I was agnostic for 40 years before I seriously reconsidered the question of whether some sort of God exists. It took a mental breakdown to realize how imbalanced my life had become. This occurred in 1990, when I first tried to start Soldiers For Peace without the internet. The stress drove me to become manic, experience bankruptcy and nearly ruin my psychiatric career before it began.
I was in the Army the year before, where I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It was the stress of getting into a conflict with my superior and trying to handle it on my own that caused me to become hypomanic and to be discharged. I simply could not stand by and watch our patients be abused because of this man’s ignorance and indifference. Learning to challenge those with power over me without putting myself at risk was a skill that would take me decades to acquire. In the meantime I was convinced that I could never be a politician because I could not compromise my moral principles enough to ever be elected. I was later proven wrong on that idea also.
I have always been hyper-responsive to witnessing injustice. It may have come from growing up during the Vietnam War, in which my oldest brother fought as a Marine. His reaction to this trauma nearly destroyed my family, but our love for each other saved it. I am sure that my mother and father’s strong sense of justice were critical in the development of this trait. They had diametrically different political outlooks but their love for each other kept them together long enough for my mother to resolve her anger toward my father for instilling in my brother the belief that it was his duty to respond when the government decided it was time to make war. Perhaps most families need to face such challenges to create the strong bonds that are the lifeline that saves them when seas get stormy.
It took me years to fully understand my manic episode because I was afraid to consider the implications of some extraordinary experiences I had during my repeated trips across the country and to Europe. The most disturbing of these was the time I woke up a hotel room in St Louis fully alert, only two hours after falling asleep after at least 24 hours on the road. Even though manic, I always slept 7 hours when I was that exhausted. I got up and turned on the TV to see the images of the first Scud attack on Israel that had occurred roughly when I awoke.
I couldn't shake this extraordinary coincidence. It seemed that it had significance, but believing that seemed to me to be madness. Always an empiricist, I was forced to ponder what could explain it for years before I was able to consider the possibility that it had not been coincidence but a sort of awakening made possible by my intense concentration on the larger implications of world events of the time. I could not make sense of this without seriously considering the possibility that there is an innate intelligence of the universe.
As I considered the central concepts of the great religions I tentatively concluded that there were among them ideas that seemed to me could not have been arrived at based on scientific knowledge at the time that have since been confirmed by science. Examples include the expanding and collapsing universe (Hinduism) and the direct effect of the motion of any particle in the universe on every other particle (Buddhism). While the basic principles of the other monotheistic religions can be derived logically, I suspect that within them are some concepts that had to be the products of what religious people call revealed wisdom, or direct perception of reality as opposed to the Western mental construct of it.
I have always hated war and have never had a love of money. I avoided the study of both in college, where I obtained a very broad education in history, science, mathematics and the social sciences aside from economics. I regard the latter as a pseudo-science because experts in the field seem largely ignorant of the political assumptions they make in creating their models. In some cases it is more accurately described as a form of religion, as in the belief in an imaginary free market. It when I began to understand this that I realized that studying the roots of war in economics was necessary to becoming a part in ending it. Economics, religion and spirituality became the last frontiers of knowledge of which I made a general study.
I spent my career as a psychiatrist serving the underserved, eventually ending up at the Veterans Administration. There I heard horror stories of war that most of my patients had never talked about for decades. Because of my empathy for these men and women I have a clear visceral understanding of what they and my brother went through. I felt helpless to change anything while the madness of the Bush-Cheney regime was going on, so I intensified my self-study of how our nation had turned from democracy to fascism, a process that is only now beginning to reverse.
The signs of this drift away from fascism are subtle and missed by those not looking for them. In my mind, you cannot see how to change things that seem immutable unless you believe that change is possible. After that you have to envision the world you want to create and use all of your energy and intelligence in systematically working on accomplishing the steps that are necessary to bring about the changes necessary to save human civilization from destruction by the impersonal forces of greed and selfishness.
Only by holding fast to the idea that people around the world are awakening to their roles in saving human civilization can you notice the pattern of victories that are taking place amidst the devastation of the bootjack of fascism falling on the Peoples of the world. From the Bolivarian revolution to the Arab Spring to the reinvigoration of unions under assault to the foolish simultaneous attacks on the American elderly, the youth, the worker and even the upper middle class who suffer under the lash of fascism, the worldwide revolt against tyranny is slowly building. When each of these pockets of resistance join forces they will form the nucleus of the virtual Army that is Soldiers For Peace International. Forming a united front against fascism and war, the People once united will never again be divided.
