Living As Though There Is a Tomorrow #91

Paths and Choices:  Avoiding Decay in Foreign Aid  7.7.8

Foreign aid that supports or encourages moral Decay includes identifiable and specific dangers for both the giver and the receiver.  But there are equally specific ways to avoid the dangers of Decay.

  • Behaviors based on the principles of moral Decay cannot be rewarded in any way.  Decay will certainly lead to authoritarian power and personal wealth.  But while this often appears to create a “stable” society, it is virtually always a result of the love and promotion of death and violence, discrimination against anyone who is not in the power structure, and a willingness to destroy the productivity and health of the Earth.  When we give aid to those who would reward dependency, fear, threat, a cult of personality, or narrow violent tribalism, we are condemning our children to suffer for our short-sightedness and greed.  We are also promoting the social disintegration of those we are pretending to help.
  • No aid should be given to corrupt, selfish leaders, neither to siphon off for themselves nor to reward their followers and punish their opponents within their countries.  When aid goes to those who misuse it, even the best charitable intentions are crippled.
  • No money should be used for weapons and violence.  Even though we have weapons manufacturers who are eager and willing to supply these forms of manufactured aid, they inevitably lead to an escalation of posturing, threat, and violence.  There is no reason to facilitate Decay in this way.  Often we hear arguments that these forms of aid are for defense.  While this is no doubt sometimes true, it rarely works out in the end, and it supports and encourages all forms of violence, including violence by authoritarian leaders against their own citizens.  Any weapons for defense must be closely monitored and controlled.
  • Whenever corruption is uncovered, aid should be withdrawn from that leader or bureaucracy in order to remove the temptation of Decay and to reduce or eliminate the source of corrupt power.  Coordination of information and investigations with non-governmental organizations, independent religious or charity groups, or impartial observers can help find out the level of efficiency and fairness inside a system.  Any provider of aid who only talks to those in power is bound to fail.
  • A requirement of aid must be justice and equality for all, including gender equity.  Any form of aid that goes to an “old-boys” power group will inevitably lead to moral Decay.  Aid needs to reward personal and local responsibility because those who would enforce their power by threat of ethnic or gender discrimination cannot lead a society to become safe, healthy, productive, free, and responsible.

Walking in Another’s Shoes Thought Experiment 7.7.9

Put yourself in another’s shoes.  Pretend your country was receiving aid from another country.  How would you want the aid money to be spent?  If the aid were in the form of manufactured goods or food, how should it be distributed?  What would your list of priorities be based on?  Who should receive and disburse that money, food, or goods?  Who should decide what the rules are for using aid?  What are the responsibilities of the “giver”?  What are the responsibilities of the “receiver”?

Phyllis Ballata

Without Words We Cannot Think

“The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government.”  Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)


Living As Though There Is a Tomorrow #90

Paths and Choices:  Threats to Moral Growth  7.7.6

The use of money for the common good in order to promote a safe and healthy environment, equal justice, and education need to be openly discussed.  But we do need to understand that education for both girls and boys, local independent productivity and responsibility, courage, and freedom to make choices are threats to moral Decay.  Those who are interested in personal power and greed, wherever they may be, will find these forms of Growth to be a threat to their own self-interest and will often use deception or violence to try to beat them down.  Decay hates and fights against moral Growth, so Growth needs to be defended with courage by those who dare.

Dangers of Decay in Foreign Aid  7.7.7

I would argue that foreign aid should not be used to promote or encourage moral Decay.  This means it should avoid supporting attraction to or love of death or violence, extreme self-love, and dependence and fear.  If consciously we ask whether our gifts are going to promote, encourage, or facilitate Decay, maybe we can make wiser choices for the long-term.  Maybe we can help to prevent the destruction, anger, violence, and hate that inevitably goes with moral Decay.

How can we work to prevent the characteristics of Moral Decay?

