Sacred Stones of Mongolia

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As I Am, As We Are

As my latest “mission in Mongolia” winds down, I am as one facing an enormous conundrum: despite the airtight logic of my aims, despite the outstanding pedigrees of those who have offered intellectual assistance, despite my willingness to travel great distances, despite my cultural adaptability and unique grasp of geopolitical issues, despite my considerable connections carefully cultivated,  despite the enthusiastic assurances of those who have seemed to offer support, despite an altruistic vision developed out of deeply rational hopes and fears, despite much well-wishing and glad-handing, and despite my own tremendous optimism and hard work, no substantive support has been forthcoming.

My emails go unanswered. My follow-ups have come to naught. My friends (with few exceptions) and family have backed away from me as if any contact with me might bring on some unnamed existential disease. Perhaps I have failed to detect that the early pledges of support were merely polite. Perhaps I have underestimated the enormous gulf that inevitably yawns between pledges of support and cooperative action. Perhaps I have been naive. Perhaps it is true that a prophet feels the sting of scorn most keenly in his own country or among his own circle. Perhaps there are jealousies that my activities have activated.   I do not know. But as I struggle to retain and even augment my proactive spirit, I am beset and bemused by this sudden drying up of goodwill. Does this eerie phenomenon proceed from an aspect of my nature connected with my autism? Certainly, autistics are often perceived as almost monomaniacal, even disturbing in their pursuit of purist goals and “abstract” ambitions.  Many fear their almost otherworldly drivenness, seeing it as bizarre, eccentric. There are those who view us with a perfunctory suspicion and are eager to demonstrate a kind of dismissiveness toward our persons or our ideas, as they would “will us away” if they could. Indeed, a close friend has warned me that “people are going to be afraid of your project because of its size,” admonishing me to give it up and pursue smaller game. In the neurotypical world, “Don’t disturb people” is rule number one!  But for an autistic person, this priority seems illogical and counterproductive. Vision and clarity demand action. It would be unthinkable to put some unscientific murky nonsense ahead of an agenda I see as a clear imperative. I cannot change course any more than I can change my nature.
This clear imperative is irresistible.  International Law must be grounded in indigenous wisdom and achieve universal implementation. Human rights, international environmental law and the array of concerns associated with the concept of human security must be elevated to the status of a world religion or code of ethics.  My vision sees Mongolia as the logical and spiritual home for such a project. And to that end, I have presented legal seminars, traveled,  written, researched, consulted top legal experts and prayed (considerably). I pray to no Christian god, no Buddhist or Hindu deity, no enshrined spirit, no abstract dogma nor even to Mahatma Lenin.  I pray to what I feel animating the universe around me. It needed be named to become real. It is, to me, a self-evident being. This being has hardly delivered me fantastic results. But it has leavened my frustration and converts me to untried possibilities. Certainly, my experience with my Mongolian shaman has influenced me in continuing to believe, to struggle, to be patient,  to reach deeper. His strength has given me the extra set of wings perhaps to wait and learn. But, to me, Shamanism is not and religion.  It is a powerful form of attention that can retrieve success from failure and repair the broken heart. I believe in my Shaman and accept my fate.

Certainly,  I will continue my work. As I said, I cannot help myself. Whatever the reasons behind this lonely absence of fellow workers and the quixotic isolation I feel, I keep in mind and am grateful for the talents I have attracted and the ideas that I have developed well enough to guide my daily actions. I love my research.  I love the process I call the development of law. I love justice more than I love my own mind. Somehow, I know I must find a way to actualize this project. It is impossible to dislodge the notion that its realization is the answer to the world’s ills. I am strong enough to utterly disregard the mediocre tendency to make my aims more modest. I refuse to affect the cowardly shyness that might give me a common acceptibility. I cannot be other than I am. I decided to “come out of the closet” as an autistic because I actually believe that in so doing I am exchanging propriety for something much better: a burnished and uncommon metal that defies the corrosive effects of general practice. To be safe, to be tame, these have never served me. They have only prolonged the insufferable and diluted urgent necessity.  But urgent necessity mounts, as it will do, irrespective of our willingness to acknowledge an urgent reality.  The spread of fascism is real. The only antidote is general participation in upholding the rule of law. This law has evolved from time-tested sources and is elaborated in the UN Charter of 1948, the International Covenants of Human Rights, in the treaties and conventions of international environmental law and is attested to by the blood sacrifices and passionate toil of those laborers in the human rights movement who continue to give of their sacred life energy. The fulfillment of law will be real–as palpable as the heat of the sun and the tug of the moon on the tides. Shambhala will be accomplished. And the gratitude of our children will be our joyous reward. There is no higher purpose. There are no higher ideals.  And so my will is unshakeable. My readers will act. The means will materialize. The dawn will come. The mental disease of fascism will be eradicated and the rule of law will prevail. And then we will unlock the great treasures. . . .

