Joansdatter’s Code of Ethics

Joansdatter’s ethical guide is the NASW Code of Ethics, to which she has sworn an oath to uphold.  Here are a few notable excerpts:

The Preamble

The primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty. A historic and defining feature of social work is the profession’s focus on individual well-being in a social context and the well-being of society. Fundamental to social work is attention to the environmental forces that create, contribute to, and address problems in living.

Social workers promote social justice and social change with and on behalf of clients. “Clients” is used inclusively to refer to individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities. Social workers are sensitive to cultural and ethnic diversity and strive to end discrimination, oppression, poverty, and other forms of social injustice. These activities may be in the form of direct practice, community organizing, supervision, consultation administration, advocacy, social and political action, policy development and implementation, education, and research and evaluation. Social workers seek to enhance the capacity of people to address their own needs. Social workers also seek to promote the responsiveness of organizations, communities, and other social institutions to individuals’ needs and social problems.

The mission of the social work profession is rooted in a set of core values. These core values, embraced by social workers throughout the profession’s history, are the foundation of social work’s unique purpose and perspective:

  • service

  • social justice

  • dignity and worth of the person

  • importance of human relationships

  • integrity

  • competence.

The Code outlines these six core values as follows:

Value: Service

Ethical Principle: Social workers’ primary goal is to help people in need and to address social problems.
Social workers elevate service to others above self-interest. Social workers draw on their knowledge, values, and skills to help people in need and to address social problems. Social workers are encouraged to volunteer some portion of their professional skills with no expectation of significant financial return (pro bono service).

Value: Social Justice

Ethical Principle: Social workers challenge social injustice.
Social workers pursue social change, particularly with and on behalf of vulnerable and oppressed individuals and groups of people. Social workers’ social change efforts are focused primarily on issues of poverty, unemployment, discrimination, and other forms of social injustice. These activities seek to promote sensitivity to and knowledge about oppression and cultural and ethnic diversity. Social workers strive to ensure access to needed information, services, and resources; equality of opportunity; and meaningful participation in decision making for all people.

Value: Dignity and Worth of the Person

Ethical Principle: Social workers respect the inherent dignity and worth of the person.
Social workers treat each person in a caring and respectful fashion, mindful of individual differences and cultural and ethnic diversity. Social workers promote clients’ socially responsible self-determination. Social workers seek to enhance clients’ capacity and opportunity to change and to address their own needs. Social workers are cognizant of their dual responsibility to clients and to the broader society. They seek to resolve conflicts between clients’ interests and the broader society’s interests in a socially responsible manner consistent with the values, ethical principles, and ethical standards of the profession.

Value: Importance of Human Relationships

Ethical Principle: Social workers recognize the central importance of human relationships.
Social workers understand that relationships between and among people are an important vehicle for change. Social workers engage people as partners in the helping process. Social workers seek to strengthen relationships among people in a purposeful effort to promote, restore, maintain, and enhance the well-being of individuals, families, social groups, organizations, and communities.

Value: Integrity

Ethical Principle: Social workers behave in a trustworthy manner.
Social workers are continually aware of the profession’s mission, values, ethical principles, and ethical standards and practice in a manner consistent with them. Social workers act honestly and responsibly and promote ethical practices on the part of the organizations with which they are affiliated.

Value: Competence

Ethical Principle: Social workers practice within their areas of competence and develop and enhance their professional expertise.
Social workers continually strive to increase their professional knowledge and skills and to apply them in practice. Social workers should aspire to contribute to the knowledge base of the profession.

 

Gamble Everything for Love

The Sufi poet

rumi

Rumi (1207-1273) ,who was known as Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī (Persian: جلال‌الدین محمد بلخى‎) and Mawlānā/Molānā  (Persian: مولانا‎) wrote:

Gamble everything for love,
if you’re a true human being.

If not, leave
this gathering.

Half-heartedness doesn’t reach
into majesty.  You set out
to find God, but then you keep
stopping for long periods
at mean-spirited roadhouses.

On Pantanjali, the Self, and why I practice and teach yoga

The aphorisms composed by the Hindu siddha guru Pantanjali, who flourished in India during the second century B.C.E., are among the oldest and most revered scriptures of yoga teachings. Yoga was originally a practice of meditation designed to awaken higher consciousness about the universe.  In the Sutras, Pantajali explains that the purpose of yoga is to “disarm the causes of suffering and to achieve integration” of the self with the universe (Yoga-Sutras of Pantanjali, translated by Chip Hartranft, Sutra 1-9). Ignorance of one’s true nature is the source of suffering (dukha), he says.  This ignorance (avidya—lit. “not seeing”) is an inability to understand that there is no such thing as a separate, individual self.

The concept of an isolated self, or ego, is a construction, produced by experiences and reinforced by cultural conditioning.  In other words, the “I” is the sum  of conditioned responses to experiences—good and bad—that reiterate the false impression that there is any other way to be.  One imagines that one’s self is always either an active agent or passive victim, the hurter or the stricken.  Resistant to change, the “I” dwells in the inertia or tamas, stuck in a polarized sense of a self that exists only through the experience of opposition, of “me” vs. “them”, “self” and “other,” as well as in false notions of the self as divided into similarly opposed arenas of “goodness” and “evil,” “acceptable” and “unacceptable.”

To move past this dukha, suffering, born of avidya, ignorance, we need to engage in action, Kriya.  But energetic effort is only useful if it is expended in the right direction, towards sadhana, realization.  Thus, for example, action taken in response to anger or guilt or self-righteousness will not take us where we want to go.  It leads into more suffering, not away from it.

In 2.12-16 Pantanjali considers the causes of suffering (samskara), which can either affect us immediately or lie dormant for a while.  A dormant or latent cause of suffering can be activated by a weaker, more trivial experience of unpleasantness, which allows the older “root” to erupt and overwhelm the mind and body.  Yoga helps us to break down this conditioned experience.

