Sunday, March 6, 2016

Tribalism, the greatest threat to humanity itself.

In the recent light of the electronic haze of the latest 2016 US Presidential Election coverage
kerfuffle, Saturday Night Live among others has taken a swipe at the candidacy of Donald Trump. The skit features several white comedians being unusually normal, till at some point the connection is made to Trump and his dance with the ugly side of white tribalism in the United States. Yet this candidate appears to be willing to embrace that ugly side, at least for the sake of electioneering and ultimately winning the Republican nomination for President.  I have viewed the clip and want to try and use it as an example of why my title for this post matters.

The Federal Representative Republic that the founding fathers left for us is ultimately a human institution, thus they recognized the frailty of the human condition when power is granted or used by any governing body. They saw the need to instill within their documentation of the guidelines of how that power was to be structured and used but more importantly how to restrict that use of power to avoid the dangers of tyranny of the majority. And while our history is replete with examples of "legitimate" use of that power as we have advanced within the understanding the unifying bonds of our shared humanity, that now in the aftermath were not morally just or ethical uses of that power.

The repeated commentary that Mr. Donald Trump is a lesser demagogue in the vein of an "American Hitler" is profoundly disturbing to this author and a great many others. Yet his rise to national fame is not some unknown effect of a societal pressures and fears being manipulated. Nor is he alone in his manipulations of symbols and imagery that evoke the justification for those comparisons to the epitome of the "Evil Empire" of Nazi Germany. Sadly he is yet another willing to exploit a need within the human psyche, that need to belong and to identify with others of like mind or of social, cultural, religious, or even political views.

I am referring to the concept of "tribalism" or as I define it, "the need to belong to a group that provides an identity that marks those who belong as somehow superior or worthy of greater power". This compelling need for many if not most of humanity to belong and to be deemed worthy of their tribe's place as first among equals, in and of itself has no moral or ethical value. But the actions taken to secure and retain that tribal identity and then the use of that tribal's rightful place or power to subjugate those who are not apart of the tribe is, in point of fact what makes such actions utterly devoid of any redeeming value or bluntly stated "evil".

We must recognize the inherent call to action that our history compels us to act in defense of humanity and ultimately ourselves. Tribalism in all its forms must be completely and utterly rejected if we are to truly achieve the "American Dream." Identity must be shaped to recognize that all life is sacred and holy, that all human beings are united in the common bond of existence and that all have the right to exist. The cults of individuality and self are dangerous in their seductions of our will to move forward as a society and people.

Our mad rush to be unique or at least be part of that special group is what allows us to commit horrors upon each other with depressing frequency. I call upon each of us to examine our inner-most thoughts and feelings, so as to identify that which would lend itself to a tribalistic view of the world around us.  Recognize where that tribalism could and can does lead us towards inhumanity towards those who are not part of our tribe. Active and conscious, we must be in combating this darkness that resides within us all.

If we fail to do this, we do so at our own peril....