  • incompetence
  • impotence
  • economic scarcity
  • dishonesty
  • mental/psychological poverty
  • irrational or uncritical thought
  • fanaticism
  • orientation to the past to revenge old wrongs
  • cults of personality or leader worship
  • weakness
  • anxiety
  • stagnation
  • passivity
  • love of or fascination with death and mechanism
  • addiction to thrills or excitement
  • actions for evil
  • despair
  • cynicism
  • fright
  • emptiness
  • emphasis on control of others
  • injustice
  • inequality
  • seeing others as inhuman or inferior
  • unquestioning obedience
  • willingness to do harm
  • exploitation of others
  • unwillingness to struggle with the frustrations of humanness
  • lack of insight
  • cowardice
  • personal moral or ethical paralysis

Making Moral Growth our goal and rejecting Moral Decay and its results is possible only by making conscious and specific choices.

Phyllis Ballata

Without Words We Cannot Think

“[The modern man] assumes that there is nothing that he can do that he should not do, nothing that he can use that he should not use.  His success–which at present is indisputable–is that he has escaped any order that might imply restraints or impose limits. . . . An infinitely greedy sovereign is afoot in the universe, staking his claims.”  Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America

Living As Though There Is a Tomorrow #89

Paths and Choices:  Suggestions for Foreign Aid  7.7.5

Education and health care are the most valuable forms of aid in order to encourage Growth.  This aid needs to promote independence and community cooperation, personal productivity, a wise attention to the long-term consequences of actions, and a desire for a dignified life of freedom and personal responsibility.  Women and children, not just men, and ordinary citizens, not just leaders, need to be considered and targeted in giving aid to other countries.  The principles of Growth can be taught and modeled if we choose to do so.

Some suggestions:

  • Money and leadership aid should facilitate education, especially for women and children.  This should include teachers’ colleges that can lead to immediate and long-term social growth.  Aid should be given first for universal elementary education and to educate local teachers so that local leadership and responsibility can begin as soon as possible.  It is absolutely essential that both girls and boys have equal access to education.  Building schools out of local materials with local labor and providing teacher training are important concrete actions.  A society with free, educated, and responsible women is inevitably safer, healthier, and more productive than one where women and girls are ignored or oppressed.
  • Aid for basic health care should go to teaching-hospitals to train local nurses and doctors, to local clinics, and to free birth control.  These are crucial to promoting safety, local responsibility, and dignity.  This type of aid reduces anxiety and dependence and promotes willingness to look to the future with courage and confidence.
  • Aid needs to provide for a local sense of self-sufficiency and useful care-taking.  This means facilitating safe water supplies and basic sanitation, sustainable and organic agriculture, local markets and trade, self-governance, and a dignified life under a local system of fair laws and equal justice.  Education for local control and maintenance is necessary for these systems.  Imposing an alien industrialized, potentially toxic system of agriculture and trade for our own gain is deadly.
  • It is increasingly obvious that local energy production is essential.  Small-scale wind, roof-top solar, farmyard bio-digesters, or ethanol from waste must be matched to local technical education and mechanical skills so that citizens can personally maintain and eventually invent appropriate energy production.  Independence and local productive living are the key results.
  • Any aid must result in freedom and self-determination for both women and men.  Local citizens need support in understanding their real choices and in exerting their own will and effort.  Any aid which creates dependence on outside mechanisms or on authoritarian leaders, which reduces local control of productivity, or which prevents free choices and personal responsibility cannot result in moral Growth.

What are your suggestions for helping in the world over the long-term?

Phyllis Ballata

Without Words We Cannot Think

“Control over the questions means control over the agenda of discussion.”  William Devall, Simple in Means


Living As Though There Is a Tomorrow #88

Designing Foreign Aid Thought Experiment  7.7.3

  • From your perspective, how should we spend our foreign aid dollars? 
  • If you were designing or voting on foreign aid expenditures, how would you design the system and make choices? 
  • What would your priorities be since there are bound to be limits to how much aid is available? 
  • If we give foreign aid, should we expect something in return? 
  • What should the result of foreign aid be? 
  • Should foreign aid be based on reward and punishment?