Moving through the postures (asanas) day after day, week after week, we experience the impermanence of all emotions, abilities, and states of being.  Some days I am strong.  Some days I am weak.   Most days the practice of yoga itself allows me to tune in to what I am experiencing.   When my mind and body, reason and emotions, are integrated, I recognize that my “self” or sense of an “I” is not fixed or even definable.   Rather the “I” is a pattern of consciousness that shifts and moves continuously, always in response to one thing or another.

The regular tuning into the body and the mind through practice allows me to distance myself from my habitual understanding of myself as a “self” existing in opposition to an ‘it” or an “other.”  Thus I recognize that we are all connected beings.  My experience of aversion, or opposition, to others itself is a fleeting body/mind energy, a pattern, an acquired habit of interpreting reality, and not necessarily a necessary way to be.

Image
Gelek Rimpoche

Tibetan Buddhist lama Rimpoche Nawang Gehlek relates a wisdom from seventh-century Indian pundits:

You can look carefully at suffering itself to see if it can be corrected or not.  If it can be corrected, put all your effort into correcting it.  If there’s nothing to be done about it, why be unhappy?  The unhappiness only adds more suffering to the suffering.

Like the Buddha, who lived approximately 400 years before him,  Pantanjali recognized that suffering is unavoidable.  Like the Buddha, he also believed that “suffering that has not yet arisen can be prevented.” What does this mean?  Hardship, pain, dukkha, is unavoidable, but we often add to our own suffering by shooting what the Buddha called the “second arrow.”

The Buddha once asked a student, “If a person is struck by an arrow, is it painful?” The student replied, “It is.” The Buddha then asked, “If the person is struck by a second arrow, is that even more painful?” The student replied again, “It is.” The Buddha then explained, “In life, we cannot always control the first arrow. However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. The second arrow is optional.

The first arrow is the suffering itself, however it came about.  We experience a loss, someone is cruel or rude to us, we experience an injustice or a trauma.  We cannot control that, but we can control how we react to the first arrow.   If beat ourselves up about how we feel, if we blame ourselves for being weak, or indulgently feel very sorry for ourselves, we shoot the second arrow at ourselves.

We don’t have to do this.  Why do we do it?  Because we are conditioned to think of the self, the “I” as a fixed and determined entity.   If we simply accept the suffering, acknowledge that it is there without imagining that this particular experience of suffering somehow defines who the “I” is, we can prevent extra suffering.

The conscious, patient, focused practice of breathing and moving through asanas allows us temporarily to step aside from our punishing habits, the products of ignorance, avidya, and to glimpse what it feels like to refuse to send the second arrow.

I don’t agree with Pantanjali that the goal of yoga is to allow purusha to see itself (2.20), or to realize some absolute truth about existence.  My practice of yoga does not carry me further towards salvation or to the understanding that the “phenomenal world exists to reveal” (2.21) “fundamental qualities of nature” (2.19), which exist somehow somewhere else, in some abstract realm of purusha, perfect, “pure awareness” (Hartranft, 27).

No.  For me, yoga is both a means and an end, a dynamic method of awakening whereby we understand anguish (dukha), let go of its origins or causes, realize that dukha ends, and cultivate the path, the method of awakening itself.

As Stephen Batchelor, a former Zen and Buddhist monk who now leads a secular Buddhist group in England, writes,

The Buddha was not a mystic.  His awakening was not a shattering insight into a transcendent Truth that revealed to him the mysteries of God.  He did not claim to have had an experience that granted him the privileged, esoteric knowledge of how the universe ticks.”  Buddha did not found a religion.  He taught a practice for actively awakening, an ongoing, conscious effort to free ourselves from habitual impulses and irrational, false illusions.

This is how I understand yoga.  Yoga is an ongoing, conscious effort to awaken, not to any particular truth, but rather to free ourselves from the need for fixed truth.

My intention is not to proselytize or preach, but rather to guide people to find sthira and sukha, strength and ease, to “come home” (as Tara Brach likes to say) to whatever is actually going on in the body and mind by moving, breathing, stretching, and resting in various positions, asanas that stimulate awakening.

Of Gods and Humans

I’m watching Of Gods and Men.  It’s about a group of French Trappist monks who chose to stay in their community rather than flee to safety during the Algerian civil war.  They were kidnapped in 1995 by terrorists, but their death was never explained.  Some have argued that Algerian soldiers killed them during a botched rescue attempt.  The first part of the movie shows the monks selling their own honey and vegetables in the market, offering medical care and advice to the locals, who are mostly Islamic.   When fundamentalists come to their town, the town leaders come to consult with the monks.  When the terrorists come closer and begin to kill all foreigners, the monks refuse military protection.  The Algerian army, in fact, is just as brutal and violent as the terrorists.   This beautiful movie highlights the monks’ incredible forbearance and dedication to peace.  It is a portrait of truly peaceful Christian practice, so unlike the practice of our allegedly Christian, elected representatives, who wage war around the world and who never cease to find reasons to kill and main and destroy in the name of freedom.  But the film also highlights the peace and love that are central to Islam, as well, showing the daily lives of the people, their friendliness, their vulnerability, and their civility.  The terrorists are presented as men at odds with Islam, men who hardly know the Koran and who have a simplistic and militaristic interpretation of scripture.  They are not unlike those among us who vote for bombs and landmines and hatred for people who don’t worship the same god.

Since I have returned from Nepal I have reclaimed my sense that we are all united in a great web of being, of aliveness and no longer identify myself as an atheist.  Love is our greatest resource, the power most essential to our nature as well as the link between us all.  We are not singular and cut off from one another.  We only exist with one another, in relation to one another, and the relationship that we have with one another when we are being true to ourselves is loving.  We are true to ourselves when we treat each other with love and compassion.   Everything else about us—guns, violence, hatred, oppression, war—is against our truest nature.