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

20 Weeks: Trial by Fire

20 Weeks: Trial by Fire

Rights, Groups, and Intersectionality in the United States Today


Jared Michael Royka

            Well dear readers I have been bitten again by the writing bug and its finals week for the 1st half of my summer semester at ASU. I have the privilege of having several friends whom are professional writers so any time I put my thoughts to paper, I feel that I have tall shoes to fill. One of my longest and dearest friends, Paul Matuzsak, is a professional journalist in the wide open realm of modern journalism, specifically blogging on political, social, and personal issues.
While I do not always agree with my dearest friend he does manage to make a strong point on a single topic. That topic is to get oneself informed and ready to take action in regards to how our nation is ran. I tend to be a bit more prosaic in how I get to the same point but on this we both adamantly agree, it is critical to be active and demand your government works. Without active citizen participation we get what has become a political system mired in partisan rhetoric and the pervasive influence of those whom think they know better than you what it is you need.
Again I do not endorse any given party or political faction as I tend to rate most of them with the leadership skills that are best defined as; they couldn’t lead starving wolves to fresh meat. Yet as I slowly it seems finding myself drift politically into that no-man’s land of a blend of libertarianism/constitutionalist/moderate or as I call it the “Leave me the Hell Alone Party.” I have become a cynic when I “Insert hated opposition group/ideology/ect here” is ruining our nation. Frankly I have become violently ill at vitriolic sewage that we call political discourse, my blame gun is locked, loaded, and I have ammo enough for both sides.
If you have to blame someone for my rising need to speak out on many issues blame my friends, my wife, my growing education, and lastly my family for instilling in me a love of my nation. We have a lot of issues that this country needs looking at and having real solutions suggested, not hey this group or this really rich person or industry wants me to do this? In fact I find that my friends like Paul and my lovely wife do much to show me intelligent dialogue that while in disagreement is done with respectful candor. So I am challenging myself to do at least one post on a social/political/economic issue for the next 20 weeks. I have to admit that in my own estimation of this goal being successful is well about as likely as me getting returned to active duty and then being allowed to retire from the military.
I am further challenging myself to approach these issues that I will write upon from a neutral perspective as possible. I am likely to be all over the map as I am finding my own opinions somewhat broader than they were 20 years ago. So dear readers I challenge you to give me a new topic to write about each week. I will pick one and do the best job I can to provide information and my own assessment of the topic as I see it. Please take me upon this challenge as I need to continue work on improving my research and analytical skills. Throw me some good ones and before someone goes there, yes I will discuss just about any topic that is relevant to us as a nation and a people today.
So let’s see what trouble we can get into together, eh? It is often said that knowledge is power, so let’s all get empowered off facts, information, and the consistent ability to apply critical thinking skills. Oh and I challenge you dear reader to do the same thing yourself. The more voices heard the more likely we will connect as a people and make the decisions that have to be made. Let’s get to work and I am excitedly waiting your suggested topics.
                                                                                    Very Respectfully,
                                                                                    Jared M. Royka

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Liberalism? Conservatism? The duality and duplicity of our modern political reality.

An inquiry posted to all,

I wish to posit a question to any whom honor my thoughts with a few moments of your time in reading my humble blog.  If we look back in the last 33 years of American political development we can see two major shifts in our political  cosmology. We have seen the rhetoric approach unprecedented levels of openly partisan warfare both in our Federal, State, County, and even Municipal levels of governance. While this is in many ways nothing earthshaking or all that noteworthy in regards to political partisanship in our nation's history.

What is noteworthy is that while our "political" leaders seem to grow farther and farther apart. The American people seem to be continuing their intent on a balanced political philosophy. This in my humble opinion is the first trend of the disconnect between our leaders and us the citizen. We here terms like "War on Women" and "Socialist/Marxist" being thrown about carelessly even worse recklessly. The tea party is decrying what they see as "Casus belli" in regards to the IRS targeting their non-profit groups because of their political orientation.

We see the specter of "abuse of power" in the recent revelation of the NSA's Operation Prism. Neither party is without sin in this regard. While I am glad to see open opposition and policing of the opposing viewpoints by both political philosophies and parties. I am not glad at all, in point of fact, rather angry at the utter lack of civility towards those whom are being treated as unclean for daring to disagree with the "mother church" in the form of a chosen political identity or association with a political party.

We see the Democratic party and its liberal/progressive leadership guilty of their own "war on women." The largely white male Democratic leadership in both houses of Congress are guilty of cowardice by forcing female party members to "take the lead" in chastising the Republican ergo "conservative" groups. This is both unethical as well as immoral to so deliberately use the women of your part as a bludgeon to score points against the other side. Women's issues affect all of us and men as well as women need to recognize and speak on these issues.