Paths and Choices:  Foreign Aid for Growth  7.7.4

Based on the principle of Growth, I would argue that the best use of foreign aid is to promote and encourage the characteristics of Growth: attraction to and love of life, love of others moving from self to neighbors, strangers, and nature or all living things, and a willingness to risk standing for independence and freedom.  If we ask whether our gifts are going to create the characteristics of Growth, perhaps we can make wiser choices for the long term good.  We can promote a healthier world and ethically stronger and more productive people everywhere.

How can our gifts create . . . . 

  • independence
  • individual productive activity
  • economic sufficiency
  • mental/psychological health
  • thoughtfulness
  • objectivity
  • rational judgments and critical thinking
  • awareness of reality
  • acceptance of truths that are valid for all peoples
  • orientation to the present and future while understanding the past
  • integrated personalities
  • intellectual growth
  • love for the processes of life that involves both feeling and thinking
  • service to and defense of life
  • joy and gladness
  • warm and affectionate contacts with others
  • freedom
  • lack of threats
  • inner harmony and strength
  • stimulating and interesting life
  • equal justice for all
  • dignified lives without fear or anxiety
  • freedom to be active and responsible in society
  • basic security
  • original and adventurous intelligence and character
  • a concern for the common good
  • acceptance of useful tasks and equity in doing them
  • acceptance of the risks and power of responsible choices
  • helpfulness
  • understanding of realistic alternatives and the consequences of choices
  • imagination of the possibilities for good
  • willingness to struggle with the frustrations and burdens of humanness
  • fortitude
  • insight
  • self-confidence
  • integrity
  • courage

Phyllis Ballata

Without Words We Cannot Think

“In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.”  The Great Law of the Haudenosaunee (the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy)

Living As Though There Is a Tomorrow #87

Paths and Choices:  Foreign Policy  7.7.0

What is the purpose of our foreign policy?  Does this seem like a ridiculous question?  What are we doing in the world and why?  Often leaders or professional experts have precise answers to this, but citizens are imagining some entirely different purpose for those choices.  Because we do not discuss this honestly, all of us, both leaders and citizens, are often shocked, amazed, chagrinned, even afraid of the results of our own behaviors.

Policies Leading to Decay  7.7.1

If our policy is based on Decay, primarily short term advantage, immediate power, and the generation of wealth for ourselves, then we are often sucked into discrimination against the very people our democratic or humanitarian principles would normally support.  On the one hand, perhaps our policy is nakedly and purposefully based on Decay, and we are just not admitting it to ourselves.  When we act on principles of Decay, we find ourselves in violent power conflicts of tribalism and class.  We are lost in false patriotism that hides the truth of our own actions from us.  The promotion of personal power and wealth becomes entangled with national priorities, dragging all of us into a swamp.  We cannot extricate ourselves from this swamp without facing an intense national crisis, soul searching, embarrassment, and even humiliation.  We are ashamed (or should be ashamed) because we know that we have been caught in a conflict or power play when we should have known better.  We recognize we should have chosen more wisely.  But the Decaying power of the tribe or the fatherland or blind patriotism or raw violence has overthrown the principle of Growth.

On the other hand, our policy could be based on promoting long term good both for ourselves and for others.  Then we would support individual productivity and dignity for all.  We would encourage local responsibility and leadership for Growth.  But we would ask different questions and use different priorities in deciding our policies.  The principles of Growth would probably change our choices and behaviors in significant ways.  They probably would change our choice of friends and enemies and would change our use of foreign aid.

Imagining Foreign Aid Thought Experiment  7.7.2

Where do you imagine our foreign aid goes?  What is our nation’s definition of “aid”?  Is it cash or raw materials or manufactured goods or services?  What would the difference be among these kinds of aid?  Who do you imagine receives aid when it is sent somewhere?  How do you imagine the receiver uses our aid within his or her country?  Do you think this is monitored in some way?  Find out what really happens to our foreign aid in a place that you are interested in.

