What to Remember This Memorial Day

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Copyright: lightwise / 123RF Stock Photo

I remember when I learned as a young man that the Vietnam war was not something noble nor righteous.  That it really had little to nothing to do with any sort of benefit to the Vietnamese people.  That in effect, the primary beneficiaries were corporations who profited mightily from it.  Back in those days a less controlled media saw the demonstrations and anti-war sentiment as newsworthy as anything the government had to say.  Consequently, anti-war sentiment led to an end to the carnage.  The Pentagon Papers and learning the truth about the fabricated Gulf of Tonkin incident further confirmed the contrived nature of the war.

On this Memorial Day I hope many realize fighting a contrived war, killing and being killed in the service of lies, is not an effort to be desired.  Throughout history how many times have the common people, in many countries, around the world, not seen the lies?  Because the lies were well orchestrated and came from the people holding offices and titles we were taught to have trust in, to have faith in.  How easily we can be misled by those who control the offices and communications our nation relies upon to keep functioning.   Those who do not remember history are forced to repeat it.

We need to teach critical thinking and the civic duty that we all have to question those in positions of power, their motives, their assertions.  Those wishing to abuse us understand the advantages of obtaining offices of power from which to conduct their schemes.  That is not to say all who seek such offices wish to implement schemes which will abuse our trust, impair us in one way or another.  However, the reality is that many who seek such offices do have desires of such a nature.   That has been a peril facing humankind for all of recorded history.  Our time is no different.

A view on our past, present…and future(?).

Oliver and the fishIf you were young and watching television in the U.S. in the 1950’s and into the 1960’s, “westerns” were a staple of Saturday morning programming.  The Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy, and more.  In these shows it was not unusual to see a moral, rather than a legal problem, being resolved.  Sometimes the problem at hand involved extortion.  Somebody, through force or underhanded legal maneuvering,  got “the upper hand” on somebody else and was threatening their home, livelihood, and/or possibly their life itself.  Whatever the situation there was a clear right and wrong about what was going on.  Viewers knew it instinctively, viscerally.  Legality may or may not have entered the scenario and may not always have been on the side of “right”.

The children who watched these dramas were the generation that recognized the wrong in the Vietnam war and took to the streets.  After the war ended a new generation came on the scene, new TV shows, new movies showed up.  The messages were not at all the same.  But somehow, I would say proving it’s innate place in our lives, the desire for morality in our world has been increasingly showing itself.  Right now, even though rarely reported in the U.S., the “Yellow Vest” movement is sweeping a lot of the world.

Back to extortion.  Merriam-Webster online defines “extort” as:  “… to obtain from a person by force, intimidation, or undue or illegal power…”  As this definition clearly implies, the power, the process, used in extortion may or may not be “legal”.  And that whether the process in place is “legal” or not does not define whether or not extortion is taking place.

A lot of us have experienced extortion at some time in our lives.  Whether it was a sibling somehow extorting our dessert, a bully on the playground demanding lunch money, being robbed (yes, robbery is extortion), or possibly having “protection” money extorted, a lot of us have experienced extortion.  Incidentally, blackmail is just another form of extortion.

Most of the time I think we see extortion in terms of someone threatening to do something harmful to someone else unless that person gives them money not to.  Sometimes it’s phrased as a service, such as “I will protect your business and you give me money each week.”  The unspoken reality is that the “protection” the victim is buying is, in fact, from the seller.  It is the seller of the “protection” themself that will smash or burn the business if they aren’t paid.  That is what makes the difference between a “protection” racket and the tax money we pay to have police services in a community.

However, what about the cases in which someone is going to withhold something essential to another person’s life unless that person pays them an extremely large, inordinate, sum of money?  Is that extortion?  

One form of extortion I can remember from the old westerns was the case where someone dammed up a river or stream which ran through their property and withheld essential water from ranchers or farmers downstream.  Unless, of course, they “paid up”.  As I recall there wasn’t necessarily a law allowing or disallowing the action, it’s just that it was clearly wrong.  It involved bullying and cruelty and the audience instinctively and viscerally knew that.

Let’s say we’re on a road trip and we’re going through a desert and we need gasoline.  There is a gas station but the price of the gasoline is X times what the gas stations outside the desert are charging.   If it’s one and a half or even twice what the stations outside the desert charge, we may just pay it and feel glad the station was there.  One thing is that the delivery of the product to the station in the desert was possibly more expensive than to the other stations.  But what if it’s 300, 500, or 1,000 times as much as anywhere else?  What if we have to sign over our house to pay for the gasoline?  Isn’t that extortion?

