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Not at all a horror story: Stephen King and the virtues of patriotism

Stephen King

Stephen King

By Joe Perez

Patriotism is often taken as the virtue of virtue by conservatives (and by politicians posing as conservatives to win right-wing votes). Mitt Romney, for example, has made patriotism the centerpiece of his book No Apology: The Case for American Greatness, his campaign, and his attacks against the president Barack Obama as “apologizer-in-chief” for statements made overseas admitting to the imperfections of the United States.

On the other hand, liberals and progressives have often demonstrated an allergy to patriotism and some of the things associated negatively with it (xenophobia, ethnocentrism, simple-minded acceptance of the ruling party, foreign policy aggression, etc.). It’s almost as if patriotism is a litmus test dividing the ethnocentric from the more worldcentric views of the world.

But this isn’t quite that simple. An Integral approach does not tell us that patriotism is good or bad, more developed or less developed. It tells us to honor all the ways of relating to patriotism that contribute to the greatest good for the greatest number of people. And when talking about patriotism, it is the case that progressives who can honor patriotism often make the best case for its virtues, and conservatives who argue against the downsides of patriotism are often its best critics.

Stephen King, the world famous author of thrillers, horror, science-fiction, and other literature, is also believed to have a net worth of $400 million. Despite being “filthy rich,” as they say, he’s now written an article in The Daily Beast criticizing rich people who don’t want to pay more taxes and the ideologues who reinforce their beliefs and block legislation that would make the rich pay “their fair share” in taxes.

What’s more, in making this courageous and unusual argument, King tells us that it’s patriotism that ought to motivate the rich. He writes:

I guess some of this mad right-wing love comes from the idea that in America, anyone can become a Rich Guy if he just works hard and saves his pennies. Mitt Romney has said, in effect, “I’m rich and I don’t apologize for it.” Nobody wants you to, Mitt. What some of us want—those who aren’t blinded by a lot of bullshit persiflage thrown up to mask the idea that rich folks want to keep their damn money—is for you to acknowledge that you couldn’t have made it in America without America. That you were fortunate enough to be born in a country where upward mobility is possible (a subject upon which Barack Obama can speak with the authority of experience), but where the channels making such upward mobility possible are being increasingly clogged. That it’s not fair to ask the middle class to assume a disproportionate amount of the tax burden. Not fair? It’s un-fucking-American is what it is. I don’t want you to apologize for being rich; I want you to acknowledge that in America, we all should have to pay our fair share. That our civics classes never taught us that being American means that—sorry, kiddies—you’re on your own. That those who have received much must be obligated to pay—not to give, not to “cut a check and shut up,” in Governor Christie’s words, but to pay—in the same proportion. That’s called stepping up and not whining about it. That’s called patriotism, a word the Tea Partiers love to throw around as long as it doesn’t cost their beloved rich folks any money.

This has to happen if America is to remain strong and true to its ideals. It’s a practical necessity and a moral imperative. Last year during the Occupy movement, the conservatives who oppose tax equality saw the first real ripples of discontent. Their response was either Marie Antoinette (“Let them eat cake”) or Ebenezer Scrooge (“Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?”). Short-sighted, gentlemen. Very short-sighted. If this situation isn’t fairly addressed, last year’s protests will just be the beginning. Scrooge changed his tune after the ghosts visited him. Marie Antoinette, on the other hand, lost her head.

PatriotWhat I want to highlight here is simply King’s brilliant move of honoring patriotism and making the case that people who say they are patriotic are hypocritical for not being true to its ideals. Although his position might be debatable, it is certainly Integral in the best and widest sense of the term: open to truth wherever it can be found, taking the virtues upheld by “the enemy”  and explaining not how wrong they are, but how the virtues actually demand a more compassionate and loving stance than is being offered. Fairness, King says, is an American virtue, and Americans who are proud of their country ought to stand up for all its ideals, not cherry-pick the ones that make their bank accounts the fattest.

World Spirituality based on Integral principles is not based on dividing people up into “the people who are right” and “the enemy,” which is something that King arguably does in his article, so it isn’t the case that King speaks for a truly authentic World Spirituality. But it is definitely the case, I think, that World Spirituality does not tell people that in order to take a more worldcentric spiritual view they must lose their patriotism. Love your self, love your family, your neighbors, your city, your state, your country, your country’s allies, and ultimately your country’s enemies and the people of every nation on the planet.

Patriotism as a partial identification of the self and the state is not an evil. Like any limited sort of self-identification, it removes us from the True Self, the Ultimate Identity of which of there is truly only one. But it is part of our Unique Self as a station on the way to a wider and ultimately truer identity. Love calls us out of narrow conceptions of self into larger wholes, and it is also love that can lift our nations into larger frameworks that solve global problems.

How Matt Emerzion changed millions of lives, one Monday at a time

Matt Emerzion

By Joe Perez

Imagine you don’t even read books, but one day become convinced that you need to write one … to help other people realize that life isn’t all about themselves. That’s what happened to Matt Emerzian after his life reached a low point and he needed to rebound. Recently Fast Company profiled and interviewed him. Here’s a part:

Fortunately, [Matt] was introduced to a therapist who changed his life. During one of his first visits she handed him Rick Warren’s book, Purpose Driven Life, and told him to read the first sentence, which says, “It’s not about you.” The sentence didn’t make any sense to Matt. Again, narcissism won the day. Then she told him that he would never feel better until he understood that concept. That got his attention because it was like a final life raft, something to grab onto, something to help. Just four simple words were all he needed to read. They echoed in his head every minute of the day, partially from a place of gratitude and partially because he was unsure and confused. But, he was determined to put in the work and find the meaning.