Phyllis Ballata

Without Words We Cannot Think

“Satisfy everyman’s need, not everyman’s greed.”  Sunderlai Banuguna, theme of the Chipko movement in India

Living As Though There Is a Tomorrow #86

Paths and Choices:  What Should We Export?  7.6.0

Both moral Growth and moral Decay are contagious.  Remembering Erich Fromm’s description that both the love of life and the love of death are communicated “without words, explanations, and certainly without any preaching,” we need to consider what we are communicating with the atmosphere that radiates around us.  What is in the tone of our voices?  What is in our gestures?

Defining Freedom, Choice, and Success  7.6.1

Perhaps there is a problem with our personal definition of freedom and choice.  Do we think freedom is for self-indulgence?  Does freedom to choose just mean a choice of what to buy?  If that is what we want to export to other cultures, then we are exporting death: death of responsibility, death of love of life, and death of personal productive strengths.  Others don’t want this version of Decay and death focused on self, power, and money – we don’t even want it, really.

De Tocqueville analyzed the conditions that lead to American democracy in the early 1800s as America began its life as a nation.  He saw an entirely natural conflict between interest in our personal money and power as opposed to our concern for community, the common good, and independence.  Americans have been willing to sacrifice for both of these ideals.  We understand that the common good and independence are vital.  At the same time we also naturally consider our immediate comfort and needs for success as a long term goal.  The question is what is success?  The test comes when the goal gets close: Would I destroy my neighbor to get his field?  Should I start a saloon for money or a school for the future good – both?  Would I use my powers of persuasion to dominate and manipulate others for my own advantage or to encourage independent thought in others and responsible self-governance?  There is always a potential conflict as humans set up their societies and invent their traditions.  Americans invented themselves based on a Western religious and humanist value system, but within that the tensions are strong.

Tensions in Values Thought Experiment  7.6.2

How would you decide between these tensions?  Why would you decide to emphasize one way of acting or another?  When is the tension the greatest?  According to your definition what is success and what is failure?

  • If success is individual and person – what do I owe my neighbor?
  • If what is mine belongs to me – what do I give away or give back to the community?
  • What people or things outside of myself contributed to my success or failure?
  • How did the community and the sacrifices of past citizens for the common good help make my success possible?
  • If the common good helps all of us together – how do I see to it that I get my share?
  • If independent, educated thought is valuable – how should I interact with those who do not think as I do?
  • If brains and rationality are key – what do I say to the person who seems irrational or incompetent?
  • If true emotion and a good heart are central – what do I do with the person who seems to have no empathy or no social conscience?
  • If I love my neighbor as myself –  how do I keep my neighbor from taking advantage of me?
  • If it is true that we should help the helpless (“even as you do this to the least of these, you do it to me,” according to Jesus) – what do I think about the wastrel, the drunk, the crook, or the lazy?
  • If God helps those who help themselves – should I let others suffer in their own problems as an example or a punishment?
  • If I am God’s hands to help others – how should I teach them to help themselves?

Phyllis Ballata

Without Words We Cannot Think

“‘Lord,’ said I, ‘- what a large volume of adventures may be grasped within this little span of life, by him who interests his heart in everything, and who, having eyes to see what time and chance are perpetually holding out to him as he journeyeth on his way, misses nothing he can fairly lay his hands on.'”  (Yorick) Joseph Wood Krutch, “How to See It”

Living As Though There Is a Tomorrow #85

Citizen Questions in an Internal Crisis:  Thought Experiment  7.5.7

Try this experiment using a crisis with a leader or group in power who advocates Decay: violence and death, hate, extreme self-focus, dependence and fear, and helplessness.  Pick a specific country that is struggling with this issue right now if possible and if you know enough about the situation.  Imagine yourself as a citizen of that country.