Our sitting President for all his claims to his liberal ideals has acted in parallel to his predecessor rather than honoring his promises a more liberal form of governance. The Republican party is no less guilty in their duality and duplicity towards the citizens of this nation.  We see the Republican party oppose the serious need for reforms in the areas of health care, taxation, and overt discrimination towards the issues of same sex marriage. This is not a party that was founded prior to the Civil War and openly took the stance against the evils of slavery.

We permit the open demagoguery and demonizing of anyone whom does not march in lockstep with their chosen or given political identification. By this statement I am referring towards the behavior of both ideologies and parties not agreeing to disagree and striving to find a middle ground for what is in the best interests of our nation. Both parties give an unfair amount of influence to those whom have wealth in determining what is in the best interests of our nation.

Our nation has accepted that it is ethical and moral to classify "money" as a form of free speech. I do not think our founding fathers would see this trend as healthy for our Republican form of government. Rather than seeking to work with each other for the betterment of all our citizens, our people are divided in to racial, social, economic, sexual, and religious camps. This division does not serve to strengthen our people rather it permits to control a given group through fear and manipulation.

Why do we permit this behavior? Who bears the blame for this situation, I believe that it is ourselves that are to blame. The intersectionality of our modern lives does not permit a single issue approach to handling the complex issues that our nation face now and will face in the future.  I don't see liberals or conservatives as inherently wrong nor are the parties themselves. We must as a people commit ourselves to active citizenship. It is our duty to vote and to actively participate in our political process.

If you wish to see change occur then get out there, get active, and educate yourself with facts. Avoid the overly emotional reactions to an issue but understand that issues that affect others will eventually affect you. The information you need is out there and it only requires basic research skills to find what you need to make informed decisions. Do not passively accept anything fed to you as "news" or "information." Make decision for yourselves and act in what you understand based upon those facts as what is in the best interests of our nation. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Torture of Suspected Terrorists

We have been at war with terrorism at least in the United States since Sept 11, 2001. Yet we can trace the history of terrorism long before that infamous date in the history of the United States. Terrorism is defined roughly as the usage of “violent means or activities to achieve a political or social goal.”  Torture is derived (from the Latin torquere, “to twist, distort”) (Taylor, 2007, p. 710) and is by no means a simple topic of discussion.  

In fact, we have since the 2nd World War promulgated international laws and policies that define both torture and the general prohibition against its usage (Van der Vyer, 2003). This was largely the result of the reaction of the Allies in regards to the activities that were discovered in the Nazi concentration camps spread throughout Eastern Europe. Medical experimentation among other activities was performed on Jewish prisoners as well as other inmates.  These and other activities were conducted without any consent from the prisoners and done without any concern for pain or suffering of the participants.

Largely due to the holocaust and its horrors laid bare for the world to see. The world began to recognize torture as a serious issue. Led by the United States and the impetus to deal with anything deemed a threat to humanity itself, gave rise to the United Nations as well as various documents in the later part of the 20th century such as the Declaration of Human Rights (Van der Vyer, 2003).  And events that occurred since the ending of the 2nd World War, such as the disintegration the former Yugoslavia as well as the events in Rwanda all involved torture and state sanctioning of such behavior.

We shall discuss three main themes in this paper. The first is the definition of torture as defined in International Law and how that definition is treated when torture is apparently sanctioned. Second we shall look at the moral arguments both for and against the usage of torture.  Third we shall see how the United States itself has acted both in the usage of torture and the prohibition of such activities.  Finally we shall close with a summation of what we have discussed in the body of this paper.

The definition of what is torture or the legal standard applied what exactly constitutes torture is still hotly debated. Yet we can find from the Convention against Torture which was passed in 1984 and the United States is a signatory member of this convention. Article 1 defines torture as: “For the purposes of this Convention, the term "torture" means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. Article 1 of the CAT, does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions(Weissbrod & Heilman, 2011, p. 354). Yet there are numerous other documents that modify, enhance, or remove certain language as to what exactly constitutes torture.

