Archive for Spirituality/Philosophy

Hail Satan?

Baphomet“Hallowe’en is coming
And the goose is getting fat.
Will you please put a penny
In the old man’s hat?
If you haven’t got a penny,
A halfpenny will do,
And if you haven’t got a halfpenny
Then God bless you,
And your old man too.”

That’s the wee verse my sisters and I used to rhyme off at this time of the year, annoying our neighbours in Rathcoole as we went from door-to-door in homemade costumes made from bin bags. We carried Jack o’Lanterns which our mother had lovingly hollowed out of turnips. That, believe me, was no easy task.

This was long before the coming of the commercial Americanised imported ‘trick or treat’ fashion and the appearance of readymade costumes from Asda or B&M. As we counted our pennies, bobbed for apples and hoped to get the slice of apple tart containing a silver sixpence we were just having some fun.

We never thought of it as a celebration of the triumph of evil, or devil worship or of horrible things. We were not conjuring up demons; not a bit of it. It was part of our inherited traditions; every bit as much as the Eleventh Night, The Twelfth, St Patrick’s Day, Easter or Christmas. To hear some religious people talk; you would think that devil worship is what it’s all about. Not at all.

Still, the season we’re in reminds me of a recent documentary I saw at the QFT. Penny Lane has made a hugely entertaining film about a recently formed religious group that is beginning to attract public attention. It’s growing quite fast in the US where it began, and in some parts of Europe.

This new religious group has published its Seven Fundamental Tenets. Let me share them with you…

  •  One should strive to act with compassion and empathy toward all creatures in accordance with reason.
  •  The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.
  • One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.
  • The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo one’s own.
  • Beliefs should conform to one’s best scientific understanding of the world. One should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit one’s beliefs.
  • People are fallible. If one makes a mistake, one should do one’s best to rectify it and resolve any harm that might have been caused.
  • Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word.

By and large, with a quibble over a word here and there, that sounds like something you might read in The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Magazine or in The Inquirer; it sounds like faith guided by reason. It wouldn’t be out of place in one of our churches.
Doesn’t it all sound grand?
Doesn’t it all seem reasonable?
Doesn’t it sound ethical?
At first glance, I’d say yes.

So, what is this new religious movement and where is it based? Well, significantly or otherwise, it’s based in the town of Salem, Massachusetts. Yes, that Salem; the group calls itself The Satanic Temple. Wow!

For a moment, when I read these Seven Tenets, I thought to myself, “My God. A lot of this sounds quite reasonable. Have I been batting for the wrong team all these years?” Not only is the devil reputed to have all the best tunes; it now looks like he’s beginning to run away with the best principles too.

In fact, however, the Satanic Temple does not worship the Christian devil. They don’t actually believe in a literal Satan; for Christians, Jews and Muslims the personification of evil and hatred and the adversary of truth. The Satanic Temple’s symbolic ‘Satan’ is based on the literary heroic character of John Milton’s Paradise Lost; the wannabe challenger of arbitrary power and self-styled champion of the dispossessed.

They use their status as a recognised religious body to challenge conservative right-wing Christian theocrats in America who are trying to impose their own religious principles on others in violation of the US constitutional amendment separating church and state. They demand equal status for their own ‘deeply held religious principles’. When such groups try to place Crosses or Nativity scenes or stone tablets of the Ten Commandments on public property; TST then demand equal treatment in the courts for statues of Baphomet; their goat-headed symbol. Rather than allow that to happen, the Christian theocrats usually take their symbols down.

So, in the interests of peace, justice, empathy, mercy and equal treatment for all, should we prepare to ditch our Hallelujahs and start singing Hail Satan? Well, I’m sure (or, at least I hope) you’ll not be surprised to hear me saying, No.

John Milton’s literary Satan is not all he seems. He is not a man looking out for the common good of all humanity. He is a self-seeking immortal animated by a grudge against God to prey on humanity’s innocence.
Milton wrote at the time of the English civil wars. He thinks the common good is the most important thing about society. His opposition to kings is based upon his strong conviction that monarchies, being fatally vulnerable to the power held in the hands of one flawed individual, cannot benefit nations. To Milton; the only flawless king is God, therefore no human being should usurp God’s empty throne. That’s why he agreed with Charles I’s execution for treason and excoriated the Presbyterians of Belfast who protested against it.

He believed that republics, with their checks and balances, are a much better option; but Milton knew how naked ambition can pervert republics, too. He knew what happened to Rome and Athens. He had read his Tacitus, his Plutarch, and his Suetonius. From this, and his personal experience in the English civil wars, he concluded that the heart of tyranny is individualism.

Milton’s Satan personifies this individualism. Satan cannot bear to put the common good before his own personal desires. He exemplifies all that is dangerous about personal charisma, charisma, and his rhetorical dominance is bound up with that charisma.

When Satan makes speeches to other people, he is always manipulative, always instrumental. He uses people for his own ends. He lies. He is not a champion of the oppressed at all.

We might applaud the probably well-intentioned folk behind the Satanic Temple for the fine ethics in their Seven Tenets. Following them may indeed make them better people and good neighbours; but their champion has feet of clay.

As non-subscribing Presbyterian Christians, our champion is Jesus of Nazareth. I realise that some forms of religion can be a sly way for people to feel superior to others (we’re the chosen, God’s elect; you’re a reprobate sinner).

