Herbert Sweet

Herbert Sweet

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Corruption and Nepotism in Afghanistan

The observation connecting corruption to nepotism in Afghanistan illustrates the tribal level of the society. Keep in mind that a tribe is you and about 150 others vs the world. Nepotism makes sense at that level. The problem comes when tribal societies become nations overnight. The behavioral characteristic is simply too ingrained to change that fast.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Treatment of Women in Afghanistan

While engaged in Afghanistan, we have observed the wide mistreatment of women and many are calling for the resolution of this problem. While we are all sympathetic to the individuals that we have learned about through the news media, before taking any policy action, we need to take a broader view.

In the relatively enlightened United States, women have had the right to vote for less than a century and a mere 50 years ago, the only professional opportunities open to women were nursing and teaching. Even then, these were low paying jobs.

In the isolated Third World countries, not exposed to the dramatic changes that have occurred in the West, where ignorance, illiteracy and superstition have been the norm for centuries or more, it is a safe bet that most of the men abuse most of the women.

Third World abuse of women is a major cultural problem and, to fix it, we will need to take on most of the males in most of the Third World. The Third World easily has two-thirds of the world’s population and the United States has only about four percent. If this ratio is not challenging enough, consider that, at this time, the country is entirely inwardly focused on its economy.

The obvious conclusion is that this is not a problem that can be fixed in any conceivable timeframe. At best, only a few small steps can be taken in a few places.

In my next entry, I will examine the ‘cultural problem’ and what would need to be done to change it.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Can Money Buy Happiness?

The question of whether money can buy happiness has been bantered around for longer than most of us can imagine. The general consensus seems to be that most think that they would be happier if they had more money than they have.

Yet we all know people who have nothing or at least very little and are enormously happy. And, conversely, we know people that are quite well off and are just plain miserable.

So our experience is at odds with our beliefs. So what’s wrong? The problem fundamentally lies with the materialistic philosophy of western culture. And that is the material, as obtained through the medium of exchange money, provides happiness.

It is certainly true that we exist in a material world. So money can buy sustenance and even enjoyment. The tradeoff is material for material.

The failure of materialism to secure happiness lies in the fact that happiness is not material. It is not a thing that can be bought.

In order to obtain happiness we need to understand what it is and what produces it.

As adolescents, we all strived to understand how we fit in. Somehow, we all understood something very fundamental without consciously knowing just what we were after. We knew that we wanted acceptance and recognition. But we didn’t know why. The answer is that securing acceptance and recognition is the establishment of a positive relationship between ourselves and others. It is that positive relationship that produces happiness.

We can understand this by observing how it works out for common behaviors.

If a close look is made of criminals, even those who have had some success, you will not find a single happy criminal. These folks perceive others as opposing them so they oppose them. There’s no room for happiness in a relationship where the modus operandi is opposition.

The bulk of us are not criminals but focus on our own desires even if they are at the expense of the desires of others. We see ourselves as separate from them and so rationally move to fulfill only our own desires. This separation isolates us from those around us. Isolation does not produce a decent relationship let alone a happy one.

The happy few, intuitively, grasp a different reality. They see themselves as entwined with their environment. They neither oppose it nor do they feel separated from it. So they quite naturally support the people around them. And, interestingly enough, they receive spontaneous support in return. Is it any wonder that they are the happy ones?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Ecomic Dilemma in Historical Context

We are now, as everyone knows, in the midst of the ‘great recession’. Liberals see the solution as Keynesian stimulus and entitlements. Conservatives see the solution as debt reduction and even regulation reduction so as to stimulate the engines of the economy. In addition to this we have the new Tea Party folks who are just mad at the government and view it as some kind of oppressor. As irrational and uncivil as they may seem, the understanding of our plight lies in the understanding of this phenomenon rather than focusing on the Liberal Conservative debate.

What we are hearing from many people today, is that they have played by the rules and if they haven’t already lost their jobs, savings and homes, they are worried that they will. They see no future for them or their children. Yet CEOs and other Wall Streeters are making millions if not billions.

Two hundred and twenty one years ago in France the populace was also in dire straits. The people had also done what was expected of them but were unable to make a living which, at the time, meant no more than putting bread on the table. And as CEOs today are living the high life without contributing to the general welfare, the elite of their times, the aristocracy, were just as guilty.

