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?

 

 

 

 

 

Re-humanizing our World

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

This is a “laundry list” of things which, if put into effect, would go a long way toward effectively stabilizing human culture, re-humanizing humanity, doing away with war,  decreasing the prevalence of many illnesses, and making life worth living!  None of these, except one (I won’t say which one), are my original ideas.  They are from people who have studied the issues and weighed the related factors.  As I have accumulated them over years I apologize that I do not cite the source.  In the interest of brevity I have sometimes combined what were originally separate ideas but which dovetail nicely together.

  • A three day work week with a living wage.
  • Abolish the stock market.  Keep companies in the hands of their founders and workers (employee ownership).  Let the consumers decide via their purchases, or lack thereof, when a company’s product is no longer desired.
  • New ideas for products/companies can be financed via bank loans, personal loans or the sale of bonds.  All at a reasonable rate of interest and able to be paid off.
  • Eliminate speculation in agricultural or any other products.  This only artificially raises prices thereby fueling inflation.  (Essentially do away with a “casino economy”.)
  • All industrial or other waste which poses a threat to the health of our environment must be discontinued or treated in such a fashion as to effectively neutralize any threat it may pose.
  • Legalize the production, sale and use of all natural substances which may be categorized as “drugs”.  These include marijuana, coca, poppies and their derivatives.  No prescription needed for these substances.  In order to purchase these substances a person must have a card indicating they have completed an introductory class of at least 3 hrs. in duration about the potential dangers and benefits of each substance they wish to be allowed to purchase.  Including tobacco and alcohol.
  • Re-institute regulations around the number of television stations, radio stations, newspapers and other media outlets that any one person or corporation may own.
  • Via regulations affecting banks, arms manufacturers and other government contractors, remove the the profit motive from war.
  • Make the dissemination of false and/or misleading information by elected and/or appointed government officials/employees a criminal offense (if it isn’t already) and enforce it.
  • Restrict election financing.  Cap the dollar amount any one candidate can spend during an election campaign.  Make it a felony with significant penalties for any person, corporation or foreign nation, or any agent thereof, to give donations, gifts, or make promises of future financial/material gain to any elected or appointed government official/employee.  Or for any elected or appointed government official and/or employee to receive such donations or gifts.
  • Maintain and adequately fund community based (not private) and regulated police forces, fire departments, schools, parks, hospitals, ambulance/EMT services (universal healthcare) and other services.  Such as concert and sports venues as a community desires and can support.
  •  Income from concerts, sporting events, etc, above and beyond that used to pay workers, performers, athletes, etc., should go to public coffers and to fund public services and infrastructure.
  • Establish and enforce both a minimum and maximum personal income.  The minimum income would insure basic housing, food and essentials for all.  There could be some work requirement (public service) upon those receiving it.  The maximum income would include income from all sources combined.  This would be in force for all people regardless of profession.  The maximum income should be no more than 7 times the minimum wage (not the minimum income which may be slightly less than the minimum wage).  

While in a rough draft format, as mentioned above this is at least a partial “laundry list” of actions which, if instituted, would serve to stabilize and re-humanize our cultures and our world.

When a soldier fights.

 

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

When a soldier fights, what are they fighting for? There is what they have in their minds and there is what the leaders who pay their wages, supply their guns and give the orders, have in their minds. Which set of ideas is actually going to determine the effect the events taking place will have in the world?

 

The Common Ground of Stewardship

Fotosearch_k22192444
(c) AlexMax http://www.fotosearch.com

(Well, it didn’t take long for me to drift away from trying to post on Saturdays.)  Anyway, I recently had cause to be researching the topic of “stewardship”.  I think most people are familiar with the concept of stewardship, but maybe not.  So to begin with, here is an excerpt from the Merriam-Webster Online definition:

“2 : the conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially : the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care”

That pretty much sums it up.

