Two Paths in the Wood: “Choice” of Life or War, Part 1

“Choice:” Poetic, Personal, and Political from guest author Dr. Anthony Marsella.*

The Road Not Taken . . .

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both. . . .  Somewhere ages and ages hence,
Two roads diverged in a wood,
And I . . . And I took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference. 

Robert Frost, Pulitzer Prize American Poet (1874-1963)

Literary critics have written much of this popular Robert Frost poem. All seem to agree that the essence of Frost’s poem is the importance of “choice” in the absence of an/y knowledge of possible consequences” — the making of an important decision without knowing the likelihood of the outcomes. This decision requires the willingness to make a “choice” based on personal confidence, trust, and, perhaps more than anything else, courage.

Critics suggest Frost understood in his poem there was no better path, but rather “choice” is our daily reality – “choice” is present in each and every moment, and “choice” is inherent in the nature of human life, and forms the basis for individual and social morality. Unlike other species relying on reflexive, inborn fixed-response patterns, human have the capacity for “choice,” albeit, in many, there is little conscious awareness of this special capacity. As life unfolds, the consequences of our “choices” reveal the wisdom (i.e., fulfillment, satisfaction, comfort), and/or regrets (i.e., remorse, penitence, guilt, trauma) of our life.

I chose Frost’s poem as a departure point for a “choice” all humans face at this time in our world; in my opinion, the “choice” is between endless war – endless killing and destruction — or the nurturing and sustaining of life. Here I could substitute the word “peace,” but I am uncertain at this point what peace means. People, societies, and nations use the word peace with impunity to benefit their own needs, rather than a source of mutuality — an enduring state and condition in which violence, destruction, and war are refused. Enough!

I am asking for a world free of strife, suffering, agony, and endless pain and grief. The mythical apocalyptic horses are exacting their legendary tolls, poverty, famine, disease, and war, amidst threats of extinction, disposable lives, and exhaustion of natural resources. We are living in the Anthropocene Era  (age) in which human behavior – shaped by choice, is the dominating force shaping our world’s survival. The two greatest capacities of humanity — consciousness and conscience – have yielded to to denial and avoidance in favor of reflex and impulse. Cui Bono?

 *Anthony J. Marsella, Ph.D., Emeritus Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Hawaii. Dr. Marsella’s essay was originally published by Transcend Media Service at . We will publish excerpts from it intermittently over the next few months.


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Occupy Not

Sharpshooter, with weapon trained, atop a SWAT vehicle, Ferguson, MO, August 13, 2014.
Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Author: Jamelle Bouie.

The Occupy Movement has been a courageous grassroots effort both in the US and around the world to resist the:

  • degradation of democracy,
  • destruction of human rights,
  • strengthening of oligarchies,
  • creeping infiltration of daily life by military industrial complexes powered by the international financial community, and
  • the disregard and exploitation of most of the world by the 1%.

Right on, Occupiers—including the Occupation Democracy group recently camped out in Trafalgar Square in London!

Occupying for democracy, peace, and justice, even in what are supposed to be the world’s leading democracies, has become a very risky business because of the other form of occupation taking place—military occupation, the insidious product of the militarization of the police.

The armed soldier—whoops, I mean the armed police officer—in today’s photo above was on duty in Feguson, MO, last August in a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) vehicle, increasingly used along with military-style weapons in operations considered high risk and beyond the capabilities of regular, uniformed police, who apparently cannot handle pro-democracy protesters, including college professors such as Cornell West.

“Hands up! Don’t shoot!” signs displayed at Ferguson protests, August 14, 2014.
Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Author: Jamelle Bouie.

A recent article in the Daily Kos tells us that since 2006,

police departments have acquired 435 armored vehicles, 533 planes, 93,763 machine guns, and 432 mine-resistant armored trucks- $4.3 billion worth of equipment.” Ask yourself both who is being threatened by all this weaponry and who profits from those purchases.

Kathie Malley-Morrison, Professor of Psychology

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Who knows why we fight? George knows.


Linguist George Lakoff lecturing on the relationship between words and politics. Flickr: Pop! Tech 2008. licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

In the early days of this blog, we published a series of posts on George Lakoff’s views on wars between values and nations; we revisit some of those posts today.

Lakoff is an activist cognitive psychologist/linguist who devotes great attention to the conflict in values between liberals and conservatives, and the ways in which the family values communicated to children can play themselves out in the readiness of adults to make love or war.

For example, in his book Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, Lakoff argues that while conservatives value a “strict father” morality (using punishment to establish respect for authority), liberals value a “nurturant family” morality emphasizing empathy and democratic forms of conflict resolution.

Lakoff also emphasizes the role of metaphor in the decisions people reach regarding political issues.  Many judgments are propelled by a “nation-as-person” or “nation-as-family” metaphor in which industrial nations are viewed as “mature” and knowledgeable while other nations are seen as “primitive,” “backward,” and needing to be taught a lesson.

In his book, The Political Mind, Lakoff explains that ideas with a strong emotional component (e.g., regarding the extent to which wars are considered necessary and winnable) are influenced not just by information but by how they are framed, the language in which they are embedded, and the effects of that language on the brain.

To learn more about Lakoff’s views on the ways in which family values connect with major political philosophies and behavior read this article and tell us what you think.




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