Self-portrait

I was advising a good friend here in Ulaanbaatar who has finished a number of screenplays but has had difficulty getting them produced. He is one of those rare individuals whose lives are brimming over with amazing stories,  some of them spectacular.  My advice was simple. Perhaps he ought to write his memoirs in book form. It would read rather like a “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”/James Bond/Carlos Castaneda with an interesting touch of Samuel Beckett thrown in for good measure. I told him that perhaps if he first created a buzz around himself, interest in his screenplays might be stoked. He seemed genuinely appreciative and ready to begin excavating his remarkable life.

I then began to consider how I might take my own advice. Perhaps my life falls short in the area of daredevilry. Nonetheless, there are points of interest which I often choose to hide, fearing that certain details might impugn my “credibility”. But, looking around now at the obstacles that seem to surround me, I am forced to wonder that perhaps I have nothing to lose. As my 12 or so readers know, I am obsessed with developing international law here in Mongolia.  I have my reasons–very good ones, if I may say so. My colleagues seem to agree. And the few, small seminars I have produced have been successful,  informative, and supportive of my aims. While they haven’t been financially successful for me personally, they have nonetheless invigorated the warrior spirit in quite a few Mongolian lawyers who seek to fight for equity and progress in behalf of their truly great nation. These events have stirred hopes and exposed potential. I will continue to produce them. The next will consummate my dream of a law/culture fusion in the service of international environmental law in a way that will be quite unique. And my sense is that international attention will be both deserved and forthcoming. A law/culture fusion is essential to my overall vision: a) the global indigenous movement is already articulating its wisdom and passionate with a unified voice b) culture is a matter of existential importance to this global constituency c) the world cries out for coherence on matters of environmental concern d) a new legal culture is, in my view, important in order to engage the energies and imagination of the global population. Law and culture need one another. They spring from one another. And the environment is their common ground, their common concern and their greatest responsibility.  Mongolia is, at its core, an indigenous nation–one whose values emanate from a nomadic culture finely attuned to Mother Earth and Father Sky. There is no lighter footprint that that of the nomad! And the principles of social equity that pervade and inform the nomadic worldview are strikingly relevant to today’s global citizen. Inclusivity, cosmopolitanism, distributive equity, engagement, profound respect for the environment, for human security and the earth’s resources: these are what distinguish the Mongolian perspective. These are why I love the Mongolian nation and nourish hopes that this great country will soon lead the world–indigenous and non-indigenous alike–toward the evolutionary goals of progress and compassion. As the Central Asian Century dawns, Mongolia stands against the sunrise, proud and ready to lead. It is a nation born to lead and its cultural features are the living answers to the questions posed by a tortured world.

Yet,  despite my affiliation with the International Centre of the Roerichs, Karl von Habsburg, UNESCO,  the office of the Minister of Culture here in Mongolia,  Santa Clara University, Kookmin University in Seoul and the Japanese government,  I have been unable to form a ready bond with an appreciable number of like-minded individuals who might be able to propel this mission into high gear. Perhaps, I thought this morning, I have not shared enough of myself. Perhaps I have taken my own advice and made myself a memorable entity. Perhaps I have not played the public relations game well enough. Or at all.