My anger and tendency to despair had driven both my manic episode and the many bouts of depression I suffered all my life until I discovered the true purpose of the misery that I had endured. Once convinced that there can be no higher calling than to play a part in ending fascism in America and war in the world, I found myself at last at peace. I am confident that I will never again suffer radical mood episodes. I have found my center and learned to practice radical acceptance, as I have always advised my patients to do in order to move on in their lives despite having suffered often unspeakable trauma. Radical acceptance is the recognition that we cannot change the past and that it is useless to dwell on our past suffering. We only experience one moment at a time as we move n our journey through time-space whose forward direction is not predestined but the product of our individual and collective acts. We must attend fully to the moment we are experiencing except for the time that we spend dispassionately reflecting on the lessons of the past and envisioning the future that we want to create for ourselves and others.
The other thing for which I will be forever grateful to my patients is the gradual dawning of the realization that a firm spiritual foundation is the bedrock upon which most resilient people conduct their lives. It is of course possible to be highly moral without a belief in the spirit or any form of God, but belief in either or both is a powerful motivator and provides protection from despair. I found in exploring the spiritual beliefs of my patients a new way of looking at the ideas I have explored since childhood about not only the mind but of the soul and of God. Like most people I had stopped trying to refine these ideas until I experienced moments that were wildly improbable if the result of chance.
When Obama was elected I thought that America was finally beginning to unify and would get back on track. I understood him when he said that we needed to "be the change" that we wanted and needed for America to realize its destiny as a leader of the free world instead of an instrument of bloody Empire. I have always believed in the essential goodness of humanity and that such belief is a fundamental assumption of democracy. If men are not capable of ruling themselves with liberty and justice for all, then democracy is not possible. The broad and widening acceptance of the idea that men are inherently evil and must be controlled is antithetical to democracy. It was my hope that the willingness of an overwhelmingly white American electorate to elect a self-identified African-American reflected them fact that Americans had had their fill of the politics of division.
From the beginning of the “health care reform” debate in Congress I became heavily involved in the single payer movement. It did not take me long to realize that Congress and the Obama administration had set our movement up to fail. The first essay I wrote for what came to become this book was an appeal for progressives not to give up on the only way to provide an affordable system of universal access to quality health care. The public option was a typical Democratic compromise that was used as a starting point for negotiating terms for what in the end would serve the corporate interest far more than that of the People.
The objective was in reality to create a bailout for a medical insurance industry whose inefficiencies threatened to destroy it in a few short years without a massive infusion of taxpayer money. The result was the “Affordable” Health Care Act, which is neither affordable nor any guarantee of access to health care when its true failings become evident.
Realizing the futility of begging a Congress corrupted by corporate money to put the interests of We the People over those of their corporate patrons, rather than give up I intensified my efforts. I worked night day and night at the local, state and national levels to wake people up to the reality that we had to establish a single payer system to save the US from economic, social and moral collapse. I knew that the effort was doomed to failure at the time because too many people believed the lies of the corporate media and because partisan Democrats were too quick to accept the inevitable excuse from their leaders that “It’s the best we can do.” The phrase “Perfect is the enemy of the good” became so common that I began to have a visceral reaction to it much like one feels when forced to eat peas as a child by parents who do not realize that they are creating a life-long aversion.
During the health care debate I continued to spend my time and a great deal of money traveling around the country meeting all the major figures in the movement, many of whom were involved in other social justice efforts. Along the way I met other people who were quite prominent in the antiwar, labor, environmental and spiritual movements. I believed that these contacts would be useful later when I ran for the US senate, which I had decided to do in late 2009.
Eventually I had to quit my job at the VA to run for the senate. I traveled around Oregon trying to get speaking opportunities. I was shocked and then dismayed at the fact that none of the people that I had worked so hard side by side with seemed interested in the campaign. It was clear that despite being stonewalled by the government, they had not yet recognized the futility of begging politicians corrupted by corporate money or of building a national movement over a widely misunderstood issue that was to most people only one of many crises the government was not honestly facing. They had not and at this point most still do not realize that the time has come to begin working to elect people who will put the interests of the People over those of corporations.
Ironically, Hartmann himself hints at the means by which this apparently impossible feat can be accomplished in his book The Last Days of Ancient Sunshine. In this seminal work he argues that the only hope for the survival of human civilization is a massive change in human consciousness that I call the Tectonic Paradigm Shift. The essence of this shift is the incorporation in the collective consciousness of what I have concluded was the central message of Krishna, Buddha, Abraham, Christ and Mohammed: God is all of us. Only by working together to solve the most critical threat to human civilization that the world has ever known can we create a world that is fit for our children to inherit.
