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Web Letter

As a member of the reality-based community, I am heartened to read Jonathan Schell's lucid argument that our present crises are rooted in irrational growth. Yet the world's mindset seems still to be that, with a little tweaking, we can put these problems behind us and return to the happiness of growth. What I have not yet seen from any quarter is an attempt to construct, or even imagine, a post-growth civilization. What will such a civilization look like, and how will we get there?

David Schreyer

Saskatoon, Canada

Jan 28 2009 - 9:22pm

Web Letter

It's nice to see that Obama is trying to taking some steps to fix our domestic and international problems. I hope that Congress will help shape a stimulus package that will actually benefit Americans in the long run and not just tide us over for a week or so. The war on terror will shift to the countries that are actually harboring terrorists instead of staying in a country that is now self-sufficient. Americans will get adequate healthcare and education, while we try to help change the image of our country for the rest of the world. One way of doing this is to help eliminate global poverty, domestic and foreign. The Borgen Project has some interesting facts about global poverty and how reducing it will help our society. It would cost $19 billion to eliminate global poverty, which is extremely small compared ot the $522 billion the US government spent on our defense budget last year. By eliminating global poverty, we are setting ourselves up to have stronger allies or new ones; we open up the doors to new resources and help make our society safer to live in.

Melissa Cave

Seattle, WA

Jan 27 2009 - 2:54pm

Web Letter

The article was written before the events, and almost prophetically, Schell writing, "have to be tough without bombing far away villages." Yet, on January 23, 2009, just days after President Obama's inauguaration, he authorized drones with missiles into Pakistan villages.

Someone said to me, based on the coyness of White House Press Secretary Gibbs, "I don't think Obama knew." That would be bad, also. If President Obama didn't know his military was bombing Pakistan villages, then he has an out-of-control military.

I was much bothered by the tone of the brief coverage of the event. No mention of the illegality under international law of sending missiles into Pakistan, but a "see, he's macho" and "they're confused" in the "terrorists' camp."

Who will tell President Obama that it is illegal to bomb Pakistan? I was rereading a Howard Zinn article from 2007: you can't fight terrorism with war. It certainly isn't working. And continuing Bush administration illegal acts, such as drones with missiles into Pakistan, is... (fill in your own word).

sanda aronson

New York, NY

Jan 27 2009 - 2:38pm

Web Letter

Mr. Schell's article has touched the tragic heart of the matter with more insight and eloquence than any other article I have read on what is happening to us. But there is more to understand about tragedy, and the "solution" to a tragic human condition, than even Mr. Schell has brought forward.

Tragedy is formally defined by Aristotle as, first, a "pattern in action and life." Not fiction, not something an artist dreamed up, but insight into the dynamic patterns in life and how individual human action affects what happens to the human collective.

But one cannot act to transform a real life "tragedy" if one does not also understand what, precisely, the tragic pattern in life is: "the human condition in which a former source of happiness suddenly dramatically reverses into the opposite" (Aristotle's formal definition of tragedy). By happiness Aristotle does not mean the ubiquitous yellow smiley faces of abject denial, but collective human well-being, what is formally called "eudaimonic" happiness.

Tragedy, then, is the pattern in life in which human actions in the pursuit of happiness (say, for example, capitalism) are caught in a dynamic, systemic pattern of continuously reversing into the opposite: the pursuit of happiness reverses into a prescription for misery, well-being reverses into toxicity and disease, and human flourishing is withering into certain extinction, because those in power are stuck on "former" eudaimonic ideals (a k a "ideology") that no longer hold true.

The tragic "flipping" pattern describes better than anything else what is happening to us. We are caught in a systemic pattern in which all the ways in which we have set up the pursuit of well-being are reversing. The former "happiness" of cheap energy reversing into the horror of global warming; the former "well-being" promised by capitalism reversing into a world choked with stuff--the list goes on.

What is the "solution" to the tragic eudaimonic flipping pattern? Comedy, of course.

Comedy is universal; every single human culture--East, West, South and North, indigene and Internet--has some form of comedy (sacred and secular). In the Western dramatic tradition, comedy in ancient Greece begins in spring fertility rites celebrating the return of life after the barren season of winter. In comedy, an ordinary person "acts like spring" to renew a deadly human condition.

Our way through our tragic global human condition is to set into motion a (hopefully) "velvet" eudaimonic revolution in which the ordinary person, "the people," of this nation and of the global civic society, are empowered to make the many (many!) "reversals" throughout our political, economic and global systems to restore the human prospect on Earth in time. In the words of the Shaker Hymn, whose melody inspired John Williams's Inaugural offering, "by turning, turning, we come round right." Ordinary people, turning and turning our economic, political, social systems around till we "come round right" and break free of the tragic flipping pattern and get human well-being back on track: that is the pattern in life that ancient, archetypal Greek comedy represents. Or, as economist David Korten calls it, "the great turning" from toxic empire-building to a salutary earth community, with (perhaps, we hope) our newly elected community organizer reshaping his leadership role as US president into global, earth community organizing. Signs are that he is doing precisely that by insisting that the way through the greed of Wall Street is to make Main Street, Green Street.

What we need is nothing less than a global eudaimonic revolution in which we suddenly and dramatically reverse the mutually assured destruction of planet and people with new systems of mutually assured vitality of persons and places.

I believe this revolution is also part of the "reality" that Mr. Schell calls upon us to face, a global eudaimonic revolution that can, I hope and pray, change reality's face from fragedy to the universally desired human comedy in which ll live, happily ever after.

Maria Katzenbach

Red Hook, NY

Jan 27 2009 - 11:11am

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