What is lost to the general discussion is an appreciation of the implicit contract between any government and its citizenry. Regardless of the form of government, the level of the economy and the degree of civility of the times, there are three fundamentals that any government must deliver. A government must provide protection from invasion, it must maintain internal stability, and it must provide economic sustainability for the populace. Today, economic viability is issue number one.

Therefore we should view the Tea Party noise just as the French aristocracy should have viewed the peasants with their outstretched pitchforks. A government that fails to provide for the economic survivability of its populace will be replaced -- one way or another.

In my next entry, I will examine what kind of leadership is needed for our times.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Soul

In my last entry in the religion series, the conclusion was reached that life after death was a universal belief because we were unable to resolve the conflict between two realities – the existence of self and the death of self. As both were accepted as absolutes, a third reconciling ‘truth’ had to be that there was life after death. This conflict needs to be faced and not rationalized.

Physical death of all life need not be dwelled on. It is obvious.

But what of the self or, as it is more commonly thought of, as the soul? The general view is that we have an inner permanence that is somehow independent of the physical body.

We can approach the question of permanence of self by examining the experience of life that has already occurred. We need to examine our relationship with and understanding of our past surroundings, especially our past social surroundings. Recalling experiences from early childhood, later childhood, adolescence, early adulthood, mid life, etc., one sees that, at these different times of life, there were entirely different perspectives. There has been no permanence yet we are willing to project a permanence into eternity.

Is it one of these past selves -- childhood or peak adulthood, the one to be projected forever? Or is it our ‘self’ at the time of death that is to be forever so? Is a child who dies always to remain a child? Is an adult who becomes demented in his final years always to remain so?

Not much thought is commonly given to these questions. The reason is that the belief is fragile and easily upset by too many questions. I recall my father saying that he expected to meet his father in heaven and that his father would be just as he remembered him. This would mean that my father would remain forever young and his father forever old. That would be great for my father but my grandfather would likely not prefer to be forever old!

I think that you can see from this line of reasoning that the reality of some fixed self is a fiction.

So is it then that our existences are nothing more than what we experience in the here and now and that all of our efforts are but ripples in a bucket of water? What is the alternative to the comforting belief of the everlasting soul?

This I will address in my next entry.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Life After Death

Virtually every culture, in every place and time throughout recorded history, has had some kind of a belief in an afterlife. In my opening blog entry on ‘Religion’ I listed the disciplines that can be taken to understand this phenomenon -- historical, theological, cultural, mythological, logical, and psychological.

The logical approach would be an approach seeking evidence. Evidence, however, is relevant only to what is within the creation. At the most fundamental level, it is the analysis of the constituents of relativity – mater, energy, space and time. Therefore the logical approach could only envision life after death in physical terms. It envisions life after death as it envisions life before death – as involving relationships and places. It is flatly based on the materialistic based view of reality. But, as we now know, matter is only a transitory part of the creation and is not some absolute baseline. Logic is too limited.

The historical approach would be to search the past for some event providing evidence that there is life after death. But, as suggested in the logical approach, evidence is a self imposed limitation of the intellect and confined to the ever changing creation and therefore can not be any basis for eternity.

I will dismiss theological and mythological quickly as belief or, to put it more bluntly – as a wish and their cultural variations. Why a wish? Theological and mythological understandings are wishes because, clearly, if heaven was a fully accepted reality, everyone would want to be leaving to go there right away. Why put up with the difficulties of life when the perfect vacation spa is available here and now?

The psychological approach, I believe, offers the most insight. This is because virtually every culture has believed that there is some form of life after death and it does so without evidence. No God or gods have come with a message to the masses in such a way as to make it clear to all that there is a life after death. None have come to address Congress or reach us through television. Such ‘appearances’ that have occurred have only been to individuals which has left us with only the equivalent of hearsay evidence. So we must probe the human mind if we are to understand why the belief in an afterlife is universal.

In the psychological approach, we need not go into all of the depths of psychology. What is relevant to this inquiry is how we understand ourselves. The concept of self occurs only in the higher life forms. In humans, it commences in late infancy. This conclusion has been reached by watching babies and higher primates observing themselves in a mirror and noting their measured reaction. The lower life forms, on the other hand, react as if what they saw in the mirror was another of their species and fights with the mirror often ensue. For them, the conclusion is that they have no sense of self.