But we have no magic formula;
no Seven Tenets;
no 39 Articles;
no Westminster Confession;
no Four Spiritual Laws;
no Five Points of Calvinism.
We reject the insistence many professing Christians have, of insisting on doctrinal correctness, and concentrating on the afterlife and avoiding hell above all else.

We seek to nurture a deep and living faith in the goodness, grace, forgiveness and unconditional love of God as embodied in the life, the teachings, the death and the vindication of our Elder Brother, Jesus the Christ.

Hail Satan? No thanks. Instead, my cry will be
Kyrie Elieson. Lord have mercy. Alleluia and Amen.

This article was first delivered as a sermon in First Presbyterian Church, Belfast by David Kerr the Sunday before Hallowe’en 2019.

Picture: Eliphas Levi’s image of Baphomet

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Co-Void 19 Thoughts From a Rural Location Part 1

countryside-2175353_640Earlier today (as I write) I finished reading Colin Wilson’s second postscript to his book: ‘The Outsider’. This work has been with me before, and now during, the current pandemic. I think Mr. Wilson was probably something of an ‘outsider’ too. This was his first book and, for a young man, propelled him into some unexpected fame, the like of which had probably not occurred since Lord Byron and his ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’. It seemed both men woke one morning to find themselves famous (to paraphrase Byron).

I have a few books ‘on the go’ as they say, but browsed my untidy bookshelves and picked out Isabel Colegate’s: ‘a pelican in the wilderness — hermits, solitaries, and recluses’— it seemed fitting (and no capitals in the actual title!). There’s a bookmark just over half-way in so it seems I’ve been here before — but I am either blessed (as in ‘peak experience’ blessed) or cursed by being able to read a book/listen to music or watch a film as if for the first time on each occasion.

The sun was shining (I’m in France so we get it here first) and the cat was lying down next to me fast asleep (plus ça change) and as I was reading the introduction, I felt the shadow of indolence pass over me. It wasn’t just indolence though. I was content. It felt like a partially drug-induced soporific state. As if I wasn’t quite in the real world. It could have been an experience where I shifted into another reality or received a visitation. But neither. Yet it was perplexing. Here I was — like so many of us — in forced lockdown with so much TIME on our hands. ‘Eternity in an hour’ — well not quite but with such autonomy (apart from geographic constriction) we could/can do anything. I have a whole pile of books ready to be read. I have songs ready to be recorded and I can compose, play, record (each part), mix and master songs from home. I can write to my heart’s content. And yet, back then, I simply slumped in my chair.

It’s like being in a sci-fi ‘B’ movie (forgive the Americanism) but not quite ‘The Walking Dead’. On the latter, I really enjoyed most of the series though I gave up at one point as it seemed to have morphed into something quite different. That original ‘something’ was the essence of the series that appealed so much — the existential angst; the amoral threat of the zombies. The zombies weren’t even important — it was simply this uncontrollable (well, near uncontrollable) threat. In fact, a threat that HAD to be controlled in some fashion. In this current sci-fi film, I find myself in it’s all rather perplexing. The threat of the virus seems very abstract and that’s probably because I live in a foreign and rural community. Shopping is becoming more and more surreal but not at the stage of the UK. So — how do I guard myself against something that is an abstraction? In shops, folk are gloved and masked and cashiers are goldfish like, wrapped in perspex or polythene (or something similar which I haven’t identified). I don’t wear gloves or a mask — I find that faintly absurd. Perhaps I shouldn’t — but in my ‘bit-part’ in this unfolding ‘movie’ or ‘mini-series’ that’s how it feels. I’d feel very odd clapping at my doorstep too — it just isn’t me. I have expressed my appreciation to friends who are nurses ‘on the front-line’, besides no clapping in rural France — yet. Maybe this is just my misanthropic side. I remember in 1997 when the UK went mad regarding the death of Diana. It was an odd feeling for me, I was bewildered and unsure why I wasn’t (or hadn’t) been caught up in the hysteria. How should I have felt then and how should I feel now?

For the moment (as I shall keep these thoughts fairly short) I too am an ‘outsider’. I look in. I’m at the wings of the stage. Who are the actors? Who’s in the audience? Well, back to me slumping in the chair in the calming rays of the sun — something eventually stirred me and I went off on a walk (I’ll share a link at the end of this of some words I wrote, photos I took and music played and composed of this particular walk I enjoy.) While walking, ideas came to me and one of the ideas was writing — well THIS. Walking, like any form of exercise, often needs to be prompted — it needs to become a habit and so it is with writing. Writing has its own muscle. I’m flexing it now. Tomorrow I might well slump in the chair again — but I have got my guitar out a few times now and firming up those fingertips (ouch!). I’m playing a lot of bass too but am currently unmotivated with other instruments or recording. (In fact, I have recorded music for a brace of poems and some drums for — just about – ‘on-going’ projects.) One step at a time, eh? So if you feel yourself nodding off and sliding down the cushions of your chair — make a mental note and give yourself a start! There’s much to do in these (for me and perhaps you) idle times — you can be busy doing nothing or can shake off the automaton-skeleton and come alive. Zombies come in all shapes and sizes so prepare yourself!
Tomorrow — I shall take out my chair and read. Maybe play some guitar too. You never know. I’ll try and go on my walk and let ideas flow, then share it with you.
(Here’s a link to my new writing channel – with the aforementioned ‘rural walk’: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCEw98UVm8HXamMj0NWsOgLg…

By Tim Bragg
Tim Bragg is the author (amongst many books) of Lyrics to Live By – Keys to Self-Help Notes for a Better Life available from Amazon
Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay.