Since I have embraced this essentially spiritual way of understanding the world, which was always very basic, if buried, in me, my attitude towards other believers, especially Christians, has changed.  I’m no longer angry.    I still dislike the masculinism underlying the Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam), the ancient and arbitrary division between Self and Other that recognizes men as subjects and women as objects, but I have given up the burden of burning indignation.  My fury and resentment hurt me more than objects of my fury.  As Donna Farhi relates, “harboring resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”

The Dalai Lama was asked how he could feel loving kindness for the Chinese, who invaded his country, destroyed most of the monasteries, murdered thousands of Tibetans, and were continuing to repress and eradicate his people and culture.  He was silent for a long time, and finally answered that he distinguished between the act and the agent.  He could repudiate the actions of the Chinese but still feel compassion for the Chinese agents who brutalized his people.  They are suffering greatly, after all, because they have strayed so far from their true nature.

My true self is not the crazy tangle of thoughts and emotions that continuously run through my mind, nor my ever-changing body, but rather the silent, neutral witness of my experiences in the world.  It is this quiet aliveness, this prana, the shimmering vitality that I share with all other sentient beings, the life-force that courses through the forests, the oceans, the mountains, the rocks, the sun, the fiery core of our planet, the rivers, the plains, all plants, all organisms, even the stars themselves, that is my truest ground of being.  This is what Rainer Maria Rilke calls “the infinite ground of our deepest vibration.”  As he wrote,

Be in front of all parting as though it were already behind you,

Like the winter just gone by.

Because among winters is one so endlessly winter.

Only by over-wintering does your heart survive.

Be and know at that time the state of non-being,

The infinite ground of our deepest vibration

So that you may wholly complete it this one time.

Sonnets to Orpheus, 11.13.

Nepal: Microcredit, Politics, and the Professor

Temples to Shiva at Pashupatinath

13 June  2011 Around 8pm. Well! What an astonishing day.  After I wrote the bit above I went to the women’s center, where I mostly observed Dalina, a volunteer from the Czech republic, teaching a small group of women to write and speak some English words.  Their English is rudimentary but still better than my Nepali, and I think that the experience will be mutually beneficial.  After Dalina finished her lesson, we started a conversational role-playing game which brought us all to the floor laughing.  Then I met with Tej, the director of VSN, to discuss how I can best use my time here.  He would like me to teach in their school because of my credentials, but I prefer to spend my time developing and expanding their women’s program.  I have proposed that we set up a microcredit loan program for poor, unattached women.

Because family connections are everything in this society, a woman who has no husband and who has somehow become disconnected from her relations almost always finds herself in a very vulnerable economic situation.  Laxmi, for example, our cook, has never been married, has no children, and no family or village connections to help her.  She was living with some relatives, but, as best as I can understand, they moved to American and left her homeless.  She came to Sugandha, who arranged for her to live nearby and to cook for the family.  He does not know much more of her story because she has worked for him for a little more than a month.  He has promised to sit down with both us to translate while I ask her questions about her life.

Laxmi is precisely the sort of women whom I would like to help.  There are many women in similar situations—some of them have fled abusive husbands, others have been disowned for some act that the family considers dishonorable, and others have fallen on hard times through other means.  Tej seems to be quite excited about this project.  Obviously, we have much more to discuss, since neither of us has any experience with microfinance.  I welcome any suggestions from you, my readers.  I will be researching the topic and making an effort to learn as much as I can.

There is so much for me to learn here, my brain sometimes feels as though it will explode. Today, for example, began and ended with a lecture from two different men, Sugandha and a professor of American literature, philosophy, and religion, whom I met in a local shop, about Hindu cosmology and the caste system.  Both of them emphasized what must be an elementary concept, namely that there can be no life, no generation, without death and destruction.  The Mahadeva, or great god, manifested himself in three forms, Brahma, the creator, Vishnu, the protector, and Mahesora, sometimes also known as Shiva, the destroyer.  Shiva is by far the most popular god, as far as I can tell.   He is figured with snakes and a trident-like staff.  There must be thousands of temples to Shiva in Kathmandu, and in every one of them Shiva is represented by a ligna, or phallic stone.  So, the bringer of death and destruction is also the god of the sex act that brings life into being.

Linga in temple to Shiva at Pashupatinath

Shiva is often seen with Parvati, his wife or lover, sometimes in an explicit sexual embrace.

Vishnu and Parbati at their temple in Durbar Square, Kathmandu

The apparent contradiction between life and death is also seen in the important goddess Kali, who is a manifestation of Durga, the great mother goddess.

Kimberly Kali

The delightful professor whom I met in what we call the general store is called Baikuntha, which means “heaven,” Poudel.  He looks to be about 58 or 60, with short, steel-colored hair, tan skin, high cheekbones and large, dark eyes.  He is smaller than I am, about 5’ 4, sturdily built and still quite fit.  We struck up a conversation about his studies of Native American mythology, and I gave him my card.  He  invited me to his home, where his wife served us some cucumber slices and banana.  She brought us sweet lemon tea when we went up to his study, which was a light-filled room at the top of the house, where there were three single beds pushed against the wall.  One of them was covered with stacks of books, the others were scattered with pillows and were obviously designed for lounging and reading.  There were more books on shelves in an adjoining room.  We knelt in on cushions on the floor, directly facing one another, and talked about yoga, his current fascination with Chinese culture and language, and  the current political situation in Nepal, which is very uncertain and flammable.