There are at least two methods which jump to my mind that can be used to determine the price of any product.  The first I’ll call the barter or trade value system.  If there is a value system which has become internalized through repetition through the centuries, this is it.  A product or object had the value of it’s natural material worth combined with whatever time and craftsmanship went into turning the raw material into the finished product.  A piece of wood carved into a bear was worth more than just a piece of wood.  In the market place others could see the product, had some idea of the time and craftsmanship, and knew the reality of what went into whatever they had for trade.  Maybe a jar of pickles would bring a carved bear home.  Fair trade was honored and recognized around the world.

Of course scarcity of a product could also dramatically affect it’s value.  Along with the reality of how essential the produce is to sustaining life.  A quart of water from a rare well in the desert could undoubtedly fetch much more than the same quart of water at a lakeside in most places.  People understood this and generally accepted it.  Some undoubtedly tried to exploit this reality and attempted to manufacture a shortage, produce scarcity.  Such is the case with diamonds today.  People might fall for it initially, but over time the truth would become known and, historically anyway, the perpetrator could well face some harsh consequences.

Poisoning a well might be one method of making water from another well more valuable.  In the “old west” of the United States I think doing so may have resulted in the offender being hung if and when the truth became known.  Producing scarcity, poisoning a well in order to increase the market value of the water from another well, is one more form of extortion.

The other method of determining the value of a product is simply one in which a product’s value is whatever a seller can get a buyer to pay for it.  This means the more scarce, and/or essential, or simply desirable a product is the more valuable it is.  This reality exists even when there is a level playing field and “fair trade” is going on.  But today the reality is that fair trade has been replaced with marketplace manipulation.  Scarcity can be manufactured, and too often is.  Need can be manufactured.  A common example of this is providing salty snacks at a bar to sell more beer.   However, an even more common example, one that affects our lives and our planet much more seriously, is the auto manufacturers creating a need for oil products by only manufacturing vehicles which require them.  An accompanying aspect of a culture in which a higher complexity of technology and skills are required to produce the products needed to negotiate the cultural reality is that the opportunities for extortionate business practices are more plentiful.  Finally, desire for a product can be manipulated via marketing.

In summary, manipulating scarcity, inflating prices and thereby, in fact, utilizing extortion have increasingly become business strategies.

Today, someone who is producing a product and simply and fairly selling it in the marketplace may easily be bankrupted by organized industries that manipulate the scarcity of and artificially inflate the prices of their products.  And just as with the water from the well in the desert, if someone needs a certain product, such as extensive medicine and/or medical care, in order to save their life or the life of a loved one, too often they’re facing an extortionate reality which, on it’s own, too often threatens to destroy the very life the consumer is seeking to save.  While the scarcity of wells in the desert is not manipulated by human beings, and, interestingly it is my understanding that often (but not always) such wells were kept freely available to all, that is not the case with many products today.

Our current reality is that far too often, products are controlled to produce scarcity and dire need has become a lever for extortionists to exploit.    

But the discriminatory imbalance has roots far deeper than these aforementioned practices.  Technology and an increased understanding of how human beings function offer means of manipulating the general public that were unavailable, if not entirely unheard of, a century ago.  Today many methods of undermining the physical and intellectual functioning of a large population are both understood and at work in the U.S. and elsewhere.  This means that any chance at “fairness” in the marketplace and life a person might have is often under attack before that person is even born.

Too often we see people, young and old, who are demoralized, filled with hopelessness.  Increasingly widespread, this debilitating state of mind is often resulting from the following realities:

  • Malnutrition and chronic illness:   These go hand in hand.  When food high in fat, sugar/high fructose corn syrup and carbohydrates are readily available while it becomes harder to access natural, vitamin rich nutritious foods, both malnutrition and chronic illness are promoted.  There is a correlated diminishing of physical and mental functioning.  In this condition, hopelessness and demoralization have fertile ground.
  • A limited educational reality:  Simply attending a school in no way guarantees the availability of a quality education that prepares one to face the reality of the world around them.  The manipulation of information in textbooks (as well as media at large) often disseminates misinformation, self-defeating thought constructs and loyalties.  People are often taught to embrace a value system which ignores basic realities about human existence and leads to, again, self-defeating behaviors.
  • Poisoning:  The ongoing exposure to toxins in the air, water, food and medicines which impair either or both physical and mental health and functioning.  Small doses of bio-accumulating poisons any of which alone can be said to be insignificant and not a problem, when occurring repetitively become a significant impairment to the consumer ever having the opportunity of being a whole, healthy person.
  • Chronic stress:   Chronic trauma/stress (as well as severe enough acute trauma/stress) causes our brain to shut down.  Roughly from the frontal regions, back and down, over time leaving us reacting from the “reptilian” area of the brain:  fight or flight.  It’s hard to process complex, abstract concepts, take advantage of opportunities that require complex behaviors, when we’re stuck in survival mode.  Of course, being in a war zone inflicts both acute and, over time, chronic stress.  Most people are aware that military personnel who have been in a war zone often experience stress/trauma related problems when they return home.  However, it by no means requires being a war zone to experience sufficient stress/fear to have the same effects upon a person.  What is there to fear when we’re not in an active, military, war zone?  Mugging, rape, hunger, eviction, losing a job, not making enough money, disease, homelessness, shootings all these fears are seriously affecting many people; children, women and men, everyday in the U.S. and around the world.  The question is not why don’t these folks pick themselves up by their bootstraps.  The reality is more precisely that these folks are too shell-shocked (to use a WWII term) to even recognize that they have “bootstraps”.

All of these four items increase the probability of the need for medical care and therefore render the individual more susceptible to extortionate practices in the medical marketplace.  By design or default we have succeeded in producing a cultural environment which too often impairs both the physical and psychological ability of individuals to recognize, develop and/or access opportunity.  In fact, our culture is presently producing a caste system of “haves” and “have-nots”.  A system in which being born into one or the other caste carries with it advantages or obstacles which, by design or default, work to maintain the status quo.

Those who were fortunate enough to be relatively whole human beings when they became young adults, who were able to recognize and utilize opportunities that existed to them at that time, who went on to have jobs that pay a living wage (or that when combined for a couple pay a living wage) often still find themselves trapped by debt.  Living in a world in which costs rise much faster than wages.  Many are working to pay the bills on a month to month basis.  Again, we find people experiencing the effects of the relentless erosion of stress upon their being.

So here we are.

It can be hard, maybe impossible, for those who were born after 1980 to fully grasp the concept that life wasn’t always like this in the U.S.  There used to be more jobs that paid a living wage.  The ruthless, extortionate thinking that pervades the housing, health insurance and medical related industries wasn’t always there.  Really.  There used to be a very prevalent realization that WE are in this together.  How many people who were born in the early 1950’s really kind of thought that “U.S.” meant “us”.  Maybe the attitude of solidarity was to some greater or lesser extent an artifact of the mindset which supported the Allied effort during WWII?  I tend to think so.

It’s not that the culture in the U.S. was perfect at that time.  There were problems, some serious ones:  racism, economic disparity.  But the attitude was different, it was “yes we can”.  The primary focus was on solving the problems to have a whole, prosperous nation.  There was a widely held, underlying assumption that everyone should have a truly honest opportunity to obtain a living wage, live “the good life”.

Then something happened.

Looking back, I think it was when the momentum toward greater peace and pervasive prosperity, more focus on building and less on destruction, became the target of assassination along with John F. Kennedy.  A cabal seeking inordinate power and wealth carried out a coup d’etat right here in the U.S. of A.  It was so unthinkable that, well, few people seemed to think it.  The “lone gunman” explanation was much more palatable.

Simultaneously, the evening news, again right here in the U.S., began, or increased, it’s role of indoctrinating a nation with the propaganda designed to promote the agenda of the new ruling cabal.  I think the felt realization of the profound loss that had taken place is the reason why so many around the world wept when J.F.K. was shot down.  And a fervent hope that the dream might not die with the man is why his picture continued to hang in so many homes around the world.  It is also why the effort to uncover the truth of that day persists even now.

But while John Kennedy died, the dream did not.  The dream wasn’t born with J.F.K. and it didn’t die with him.  He was a torchbearer of the flame for a brief while.  And he wasn’t the only one.  Martin Luther King, Jr. also carried the flame and also was shot down.  And there have been and are, other torch bearers.  The dream goes on.  The dream has existed for centuries, millenia.  Quite possibly it has been around longer than life on this planet.

What is the dream?  A culture which nurtures and brings out the best in those blessed to be a part of it.  A culture in which the abilities of thought and invention are given to realizing goals and dreams birthed in and organized by love and caring.  A culture which embraces inclusivity and recognizes the inter-relatedness of all.  A culture no longer occupied with manufacturing scarcity and which no longer engages in war and destruction organized around exclusivity, greed, hate, and fear.