I have to come clean here. I am autistic.  I was “diagnosed” with high-functioning autism in 2000. My fears in disclosing this are perhaps understandable but perhaps mere cowardice. In disclosing my “diagnosis” I fear losing credibility.  So often one sees references in the social media to autism that are intended as insulting, as impugning the source, as discrediting. As unfair and ignorant as these casual missives are, they still have managed to keep me fearful. Why? Remove my autism and what have you?  A once-upon-a-time theatre actor, a credible classical singer with a talent for German Lieder and member of the Russian Chamber Chorus of New York.  True, I come from a legal background. My father teaches law at Santa Clara University.  I grew up with the law.  And my closest colleagues in terms of developing my Mongolian project–Dr. Jiri Toman, Prof. Dinah Shelton and my mentor Prof. Yutaka Tajima–are part of my immediate family circle, as it were. But I myself hardly qualify as a legal luminary. My vision is my own. And my autism has granted me the ability to see patterns, to feel the future and to organize accordingly.

In late 2000, the call to law began to scratch at my subliminal backdoor. I began to feel restless, fearful. Certain things struck me as ominous: why was Gen. Colin Powell appearing out of uniform? I began to tell my friends and family that I felt a terror attack in the works, directed at the US. Those close to me looked at me askance, as though the stresses of being autistic and raising a son in Manhattan were perhaps too much for me. They acknowledged my fears politely, but seemed embarrassed for me. By mid-August, I was sleeping on the couch in my apartment in Brooklyn, with the news on 24 hours a day. I would waken clutching the couch as though it was a life raft. By late August,  I called my neurologist. I told her that I thought I needed to be on medication, that I was obsessed with world events, that I slept with the news on and that I feared a terrorist attack on the US. I to, d her that I thought I needed to be on medication.  She said, “Well the next appointment I have is on September 11th. Can you come in?” I told her that I could.

It is impossible to convey the shock I felt that morning as I prepared to leave for my appointment.  I was watching NY1, the local news source. As the second plane struck,  the announcer said, “This is almost unbeli– . . . ” then trailed off. The terrorist cause was now unmistakable.  I went to my appointment,  being careful to take the F train instead of my customary R train, which now ran directly under the towers. I made my appointment on time. When I went in to her office, I told my her, “Well, I guess I’m not crazy and I guess I don’t need any medication.” “That’s up to you,” she answered.  But now I did not want any medication. What ever it was in me that sensed this attack, I needed and wanted to be in touch with it. I didn’t want any medication to interfere.  I didn’t know exactly how I would use this freshly exposed dimension of my nature. But I decided to let Nature take her course.

Not long after that, my father began inviting me to join him on his trips overseas.  “Why don’t you come along and help me with the Tokyo program this summer?” he asked. I decided to go and help. I was curious as to where it would take me, this new interest in international relations and in international law specifically. I helped Dad administratively and then with research and writing. My first area of interest was Japanese-US relations.  Not long after that, I wrote a piece for a Fests Christ for my Godfather, Prof. Kim Moon Hwan, who was steeping down as president of Kookmin University.  I wrote about international  law, the need for it, the unrealized dream of it, and the global desire for it. I called my article “The Justice Vaccuum”, referring to the global lack of rule of law. This article,  which I wil, send to anyone interested,  laid the foundation for my work here in Ulaanbaatar.  The article is extremely amateurish and embarrassing,  otherwise I would reprint it here. But it nonetheless served its purpose and gained my father’s confidence to commenced our present course. I have never looked back.

If this story sounds outrageous, I can only say that some day my neurologist’s records will be made public. And given my very small readership, I suspect that I am most likely to be be believed. I encourage those of you who feel at a gut level the veracity of my story to look at my Twitter feed and follow my thoughts.  If I may be characteristically arrogant in the way many high-functioning autistic are, I venture to say that I am very seldom wrong and that, most importantly,  I need your support to develop international law here in Ulaanbaatar.  International Law needs a new capital. International Law is the answer to all human ills. Please join with me and help me consolidate a new era, an era of fruition. Shambhala! 