It is an observation of the developing intellect that I am separate from what surrounds me -- an obvious empirical conclusion. This conclusion, in turn, parlays into the concept of the existence of self. This apparent reality, being accepted so early in life that it even precedes the logic that comes with the development of language, is a reality that is never challenged later in life. It is solidly accepted.

But then, not much later, sometime in childhood, the individual is acquainted with another reality – that of death. It, of course, is someone else’s death but it brings up the unpleasantness regarding personal death. It is clear that such will happen.

So now we have two realities – the existence of self and the non-existence of self because of death -- two opposing realities neither of which we are willing to disbelieve. When such a conundrum occurs, psychologists tell us that we rationalize ourselves out of the enigma. We create new realities. In this case, the rationalization is that the self survives physical death. How does this happen? For the answer, we have invented mythology and theology.

So what we must resolve is which of the two realities is valid – self or death. This I will address in my next blog entry.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Conservative / Liberal

Conservatism is the fear of the unknown. Liberalism is the fear of the known. Freedom from fear liberates the intellect to do its work and navigate through the perils.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

MAN AND GOD - a logical approach

In my prior entry, I noted that, from the historical record, we know that virtually every culture, throughout the entirety of recorded history, has had a belief in God or gods yet there is no supporting empirical evidence that those ideas of God or gods are valid. The implication of this global behavior is that the need for a connectedness to the Universal is driving us so hard that we are both willing and desperate enough to live with fabrications of our own making.

When we examine religion, in every place and time, we find that the God or gods worshiped have taken on the values of each particular society. For example, it is well known that God was depicted in the Old Testament as a vengeful God but in the New Testament he became a loving God. This had led the cynics to say that “God was created in man’s image”. So this puts us in the position of either just accepting the beliefs of our times or taking a time out to examine the human concept of God or gods.

In Western thought, dating back to its origins, it is believed that God is personal or anthropomorphic. Therefore our relationship with him is of a personal nature. We pray, he listens, he acts.

However to be personal, God would have to have attributes such as loving or vengeful and having attributes would give him definition. What can be defined, that is what is distinct in character or in dimension, time and place, is within the creation. Therefore a personal God would have to be a part of the creation. This is clearly an illogical premise; the creator can not create himself. This must also mean that he can not be outside of creation as the creator of the universe and within the universe as an individual at the same time. Therefore the concept of incarnation can not be correct either. In addition, God can not act as action is a part of the dynamic creation. To act is to be within the creation.

All this is an egocentric view – a view that the world revolves around us and therefore so does God. It is the view that God comes to us. Even when we think that we are going to God by worshiping him, in reality, we are engaging in a relational activity between us and our own self generated idea of a personal deity -- an idea, like all other ideas, that is within relativity. Therefore we can not be going to God because he is not within relativity.

This all occurs because we function at the level of intellect and every thought that is generated is based solely on experience within the creation. Consequently, when the intellect attempts to understand the source of creation it can only think in terms of the creation.

The opposite of the ego centered view, is the God centered view. God is the source of creation so therefore concepts of reality need to start there. This is the view that we should align ourselves with God.

Keep in mind that the ultimate source of relativity can only be God or the Godhead. Therefore temporality cannot be independent from God and to believe so is delusional and, ultimately, self destructive. If the creation can not be independent from the creator then it must be connected to him. Therefore the creation would be God’s manifestation.

Most important to us humans, as best as we can tell, in this creation, we can do more than merely go about living and reproducing. As best as we know, we are the highest life form. Through the process of evolution, humans have developed minds of unimaginable complexity. It is estimated that the human brain has within it 100 billion neurons and a quadrillion synapses. This has given us the ability to transcend individuality and transcend intellect. For those who have pursued this path, when in the transcendental state of consciousness, the focus on individuality and the mundane has faded, leaving nothing but the Godhead – the ultimate experience of reality.

From the individual perspective, absolute reality is beyond intellect and therefore is even beyond imagination. Never-the-less, the transcendental experience of the absolute, being the experience of Reality itself, immeasurably exceeds the value of any accomplishment within the temporal field itself.

This does not mean, however, that the goal and the worth of unification should be exclusive to accomplishment within temporality, within God’s manifestation. It does not point to a cave in the Himalayas! Instead, its value is in arming the individual with a sense of connectedness to both the transcendent reality and to the whole of creation. With such a state of awareness, delusion is dispelled, inner happiness is maximized and the effectiveness of action becomes unparalleled.