I know there are those who consider this dream foolish, unrealistic.  Just as there were those who thought the dreams that man might one day build machines to fly through the air and dive to the depths of the oceans were foolish and unrealistic.

Think of it: even the ideas that the Earth is round, or that the Earth revolves around the sun were at one time considered foolish and unrealistic.

When we realize the strength that comes with our unity, when we finally make the decision to genuinely care for ourselves, we can achieve beauty and wonders for ourselves, our loved ones, our human family that exceed all but our most far-reaching imagination.

And maybe even exceeding that.

 

 

 

Our Developing World

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(c) AlexMax http://www.fotosearch.com

There are three descriptive terms, or “mottoes” one of which can usually be assigned to describe the nature of various peoples’ mindset.  They are:

“It’s all about me!”

“You and me against the world.”

“One for all and all for one.”

We all know people who fit into one of the first two mindsets.  Increasingly we can find people in the world who are coming from the third mindset.  Anyone who has raised children can see that these mottoes also generally describe stages of child development.  In keeping with the axiom “As above, so below.  As below, so above.”,  we can also apply these developmental stages to cultures/societies.

These three stages of development reflect the degree to which an individual has opened themselves to embracing the world around them.   While it is easy to think or say that embracing more is better, and I believe being able to embrace more truly is better, we all can only open at our own pace.  We’re complex.  There are other issues involved, safety being one that jumps to mind.

People operating from all three stages are in the world at any given time.  There is no credit or guilt inherent with a person’s occupying any of the stages.  However, there are consequences, ripples in the water, from all our thoughts and actions and the degree of exclusivity or inclusivity of our mindset is no different.

What are some further characteristics of those who are coming from one of these three mindsets?

  1. “It’s all about me.”:  Very young children often live in this mindset.  Most adults mature beyond it, however, not all.  What prevents or hinders a person’s development resulting in them being stuck in this level of development?  I’m not sure I can answer that question.  I’m sure there are lots of theories as to why that may happen.  And I’m confident there is truth to be found in some or all of the theories.  I would like to add that I think we cannot rule out past-life experiences as possibly playing a part in why some may be stuck.  People coming from this mindset might seek to create a cult of personality around themselves.
  2. “You and me against the world.”:  This is the level of development that much of the world is currently operating from.  Corporations, nationalism, racism, many religions, exclusive clubs, secret societies, come from this mindset.  Sports teams adopt this mindset for the period of time they are involved in a sporting event, but that does not necessarily mean the individual players generally live from this mindset.  Political parties generally come from this mindset.
  3. “One for all and all for one.”:  It is harder to come up with related characteristics with this category, is that because there are fewer people coming from it?  I don’t know.  Offhand some might say communists or socialist come from this mindset.  From how we’ve seen nominally communist or socialist societies play out in the world, those titles do not necessarily indicate genuine “One for all, all for one.” thinking.  Often factions within the countries take over with more of a “You and me against the world.” mentality.  And even if we think in terms of one for all and all for one, this doesn’t mean we want to give up owning our own home, car, business or giving up the idea of any private property.  No, interestingly, it is hard to find any groups or organizations which jump to mind as representing the “One for all and all for one.” mindset.  Is this because exclusivity is so common with groups and organizations?  I think there are some parameters of how we regulate our behavior in regard to acquisition which would naturally come into place in a genuine “One for all and all for one.” society.  And we need to keep in mind “One for all and all for one.”  has to do with the work as well as the rewards.  While not being able to name a group or organization which represents this mindset, I know this mindset exists in the world.  And I think we need a lot more of it for the world to ever leave war behind and achieve genuine harmony.

Ultimately it all comes down to individuals.   And individuals all develop in their own time.

So, what is socialism?

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(c) AlexMax http://www.fotosearch.com

If you were alive during the cold war the words “communism” or “socialism” can easily bring back memories of the stories we heard of the bleak life behind the Iron Curtain.  I think the words “democratic socialism” which we hear on the political scene quite a lot today calls up those memories for a lot of people.  Memories of stories of a system where you lived where the State told you to, worked where the State told you to, and the State took and doled out all the goods.  During those days we heard the stories of the want, the poverty of both material goods and of spirit that was life as we heard about it within communist countries.  But the democratic socialism being talked about today is not your father’s socialism.  This picture sums up what we in the U.S. heard about socialism behind the Iron Curtain:

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(c) konstant http://www.fotosearch.com

Does that look appealing to anyone?  How could it?