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The Romantic Rocker – Some Thoughts on Phil Lynott

Thin_lizzy_22041980_01_400

Phil Lynott, Thin Lizzy, Chateau Neuf, Oslo, Norway

What made Phil an ‘outsider’? Well, was this rowdy rocker and party-goer, really an outsider? I think so. Of course, just the hue of his skin in Dublin at the time would have ‘marked him out’. A black Irishman in the 50s and 60s – there was a novelty. Either he had to live up to that difference or retreat from it – Phil, ostensibly, lived up to it. In fact, he had been born at West Bromich in the West Midlands of England close to where I grew up. But Phil was sent to Dublin to live with and be brought up by his grandmother and family. He pays tribute to her in one of his songs titled ‘Sarah’. He wrote another ‘Sarah’ for his first born.

Phil was ‘black’, living apart from his mother, with an estranged father. He was brought up in Catholic Ireland – so different at the time, say, from ‘Swinging London’ and more generally the ‘swinging sixties’ – the decade when he first began to play music. Phil was tall, very leggy and eventually grew an impressive ‘Afro’ hair cut. There was no mistaking him. But there was always a dichotomy about his nature. I met and talked with him a few times (I’m lucky to be able to say) even got to play drums along with him once! With his doleful eyes, lush Dublin brogue and gentle demeanour OFF-stage (I never witnessed his wild side) – this was contrasted with the posing rocker, ‘eye-for-a-lady’, ‘jack-the-lad’, ‘twinkle in the eye’ hard rocker ON stage. Thin Lizzy was a SUPERB live act. They made their reputation and career from their live performances. And they had (to quote a song and album title) a ‘bad reputation’.

There was though, more to this rocker than one would expect. Yes he could write heavy songs with swagger such as ‘The Rocker’: ‘I am your main man if you’re looking for trouble’ – but also some of the most beautiful ballads, such as ‘Still in Love With You’:

‘Think I’ll just fall to pieces
If I don’t find something else to do
This sadness it never ceases
I’m still in love with you.’

Or there were the songs of yearning, ‘Wild One’ being an example with its lines:

‘How can we carry on, now you are gone, my wild one.’

There were many songs imbued with Irish legend of myth and adventure and with more contemporary reference such as, ‘Freedom Song’:

‘I believe in the freedom song
Long live liberty
I believe in the freedom song
Doesn’t matter what you do to me.’

But there was also his religious/spiritual side. I’m writing these words now because the following lines often pop into my head, from the song ‘Dear Lord’:

‘Dear Lord, this is a prayer, just let me know if you’re really there
Dear Lord, come gain control, oh Lord, come save my soul
Give me dignity, restore my sanity, oh Lord, come rescue me
Dear Lord, my vanity, oh Lord, it’s killin’ me, it’s killin’ me.’

Phil had a sense of the Divine… a sense of the world beyond…I even think he had a sense of his impending mortality. This mix of rocker and romantic gave his songs a quality so often lacking from his contemporaries. Thin Lizzy’s songs had this mixture of Rock; Romance; Celtic History; Religion/Spirituality.

Phil was an outsider by nature not by choice. He was ‘Johnny’ the character popping up in many of his songs – he was ‘The Cowboy’, his childhood reflecting children’s awe then of the Wild West and he bringing these romantic adventures to life in the raw 1970s: ‘I am just a cowboy, lonesome on the trail…’

Well if you don’t know, Phil succumbed to the effects of drugs and their long-term use in the mid-80s. Perhaps that was always going to be his destiny. Never to grow old. Always remembered as the rocker, the gypsy with his dangling, hooped earring. His playfulness and talent. But it’s still a damn shame he’s gone. These words reflect just a slight insight into the man and his songs. If you don’t know him and Thin Lizzy check out their back catalogue. ‘Vagabonds of the Western World’ is a raw, solid, Irish, romantic flavoured album from the band as a three-piece; ‘Nightlife’ is a soulful peculiarity (and my favourite album); Jailbreak is the ‘Classic Line-up’ at its height, containing their most famous hit song, ‘The Boys are Back in Town’.

If you don’t know Thin Lizzy and you like your rock delivered with feeling and intensity and yet with some beautiful slow ballads and thought-provoking lyrics – you will be highly delighted when you do. If you already know them – you’ll understand everything I have written. Phil’s life was a romantic-tragedy – with all the paradox that those two words combining bring. I’ll leave you with this stanza from his song, ‘Spirit Slips Away’. Written when he and the band were on the cusp of real stardom.

And when the music that makes you blue
Unfolds its secrets, the mysteries are told to you
May the angels sing rejoice to you
That fateful day when your spirit slips away

By Tim Bragg.

Tim Bragg is the authour of ‘Lyrics to Live By‘, a book which looks at the life lessons in twelve song lyrics.

Picture: Phil Lynott, Thin Lizzy, Chateau Neuf, Oslo, Norway by Helge Øverås [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)]

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Review: Sixties counterculture: A lecture from Dr. Greg Scorzo at The Academy 21 July 2019

gregscorzo

Greg Scorzo

Greg Scorzo is the director and editor of Culture on the Offensive and host of the Art of Thinking. I attended his lecture at The Academy which contrasted the counterculture of the 60s with the Leftist culture of 2019. Greg’s central argument was that the 60s counterculture was predominantly individualistic whereas the 2019 Left stressed collective themes.