Friday, March 19, 2010


The most important subject that anyone can undertake to understand is what we loosely call ‘religion’. Academics have approached it historically, theologically, culturally, mythologically, psychologically and even logically. Yet the general public resists the knowledge developed and, instead, offers often heard sentiments such as the following: “You have to believe because science can’t disprove…” “Everybody has his own reality.” “There must be a heaven because everybody believes that there is one.” “ I know that God is real because I can feel his presence.”

We know from the historical record that virtually every culture, throughout the entirety of recorded history, has had a belief in God or gods and a belief in some kind of an afterlife. And, from what evidence that archeologists have pieced together, some rudimentary forms of thee beliefs likely go back even further.

We also know that there is no empirical evidence to support these notions and entire belief systems have been based on what a court of law would call ‘hearsay’.

I would suggest that of all of the approaches to understanding religion, the most insight can be developed from the psychological and logical approaches and I will present my observations through these vectors in upcoming blogs.

Until then, the followers of this blog may give some thought to why every society throughout time has believed in gods and a hereafter. What drives everyone to accept these beliefs? What is the comment element?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Who Needs Government?

Voltaire said “The art of government is to make two-thirds of a nation pay all it possibly can pay for the benefit of the other third.” Looking at this quote by itself, it is hard to know whether it was intended to be instructive or was just cynical as the smiley had not yet been invented. In any case, there were clearly people that believed this. They were, of course, among the benefiting one-third. Had Voltaire lived just a few more years he would have been lucky to have escaped La Guillotine.

Today, we accept that government must serve both the elite and the hoi polloi. We also know that governments tends to grow beyond reason and then present us with the bills. It has also been observed that, at times, government bureaucrats can be very intrusive.

When all of this becomes too much for the electorate, calls for government reduction and even elimination go from beyond being merely loud to being irrational. What is forgotten is the most important function that government has which can be done by no other.

In our unenlightened world, it is often said to “look out for number one.” In the short run, this may work out well enough for number one but number two and number three often suffers in the process. This is what laws and regulations are intended to moderate. There are simply too many people who could care less about their fellow neighbors and citizens.

This is well illustrated by the recent Wall Street’s debacle. Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” was supposed to be in control. As we all found out, what happened was that a few got all of the gold and the rest of us lost out big time. So much for self regulation.

The same occurs at the local level when large chain businesses focus on their own bottom line at the expense of the local physical and economic environment. It occurs when a homeowner blares his music throughout the neighborhood or turns his property into a virtual junkyard.

Whether it be Wall Street or Main Street, without recourse to government, there simply is no means of moderating competing interests. At this stage, in utter frustration, many will take matter into their own hands. What looms ominously is a very uncivil and even violent society.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Veterans’ Benefits Nightmare Not Irresolvable

60 Minutes reported this evening that the Veterans Administration had a requirement that veterans’ ailments had to be caused by events that occurred during their service. The administration of this appears to have brought the granting of benefits to a near standstill.

This is certainly easy to understand as the correlation of current problems to events that may have occurred decades ago, especially in the ‘fog of war’ is not a matter of simple administration.

From this we have to ask how much health benefits should the government be providing for veterans and what burden is reasonable for the taxpayers to carry.

From the period of roughly 1940 to 1975, nearly all males served in the military. Or, to put it another way, nearly half of the population of the country served in the military. But since then, in particularly since the Gulf War in 1990, fighting the country’s wars has been left to a relatively small number of volunteers. It has been somewhat of a scandal that the few carry all of the burdens of war while the rest of the population goes about business as usual.

While veterans of all wars should have their wounds, whether physical or mental, attended to at the expense of a grateful nation, it may be possible to do even more for the post Gulf War veterans as they are a very small percentage of the male population rather than the entire male population as was the case earlier.

Instead of continuing the practice of correlating ailment with service related incident, it is now reasonable to consider the granting of medical benefit to honorably discharged veterans that is much the same as medical benefits that are provided to civilian employees at their retirement.

This would eliminate the miscarriage of justice for these folks that has resulted from the Veterans Administration’s attempt at correlating ailment to service injury and the cost of that administration as well. In addition, the provision of this benefit would go a small way towards indicating some gratitude from the many to the few.