In spite of all the efforts to equate democratic socialism as practiced in Scandinavia and as advocated by Bernie Sanders with the bleak conditions of life in the Iron Curtain countries, that comparison just isn’t reality.  But the detractors from the messages from democratic socialists today don’t seem to be able to grasp the differences.  Often the issue seems to be haggling over the word “socialism”.  It would be great if a different word had been pulled up when ideas about universal (tax-payer funded) healthcare, state funded (tax-payer funded) higher education and other current “democratic socialist” ideas began being espoused.  But, as the ideas have to do with the well-being of our society, socialism seems a pretty descriptive term, even if the new socialism has only a distant relationship with socialism ala Marx/Lenin.

If someone has visited Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, (I don’t mention Norway because I haven’t yet visited Norway) and paid attention to how things are working, the term democratic socialism doesn’t take a lot of explanation.  It has nothing to do with soviet Russia or communist China.  It has everything to do with a healthy population, living in healthy communities.  It’s not about the State owning everything, millions in poverty, having massive parades of tanks and missiles and turning in your neighbor for stealing bread.  Come to think of it, substitute “predatory capitalists” for “the State” and that pretty much resembles what’s happening in the U.S., not Scandinavia.  

What today’s Scandinavian democratic socialism is about is the majority of people who are engaging in capitalist, private enterprise businesses, along with the workers in all the various industries, agreeing that there should be certain guarantees to protect the material well-being of all the citizens.  This isn’t “warm and fuzzy” thinking.  People in Scandinavia, from what I’ve seen, are expected to work to support themselves and all contribute, via taxation, to the social benefits:  universal healthcare, publicly funded higher education, public sports and music opportunities, pretty pervasive public transportation, and of course fire and police services to name a few.  Along with that there are the unemployment and welfare benefits for those that need them.  “Need” being the operative word.  From what I’ve seen, simply thinking “I don’t want to work, take care of me.”, doesn’t qualify as need.

Democratic socialism, as practiced in Scandinavia, does mean people in towns and cities actually experience a substantial return for their tax dollars.  What a novel idea.  They don’t let their government spend it all on bonuses, extravagant salaries and retirements, extravagant “defense”, covert agendas, and other government contracts and cronyism.

What I’ve personally seen democratic socialism deprive people of are:  bankruptcies from medical expenses, wasted talent because one can’t afford higher education, being trapped in a job because the one you really want doesn’t offer medical benefits, seeing people sleeping on the street and in doorways (for the most part, since becoming part of the E.U. the new immigration policies have resulted in seeing people hanging out in doorways, more on this below). It seems that thinking in terms of having a healthy society (along with having a healthy personal life and bank account) shows itself in other ways also:  people being more conscientious about not littering, people respecting each other on the street to name a couple.  Little things?  Not when they don’t exist within a culture.

The other thing the E.U. has brought to these countries are immigrants and refugees.  Immigrants and refugees these individual countries may not have admitted before.  Of course the immigrants and refugees are often coming from countries despoiled by western corporations and, too often, that state of being is seen reflected even after they have emigrated.  So…what can we learn from this?  On a more recent trip to Helsinki I was saddened to see some people sleeping in doorways and much more litter in the street than I had ever seen before.  Also people peddling things (legally/illegally?) on the streets.  I was saddened by this.

However, western style cutthroat capitalism is insidiously finding it’s way into these countries, it seems especially since the formation of the E.U.  Businesses are starting to “offshore” production, the idea of wanting to be a exorbitantly wealthy, as opposed to just having a really nice lifestyle, seems to be creeping in.  “It’s all about me” thinking seems to be finding a foothold.

The insidious infection of “me, me, me, it’s all about me” being pushed by many in the movies, TV shows, music, magazines, even by sports celebrities, is a particular challenge to democratic socialism in Scandinavia today.  Are Scandinavians immune from contagious narcissism and greed?

As mentioned above, democratic socialism as being touted today is not your father’s socialism.  There needs to be a new definition in the dictionary, and, in fact, that change is in process.  I found this in Merriam-Webster online:

“In the many years since socialism entered English around 1830, it has acquired several different meanings. It refers to a system of social organization in which private property and the distribution of income are subject to social control, but the conception of that control has varied, and the term has been interpreted in widely diverging ways, ranging from statist to libertarian, from Marxist to liberal. In the modern era, “pure” socialism has been seen only rarely and usually briefly in a few Communist regimes. Far more common are systems of social democracy, now often referred to as democratic socialism, in which extensive state regulation, with limited state ownership, has been employed by democratically elected governments (as in Sweden and Denmark) in the belief that it produces a fair distribution of income without impairing economic growth.”