The country is still reeling from a ten-year civil war between the Maoists, who rose to power in the hills, and the Nepali army, which owed it allegiance to the King.   The war ended in 2006, after more than 14,000 people died.   In 2008 the Maoists won an astounding victory in the Constituent Assembly elections, winning over a third of the total seats and forming a bloc larger than either of the other political powers, the Congress party and the Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML).  A Hindu monarchy was declared a secular republic.  Since then feuding between the former adversaries, the Royal National Army and the People’s Army, as well as party in-fighting and corruption all around, has prevented the government from writing a new constitution.  The deadline for a final constitution was set for 28 May 2010 came and went and still the politicians could not cease fighting amongst themselves.   A crisis about this dire situation was recently averted when lawmakers agreed to extend the deadline for yet another three months.  I will still be here when that dates arrives.  Since I have been reading about this stiutation online and in the newspapers, it made me happy to find someone knowledgeable with whom to discuss it.

What I like best about Baikuntha, perhaps, was that he is the first Nepali person who had the nerve to complain about the infernally loud music that has been blasting into the neighborhood for the past eight days.  It was an enormous relief to meet someone else whom the noise was driving insane.  He was also humorously disdainful of the priest and all the “ridiculous activities” that have been going on at the makeshift temple.  He said that the priest was preaching a narrow and imprecise interpretion of the Vedas that could appeal only to the most uneducated Hindu people who think that, in order to be good Hindus, they need do nothing more than dumbly listen to Sanskrit verses that they cannot understand, cover themselves with red powder, dance a bit and go home.  This confirmed my own sense, when I sat for an hour or so among the priest’s swaying acolytes, that they were alarmingly glassy-eyed.

According to the professor, true spirituality requires a great deal of thought and questioning, and does not consist in blindly following a dogma.  I agreed with him, but he did most of the talking.  He also very generously invited me to stop by his house at any time to visit him, or to share meals with his family.  He even said that I could live with them if I wanted to.  I very politely thanked him and said that I was happy at Sugandha’s house.

After our conversation in his airy study, he invited me to Nepali tea at the local tea shop, and that is where he answered my questions about Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, and the caste system.  I found everything he had to say very interesting.  As he explained it, uneducated Hindus believe that caste is a permanent, inherent condition, but in fact a person born into a Brahmin caste who does not act like a Brahmin can easily degenerate into a Dalit, or untouchable, whereas a person born into the Dalit caste who behaves ethically and strives to do good in the world, to work on behalf of others, will be reborn as a Brahmin.  Nevertheless, he also said some to my ears uncharitable things about the fourth caste, the Shudra, to which my very generous and kind hosts, Sugandha and Sova, as well as the director of VSN, Tej, belong.  He naturally was born a Brahmin, as his surname indicates.

This conversation took place in the café, which sits on a corner and open on all sides to the street.  As we perched on stools and drank our hot tea in the humid afternoon, Nepali children passing by would interrupt the professor’s lecture to say “Hello!  How are you? What is your name?” to me.  I get this greeting nearly everywhere I go.  It always comes with large smiles and usually with a hand or two, or four, outstretched to shake, and I always stop to talk.  Baikuntha didn’t seem to mind, and picked up everytime exactly where we left off.  One little boy simply stood and stared at me for about 10 minutes.  Perhaps he was trying to understand our conversation.  Nepalis are unabashedly curious, and do not hesitate to ask strangers their age, marital status, and weight.

At any rate, I am tremendously happy to have met Baikuntha, because I know that I will learn a lot about Nepali culture and politics from him.  He has already lent me one book, on the “art of tantra,” which is a serious spiritual practice and nothing like what most Westerners assume.  I want to read it to understand the discrepancy between the highly erotic art on many of the mandirs, or temples, and palaces, and the sexually repressed contemporary society.  He has offered to lend me more so that I can learn about the multitude of Hindu gods and goddesses and better comprehend how Hinduism and Buddhism coexist in Nepali society.  He has also promised to bring me to the university and has also invited me to give a lecture in one of his literature classes.  The only thing that displeases me were his rather prejudiced opinions about the Shudra caste, which contradicted all that he had said about the fluidity of character.  Since I had just met him, and he had been so kind, I did not challenge him when he disparaged all Shudras.  I will have to ask more pointed questions the next time we meet.

But here is how he left me today.  He said that it was remarkable that I had given up my job as a professor and come to Nepal to volunteer.  And that if I stayed and studied the culture and the language that this a alone would be a great achievement.  It was nice to hear.

Cooperation in Neolithic Culture and the Implications for Feminism

A new study, reported by the New York Times, dramatically challenges the prevailing, Darwinian understanding of human social development.  Not “natural selection” but cooperative behavior influenced the structure of early human societies. This view has profound feminist implications because it contradicts Darwin’s assumption that early human societies formed around dominant men competing with other men for women.

Early human groups, according to the new view, would have been more cooperative and willing to learn from one another than the chimpanzees from which human ancestors split about five million years ago.  The advantages of cooperation and social learning then propelled the incipient human groups along a different evolutionary path.

Anthropologists have assumed until now that hunter-gatherer bands consist of people fairly closely related to one another, much as chimpanzee groups do, and that kinship is a main motive for cooperation within the group.  Natural selection, which usually promotes only selfish behavior, can reward this kind of cooperative behavior, called kin selection, because relatives contain many of the same genes.

A team of anthropologists led by Kim S. Hill of Arizona State University and Robert S. Walker of the University of Missouri analyzed data from 32 living hunter-gatherer peoples and found that the members of a band are not highly related. Fewer than 10 per cent of people in a typical band are close relatives…

Darwin did not assert that human beings split off from chimps, but rather that we are “descended from some ape-like creature,” (Origin of Species, Penguin, 658).  More than 30 million years ago, our ancestors belonged to the same group that included the lines that would develop into Gibbons, Orangutans, Gorillas, Bonobos, and Chimps.  We are genetically far closer to Bonobos and Chimps than we are to Gibbons, Orangutans and Gorillas.  Modern-day Chimps and Bonobos are more closely related to one another than modern day humans are to either group, although we are significantly closer genetically to Bonobos than we are to Chimps.  There is very little reason to assume that contemporary chimpanzee behavior and social structure offer us a portrait of ancient human societies, but this has not stopped mainstream scientists–nearly all of them men–from doing it.