For Greg, the 60s counterculture was in favour of pluralistic free speech and not only opposed government censorship of ideas but sought to foster a cultural environment that nurtured the expression of radical, even ‘dangerous’ ideas. Alongside this sat the belief that this could be done in a peaceful way and that such free expression led away from a view that violence was the only way to gain a voice or achieve change. Fast forward to the present day and that concept is linked explicitly with the Right. The Left instead now champion a ‘call-out culture’ which seeks to restrict free expression with symbolic prohibitions. Bans on words, symbols and even certain types of creative writing (for example writing with a cast of characters who are not sufficiently diverse). Additionally, Religions have been reclassified in terms of ethnic culture rather than seen as ideologies. This places them off-limits for criticism on the basis of the values they promote or their political impact. The Left today would view such criticism as an attack on the ethnic culture these religions now represent.

Whereas the 60s counterculture valued non-conformity the Left today engineers social incentives for people to stay ‘on message’. In Greg’s view whereas pluralistic free expression led away from violence the suppression of ideas favoured today was likely to create the conditions for it.

Greg also highlighted how the 60s counterculture appealed to universalism. It sought to persuade those who held a different view and emphasised to them the fairness of equal treatment. He accepted that there were those within the 60s counterculture who favoured equality of outcome as an aim but argued that this was not the dominant ideology of the movement. The 2019 Left emphasises equality of outcome which essentially looks at dividing power between rival groups and holds individuals responsible for the group to which they belong. Rather than appealing to universal values, it is divisive.

How the Left in 2019 has moved from the positive ideas of freedom expressed in the counterculture of the 60s to the promotion of a bureaucratic conformism today is a question worthy of further study? How they square this with an emotional attachment to the earlier counterculture is also a puzzle. I left Greg’s lecture full of these and other questions.

By Pat Harrington

#theacademy

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Review: Tribal Criminal Law and Procedure

tribalcriminallawTribal Criminal Law and Procedure is the second book in a series of comprehensive studies of tribal law in the US. This book examines the complexities of tribal criminal law utilizing tribal statutory law, and case law, weaving into the narrative Native cultural values. The authors discuss histories and practices of tribal justice systems, comparing traditional tribal systems with Anglo-American law, with a focused discussion on the various aspects of jurisdiction. They examine the elements of criminal law and procedure and alternative sentencing vs traditional sanctions. A valuable resource for legal scholars, this book was published in cooperation with the Tribal Law and Policy institute at Turtle Mountain College and the Native Nations Law and Policy Center at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Comparing Tribal criminal law and American criminal law

Foundations of Traditional law is discussed in Chapter 2 discuss the differences in Native systems. Mainly, that these laws do not come from man, they come from the Creator and are belief-based. Understanding this is critical to understanding the complexities of Tribal law. Traditional Native law based on values, deities, and responsibilities, linked to spiritual beliefs. Belief that the Great Spirit is the Creator and protector, the source of earthly blessings. The Great Spirit is given thanks for all things including preservation of native lives, social privileges, and prosperity. There is also a belief in the Evil-minded who creates monsters and poisonous creatures and plants. Humans stand somewhere in-between and are free to control their own destiny.

The framework stemming from this system of beliefs responds to problem behavior and how the system is focused on personal responsibility rather than prohibited activities; which American law focuses on. Tribal law focuses on how social harm affects the community rather than the harm done to or by a single individual. For instance, the Haudenosaunee Great Law based on beliefs about the Creator defines that a person’s duties and responsibilities are more important than their individual rights and privileges. Indeed, the principles of the League of the Iroquois address a similar idea that a man’s rights and privileges never exceed his duties and responsibilities. (1)

Tribal conceptions of social harm are more broadly interpreted compared to the American legal system. An aspect of social harm within tribes rests on community-based rights or duties, while other tribes might focus more on the individual’s responsibilities. One reason for the focus on community is that traditional laws address the responsibility of each to their family, clan, and tribe, since the strength of these groups, depends on the survival of its members. Decisions come down to whether a community or the individual will respond to the problem.

Behaviors are addressed according to the customs and the beliefs of each Nation and this dictates which entity will perform enforcement functions. The Iroquois Confederacy used social or political entities to resolve wrongdoing; thus, crime was rare with their lives revolving around the clan. The council of clans addressed problem-solving; however, if this did not resolve the issue, it might go to the Nation’s council. Councils were not the only entity enforcing laws. Parents enforced laws regarding disciplining their children. Additionally, Keepers of the Faith could act as censors of the people and possessed the authority to report evil deeds.

The Menominee and other Algonquian developed formal three-party judicial proceedings to prosecute crimes. A mike-suk would act as investigator and prosecutor, while a pipe-holder or sukanahowao, or even a warrior chief might act as a defense attorney. Additionally, a go-between acted as a mediator to negotiate settlements.

Native cultures focus on rehabilitation and restoration of peace and harmony to both the individual and community. One method of restoration might be banishment to protect the community from harm or could include gifts from the individual’s family to restore peace. The main point here is the emphasis is on restoring harmony to the community and not on proving someone’s guilt or innocence.

Some tribes focus on healing the wrongdoer and the Ojibway is one of these. Their point of reference was if they could heal the individual, they could restore him and peace to the community. This way people can forgive the wrongdoing as their notions of blame differs to more Western thought.

The Cheyenne focus as well on restoration and rehabilitation. While banishing a person from the community might restore peace, the individual might be introduced back after rehabilitation. Stigma, used as an enforcement tool, as well as social control, since a community’s ridicule served as a strong deterrent to social harm.