The Holy Land

The first night in the Gobi, we stepped outside the ger and looked up. The heavens were overloaded with stars, innumerable worlds. The edge of the Milky Way was staggering to behold. I, a city dweller, was dumbfounded. How can I live each day and not be able to behold the most significant visual marker that existence has provided me? Perhaps this might account for this chronic existential disorientation. At any rate, part of me remains there, almost as if a former incarnation has broken free of linear time and still stands outside that ger, gazing up in timeless admiration. How I long to see such magnificence daily and to live on the edge of the Gobi in a peaceful ger with my lively, curious and passionate fellow travelers! We went to trace the steps of Nicholas Roerich to some small degree, to investigate his points of interest. But we ultimately succumbed to the same reverie of energized clarity that had drawn him there. Our factual understanding of Roerich’s mission was eclipsed by the spiritual feast that nourishes all who visit the Gobi or else thrive there, moving with the seasons, year after year. So I can attest to the power of the place.

The next morning was bright, clear an warm. We five had breakfast facing the happy sun and shared our visions for the future. The discussion was by turns political, spiritual, congenial. I expressed a wish to make the Gobi the Holy Land of the new era, the hub of Shambhala.  The line from John Lennon’s “Imagine” persisted like a mantra in my head: “. . . and no religion, too.” Here we might shed ethnicities,  creeds and ideologies, even beliefs! For here was truly, in that morning, “nothing to kill or die for.” The new Holy Land. A holy land uninfected by ancient hatreds. A land that freely lends to the open mind a kind of rarefied vitality, a holy clarity uncluttered by the trinkets of dogma. We expressed the wish that on our next pilgrimage, we will bring others with us, many others! The dialogue, interactions and expressions of sharing would invoke universal blessings and bring all closer to life as it was meant to be. A vast consortium of active dreamers, committed to liberty and the uplifting of one another! It was impossible not to think these things.

But I suppose it was impossible not dream in such dimensions because of the reason that had brought us together: the consolidation of environmental law in accordance with indigenous wisdom after the model of the Roerich Pact. We came to Gobi seeking the necessary clarity to move this project forward. We came to consult the stars, to reach into our inner selves and to share our findings with one another. Nailya, Saruul, Sherap, Mogi and myself: five points of a little star, a little star of communion, shining within and without. Little wonder that, at Nailya’s behest, we adopted “We Shall Overcome” as our road anthem. This spiritual seemed to perfectly reconcile the elevated mood of our expedition with the darkness we intended to fight. The struggle remained, fiercely broiling beyond the seemingly infinite bounds of the Gobi. We were aware that the Gobi is not unlimited, that the challenges were not on hold. Nevertheless we drew upon the desert’s lustre for the brilliance we would all soon need to return to our cities, nations and colleagues and resume the good fight. The pilgrimage fortified our intentions and illuminated our aims. And the evolutionaries in each of us would burn more brightly and create more heat. Returning variously to New York, Moscow, Kazan, Ulaanbaatar and reaching out to our wider circles of colleagues and friends in Vienna, Berkeley,  St. Petersburg, Addis Ababa, Tokyo, Seoul, Geneva and elsewhere,  we would persist in affirming the power of culture and the universal values of harmony.

A new Holy Land: a holy land for all. Even for those who feel no present need. There is room for all, both in the physical Gobi and in our expanded hearts.

The True World Order

One hears much discourse, increasing of late, surrounding the emergence of a “New World Order”.  Skeptics tend to dismiss such talk as conspiracy theory. And yet, it is difficult to dig deeper and find not refutation but confirmation. Confronted with evidence, the sceptic rarely counters with evidence to the contrary, instead preferring to retreat to a customary state of apathy or complacency, most skeptics are not true skeptics. They merely adopt a skeptical stance to avoid: a) looking foolish, or  b) taking action. Most are simply cowards. The appalling abrogations of human rights norms and international law more broadly in Ukraine and Israel and the accompanying failure of the international community to respond certainly indicate a malevolent will to power that is both organized and utterly determined.  The scope of this fascist program is truly staggering. The average person capable of appreciating the impending stranglehold on life and liberty can do little more than express vague fears of “world government” and “world police”. 