Of course even “extensive state regulation” is going to send some dyed-in-the-wool individualists into a spin.  And, truth be told, “extensive state regulation” and “oppression” are cousins which are known to sometimes travel together.

 This brings us to the inescapable reality that no matter what social/economic system a people employ in their attempt at creating and maintaining a civilization, ultimately whether or not that civilization succeeds or fails depends upon the wisdom and the intent of the people themselves.

Which, while wisdom, intent, and knowledge are not necessarily the same thing, it is still a pretty good argument for publicly funded higher education.  Because, the more we learn about how things function here on this Earth, the more it is becoming apparent that our fates our interrelated.  We ignore the well-being of our fellow humanity and our environment at our own peril.

 

 

The relationship between freedom, tyranny and oppression.

All tyranny arises (2)We in the U.S., and elsewhere, hear and read a lot about “freedom”.  It seems everyone wants it, some want all they can get of it, the more the better.  It sounds alright at first blush, right?  What can possibly be wrong with lots of freedom?  And let’s throw liberty in there as well.

Actually, a lot can be wrong with too much freedom.  Perhaps it’s better to state that a lot can go wrong with too much freedom.  When I want the freedom to choose my own vocation, to pursue higher education, to access medical care, to travel where and when I want and am able to, to open my own business, live where I choose and am able to, to read what I want and to express my viewpoints freely, to marry or not marry, to choose my spouse, these freedoms are some of the more obvious ones most, if not all, of us want.  Maybe these are the freedoms that come to mind when we see or hear the word “freedom”.

But, unfortunately, this isn’t the case with everyone.

Some see freedom from a different perspective.  They interpret freedom as the freedom to engage in what are essentially predatory business practices.  The freedom to pollute the environment.  The freedom to misrepresent products and services.  The freedom to oppress others.  As absurd as it may seem to many of us, some interpret their freedom as the freedom to engage in tyranny; allowing them to take away freedoms from others.  Of course there is a difference between “freedom” and “power”.  Some would say that tyrants are exercising power, not freedom, when they oppress others.  Actually it’s some of both, but true, it’s mostly power.

However, at some point in their rise to power as a tyrant, that person was most likely doing so exercising the freedoms the people who were to become their victims, gave to them.  Freedoms like freedom of speech, the freedom to assemble, the freedom to acquire armament, and if not involved in it themselves, most tyrants seem to make alliances with those busily exercising their freedom to engage in predatory business practices.

Interestingly, some of the freedoms tyrants customarily take away from others are the very ones that allowed them to come to power.  They include:  freedom of speech, movement, assembly, to own armament, and various freedoms associated with financial/business dealings.  And we can be sure tyrants give little or no freedom for the public to view government meetings.  It seems freedom is great until a sociopath or psychopath discovers a way to exploit it.

So what’s the answer?  None of us want to give up our basic freedoms, at least no one I know.  

But neither do we want to keep “bumping into doors” like children playing hide and seek with blindfolds on…do we?

Somehow, there is a reality in which freedom is tempered with responsibility, compassion, and wisdom that is the answer.  Perhaps part of the key is to be found in the Buddhist “Middle Way”?  In the reality that within moderation we find a path to community harmony?

When we see our economic resources being drained from our lives and our communities; when we see our air, water and earth becoming polluted; when we see essential goods and services being priced out of reach of the average person; I feel safe in saying that we can be assured we have allowed somebody to take criminal advantage of the freedoms we desired for them.  

(Add. 11/9/2018)  We need leaders, of industry and of government, who have genuine humility and who recognize that all the benefits and blessings of civilization and progress that we enjoy are the result of the work of millions throughout many centuries.  That all these millions had and have dreams and hopes for a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, for their descendants.  To ignore and negate these hopes and dreams is to ignore and negate the foundation upon which all progress has relied.

 

Mastery vs Domination

To be or not to be...We’ve all been exposed to the films, books, and for some possibly the first-hand experience, in which a slave refers to their owner as “Master”.  How did that terminology, in that context, ever come about?  If looking at definitions in various dictionaries online, it seems to make a great deal of difference whether we’re using the word as a noun, adjective or verb.