She then prescribed a heavy dose of volunteering. Every Saturday morning at 9 a.m., Matt would go out and pick up litter, paint over graffiti, feed the homeless, etc. At first, he didn’t understand it, but one day it clicked. Saturday mornings were his favorite time of the week. They provided an opportunity to go out and serve others and it was “not about him.” It was the best he felt every week.

Matt was still working in the music industry and wasn’t sure how this new concept was going to work in his life. Then one day he was walking back to his office with a coworker when he bent down to pick up a piece of litter on the sidewalk. Suddenly it all made sense. His coworker asked Matt why he would pick up someone else’s trash and the conversation ended in an argument.

Pissed off, Matt went up to his office and called his friend Kelly Bozza, and told her that he wanted to write a book. She responded, “Matt, you don’t even read books. How are you going to write one?” Matt explained to her that he wanted to write a book that could explain that every single one of us matters and together, we can change the world. They wrote the book together.

His thought was if it took him one second to pick up one piece of litter, what if all 300+ million people in our country picked up just one? It would still be a collective one second, but 300+ million pieces of litter would be gone. What if we each picked up five or 10? Or, what if we got our schools, companies, churches, friends, and family involved? It is just a numbers game.

What if we all smiled more, planted a tree, donated blood, wrote a note of gratitude, or took better care of our health? It just became a “what if” game. They picked 52 of these scenarios and wrote the book, Every Monday Matters – 52 Ways to Make a Difference.

The book came out four years ago and has sold very well. What was more important to Matt was that it started an organization and the beginning of a movement. A month after the book came out, he received an email from a woman who saved someone from committing suicide, all because of the book. He never imagined his book would literally save somebody’s life. That was the sign Matt needed to walk away from the music industry and try to make Every Monday Matters (EMM) a household name.

From the start, thousands of people wanted to be a part of what Matt was doing. Letter-writing campaigns, a weekly newspaper column syndicated in over 400 newspapers nationwide, and a K-12 school curriculum that teaches youth that they matter through self- and social-responsibility projects followed.

Today, EMM is in over 1,200 schools in 43 states, impacting the lives of hundreds of thousands of youths. An Employee Engagement/Corporate Social Responsibility program in major corporations across the country works to create a work culture where all employees feel as though they matter within their company and their community. hosted EMM every Monday for a year. PBS just shot a documentary on EMM that will air in May 2012.

The organization is committed to getting as many people as possible to make their Mondays matter and to understand how much they do. Every Monday Matters is about being able to imagine a day when millions of people all over the country or world are doing the same thing on the same day to make a difference in their life and the lives of others. Matt believes that together, we can officially change Mondays–and the world.

Read the whole thing. Matt sums up his lesson in this way:

I didn’t spend my life being an asshole, but I also didn’t spend my life focused on making the world a better place. I just focused on ME. Things that brought fun to my life, things that I thought mattered, like fame and fortune, and all arrows pointed inward. But, it was the Saturday-morning volunteering–giving back–that changed everything for me. It changed the direction of the arrows, and they now pointed outward. And in those moments, I realized that I am at my best when I am not making life about me, and when my life started to change, it started to make sense. I realized that I had significance and purpose in those moments. I realized that I could impact the world in a positive way, and in turn, I would feel more complete as a person. I guess that’s the irony of it all. If you want to feel better about yourself and your life, stop focusing on yourself. It is so simple, but so hard for us to understand.

In terms of fundamental Integral principles, Matt leaped ahead in his spiritual development by becoming less egocentric and by giving more and more to others, even so far as to change things in world-spanning ways.

When spirituality goes global

Andrew Cohen in Mumbai

By Joe Perez

Andrew Cohen, who is currently promoting his new book Evolutionary Enlightenment, is discussing the globalization of enlightenment on the Big Think blog. he describes how he originally traveled to India as a young man in 1984, and three years later returned to the U.S. to begin to teach enlightenment, and he draws a contrast to patterns in global spirituality today.

Whereas Americans have often sought spiritual illumination in India, Indians are now turning to Western Enlightenment.

Andrew writes in “Globalization Isn’t Just for Economists”:

The great surge of modernization in that ancient land is generating enormous stress for the multitudes who are striving to cash in on the new opportunities for prosperity. I could feel it most strongly when speaking to young people. They are under overwhelming pressure from their families to excel and conform: do well in school, get a good job, get married, have kids, send them to college, and—best case scenario—move to the USA so they can do it all in the promised land.  Three decades earlier, I had come to India to find my soul. Now young Indians want to come to America to find material success.

The most revealing incident happened at my first talk at a college in Mumbai: I noticed that the title had been changed from “Spiritual Self-Confidence” to “Self-Confidence.” I was surprised—India has always seemed to me to be the one place in the world where no one has a problem with the word “spiritual.” When I inquired as to why it had been removed, the organizers informed me that if they used the word “spiritual” in the title, young people wouldn’t come. “Spirituality is for grandparents,” I was told.

After describing how he pushed his audience of Indian young people to “think their own thoughts,” just as India’s spiritual luminaries have done, Andrew says:

If fifty years ago you were to tell somebody that Americans would teach Enlightenment in India and that Asian seekers would come to California to learn about what the Buddha taught from an American Jew, they would never have believed you. I can hardly believe it myself.

Cohen’s article is a valuable perspective on the emerging World Spirituality movement. No campaign for human liberation will be complete until (to put things much too simply) Westerners discover the riches of Eastern enlightenment and Easterners discover the riches of Western enlightenment. My point being, Spirit’s next move is drawing people from every nation into a global encounter with our True Self, and we are all doing so in ways uniquely our own.