  • Who is leading in the wrong direction?
  • Why is he doing this?
  • What concrete action could be taken to prevent further damage or error?
  • What concrete action could be taken to change the leader himself?
  • What concrete action could be taken to separate followers from this leader who is making bad choices that lead toward Decay?
  • What can be done to encourage love of life instead of love of death in his followers?
  • What can be done to encourage understanding and love of others in his followers rather than a focus on worship of the country or the leader?
  • What can be done to support independence and responsibility in the followers rather than dependence and fear?
  • What can be done to support healthy moral, physical, spiritual, emotional, psychological, or mental Growth in the citizens, even in the face of clear threats of disease and Decay to body, heart, mind, and soul?
  • What is the first concrete action I can take?
  • What are the concrete actions I should avoid?
  • What is the best way to think this specific situation through and to create a plan of realistic action?

Phyllis Ballata

Without Words We Cannot Think

” . . . If you are prepared to see it, if you look for it [you will see].”  Objects are concealed “because there is no intention of the mind and eye toward them.  We do not realize how far and widely, or how near and narrowly, we are to look.”  Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), Walden (1854)

Living As Though There Is a Tomorrow #84

Paths and Choices:  Decay as a Failure of Imagination  7.5.5

The question is whether Decay is a purposeful encouragement of vague anxiety, fear, helplessness, ignorance, and irrational hate and vengeance.  Sometimes it certainly is.  Yet sometimes Decay may be a failure of imagination and thought.  We cannot even think of or imagine what might lead to Growth.  Moral Growth means strength based on love of life, love of others, and the courage to be independent.  How can we learn to imagine this?

Citizen Questions in an External Crisis: Thought Experiment  7.5.6

Pick a recent actual physical political or humanitarian crisis anywhere in the world.  This could be an external or internal war, a health crisis, or a natural disaster like drought or famine or earthquake, for example.  Using these questions, think through the scenario you picked.

  • Compared to past similar experiences, what questions should we ask about this conflict?
  • Who or what is the real enemy?
  • Why is this person or thing or group an enemy?
  • Is someone leading the violence and destruction or making it worse?  What is his or her real reason?
  • What concrete action could be taken to prevent future destruction?
  • What concrete action could be taken to change the enemy himself or itself?
  • If the enemy is a person or group, what concrete action could be taken to separate the followers from their leader(s) so that the followers can make better choices?
  • If the enemy is a person or group, what concrete action can be done to encourage love of life instead of love of death in the followers of the enemy?
  • If the enemy is a person or group, what concrete action can be done to encourage understanding and love of others in the followers of the enemy, rather than keeping the focus on group worship of country or leader?
  • What concrete action can be done to support independence and responsibility rather than dependence and fear?
  • What is the first concrete action to take?  Defensively if the danger is real, clear, and present – offensively to serve life, love, responsibility, and individual freedom?
  • What are the concrete actions to avoid?  Cowardice, if courage is needed in defense – foolish or rash actions that serve only death, power, or wealth?
  • Finally, what could we have asked earlier that we didn’t ask about this situation?

These are hard questions for citizens to ask, but in a democracy the people are responsible for thinking and for acting.  Following the leader may be easier, but Growth requires love, care, respect, independence, and wise use of free choice.  Self-examination is a demanding but necessary process.

Phyllis Ballata

Without Words We Cannot Think

” [As] someone often forced to think, I know that often I would not see a thing unless I thought of it first.”  Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

Living As Though There Is a Tomorrow #83

Paths and Choices:  The Military  7.5.4

The American military are trained to be expert killers, but their training always emphasizes service of life and family as well as country.  They represent a country that at its best sees itself as a leader for universal freedom, prosperity, and equality.  Their training emphasizes sacrifice for American ideals and in the service of life and against those who serve death.  As a result when the military is commanded to act in ways that serve death or Decay, the conflict with their personal reason, duty, love, and belief becomes unbearable.  Loyalty must be transferred to the small group, fighting for “my buddies,” or even each one defending himself or herself in order to get back to the “real world,” to “life.”  Fighting for a friend or a tight group is important in this utmost crisis.