Scientists are not immune to the gendered assumptions that dominate the cultures in which they acquire their knowledge, as feminist scholars such as Emily Martin, Donna Harraway,  and Londa Schiebinger have repeatedly demonstrated.  The assumption that early human societies resembled contemporary chimpanzee societies, which are dominated by males who remain in the group and fight with males of outlying groups for mates, has helped to codify the erroneous but deeply entrenched belief that male domination is “natural” and intrinsic to the species.

Evolutionary biologists who base their assumptions about human nature on chimpanzee societies have reinforced Charles Darwin’s sexist theory of natural selection, which states that men did the majority of the work in the early struggle for survival in the wild.  According to Darwin, ancient (he says “savage”)  men were far smarter than women:

The chief distinction in the intellectual power of the two sexes is shewn by man’s attaining to a higher eminence, in whatever he takes up, than can woman–whether requiring deep thought, reason, or imagination, or merely the use of senses and hands. (Origin of Species, 629)

Darwin offers absolutely no evidence for this argument other than the specious theory of natural selection, which postulates that the “strongest and boldest men” fought with one another for “wives” and got to pass on their genes, and that

the characters gained will have been transmitted more fully to the male than to the female offspring…Thus man has ultimately become superior to woman (Origin of Species, 630-31)

This unscientific assumption is part and parcel of Darwin’s fantastic belief that men are primarily responsible for survival, i.e., that they furnished food and shelter while women sat around nursing their babies or staring stupidly at their feet.  This view of ancient human society has been completely debunked by studies of ancient and modern hunter-gathering societies, which show that women most likely invented tools for cutting, weaving, cooking, fire-burning, and food gathering. Women are also most likely the ones who invented and perfected traps for small game, which could be set around the dwelling area.  The myth of the cave man hunting down the Mammoth so that mamma and the kids could eat is nothing more than a myth, since archaeologists such as Margaret Conkey and Joan Gero, have shown that hunter-gatherer societies subsist largely on gathered nuts, roots, foliage, fruit, and fish, and that game was a rare addition to a mostly vegetarian diet.  [Indeed, even that most unscientific of unscientific documents that lend credence to the fantasy of original patriarchy suggests that human beings originally eschewed meat: Genesis 1:29-30.] So there is actually much more archaeological and anthropological evidence that women and men contributed equally to survival.

This latest anthropological study corroborates the view that, for 90 per cent of the time that human beings have been human beings–100,000 years, we lived in hunter-gathering groups of diverse and distantly related men and women who shared power and work equally.  Instead of assuming that contemporary chimpanzee society illustrates ancient human society, it studies contemporary hunter-gatherers for evidence of how our ancestors lived and developed.  The Darwinian myth imagines that humans banded around dominant males who selected their kin through fighting, and that humans, like chimpanzees, cooperate with one another in the group but are largely hostile to out-lying groups.   (This story never made sense to me, since I could never understand how human beings could survive and develop complex cultures through war-mongering, which is essentially suicidal.) What Kim Hill, Robert Walker and their associates have suggested makes is far more believable.   Contemporary hunter-gatherers, both male and female move around from tribe to tribe.  Moreover, as primatologist Bernard Chapais has shown, the pair bond between a human female and male allowed people to recognize their relatives, which is something that chimps cannot do very well.  Family members that disperse to neighboring bands would recognize and cooperate with one another, instead of fighting with one another, as chimps do.

Cooperation, not competition, is key to survival and development.  As the NYT reports,

Hunter-gatherers probably lived as tribes split into many small bands of 30 or so people. Group selection could possibly act at the level of the tribe, Dr.  Hill said, meaning that tribes with highly cooperative members would prevail over those that were less cohesive.  …

A hunter-gatherer, because of cooperation between bands, may interact with a thousand individuals in his tribe.  Because humans are unusually adept at social learning, including copying useful activities from others, a large social network is particularly effective at spreading and accumulating knowledge.

While this study in particular does not speculate about power-sharing between men and women in ancient human societies, it corroborates the argument that male domination of women is a relatively recent development in human history.  The oldest Neolithic cities that we have unearthed, in Catal Höyük and Asikli, indicate that thousands of people lived together without any centralized architecture and no division of labor.  They were sedentary but not necessarily agricultural, and they traded with distant cities.  Figurines of voluptuous female bodies have prompted some scholars to maintain that the societies that lived in these cities 6,000 and 7,000 years B.C.E. were matriarchal, but Gerda Lerner and other feminists have made a much more convincing argument for an egalitarian civilization.

Dr. Nawal El Sadaawi: Brave Egyptian Feminist, in Liberation (Tahrir) Square

“I feel I am born again,”  Dr. Nawal El Sadaawi told an American reporter, who bumped in to her in Tahrir Square.  The 80-year old woman along with thousands of other peaceful demonstrators, was planning to spend the night in the square.  Like everything else she has done, this was a brave and bold decision.  Mubarak’s monsters, the secret police, were then roaming the streets with nail-studded boards, hunting photographers, journalists, and human rights activists, and beating anyone who tried to make it into the Square.

Dr. Sadaawi, a fierce feminist, novelist, medical doctor, psychiatrist,  has faced down imprisonment, death threats, attempts to strip her of her nationality, and the persecution of her family, all in the name of liberty for all human beings.   For nearly half a century she has campaigned against female genital circumcision– genital circumcision (a bloody practice in which a girl’s clitoris and inner labia are sliced off with a knife, often without painkillers).  Because she spoke out against this barbaric practice, and published a non-fiction book, Women and Sex, in 1972, that mentioned it, the Egyptian Ministry of Health fired her from her position as Director of Public Health.  The government charged her with crimes against the state and jailed her for three months in 1981.  Death threats in 1993 forced her to flee her country. She returned to Cairo in 2009.  Since then, officials frightened by her thoughts on religion have attempted, unsuccessfully, to strip her of her nationality and forcibly to dissolve her marriage.