Hartmann’s idea was not original. It is the same idea that I had come upon that drove me to try to create Soldiers For Peace in 1990. My first effort amounted to reaching out to anyone who would listen to get them to understand that war is not inevitable but the result of the willful ignorance, intellectual laziness and self-imposed artificial distinctions between us. Lacking the internet, connections with influential people, the body of knowledge necessary to be persuasive or the understanding that most people cannot think on such a grand scale about the ultimate implications for our collective destiny of our collective actions or inaction, I was doomed to fail at helping to create the movement that would forever end these senseless wars of choice. In the long and often painful path to recovering from my manic episode, I never gave up the belief that this idea was the essential insight necessary to save human civilization.
During the course of my political activism that began in January of 2009 I decided to chronicle the evolution of my thinking as it occurred. The result is the online book of essays Stop the Madness: The Diary of a Soldier For Peace in the War to Take Back America and to link it to the website of Soldiers For Peace International. All along my journey to turn SFPI from an idea into a reality I was extraordinarily blessed by the people I met who helped me along the way. In fact, my luck was so extraordinary that eventually I concluded that it was not luck at all but destiny.
Each of us evaluates our experiences in terms of a personal model of reality determined by our individual experiences and the conclusions about the nature of the physical world that we draw from them. My personal model of reality is informed by an extensive understanding of science and the basic ideas of religions and spirituality. I believe that when anyone finds the path of ego death that all of us are born to follow they will encounter the same good fortune that I have known. The Hindus say that the aspect of God that is Ganesha is all-knowing and has the function of placing obstacles in the path of the dangerously selfish and removing them from the righteous who work for the betterment of Mankind.
I believe that this is in some sense true. Seeming misfortunes may be only ways to make us understand that we have strayed from the path of our true destiny or need in some other way to learn from the experience. Most importantly, we must learn compassion through suffering and acceptance. Without acceptance we cannot achieve the balance necessary to keep our hearts open to the pain of others without being overwhelmed by the anger that naturally results from witnessing the abuse of innocents.
I have learned from my own experience that this anger is a defense against having to experience overwhelming grief. This is the natural response of the compassionate person to the pain of witnessing the atrocities the strong commit against the weak. In working to create the original incarnation of Soldiers For Peace, I had not yet realized how to accept that the evil that men do will not end unless Soldiers For Peace around the world, whether or not they identify themselves as such, bring an end to injustice through their collective efforts. Until enough of us realize that violent conflict is not inevitable and join the cause of ending it, wars WILL remain inevitable.
As Mankind now faces the threat of eternal war, environmental disaster, mass famine and pandemic the time has come to choose between life or death, liberty and justice for all or for none. I have accepted this as a fact and taken the challenge willingly, as have millions around the world. As with the soldier who has been forced to kill, I know that killing the “enemy” is as destructive to the one who pulls the trigger as to the victim, who at least is out of the misery of war. Although we fight without violence, I could not be an effective soldier if the hatred of my opponent still burned. I can calmly fight on despite millions falling around us in this war against fascism only because after 50 years I have come to believe that each of us is only a manifestation of our higher selves that exist in a higher dimensions and are immortal. Whether right or wrong, it is a part of the personal reality I have come to live by and it has served me well in my often lonely mission.
One does not have to accept my belief system in whole or in part to be a Soldier For Peace, who is defined as anyone who works for social justice locally, nationally or internationally. The only other requirement is to accept that violence will only breed more violence and division and swear off violence unless one chooses to engage in it when given no other choice but to stand by while violence is done to themselves or to innocents. If such time arrives as the international corporate terrorists sense the imminent demise of their power, each of us must choose whether to pick up arms or to remain conscientious objectors. I have made my choice and will die if necessary to keep the dream of the end of slavery alive. For myself, that is the only cause that matters.
Since the end of the 2010 election until the time of this writing I have been working full time to further the cause of justice and peace full time. That is now nearly nine months and the funds I took from my retirement plan are nearly exhausted. This is the result of my extraordinary good luck in having my license to practice medicine suspended since October of last year. This has been the only thing that has enabled me to keep working full time on my various efforts without being divorced by my loving wife, who has made a remarkable change in the direction of accepting my life mission despite her fears for our future.
At the time of this writing Soldiers For Peace International has self-identified members on all continents. Many people are beginning to understand that we are not just a symbol but a model for how to build a virtual "Army" with the strength and resources to build a united international front against fascism and war. We are about to launch an internet radio program that will allow us to communicate with each other in real time on a global scale. As more people begin to realize the significance of the fact that anyone working for social justice anywhere in the world is by definition a Soldier For Peace, I expect more and more people to put aside their self-imposed distinctions and work together to save human civilization in increasingly cooperative and organized ways. That is why I predict that the world will experience this Tectonic Paradigm Shift soon.