Attack on Syria (1:07)

“Real violence is almost always ended by stronger violence in saner hands”
– Ken Wilber

With the increasing confirmation of the use of chemical weapons on his own people by Syrian President Bashar Assad, it looks like President Obama will order US military strikes on the country (if he hasn’t already; this call was recorded on Tuesday, 8/27). The attack is meant as a punishment to Assad and a warning to back away from using unconventional weapons in the future.

If the leaked accounts are correct, the strike will be relatively light and short in duration. It is not designed to topple Assad, but will be directed at the Syrian military units that are responsible for carrying out the chemical attacks. The US operation will be followed by a period of time to assess the effect, Assad’s response and world opinion.

To me this sound like the best of the “no-good-options” scenario that Obama faces.

Whether or not the strike occurs, the situation offers us an interesting moral calculation: what’s so special about chemical weapons? Why is that the red line? After all, while 1300 people were killed in Assad’s chemical attack, over 100,000 people have been killed in this war by conventional weapons. Chemical weapons also kill civilians indiscriminately and have horrible long-term affects on survivors…but, then, so do conventional weapons.

I think what we’re seeing is the hypocrisy and inconsistency that usually attends human development. Certain acts, like genocide where the intent is to exterminate an entire population, and the use of any weapon of mass destruction (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear) are naturally seen as repugnant to the modern and post-modern sensibility. If we can’t totally justify this move on the moral line of development, I think we can justify it on the aesthetic line. Either way, the move is clear and historically significant: the global modern culture is now powerful and coherent enough to impose rules on conflicts conducted in premodern cultures.

And I’m sure as heck happy we didn’t elect John McCain.


Miley Cyrus and the Rise of Western Civilization — Special Guest Dr. Keith Witt (12:32)

Okay, say what you will about the  large-tongued Miley Cyrus’s talents as a singer and dancer. As a marketing executive, she is boffo. She has reinvented the mythical creature of the Sprite, an archetype of sparkly, mischievous and androgynous animal spirit. With her boys haircut yanked into two little pigtail horns, her teddy bear camisole and nude bikini she knew just how to make us look, if not listen, at the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday.

Miley is a long-time top Disney child star (she played Hannah Montana) and now, at twenty, is expressing a transgressive sexual persona. She is the latest female pop star to serve as a portal for adolescent girls to discover sexuality, like Madonna, Britney and Rihanna before her. As she transcends her good girl image she includes it, with a performance that attempted to integrate dancing teddy bears and … was that a microphone or a dildo?

The most controversial feature of her act, and the one which had her marketing team high-fiving each other over the media mania it generated, was when she was joined on stage by Robin Thicke, a 34 year old pop star with a monster summer hit of his own: Blurred Lines, a catchy little ode to the joys of heterosexual anal sex. Lyrics include:

Lemme be the one you back that ass up to…
I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two

And she did! Robin and Miley doggie sex was just a simulation of course, but it was impressive. He was either wearing a codpiece or he was very deeply engaging with the material. Apparently she was loving it too, if her tongue was any indication (on second thought it may have been pain).

Shocking, right?

Yes it was, and that’s the point. The last couple centuries, as traditionalism gave way to modernity and modernity to post-modernity, human development has been one long parade of each new generation shocking its elders. In 1932 Cole Porter wrote “in olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking, now heaven knows anything goes.”

I see a continued growth towards frankness and sexual expression as cultures mature. And actually, Miley Cyrus is the least of it. In the last 20 years we have seen a tsunami of porn enter into our culture that gives virtual access to any sex act in explicit detail, including simulated rape and bestiality, to anybody who knows how to work a computer, including children.

Talk about shocking. Yet this is where we are in our cultural evolution — which makes for a fascinating conversation with my special guest, Dr Keith Witt, integral psychotherapist extraordinaire!

Listen to an excerpt below. The full audio is premium content on