The sanction or prohibition of torture has been energized by the recent moral and ethical debates that have occurred since the events of Sept 11. The Bush administration bears the largest amount of blame or praise in regards to the USG’s usage of the enhanced methods of interrogation. This is not to exclude events such as, Agiza vs. Sweden, where such interrogations were “outsourced” to allied nations whose legal standards permitted a greater degree of freedom to engage such methods as decried by international anti-torture entities or agencies (Joseph, 2005, p. 340)

Yet the debate on torture of suspected terrorists has not abated since the election of President Barrack Obama in 2008.  The USG’s definition of torture has conflicted with what is recognized as the legal standards as promulgated in the Convention Against Torture. The USG has stated that its usage of enhanced interrogation methods does not in fact constitute a breach of international law and treaties of which the USG is a signatory party to (Allhoff, 2012). We see that both sides still debate what the definition that constitutes “torture” is even to present day. 

This renders the question as to who decides such a definition and how does that definition apply to a sovereign government or its designated agents. The definition of torture is generally agreed upon by most governments and international bodies. Where we have a conflict then is in the application of that definition at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels of the “War on Terror”. This conflicts with the opinions of the average person that opposes the use of any form of “torture” including such enhanced methods of interrogation (Gronke et al., 2010)

Let us delve into our next theme, the moral and ethical arguments for and against the usage of torture against suspected terrorists. We will first look at the arguments that support the usage of torture against suspected terrorists. The first and most likely argument is to permit the usage of torture of a suspected terrorist to save innocent civilian lives from an immediate threat.  The argument that has been most often used at least in a moral sense is the “Ticking Time Bomb” argument as argued by Fritz Allhoff in his book bearing the same title (Allhoff, 2012)

In the post 9-11 environs the United States Government or USG, through the Office of Legal Counsel, promulgated via official memorandums the authorization for “enhanced” interrogation methods (Weissbrod & Heilman, 2011, p. 345).  Enhanced interrogation methods were permitted until the Abu Ghraib scandal was made public (Posner & Vermeule, 2006, p. 673). Yet the USG is still accused of engaging in practices that circumvent international law and even elements of its own laws in regards to the “torture statute” (Gronke et al., 2010) (Weissbrod & Heilman, 2011).

What is “enhanced interrogation”; this can be seen as various methodologies such “water boarding”, “sleep deprivation”, or any methodology that permits a more aggressive form of interrogation of a suspected terrorist.  The USG argues that such enhanced methods do not meet the international legal standard of torture. This argument is extended to the “out-sourcing” to other nations that have a less legal restriction in regards to the interrogation of terrorist suspects (Posner & Vermeule, 2006)

In the arguments against the usage of torture as a method to gain information from a suspected terrorist, the common theme is its antithetical nature in regards to basic human rights (Iacopino, Keller, & Oksenberg, 2002).  Another element that is commonly found within arguments against the usage of torture is the moral erosion of the democratic ideals of any sovereign nation that permits its usage (Taylor, 2007). We often see in the arguments against torture, as parallels drawn between the permitted use of sanctioned torture and “war-crimes” (Van der Vyer, 2003). The argument of the unreliability of information gained through torture, mostly due to the supposition that the person being tortured will say anything to make it stop (Taylor, 2007), (Posner & Vermeule, 2006), and (Van der Vyer, 2003). The strongest argument against torture is that any benefit gained is severely degraded by the costs associated with its usage (Posner & Vermeule, 2006, p. 8).

Next we specifically see how the United States Government has acted in regards to the usage or prohibition of the usage of torture in regards to suspected terrorists. This theme has been dramatically increased since the events of September 11, 2001.  The USG has often argued that its activities were permissible in light of extenuating circumstances in regards to the difficult nature of targeting terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaida.