An interesting element to this book is the author’s use of native anecdotes to show an example of how tribal law might have been decided. This book serves as not only a comparative analysis of the differences between Western legal practice and traditional Native applications of the law, but it also gives us more cultural insight into various tribal practices and historic parables used to show an example of thought and practice.

Using American criminal law to control Indian Nations

Conflicts over land and resources led the American legal system (and their Spanish, French and British predecessors) to use criminal law as a tool of destruction against Native peoples. Western criminal justice systems were used to not only outlaw cultural practice and tradition but to punish those who wished to continue practicing their Native spiritual beliefs. Federal officials attempted to control the Native people. Western legal systems imposed their values of punishment to outlaw tribal mechanisms used to address problem behavior within the Tribe. Additionally, Western criminal law was used by the Feds to confine native people to reservations, however, it did not protect them from harm and was rarely used to protect them from the criminal conduct of the settlers, this author states.

The American system of law worked as a method of indirect rule over Native nations, leading to massive distrust of modern criminal justice systems and even to distrust of their own tribal systems in some cases when funded by the Federal government. Culminating in the Office of Indian Affairs, which later became the Bureau of Indian Affairs; the OIA created Courts of Indian Offenses or CFR courts. (Courts of Federal Regulations) and it was this code of regulations that outlawed many cultural practices. At least twenty of these courts still exist today. The Courts of Indian Offenses imposed federal regulations to prohibit misdemeanour offenses, as well as cultural practices that they deemed immoral. The author cites a Congressional report which lists some of these types of offenses from 1892.

This author also references other texts detailing technology used by the OIA for controlling Indian behavior, such as Thomas Biolsi’s “Organizing the Lakota: The Political Economy of the New Deal on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations.” While this book reviews additional literature on the subject giving anyone with an interest in this topic more resources to investigate for further reading.

Ultimately, federal agents under the BIA wanted federal courts to have jurisdiction over Native people using American laws in criminal cases. A decision made by the US Supreme Court called Ex parte Crow Dog in an 1883 ruling resulted in tribal exclusive criminal jurisdiction over a murder case. This controversial decision brought about the BIA convincing Congress to enact the Major Crimes Act in 1885, which imposed federal criminal jurisdiction on Tribal nations without their consent. For further reading on the Crow Dog case, see Harring’s Crow Dog’s Case (2)

Traditional law today and Traditional criminal jurisdiction

Chapter 4 discusses how traditional tribal values and beliefs have been included in contemporary criminal law. Introducing coercive American law enforcement disrupted tribal governance. This resulted in the Tribes developing their own strong criminal justice system. The biggest challenge is how to incorporate traditional indigenous principles. Many are working to restore traditional practices in a modern context. The author gives many examples throughout this chapter, which makes for interesting reading.

Chapter 5 discusses various types of jurisdiction and goes into detail about different tribal criminal jurisdiction and specific criminal code used by Tribal courts. Chapter 6 discusses in detail traditional criminal jurisdiction.

  • Limitations on Tribal criminal jurisdiction imposed by the US
  • Exercising jurisdiction over crimes committed by non-Indians
  • Criminal jurisdiction as defined by Tribal Courts.
  • Tribal restorative justice

Each chapter contains a section on terms used and suggested further reading which I found very interesting and useful for anyone interested in studying the intricacies of Tribal Law. Jurisdiction is defined in the traditional sense before Europeans settled in America and is detailed with examples from various Tribal Laws. The Haudenosaunee Great Law is referenced as well as Osage practices by the leaders known as the Little Old

Men who developed their laws and decided jurisdiction. The Choctaw Nation developed a constitution in 1860 dividing its government into three branches. The Treaty of 1866 and the Treaty of Separation (1859) which further designated Choctaw law and jurisdiction over other tribes residing within including Chickasaws, Cherokees, Creeks, and Seminoles are discussed in detail. Many tribes had strict geographical boundaries, which they held jurisdiction over. So they did use and practice the concept of jurisdiction, which must have been problematic once the settlers and Federal government decided to impose their on jurisdictions both geographically and legally over the tribes.

Chapter 7 defines the limitation of tribal criminal jurisdiction as imposed by the United States, discussing ‘Indian Country’ as defined by Federal Law for the purposes of criminal jurisdiction; the General Crimes Act; the Major Crimes Act; Intrusion of State Jurisdiction in Indian Country: Public Law 280; upholding Tribal sovereignty with the United States v Wheeler435 US 313 (1978); Oliphant v Suquamish Indian Tribe et al 435 US 191 (1978); Duro v Reina 495 US 676 (1990) and the Congressional Duro-Fix.

Chapter 8 discusses jurisdiction over non-US citizens and Treaties as a basis for criminal authority, again using case examples, while Chapter 9 goes over jurisdictions as defined by tribal courts. Chapter 10 leads on from the two preceding chapters by detailing Tribal criminal jurisdiction reform citing The Tribal Law and Order Act and the Violence Against Women Act. Since 2006, the Federal law began to address criminal jurisdiction scheme in Indian country and the laws are changing slowly with tribal leaders pressing for inherent sovereignty. Chapter 11 builds on this topic discussing building collaborative bridges between States and Tribal courts. This only covers half of this comprehensive text, which spans 629 pages.

 

(1) Newell, W. B., 1965 Crime and Justice among the Iroquois Nations 47.