She has long advocated the separation of church and state, arguing that religious beliefs oppress women and impede democracy.   She founded the Global Solidarity for Secular Society out of her conviction, which I share, that religion should be separate from all public education and laws.   In an interview with The Guardian, she explained,

I am very critical of all religions…We, as women, are oppressed by all these religions.…

There is a backlash against feminism all over the world today because of the revival of religions…We have had a global and religious fundamentalist movement.

And what does feminism mean for her?

For me feminism includes everything…It is social justice, political justice, sexual justice . . . It is the link between medicine, literature, politics, economics, psychology and history. Feminism is all that. You cannot understand the oppression of women without this.

One of the most remarkable things about the phenomenon taking place in Egypt right now–and across the Arab world–is that the movement has no clear leaders.  What drives it is not a set of rules, or laws, or religious commands, but rather a something much deeper and more humane than this, something deeply human, the longing to be free, to be able to live peaceably with one another, to embrace, to love, to work, to eat, to walk, to be alive in the world without dictators, or oppressive rules that crush the spirit, without barbarism.  The people, men, women, old, young, have come together to celebrate the beauty of their connection to one another as Egyptians, yes, but also as human beings, each one of whom has an inherent right to dignity, to liberty, and to think for one’s self.

When asked, in 2009, why she continued to write and speak out so controversially, in spite of the persecution and the violence that has been her reward, Dr. Saadawi said,

I cannot stop. There is no way back.

The people of Egypt are calling for their freedom.  There is no way back.  The will die for their liberty.  How can we not support them?

Tawakul Karman: Brave Muslim Feminist Arrested in Yemen

Tawakul Karman at an anti-government rally outside Sanaa University. Photograph: Khaled Abdullah/Reuters

What is happening in Yemen and why should we care?  Tawakul Karman, a feminist activist was arrested today for her role in student demonstrations against the government last week.  She and her husband, Mohamed Ismail al-Nehmi, were making their way home yesterday evening when the police came for her.  He has no idea where she is.  “Maybe at the central prison, maybe somewhere else, I don’t know.”

Tawakul Karman is the president of Yemen’s Women Journalists without Chains and a member of the Islamist opposition party, Islah.  She has frequently criticized the brutal, militarized government of Ali Abdullah Salah, who has dominated Yemini politics since 1978.

With two civil wars, an Al-Qaeda presence and 40 percent unemployment, what else is President Saleh waiting for? He should leave office,

she is reported as saying in Yemen Post.

Karman has led sit-ins every Tuesday to protest the government’s repression of civil rights, particularly women’s rights.  She has called for “allocating 30% of the posts of governors, cabinet members and ambassadors to women and establishing a binding law ensuring a fair and equitable share in legislative assemblies for a real participation of women,”[Source: Hiwar] and has attacked the Minister of Information for persecuting the media in general and for attempting to prevent her organization, Women Journalists without Chains (WJC), from publishing a newspaper and sponsoring a radio, in particular.   She has also advocated taking off the veil.  In a recent interview by WJC, she said:

I discovered that wearing the veil is not suitable for a woman who wants to work in activism and the public domain. People need to see you, to associate and relate to you. It is not stated in my religion [Islam] to wear the veil, it is a traditional practice so I took it off.

Until today, her outspokenness has brought the usual intimidation.  In that same interview, she stated,

I was threatened to be imprisoned and even killed. So far, the threats have not been fulfilled although I consider that taking away my right to expression is worse than any form of physical violence.

Will we hear from Tawakul again?  Probably not, unless the international community speaks out.  The government of  Ali Abdullah Saleh is not friendly to women  dissidents.

On January 13, 2011, just ten days ago, government security forces fired live bullets and molotov cocktails into a peaceful demonstration of women in Hadramawt and Lahij provinces. Security forces killed Nouria Saleh Maktoof, by running her down.  They severely injured Zainab Shakir Bin Thabi with bullets in Hadramawt province, and maimed Nathra Salih with bullets in Lahij province.  [Source: Women Journalists without Chains]. WJC condemned these acts:

The organization announces its full condemnation of the oppression and assault perpetrated on the peaceful demonstrators by the security forces, and considers it state violence directed against women, and a grave violation of the fundamental right of citizens to assembly and freedom of expression, which are basic human rights. It considers this state terrorism and official state violence clashing with all local and international agreements and charters guaranteeing these rights and Yemen’s pledges to respect and protect these rights

These are very strong words, words that clearly make the government of President Saleh deeply uncomfortable.  But will they be heard?  What change can women activists like Tawakul Karman and her sisters in the WCJ really bring about?

What is going on in Yemen is not that different from what has been happening across the Arab world for the past 40 or 50 years.  A long-entrenched government of quasi-secular dictators whose power depends on the military, propped up by western powers, now faces a passionate outburst by its long-oppressed populations.  Unfortunately, the voice of these justly angry people is not the voice of Tawakul Karman, which is currently in danger of being snuffed out in some dark prison, but rather the voice of Islamic fundamentalism.

I’m not quite sure why Karman has allied herself with Islah, which is also known as the “Reform” Party in Yemen.  The official name of this political party is  “Yemeni Congregation for Reform” (al-Tajammu‘ al-Yemeni lil-Islah), which was established shortly after the 1990 unification of North and South Yemen,  “to be a lively continuation of the modern Yemeni Reform movement and a framework for all who seek to reform and change the current situation to a better one guided by Islamic faith and Shari’a.” [Source: “Political Action Program of the Yemeni Islah Party”, cited by Anahi Alviso Marino].