The interrogation facility that sprang up at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba shortly after the events of September 11th is often the first place mentioned in regards to USG activities in the interrogation of suspected terrorists (Posner & Vermeule, 2006).  The USG insists that anyone detained is considered an “unlawful combatant” thus not subject to the legal principal of “habeas corpus” (Weissbrod & Heilman, 2011).  Yet as of this paper the facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba is pending closure via executive order signed by President Barrack Obama in response to pressure to close the facility.

Something that has not been widely discussed until recently was the permitted practice of indefinite detention of suspected terrorists (Posner & Vermeule, 2006) (Weissbrod & Heilman, 2011). This has become strenuously opposed as it could include US citizens that would be potentially denied their civil rights as guaranteed by the United States Constitution, specifically the 5th, 8th, 10th, and 14th amendments to the Bill of Rights (Weissbrod & Heilman, 2011). The USG has argued in the case of the “dirty bomber” Richard Padilla that he should be ruled as an “unlawful combatant” as he is suspected of ties to Al-Qaida despite his US citizenship. This “unlawful combatant” standard has been applied to any area outside of the United States (Van der Vyer, 2003) (Weissbrod & Heilman, 2011)

Also of note as previously mentioned is the USG practice of “out-sourcing” interrogation of suspected terrorists to countries that are accused of using interrogation methods that meet the international definition of torture (Van der Vyer, 2003) (Weissbrod & Heilman, 2011). In fact this was not known until the end of the 2nd Bush Administration circa 2006; that the USG was sending suspected terror suspects to foreign nations for interrogations in secret prisons (Taylor, 2007) (Weissbrod & Heilman, 2011)

This leaves us with the question as to why the USG felt this was both acceptable risk and legally defensible?  We can see that given the slow introduction of information that could possibly be construed as sanctioned torture by the USG to the general populace within the United States as well as international interests. It appears that while not directly engaging at least in a public manner of condoning torture there have been some serious questions raised as to this issue. 

Given the shadowy nature of terrorism itself as an entity, this makes direct prosecution of suspects supremely difficult via normal methods of investigation.  The legal statues of the United States shows a clear prohibition to the use of “torture” as a method of gaining information from a suspected terrorist (Weissbrod & Heilman, 2011). Also the United States is a signatory to many international agreements, thus could be considered to be legally bound to adhere to such as the CAT (Weissbrod & Heilman, 2011).

How then do we as citizens of the United States construe our government’s activities often taken allegedly upon our behalves? I see this as the greatest argument towards the necessity of critical thinking and the education of such skills. Given the morally ambiguous nature of terrorism and what role torture of suspected terrorists plays within our moral, ethical, and legal institutions as well as our belief.

We can see that throughout all the themes discussed in this paper, a common thread that shows on a public level there appears to be a universal condemnation of torture. Yet in the post 9-11 world that we now live it seems to be a “grey area” that has no hard and fast rules in regards to its usage as a tool to protect society from acts of terror like the events of 9-11.  We struggle to balance the need for security and safety against the concerns of the damage that torture causes to our moral, ethical, and social framework both at a national and international level.

In summary, we have discussed the following themes within this paper. The first we discussed the definition of torture as defined in International Law and how that definition is treated when torture is apparently sanctioned. Second we have looked at the moral arguments both for and against the usage of torture.  Third we have discussed how the United States itself has acted both in the usage of torture and the prohibition of such activities.

Taylor, D. (2007). DoubleBlind: The torture case. Critical Inquiry, 33(4), 710-733.

Gratitude and Intersectionality

I have to be very thankful for my opportunity to have the good fortune to have access to a quality education. I am fully aware that many do not have access let alone opportunity to that education for reasons far too numerous to list here. I find myself changing as I have always done when I expand my consciousness of wonderful sensation of taking in knowledge with the intent to turn that knowledge into purposeful action. This change is at times frightening and I am constantly on guard to act as a critical thinker.