(2) Harring, S. L., 1994. Crow Dog’s Case: American Indian Sovereignty, Tribal Law, and United States Law in the Nineteenth Century. Cambridge University Press. 129 – 141.

 

Authors:

Author Sarah Deer is a lawyer and professor of law at William Mitchell College, and a 2014 MacArthur fellow. She advocates in Native American communities and has been credited for her instrumental role in the 2013 re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act and testified for the passage of the 2010 Tribal Law and Order Act. She received her BA and JD from the University of Kansas and is a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

Carrie E. Garrow is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Syracuse University College of Law. She is the Chief Appellate Judge for the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Court. Previously she served as the Executive Director for the Center for Indigenous Law, Governance & Citizenship at Syracuse University College of Law.

She received her undergrad degree from Dartmouth College and her law degree from Stanford Law School. She has a Master’s in Public Policy degree from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

She has worked as a deputy district attorney for Riverside County in Southern California, and a tribal justice consultant for several non-profit organizations, including the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, the Native Nations Institute, and the Tribal Law and Policy Institute.

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Free Will – Sam Harris (Free Press)

freewillbysamharrisThere’s a thought that strikes me in Sam Harris’ book Free Will that there is a kind of ‘fudge’ at the core of his argument. It’s as if he wants his ‘fudge cake’ and to get to eat it! Okay I’m going to demonstrate this, I trust, in this review – but this ‘fudge’ is my main problem with this otherwise very thought-provoking (and short) book.

Harris argues that we haven’t free will. Now, before going on, here’s a summary of where I am on this issue of ‘free will’. In the book he refers to an experiment I was aware of which seems to show the brain making decisions up to a full SEVEN seconds before the conscious mind appears to ‘decide’. That has had me thinking for some time and probably drew me to this book in the first place. I’ve also been looking at consciousness and am half-way through (probably not clever to admit that) Julian Jaynes book: The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind – It’s a fascinating work and has provoked much thought (thus far) on the nature of consciousness.

We certainly do much in our life that is ‘unconscious’. Imagine when we drive a car – most of our actions (once they are learnt) become ‘automatic’ and unconscious. If you were to consciously think about everything you were doing you would most likely crash. We learn one thing, then another – these two learnt actions then become ONE and then we can add another skill and these two can then become ONE etc. When playing the drums, for instance, the four limbs learn their parts in stages. And when playing a new rhythm everything can fall apart when you consciously think about what you are doing. Naturally in learning to drive a car or attempting a new drum rhythm, the amount of conscious effort begins at a greater level and then, gradually, becomes automatic. In certain conditions our conscious mind can be called on (by what/whom?) to ‘take the reins’. I have often gone out in my car and followed – say – a route to a workplace only to consciously realise that I’m not actually going to this place. My conscious mind takes over, manoeuvres the car and puts me back on track. And once I know where I’m going I can continue in an – at the very least – semi-conscious way.

There  is also the idea – I have read – whereby the brain takes in all the information from the various senses and collates them and then our consciousness presents this stimuli to us as if it were all happening ‘at the same time’ – as the speed of sound is slower than the speed of light etc. Because the brain has had to collect all the data then our conscious perception lags behind the ‘real present’. But what is doing this preparation and selection? How is it being done and where is the interface with our consciousness?

Harris introduces his thoughts on free will with a harrowing example of a brutal (and sexual) attack and murder of a family; only the patriarch surviving. This certainly concentrates the mind! (There is in fact a running motif  regarding crime and how we should deal with criminals.) Following on from this example he writes about popular conceptions of free will that:

Each of us could have behaved differently than we did in the past. And that: we are the conscious source of our thoughts and actions in the present.

He argues that free will is an illusion and that we do not have the freedom we think we have. That whatever we do is a state of mind we cannot (and could not) change – that it is the sum of many inherent factors. That thoughts and impulses APPEAR in our consciousness and do not originate in it. There is some compelling argument too – can we DECIDE our next mental state? How much control do we have over our thoughts? Do we create thoughts or are they presented to us? Try and think of your next thought!

Harris writes: ‘There is no question that (most if not all) mental events are the product of physical events.’ And were this NOT to be the case then: ‘The unconscious operations of a soul would grant you no more freedom than the unconscious physiology of your brain does.’ Reflecting on this then, perhaps to have total free will, we need to say we control ‘everything’ – every thought. And, I suppose, to be totally aware of that! And if we have no free will where is this seeming will (idea of free will) coming from – where does our consciousness come from? Some argue that as our brains, our neurophysilogical processes, are deciding things at SOME level, then we have free will – it’s just not what we think of as our conscious ‘real self’. In response Harris writes: ‘As we have begun to see, however, this feeling of freedom comes from our moment-to-moment ignorance of the prior causes of our thoughts and actions.’

Now later Harris writes, ‘Losing a belief in free will has not made me fatalistic – in fact, it has increased my feelings of freedom.’ Here’s where the fudge comes in, I think. ‘A creative change of inputs to the system – learning new skills, forming new relationships, adopting new habits of attention – may radically transform one’s life.’ But can we do that other than in a mechanical pre-determined way? ‘Getting behind our conscious thoughts and feelings can allow us to steer a more intelligent course through our lives (while knowing, of course, that we are ultimately being steered).’

Getting behind our conscious thoughts and feelings?