It strikes me as interesting that one almost never expresses fear of “world law”.  (Except within the State Department and the White House.)  The average person senses that the aggregated power of the fascist project has nothing to do with law.  It is, in fact, antithetical to law, seeks to obviate justice at all costs in service to its own need to function completely outside it. International law is the antidote to this “New World Order”.  And so we see almost unbelievably outlandish attacks on the central and most sacred tenets of higher law. Human rights are the enemies of the fascist agenda. And one sees in American exceptionalism, Zionism and fascism more generally tremendous efforts being made to scrub international law from the collective consciousness. One sees echoes of this perverse trend in corporatism that seeks to undo labor standards and environmental protections. These also constitute deadly assaults on human security–as lethal and anarchic as the unbridled belligerence of the IDF, Blackwater or NATO. And it is difficult to see these disturbing manifestations as unrelated or uncoordinated.

And yet, it would be a mistake to abandon all hope. Indeed, it is the common fault of many who perceive the threatening dimensions of this “New World Order” to announce its accession as inevitable. It is as though the ability to predict such catastrophe gives one power over it.  This is folly and amounts to no more than the cowering resignation of the ersatz skeptic. I, for one, do not believe that this “New World Order” with its army and its “government” is inevitable at all.  I believe that the project is very likely to fail.  The three reasons I submit to support my optimism are: international law, social media and Vladimir Putin. The development of international law represents the fruition of human conscience and if such a thing cannot overpower the designs of a few it will  only be because the many have failed to organize behind the clearly articulated principles that derive from higher law.  I do not believe that the many will fail to organize.

The fascists project, as planned since before the first world war, could not not have foreseen the emergence of social media. If it had been able to anticipate this development, it would have changed its course or abandoned all hope. Social media will focus and direct the collective awareness to which international law has lent form and substance. This combination will overwhelm the garish violence that serves the fear-based fascist agenda. But the linchpin in this equation is the leadership of Vladimir Putin, who is the first world leader capable of upholding the principles of international law in the face of the threat posed by the US military and corporate power. Putin knows international law better than anyone. He understands that adherence to the established principles that safeguard the international public order is the winning position. This, combined with his faith that the world will ultimately join with him in upholding higher law and the tremendous deterrent of Russian might, will ultimately bring about the “True World Order” that will toss the fascist project onto the scrap heap of history.

What we are indeed facing in the “New World Order” can be likened to Nazism on steroids. But the weakness of steroidal strength is its heart. Its hatred for human society renders it weak, brittle and unfit for an enduring development. Putin is putting this premise to the test and he is bearing the brunt of the psychological burden of this existential exercise. His leadership demonstrates something remarkable: that the best interests of a powerful state are best served by adherence to universal principles of justice. The road ahead is thorny. If the US makes a grab for Crimea in an effort to provoke war, it will be very difficult for Putin to avoid confrontation. And yet, history has not produced someone more equal to the task than V.V. Putin.

Yet, the world is watching.  The world is informed to a degree that the framers of the fascist agenda could not have anticipated. And the economic and philosophical might of China is another factor unforeseen. Finally, the global 99% has at hand the most formidable lever of all: international law. With this lever, confusion is tamed and differences are perhaps not erased but they become workable. And the chorus of humankind can begin to produce the music of a new era as the principles of harmony are made broadly known and put into practice. International law and the strength and wisdom of Vladimir Putin are indeed godsends. And I cannot believe that we will miss the historic opportunity to defeat the psychopathic project that now torments human progress. The True World Order will prevail. But it will not be an easy fight. And for many, the fight must begin within: against apathy, defeatism, racism, personal exceptionalism. In this battle, everyone matters. We must take care not to demonize one another. We must invite the forces of darkness to submit. We must give them the opportunity to reform, to see the light. Truly, there is no virtue in being superior to our fellows. We must only be superior to our former selves. And we must each learn to love a little more each day. International law gives us the perspective and the breathing room to do this. So we must not hesitate to know of it, to celebrate it. My dream is that my country the US will correct its course of exceptionalism and adopt policies of collaboration. After all, as Churchill once said, “Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing–after they have tried every other alternative.”