In the Vietnam Conflict the confusion of the leaders, their love of power or fear of loss of power, became clear.  Then the military, especially those who were drafted, often subverted the “plan.”  They saw that they were not in a war to defend freedom, independence, justice, or equality.  They did not imagine themselves serving life.  They knew that prosperity, if any, would go to the few.  They knew that the enemy guerrillas  saw themselves as defending their own country.  They saw that at least some of the leaders of their local allies were self-serving, greedy, cowardly, or weak.  These conflicts put those who thought about it in an impossible position and rewarded those who didn’t think about it or who concentrated only on themselves.

With the change to a professional military, rather than either universal service or a drafted military, most Americans separated themselves from the realities of danger and war that the military and their families understand too clearly and too well.  If leadership encourages and rewards this separation from reality, it creates both ignorance and dependence in the average citizen.  Moral Decay means that fear and anxiety are encouraged among passive but dependent followers.  Cynical leaders manipulate the followers to focus on blind revenge or vague fears.  Of course, this works very well as long as the people can be discouraged from using their reason and productive powers.  As long as the focus is on vengeance and fear, and not on doing anything specific or concrete for Growth, Decay increases.  The people, trusting the leaders, allow themselves to be manipulated.  The leaders too often are focused on power and money.  Or perhaps, they actually cannot imagine what they could do to make a positive difference.  Either way, the citizens are lead into cycles of violence, fear, and dependence.

Is America unusual in this?  Of course not.  This has happened again and again throughout history.  Doing our duty as responsible leaders, as thinking citizens, as courageous humans must go on always.  Moral Growth never ends.

Phyllis Ballata

Without Words We Cannot Think

“The government is the strongest of which everyone feels himself a part.”  Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

Living As Though There Is a Tomorrow #82

Paths and Choices:  The Enemy  7.5.2

When the enemy becomes the Other – vaguely evil and unreal, demonized into inhumanity – or when fear takes over, any of us can kill.  In the absence of a real and present danger, unscrupulous or self-serving leaders incite fears, anxiety, and feelings of helplessness.  Generally, when the enemy becomes a real person, those extremes of violence are reduced or come into conflict with our feelings for others as humans like ourselves.  Therefore, the Decayed leader tries to dehumanize an opponent to prevent his followers from seeing the enemy as real and specific persons.  Or else we ourselves try to rationalize our need to kill, either in obedience or for a “larger” cause.  The individual enemy becomes simply a representative of a bad leader or a bad ideology.  The enemy is no longer a person at all.

Inhumanity  7.5.3

Certainly there is such a thing as self defense and a just war.  Certainly there are violent, disturbed, evil people.  There are sociopaths and psychopaths.  But thinking beyond the individual one-to-one problems, we come to Decay that has been deliberately created on a broad scale.

Some teachings deliberately create inhumanity in followers.  Fanatic Islamists are often in this state, and there is no opening or time to counter the indoctrination.  Suicide bombers, like kamikaze pilots, may have been convinced that their deaths will make the world better, and in this way probably they believe that they are in the service of life.  But more likely they have been convinced that they must avenge a past injustice or that their deaths are the will of god or the will of the exulted leader, certainly a service of death.  Whose fault or credit is this?

The leader who sends others on the path of Decay is a fault of course.  But so are the followers who allow themselves to stop thinking and feeling.  They stop reasoning, follow blindly, and are tempted to let others think for them.  They give up personal responsibility.  Of course, it is easy to see the power of the leader, but we have to accept the power of the follower as well.  No leader goes into battle alone, and many don’t go into battle at all.  The follower can reject moral Decay if he or she accepts the reality of personal responsibility.

Phyllis Ballata

Without Words We Cannot Think

“Man has always been his own most vexing problem.”  Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971), The Nature and Destiny of Man (1941)