What is Not Politics

The New York Times, Sunday, December 7, 2014

Two articles in today's New York Times caught my eye: Energy Firms in Secretive Alliance With Attorneys General, and Thomas Friedman's column How ISIS Drives Muslims From Islam. The first describes how State Attorneys General submit to Congress letters written for them by energy  executives, and the second how a growing number of Muslims, sickened by ISIS, are turning from Islam to Christianity or atheism. In the latter, Friedman describes how Dr. Alyaa Gad, an Egyptian doctor living in Switzerland, started a hashtag which translates as why we reject implementing Shariah. She said, I have nothing against religion, but I am against using it as a political system.

Bingo, I thought. And the energy people are using capitalism as a political system.

Quebec, Canada

I have lived in Montreal for most of my life. Quebec politics are interesting, although they are perhaps slightly to the left of the mean in the USA. We have single-payer health care, for example. But what I wanted to bring up was that René Levèsque, the founder of the Parti Québecois, was instrumental in bringing in some of the best campaign finance law in North America. We felt the benefit in last April's provincial election, when Pauline Marois, the Premier and head of Levèsque's Parti Québecois, was ousted in a drubbing that surprised everyone. She had become demagogic, and no amount of money could save her from the voters.

Don't get me wrong. Quebec is not perfect, nor is Canada. A leftist, government knows best system breeds an entrenched civil service. It is sometimes not pretty, and it gets really nasty when it comes to software. Hint: Obamacare liftoff. But on the whole, I am content – or at least resigned. Because politics is politics.

Back in the USA

My wife grew up in the USA. Our kids and grandkids are there. Even I spend several months of the year there, visiting them. I am the only one in my family who is not a citizen and can't vote down south. But that doesn't stop me from stupefaction when I consider that in the USA, thanks to Citizens United, a corporation is, in effect, a super-citizen. Capitalism is great, and I love the openness to innovation it makes possible, but it is not a political system.

Bring Back Doubt


Is there nothing that needs to be fixed in today’s world? One might think so from some reaction to recent events. But if you look closely at today’s New York Times there are clues:

  • 20% of Americans do not find a truth that makes sense to them in organized religion.
  • A British ISIS recruit claims that the Prophet Muhammad said, “the cure for depression is jihad.”

So does religion makes sense or not?


Critics look at the blood shed in the name of religion. Indeed, our history is littered with holy wars. But there must be something in the quest for the unknowable and unnameable: our ancestors have found it impossible to live without it. And the diverse religions in world history have much in common. What do they preach? Four paths to peace of mind:

  • Wonder
  • Gratitude
  • Communion
  • Acceptance

The words are different, but the concepts are the same. We find peace by getting outside of ourselves. We start by being amazed at the beauty of all creation. We continue by being thankful for being alive and having a place in this beauty. Then we join hands in recognizing our common humanity (Christians would say we share one bread, one cup). Finally, we try to accept what we must: our own mortality, for example.


The ISIS recruit is rightly troubled by our society's reliance on money, wealth, and markets to bring meaning into our lives. They will not, and somewhere we know that. But through history we (and especially the young) grab new and different certainties as solutions. They are right in seeing the need for change. But history, and especially the history of religion, show us that no sudden truth stands as the eternal panacea.

There is a fifth path: doubt.

What is education, after all? Why are we endowed with intelligence in the first place? What is free will, and how can it be reconciled to God's will? Or that of Allah, or Buddha, or Vishnu, or the Great Spirit?

The Latin educare means to draw out that which lies within. A young child has a natural bent toward learning. If Dad answers a question with a fact, a certainty, the child will ask back, “Oh, why?”

That is doubt, a natural quality that we extinguish at our peril.


Of course maintaining rule of law and the social contract requires order. We must respect one another and our need for a safe social milieu. But let's not blot out or deny the clues:

  • Protesters persist in Ferguson, MO
  • Putin shuts down MacDonald's
  • Children push through the U.S./Mexico border

Are these just bad things? Signs that the world is going to Hell in a hand-basket? Or do they have something to say, something to teach us? Do we have enough of the child left within us to take a moment for doubt? A moment to learn, to be drawn out, away from certainty? To be educated?