Recently I went for a walk with my son to a water-mill, now converted to a restaurant. Near-by there’s a weir and where part of the river has been channelled to the former-mill’s water wheels. It was a beautiful afternoon – butterflies flitting between plants settled and floating on the water’s surface; two châteaus close by keep silent watch. We were leaning on a small bridge when I noticed a large ant moving across the wood of the side of this bridge. I pointed to it and said, ‘Stop!’.  Now my conscious mind presented that ant to me, I pointed to it, and said ‘Stop!’ – which I think it didn’t! My son was watching me and we laughed about this. Now, evidently, this innocuous act seemed a conscious decision of my free will. Had it NOT been – then there are a number of things to discuss. Firstly: my son thought he was consciously reacting in the present and with free will (as did I). I deliberately pointed at the ant – that was operating in its own way in this world. I pointed to the ant at one particular point. For me to have decided that beforehand I would have needed to know that the ant would appear and that it would follow a certain path and arrive at a certain point that I could POINT at! Was that moment the sum of all three of our experiences of life? My son’s, to have unconsciously ‘decided’ all previous  moments to arrive at that point; mine the same AND the ant to have appeared and moved across the wood? At this point we could UNRAVEL every moment of our lives (including the ant’s) to track back down every event that brought us to where we were THEN. One pre-determined action following another!

Well, I guess that’s possible – a fait accompli if you will. We all WERE there and I certainly pointed and cried, ‘Stop!’. So in this ‘play out’ of unconscious direction EVERY consciousness is (must be!) part of the great PLAY we find ourselves in. Because if I am not aware I’m going to do something and I interact with someone else (who is also not aware) then we are part of some vast, intricate, script that unfolds, amnd is still unfolding, from the very beginning of time. We are here because of the actions of others.

Yet I could only point to the ant if the ant had been there – that was empirically so. I think Harris would say that no other person could have been in the place and with that mental state that I was in and that I would have been unable to be anywhere else or in any other state. Also – what is tricking our conscious minds to make us think we are doing things of our own volition? Where is the bridge between unintentional decision and apparent consciousness of that decision? When does ‘consciousness’ take over from the deeper decision?

Now the motif I described earlier that runs through this book is the idea of crime, punishment and guilt (or otherwise). We certainly look at crimes differently given our perception of the intentions of the criminals. And if someone has a brain tumour – say – we don’t regard their criminal actions in the same way as someone we believe acts with ‘free will’. And Harris continually argues that we cannot have had any other mental state but that which we had at the time and therefore we need to look at ‘guilt’ differently. He writes that criminals might have: ‘Some combination of bad genes, bad parents, bad environments, and bad ideas…’ Looking at this though – how can we introduce a moral definition (‘bad’) to these actions if what he says is true? There cannot be any ‘bad’ – only ‘what is’. Later he argues the idea that human behaviour can be modified by punishment and incentive…I am slightly confused. More cake? Or maybe it’s me!

In the chapter headed ‘Politics’ we get the ‘liberal’ idea that one must be ‘lucky to be able to work.‘ So it’s luck. I’ll get back to that idea. He writes, ‘Laziness, like diligence, is a neurological condition…’ Luck again? ‘But this does not mean we must be taken in by the illusion of free will. We need only acknowledge that efforts matter and that people can change.’ Well he says they can’t change any past actions…and how are they to change? ‘We do not change ourselves…but we continuously influence, and are influenced by, the world around us and the world within us.’

Okay – so ‘we’ are influenced by our internal world – but how can we escape that influence or use it through volition. I THINK he is arguing for a kind of change through osmosis. Such that, as we are a product of things we have no control over (including our supposed free will) then our past, set actions, history, biological influences can only be added to. He writes: ‘Am I free to change my mind? Of course not. It can only change me.’ Maybe that could be highlighted or achieved say, for example, by forcing folk to have a good iodine intake, especially those living far away from the sea. The intake would have a subtle influence on their well-being and maybe influence their unconscious actions? An outside force would have an impact on their internal world. But someone would have to decide to do that! And that – one presumes – is also decided for them.

It is the concept of ‘free will’ that gave rise to sin – he argues. And, in this, perhaps he is correct – for Adam and Eve were seemingly given ‘free will’ (and not at the same time!).  Their actions have affected all of us – if we believe so. But God would have known the outcome. If he gave them free will knowing they would act the way they did, and take the fruit from the tree – how free were they?

What if you are controlled by others? Your actions and thought directed by others? Would that be a form of double ‘non-free will’?

Are we Beings experiencing this world from the point of view of our consciousness – with no control…as if we are on a roller-coaster that could take us anywhere it desires? Hold on…sit back…tighten your seatbelt and enjoy the ride. Are we puppets of a Greater Being? Are we a strand of conscious experience that snakes back to a greater, composite experience? In fact – even without free will – are we living a spiritual life? Are we simply the observers of our life?

I’ll leave you with two quotes from the book, one in the body of the text and the other in the notes.

Harris: ‘The illusion of free will is itself an illusion.’

And in the notes, Schopenhaur’s: ‘Man can do what he will but he cannot will what he wills.’

And finally – we may/may not have free will, we may/may not be fully conscious – but the life we lead APPEARS as if we have free will and that is the ONLY way we can lead it. Be thankful for whatever life you have – it’s a one and only experience.

Thanks.

Reviewed by Tim Bragg

Tim Bragg is the author of the recently published Lyrics to Live By: Keys to Self-Help, Notes for a Better Life

 

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Lyrics to Live By Keys to self-help – notes for a better life

IT’S often said that the best ideas are the simplest. And this is certainly the case with the idea behind Lyrics to Live By. Indeed, I’d go as far as saying that the idea behind the book is so simple it’s absolutely brilliant.