Any government that is founded on a religious platform, even a Buddhist platform (look at what the Buddhists have done to the Tamils in Sri Lanka), is going to end up persecuting someone, particularly women.  Consider the transformation of Iraqi society since our catastrophic invasion.  Women who used to work and move through society in secular clothing have been banned from their jobs and forced to cover themselves with the hijab and burqa.  A similar, tragic  transformation took place in Iran.

To point out that a turn from a secular-tribal patriarchal state, such as existed under Saddam Hussein or Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, to a religious patriarchal state, is a tragedy is not to say that military dictatorships or autocratic states are good for women.  Clearly, they are not.  My argument is that the people will never be free as long as the women are oppressed, and women are always oppressed under religious leadership.

For the last 10,000 years most of the religions that have grown up on this planet have centered on masculine deities and been dominated by male priests, who helped to entrench patriarchal forms of government.  There have, of course, also been many dissident women who have resisted their disenfranchisement, but most of these women have been silenced or controlled and prevented from making any serious challenge to the universal ideology of patriarchy, which states that men are superior to women.

I understand that women feminists and democrats who have been raised within a religion find it difficult to leave it.  And in many countries, including our own, it is simply not possible to make any headway as a politician without espousing the dominant religion.  And yes, I can see the wisdom of a moderate approach, which works to reform a society from within its major institutions, whether they be Islamic or Christian or Hindu, as a means to appeal to the majority of the people.

So, we should care what’s happening in Yemen because, like many modern Arab states, it is politically halfway between autocracy and democracy and civil unrest could tip it into theocracy.  The recent calls for greater democracy and freedom for all the people, which are heard all across the Arab world these days, are likely to usher in a “Reform” movement and a religious government, or a theocratic “republic” in which the mullahs and the ministers will suppress women like Tawakul Karman.  Such an outcome would be a terrible irony, of course, since Karman will have helped to bring about the revolution.   We should not support such a revolution, but rather should call for greater democracy and civil rights for women within a secular government.  We should not make the same mistakes in Yemen than we have made in Iran and Iraq.

Tossed in the Waves: Bikram Day 38

Oy!  Yoga kicked my asana today.   I did two classes in a row, beginning at four this afternoon.  Throughout the first part of the first class, I felt sick to my stomach, but found relief by finding my eyes in the mirror and repeating my mantra, “I am.”  In the second session, I felt so dizzy that I had to sit down several times.  Again I found my eyes in the mirror and said to myself, “I am.”  It’s a pretty powerful mantra, as Nisargadatta Maharaj found out.

Why was I so tired?  Getting up at 4:30 this morning might have had something to do with it.  Only one train travels non-stop from Pittsburgh to DC and it leaves at 5:20.  My son needed to board it, so I drove him down there.   It wasn’t so bad after we got out the door.

Toxins, mostly residue from sugars, probably also slowed me down today.  I missed yoga yesterday because I had to drive my son’s friend down to McKee’s Rocks in the morning. And since it was my son’s last evening in Pittsburgh, and I don’t get to see him very often, I chose to have dinner with him instead of going to the night class.  I knew I could do a double today.  It was nevertheless not wise to eat mashed potatoes (his favorite) and pasta (my favorite) instead of green vegetables and fish.  Nor was it sensible to indulge in the candied nuts I make very year, or in two glasses of wine.

I don’t regret the wine.  It was a marvelous Bordeaux, dry and round and musky in the mouth.  I do regret the carbs and the sugars.

It’s true what my yoga teachers say every day–that daily practice helps the digestion and keeps the blood sugars regulated.   But it also helps to settle the heart and emotions.   According to my teacher this evening, stress is harder on the body than sugar and other not necessarily healthy things that we ingest.

Today was stressful.  Not because I got up well before sunrise; not because I haven’t been sleeping well for a week.  Not because I’ve been indulging my love of fatty, starchy, and sugary food.  Today was stressful because I parted–only temporarily–with my son.  He’s lived far away from me since he was six years old.   We have a good relationship because we have both made an effort to know each other.   He seems to have adjusted fairly well to the separation, and now that he’s in college it is obviously common and normal to live on his own.   I, however, seem to have a deep wound.  Like an old war-injury, it aches and troubles me, sometimes more, sometimes less.  I know the pain is old, not really relevant to the present.  It’s an emotional reflex, a resurgence of sadness, of loss, of inconsolable heartbreak remembered, that triggers when I have to let him go again.

This dark wave that breaks over me brought me under in yoga today.  I am not talking about something that exists only in my head, in thoughts, in memories, but rather a physical experience, a somatic condition.  The mind and the body are connected.  What makes it bearable, insofar as it is bearable, is that I know that it is just a wave.   I know that I’ll go under and that the current might tumble and toss me more wildly than I might expect.  I also know that if I just go limp during the worst bits, and swim when the surge begins to abate, that I’ll come up and through and out.  The wave will recede, and I will get back on my feet.

I’m feeling rather beached now.  But I still love the ocean.

Can we talk about race? On Obama and Tony Porter.

There is a lot that is right about Tony Porter’s “A Call to Men” speech, also a lot that is wrong.  See also the website. What is right is the message that normative masculinity is rigidly identified with violence and domination and masculinist oppression,  Normative masculine men are fundamentally insecure and spend their whole lives proving that they are “men” by punishing, persecuting, and shaming others who appear to be “less masculine” than the most violent and powerful.

I like what he says.  I preach what he preaches.  I want my son to hear this.   But I’m bothered by the racial undertones.  How do you respond to them?  Did you notice them?  Did they bother you?  Do you know why?  I’m trying to figure out why they bother me.  ESPECIALLY because I like the message.