As a noun, “Master” seems to most commonly mean someone, or something, in charge.  Again there is the illustration of a slave owner, or the head of a household.  Or it could mean a part, or aspect, of a mechanical or electrical system which is somehow central, upon which the functioning of the other parts or aspects of the system depend.  Such as a “master” switch.

In these usages, as a noun, it seems there is consistently the principle of dependence involved. The Master is something or someone needed so everything or everybody else can function.  However, is the reality between a mechanical and an organic system really that similar?  Does the same level of dependency between a master and a slave component within a mechanical or electronic system really ever exist between human beings?  Has it ever?

Within a machine or device, if the “master” component is not functioning properly, the other components of the machine or device which are “slave” to that component are useless, in every sense of the word.  They have no capacity for independent action.  Their entire reason for existing is negated.

Is that ever the case when it’s human beings involved rather than mechanical components?  I suppose one might argue that relative to a certain specific situation, say a factory which produces a sophisticated electronic product, all the production workers in the factory are dependent upon the person who designed the product in the first place.  It definitely may be said (changing usage of the word “master” momentarily to a verb) that the designer has mastered some skill or area of knowledge and is therefore (changing to an adjective) a “master” of some skill.  But if that factory closes down, are the production workers going to be totally rendered useless?  Totally impotent and meaningless from that point forward as machine components would be?  Are human beings ever so totally, immutably, dependent upon a role as a component in a system that, should that role cease to exist, their entire meaning, their ability to function in any respect, is lost?  While some people may have felt that way at some time or another, ultimately, the answer is a resounding “NO”.  Human beings and mechanical components are not inherently the same in this regard.

But a particular human being may be so conditioned, so deceived by the circumstances of their life, of their environment, that they believe this level of dependency to be the truth of their life.  And while a profound physiologic disability of some kind may indeed render an individual totally dependent upon another for their physical survival, in general, for the vast majority of human beings, this is not at all inherently the case.  If a person does hold a belief in such a level of dependency upon another, it is the result of that person having somehow been presented with and having accepted an illusion, a lie, as the reality of their life.

For unlike mechanical components, human beings are inherently capable of independently adjusting, adapting, to new, different, circumstances.  It takes work, it can be difficult (or not) depending upon many internal and external variables, but the ability to attain this level of mastery over one’s own life is totally within the scope of human existence.  In fact, I would say that ultimately this level of mastery over our own life is an inherent aspect of our destiny as sentient beings.

Further, I would say that nobody can ever truly, completely gain mastery over the life of another.  For one thing, we have too much to do with the inherent task we face of mastering our own life.  Any time we spend trying to become master over the life of another is time spent in futility.  Or worse, possibly time spent counter-productively within our own developmental imperative?

So, while we may be able, at some time or another, for a finite amount of time, be able to dominate certain aspects of the lives of one or more people; we cannot ever truly become the master over the life of another human being.  Further, to attempt to dominate over the lives of others, for anything other than a benevolent purpose relative to a task with specific time and place parameters, such as a surgeon dominating the activities taking place within an operating room, is to enter into a relationship with that person or persons which will ultimately result in ill-fitting contortions of life for all concerned.

Yet all this is not to say that we cannot, through truly understanding ourselves, gain understanding, insight, into the lives of others.  We can, and by doing so we can and do become more valuable as a friend, a partner, a parent.  We are more able to relate to others and to interact with others, with those we love, in activities which are mutually enjoyable and to mutual developmental benefit.

Ultimately, we are social beings.  Independent social beings, each with our own free will and our own developmental imperative.  However, we all need life-sustaining, meaningful interactions with one another.  In fact, we need to learn to live and work cooperatively, to support and be an asset to one another.  Is that a paradox?  Not at all, what it is, is, simply, the inherent, wonderful, nature of our lives.

When we truly realize this truth about the inherent nature of our lives, when we leave behind the ego trips, the grandiose, narcissistic and/or megalomaniacal schemes to dominate the lives of others, then we can truly engage in discovering, and mastering, the unlimited wonders, the amazing potential available to us, which are inherent within each and every one of us! 

To Steal or Not To Steal?

AvariceThroughout most, if not all, of recorded history, humankind has been faced with the challenge of one person or group wanting what another person or group has.  It’s nothing new.  Religions/spiritual traditions have been recognizing this reality for as long as we have records of their teachings.

Within both the Torah and the Bible, two of the Ten Commandments address this issue.  Commandment 8 states (in modern American terminology): “You shall not steal”.  This Commandment definitely implies someone wanting what someone else has.  However, Commandment 10 gets straight to the point:  “You shall not covet.”