So what’s the idea, what makes it so simple and why is it literally a stroke of pure genius?

The idea’s so simple because it relates to something that we probably do every time we hear a song – and that’s to sing along to it and wonder what some of the lyrics actually mean.

This basic query about the meaning of the lyrics can also generate many other questions. For instance, how did the song come about, how long did it take to write, what is the writing process and what’s the idea behind the song? Why use the particular set of lyrics that appear? How personal is the song – and does it contain any hidden or subliminal messages?

With this in mind, the publisher of Lyrics to Live By has asked Tim Bragg to interpret the lyrics of a dozen songs. Ten songs were provided by the publisher whilst Tim chose Paul Simon’s Slip Slidin’ Away and one of his own compositions, Some Answers.

LyricstoLiveByAdamazonuk

For those who don’t know, Tim Bragg is a multi-instrumentalist and a writer of songs, novels and short stories. Indeed, he has several albums and books to his name. He also has a deep interest in English and green politics and is the founder of English Green – https://www.facebook.com/groups/167522623276444/?ref=br_rs – which describes itself as ‘a group interested in ecology and its relationship with all aspects of human activity. How we co-exist with the flora and fauna and how we conduct ourselves in an ecologically healthy manner and how we achieve a spiritual and material well-being are of particular interest’.

Tim is also a really deep thinker – he describes himself as “the eternal outsider” and has been described as “a provocative intellectual renegade”. He is also interested in issues relating to free speech and English culture, previously describing Stratford-upon-Avon as his “spiritual home”.

In his Foreword, Bragg sets the scene by highlighting the importance of music:

‘But we are drawn to particular songs and musicians who seem to speak to us. They really do help guide us through life and come to our aid when most needed. At our lowest, a song can be played over and over, and this repetition seems to heal. When we are blue a blues song seems to do the trick. And the very personal nature of a song makes it effective for our own personal situation – bad/good or otherwise. I am thankful to the musicians who wrote songs that helped me through difficult times: the end of a love affair … for instance’.

I’m sure we’ve all wondered, why certain lyrics have the ability to strike a chord deep inside us. Indeed, every reader could probably suggest the lyrics of several songs which have really touched them – almost in a spiritual way. To me, it simply illustrates the beauty and power of song. However, has it always been like this – and will it be like this forever?

The lyrics Tim comments on are really varied – they include those from Hey Jude, Stairway to Heaven, Wicked Game and Big Yellow Taxi. The musical genres covered are also fairly broad. Writers include Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, John Lennon and Paul McCartney of the Beatles, David Bowie, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell.

I’m not going to give you any details of what he makes of any of the lyrics (and I know that this is extremely strange for a review!) as I want to encourage readers of Lyrics to Live by to really think for themselves. That’s because we live in a world where all sorts of information is readily accessible and Wikipedia is king. Such easy access to information is very much a double-edged sword. On the positive side it enables folks to learn about more-or-less anything under the sun. On the negative side, I fear that many folks are – or have – lost the ability to question information and think for themselves.

Earlier I mentioned that Tim is a very deep thinker, and this is certainly borne out in how he interprets the lyrics. I must admit that I’d often sing along to a song and spend a few minutes contemplating what the lyrics mean. But to actually sit down and to probably spend hours really analysing the lyrics is probably an art form in itself!

This is the first time I’ve read an examination of lyrics to such a high level. Indeed, Tim noted that the process was ‘almost as if meditating’. I really do think that most people will be in awe of (or even shocked at) the depth of thinking employed here. Whether you agree with Tim is open to debate. However, it would really be interesting to know what readers think of his in-depth interpretations.

Lyrics to Live by also poses many questions in itself. I’m not too sure if this was the original intention or simply a by-product of the subject matter?

For instance, I’d particularly like to know how and why the particular songs – and more importantly, the individual lyrics – were chosen by the publisher? I also wondered if there was any sort of thread linking the artists? I presume they must mean something to the publisher, but what? Are they in some way personal, or do they contain any hidden or subliminal messages? Indeed, does Tim’s interpretation of the lyrics match those of the publisher, or are they wildly different? Furthermore, I found it interesting that Tim looked at the lyrics of one of his own songs – I wonder if this was therapeutic in any way?

The Foreword mentions Tim’s admiration for Phil Lynott and Van Morrison, who ‘have certainly helped me through my life’s journey’. Yet neither of them feature in the book. This got me wondering what artists would any of us choose to analyse– and why?

A couple of other things also came to mind whilst reviewing the book:

Firstly, Tim Bragg is a multi-instrumentalist and is comfortable with different genres of music. With this in mind, I presume that a Heavy Metal singer would be more at home looking at the lyrics of a Heavy Metal song. The same would presumably go for a Folk musician with Folk lyrics. However, what would happen if you gave the Heavy Metal and Folk singer the lyrics to a Country and Western song? Would the change of genre completely throw them – or would they both apply the same thought process, successfully analyse the lyrics and manage to overcome the change in musical style?

Secondly, this review has thrown up many unique and interesting ideas and questions. They all lend themselves to a series of books looking at various lyrics and their meanings. I’d love to read the thoughts of other artists – and, in particular, independent artists – in the very near future. Here’s hoping that the first follow-up book is at the planning stage already.

Reviewed by John Field

Lyrics to Live By is available as a Paperback or E-book from all Amazon stores

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