What creeps me out is that the deliverer, the prophet, is preaching to mostly white women of a certain class.  It’s called “A Call to MEN” and here’s this black guy calling to an audience of mostly white women.  The camera searches and searches for the random dark-skinned women, as though to say—“see!  he appeals to black women!  we can prove it!”   What’s up with that?

Alas, he corresponds in some ways to racist stereotypes that liberals have.  We aren’t a bit surprised to find out that he grew up in the “tenements” of New York City, since, after all….he’s Black, and that’s a romantic image for us Northerners, in a sexy West Side Story way.   But also he’s astute, and right (as in correct, as in just) and he is in fact delivering the truth about gender relations.  He’s a boundary-transgressing animal.  He makes us uncomfortable.

His message about gender may be a truth that has been obvious to  you since you were born, or maybe only after a revelation, in a college film class, for example.  You got a dose of “good news” which meant not “the news that Christ was born,” but rather, “a refreshing dose of rationality in a sea of violently emotional and sometimes frighteningly violent thinking, a.k.a. the Truth, or its closest approximation so far.

News.  He spreads it.  It is good.  But the context in which he dispenses (his seed?) troubles me.  The gender relations of this gender-conscious video bother me, actually, much, much more than its race relations.  I thought I was going to see a rally from a man to men, some kind of masculinist ideology-fest at which men were reinforcing with one another, muscling themselves up in defense against the feminizing threat of wimpy-ness or small-penis-nes.  So I tuned in.  It sounded fun.  But what I got was this quite different animal.

What do you think about it?  Can we talk about race here?  Does the race problem cancel out the feminist message?  Do you think it is important to talk about race and gender at the same time?  I do.

I mean, surely that was one of the greatest things that our president did for the nationwas to talk about race relations (A More Perfect Union), which have been brutal, indecent, and hard to comprehend, in our country since its founding.

The Europeans who landed here, in search of gold and slaves, neither of which they found, slaughtered thousands of natives deliberately, with swords, and by accident, with disease, in the 1500s.  So we Americans were founded in violence, pestilence, and fear.  And greed.  Yes, also in hope, in a search for freedom from interference by other people with whom we don’t agree. But that quite liberal inclination to seek liberty was not strong in the first settlers who got themselves established here–they were much more repressive and intolerant than most Americans learn.  With the goodwives looking on approvingly, the venerable Fathers of Massachusetts burned people at the stake.  They whipped Quaker women naked down the streets; they tarred and feathered; they ostracized; they publicly humiliated.

Not all the European invaders were English or Protestant, of course.  They were far more diverse than most seem to know.  They were Dutch; they were Swedish; they were French; they were Spanish.   They were also Natives of that continent, whose ancestors wandered, we think, from the Bering Strait.  They were Asian but also maybe Russian and Sami, too.  When you start moving back, you realize there is no single blood line, no such thing as a “pure” race; no such thing as race.  No such thing as native.

Our family history is rich and complicated.  But violent.

Here’s the problem: The”democratic spirit,”  the spirit for freedom, seems to have gotten tangled up with the spirit for imprisonment.  It seems to have gotten involved with bizarre theocratic notions of American male supremacy, of Judeo-Christian mythology about Adam and Eve; and religious intolerance. You think we’ve evolved?  Today’s Puritans have no compunction about compelling their fellow citizens to accept major infringements of their civil liberties without a whimper.  These people who use “freedom” like a weapon, a blasphemy, these people who claim to be the “moral majority,” who want to put women back into the kitchen and the kindergarten, these “men’s rights” groups and “white rights” groups, these devils who claim to be angels, …THESE are the people who have mastered the game of self-representation, of marketing, of selling the soul, selling the SELF, self above all, in our country?  These people who want to give the top 2 percent of the population the greatest tax benefit?  How did they sell that one?  Why are still selling it?

We’re the center of capitalism, why has the left let the right control this market?  We live here, too.  We, too, know how to sell the self to get ahead.  We’re just as good, we think, at the game.  Except we’re not.  We’re not making any progress lately.   What is wrong with us?

It’s the age of the internet; yet people are lazy.  They mostly want to be fed.  So.  FEED THEM.  Get the slogans out there; advertise, throw all your creativity into the project.  OUT PERFORM them.  What has gone wrong?  Are we stuck in the 18th century? Don’t we know how to sell knowledge?

Don’t get me wrong.  I admire the President.  It matters that we finally elected a man who defines himself as a Black man.  And he is a great man, a well-educated man, an eloquent man, a philosopher, an intellectual (he’s practically French–he’s our Jefferson!).  He’s thoughtful.  He’s a feminist.  He’s by all accounts enlightened in his views about women, race, class, ethnicity.  He gets an A plus for human rights.  He won the Nobel Prize.

I like him.  But why isn’t he standing up against intolerance and bigotry with greater strength?  What, in fact, is the difference between fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalist Muslims?  None that I can see.

What is good, in Barak and in Tony, is the turn towards the light, the truth.

Too many people seem to think is that the truth is fixed. Therefore. once they find what they think it is, they freeze it in time, and won’t let it move or change with the flow of history and events.  We call these people fundamentalists.

But really the truth is not fixed.  It is continually in flux, like an amoeba or an energy.   It is always changing in response to historical events taking place in a specific environment.  These might be events that have uncertain and potentially cataclysmic, world-altering consequences.   Like, for example, if Ahmadinajhad and his cronies were to get possession of the nuclear bomb and to set it off.  World-altering.  But who would you fear more?  I’m-a-dinner-jacket or Rick Santorum?  Mike Huckabee?  Mitt Romney?  Re-read The Handmaid’s Tale.  Say hello to our possible future.  We have to overcome our unwillingness to embrace the product, to sell “the truth.”  We need positive slogans.

Or do we?  We can’t predict events.  But we can predict the way that we respond to them.  Do we escalate the violence?  Or do we master ourselves?  Could we ever really master ourselves as long as we were trying to dominate an Other? Isn’t this the message and the method?