My closest friends have heard me speak of my favorite aphorism "Watch always for what is NOT being said." By this I mean to take a stand against being duped or manipulated by anyone yet it remains a constant vigil. It is my darkest nightmares that I someday would be a party and worse a willing one to something that if laid bare would be of a morally reprehensible nature to me. I have striven to treat anyone I meet on an individual basis. Yet I have to recognize my own biases and prejudices for I am all too human.

In the labeling of my own faults and shortcomings I have begun to notice a change. I have become aware many inequalities and shortcomings in humanity itself. Humanity seems to embrace the duality of inclusion/exclusion within its very heart and soul. We see that the first step to eventual dominance and subjugation of a group is to begin by diminishing their individual humanity. History is replete with examples of this and the often tragic results that stem from this activity.

What do we do to combat this? Is there any hope of a reduction if not a complete dissolution of such ignorance? I am the world’s most cynical optimist at least according to my own feelings and those whom have shared their views of me seem to agree upon this fact. I detest those whom refuse to see the humanity of an opposing view or opposing group. While I acknowledge the fact that conflict is a central impetus of humanity itself, without it we would not live in paradise but rather than a static state of entropy.

Out of that conflict which if of a healthy nature, such as children at play simply for the sake of fun itself, is the impetus of progress upon which humanity depends. Yet conflict unchecked can quickly spiral into a maelstrom of destructive behaviors that ultimately damn all whom are washed in its rage. Conflict is not itself the great enemy upon which we war rather it is that some have harnessed its energies for immoral and potentially evil ends. What do I mean in my addressing of conflict as a positive force yet decrying its evils?

Let me paint for you this picture, pick a group or topic that is different or potentially frightening to a given person. What we see is whether that individual has been trained and is skilled in critical thinking. For those whom use conflict as a tool for the accumulation of power and then the exercise of that power is to justify any action taken to protect that power. A critical thinker will see that it is simply a tool to manipulate their fears for the purposes of the power fearful ignorance gives to the controlling force.

One who is NOT a critical thinker will spout the "information" that has been provided for their consumption and will not be able to fully answer the 5 interrogative questions; Who, What, Where, When, and Why. Yet worse they fail to see the hidden sixth interrogative question of how, this then renders them subject to further manipulations and assignations of their erstwhile masters. Similar to the effect and intent of the web of a predatory spider, to grab, hold, and ultimately control the fate of all whom enmesh themselves blindly within its silken cage.

The next tool of choice for those whom have become enmeshed with the illusion of power is fear. Fear is a powerful emotion and because of its visceral impact upon the human condition is a constant target for manipulation. The powerful have a vested interest in two things where fear is the tool of their accumulation and exercise of power. First is that fear is often dependent upon the ignorant or uninformed individual so that they are not thinking but reacting. Next is that fear must be inflamed so as to overwhelm the target that is being manipulated.

With great power comes a greater responsibility, an aphorism often uttered by the powerful to cast a cloak of nobility about them. How do we counter such things and worse the lies wrapped in double-speak half-truths and cherry picked facts to further gain and protect power used for ill intent? Be intellectually honest, strive to fight ignorance through careful research, question everything you encounter, and ultimately educate you in the art and science of critical thinking.

How far could humanity advance if we exercised such skills on a daily basis? I for one, believe that we would truly become enlightened beings. The egalitarian impulse of the republican views of our founding fathers would take deep roots strengthening our people. It is my dream that our egalitarian ideals would engender and cause freedom to blossom for all humanity. We would find equality in our shared humanity rather than embracing divisiveness that excludes such growth.

Equality is a thing of the mind and heart for reality is not an equal opportunity construct as life shows us daily. Justice is what is striving for in the pursuit of equality, not the outcome itself. That is a belief that burns brightly in my breast and in my soul, I believe in the words I swore an oath to defend. I am humbled that I have the opportunity to not only grow but to share my story with others. That is true equality that we must fight to enshrine at the altar of freedom. That equality is available to all and none are turned away from its embrace.

In Thoughtful Service,

Jared Michael Royka