinite in number.”

The Complaint is not a contemporary twenty-first century piece of thinking; its outdatedness in any number of areas is immediately obvious. But that’s to be expected in an essay written 500 years ago in Latin for a readership made up of what we would call creationists, astrologers, monarchists, and Eurocentric bigots. (more…)

Revisiting Reentry

January 07, 2014 By: NCVeditor Category: Family, Politics, Victoria Law

New Books Explore the Challenges of Coming Home from Prison

by Victoria Law

“Reno hadn’t wanted to stay in prison, but she wasn’t ready for the streets. Wasn’t half the way she remembered.” — Sin Soracco, Edge City

California’s prison system has continually made news this past year. Over 30,000 people rocked its prison system with a mass hunger strike that lasted nearly 60 days.  News about coerced sterilizations in its women’s prisons shocked and outraged prisoner rights and reproductive justice activists, leading to legislative hearings. At least two prison sites were found to be toxic. People sentenced under California’s Three Strikes continue to languish in prison and the numbers of prisoners aged 55 or older have increased by over 500% between 1990 and 2009. To top it off, Governor Brown continues to resist the 2011 Supreme Court order to decrease prison overcrowding.  (more…)

Suspending Disbelief

November 06, 2013 By: NCVeditor Category: Culture, David Swanson

‘God Made Me an Atheist…’

by David Swanson

Peter Boghossian’s A Manual for Creating Atheists is a curious and ultimately very valuable book.

It’s curious because it doesn’t make much of a case — or at least not the sort of case I would have liked — for why we should create atheists.

It’s valuable because, if you believe we’d be better off with more atheists, this is a remarkable tool for accomplishing that goal.

I don’t view sloppy thinking as a great evil in itself.  It doesn’t offend me the way hunger and lack of medicine and Hellfire missiles offend me.  So, I look for the argument — which I think can be made — that sloppy thinking has serious results, or that belief in a god leads to a lack of responsibility, or that belief in eternal life diminishes efforts to improve real lives.  This book does not focus on those arguments.

Boghossian points to abstinence-only sex-ed, bans on same-sex marriage, teaching Creationism, corporal punishment in schools, and other offenses in the United States, as well as pointing to various more-severe abuses by the Taliban, as the undesirable results of theism.  But, with the possible exception of Creationism, these things could continue without theism or be ended while maintaining theism. (more…)