The Koran, from what I can learn, states things a little differently.  Essentially a Muslim may not steal from another Muslim.  Some pretty harsh penalties are prescribed if that crime occurs.  However, again from what I have been able to find, according to the Koran, the property rights of non-believers, non-Muslims, are at the discretion of their Muslim rulers.  This presumes situations in which Muslims control the lives of non-believers.  More on this later.

In Buddhism, at least one translation of the Second Precept reads:  “I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking what is not given.”    Although this Precept does not seem to be always translated exactly in that manner, the rule of not stealing seems pretty clear in the Buddhist tradition.

Hinduism takes a much more relativistic view on stealing:  “Stealing is not always a bad thing to do and Hindu scriptures allow it under certain circumstances. For example, if one is starving and has not had food for 3 days in a row, and yet no one is willing to give food in a charity, then the hungry person may steal food from somewhere. Poverty, hunger and starvation etc., are mitigating circumstances…”.  (Hindupedia)  Yet within Hinduism there is the recognition that stealing very well may cause harm and there may be karma attached.  So, again, it seems everything is relative to the situation and is subject to whatever karma may be attached.  I suppose one might term it;  Steal at your own risk.

I am not going to examine every religions’ viewpoint, I think most of the world’s population is covered with these five major religions.  It’s enough to see that stealing is generally considered wrong, however, within Hinduism, some extreme circumstances may allow for some leeway.  I think this is pretty much how things play out in “street-level” reality.

Islam seems the major exception.  Islam seems to take the position that stealing from a peer, a believer, is very, very wrong.  However, non-believers may be deprived of their worldly holdings without regard for their wellbeing depending upon the position of the Islamic rulers of a particular time and place.

With some changes in terminology, this last view, that of Islam, may best exemplify the reality in the world of high finance, the rich and famous.  In other words, in that world it’s okay to deprive the common people, the general population, of their worldly holdings without regard to their well-being as long as you (at least visibly) stay within the laws relating to commerce and finance established by the political rulers.

This latter system is usually referred to (however inappropriately) as “capitalism” and/or “free enterprise”.  If any attempt to mitigate the deleterious effect of this system upon the general population is proposed, that is, any attempt to implement a system of provision of goods or services which takes free-rein profiteering out of the picture, it is usually referred to by those in control of the system as “socialism” and/or “communism”.  Ideas which fall under either of these latter terms seem to be viewed by the ruling class within the western world pretty much the same as religious heresy was viewed in the Middle Ages.

I think all this begs the question of what is stealing, really?  And is it wrong?  And if it is, why?

But before we look at those questions, it is only fitting that we first look at what it is to “covet”.  Because even though the Commandment against stealing is number 8 while the Commandment against coveting is number 10, in reality, coveting always precedes stealing.

To covet, in the sense referred to in the Tenth Commandment, is to deeply, intensely, desire something which belongs to someone else.  In Biblical times coveting was a pretty straightforward thing.  A person might covet a neighbor’s house, livestock, clothing, wealth.  The  person doing the coveting would need to take some action directly against that person or persons in order to take what they owned.  Such an action was personal and could be readily viewed as such by others in the community.  People could see the wealth being physically carried from one house, or country, to another.  Or they could see the new owner moving in to the house and taking over the wealth of another.  It was all very personal.

Today, with our method of banking, we often are dealing with numbers in a computer or on a page, in which there often is no actual, physical money, gold or silver involved in the immediate transfer of wealth.  One person, or a small group of people, by manipulating abstract devices such as interest rates or investments, can capture the wealth of vast numbers of people with nothing more than a few keystrokes on a computer.  Our new economic reality makes the actions of coveting, and taking material wealth from others, often seem very abstract and impersonal.  However, the effects within our lives and communities are essentially the same as they were in at any time in history.

One of the ways technology has changed our world is that it has enabled those prone to doing so to capture the hard-earned wealth of countless people without ever having to look any of them in the eye.  Without ever having to really face the human consequences of their actions.  And, quite often, those who have lost their homes or life savings don’t even know exactly who “captured” them.  All we know for sure is someone else coveted them and someone else got them.  But were they stolen?

This brings us back around to the question of what is stealing?  Is it a legal term?  Does whether or not something is stolen depend upon a culturally agreed upon set of rules and procedures?  Or is there something deeper involved?  Is there a spiritual, energetic reality involved which is the same as it has been since the beginning of the world?  Since before the beginning of the world?  Does it matter?

What do you think?