The first I can remember hearing anything about stewardship was when I was young and attending a Methodist church in the small Midwest town I grew up in.  Stewardship was an important topic in that church.  Probably the most well known Bible story relating to stewardship is the story of Joseph in Egypt.  How Joseph, acting as a good servant, espousing good stewardship, was a blessing to the Egyptian people.  You can read more about the story of Joseph in the Book of Genesis beginning at chapter 37.  The topic of stewardship was one that came up every now and then in the topics being presented.

That association of stewardship and religion led me to look to see what some other religions had to say on the topic.  There is a lot that is written and discussed online around this topic related to various religions.  However, there did clearly appear to be a consensus to be found among many of the world’s religions.  Most of the information I have listed below are excerpts taken from the website “Religion Answers” although I often found similar quotes within other sources:

Within the Islamic faith we find:  “The three most important principles of the Prophet’s philosophy of nature are based on the Quranic teachings and the concepts of tawhid (unity), khalifa (stewardship) and amana (trust).”

The Hindu teaching has this to say:  “Stewardship is Right Conduct, what the Hindu calls dharma. Stewardship extends to water, to land, to animals, to food, to resources. Nature is Prakriti, Mother Earth is one of the Gods. Earth must be treated with respect.”

Buddhism:  “Stewardship is management of the Earth and its resources in accord with the dhamma, the teaching of the Buddha. This includes respect for all forms of life. Stewardship scopes to include environmental ethics, obligation to future generations, risk, and development of technology.”

Sikhism:  “The holy scriptures in Sikhism say God is the creator of all that exists., Man has a duty to care for the creation, The world reflects what is inside man – pollution, global warming, ecology disasters – all these reflect what is inside every man, woman and child.”  

In the Old Testament: (This does not come from “Religion Answers.)  I have to say this is one area of discussion that got a little blurry.  It seems to be accepted that God gave man dominion over the Earth.  The blurriness seems to be in how that may be interpreted from one place to another.  Does “dominion” mean do what you will?  That the Earth and it’s resources are here for our plunder?  Or does it mean that the Earth belongs to humankind for our caretaking?  For our stewardship in keeping with love for God and for one another?  Big difference.  I think (and hope) most conscientious, spiritually minded persons from both Judaism and Christianity regard it in the latter context.

From the New Testament: Titus 1:7 ESV :  “For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain,”

These are just a few examples.  From what I’ve found Taoism, Confucianism, Shintoism, Native American teachings, African native spiritual practices and Paganism all hold the value of respectfully and responsibly, if not lovingly, caring for the Earth and it’s resources.  I have not researched every religion, however, from the pattern which clearly shows within the ones I’ve listed, good stewardship, especially of the Earth and it’s resources, has been a shared and cherished value within the religious traditions of most, if not all, people from all around the world for a long, long time.

Imagine, human beings from most, if not all, cultures and locations on the Earth, who have sought wisdom within our spiritual reality, have for centuries, if not millenia, held values consistent with one another about how we should revere and care for, how we should engage in good stewardship of, the Earth and it’s resources.  Talk about common ground!  What has happened to divert so much of humanity from this very common understanding of our role as stewards upon the Earth?

If humankind, around the world, were to in deed practice conscientious, responsible, loving stewardship of the Earth and it’s resources, keeping in mind that humankind itself may be thought of as another resource upon the Earth, imagine how wonderful this planet and the cultures we build upon it might be?

 

Setting a new course…

IMG_1995For the next few weeks, months, years (?), I am going publish short commentaries on what’s happening in the world rather than longer essays.  My goal is to publish one a week, on Saturday mornings.  I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to read, “liked” and/or commented on articles on my blog!

 

A lot of (most?) people in the U.S. have played “Monopoly” at some time. The board game that’s designed to produce a winner and losers in an imaginary battle to acquire wealth. There is maneuvering for advantage, developing properties, lucky and unlucky roles of the dice. In the end someone bankrupts everyone else and owns it all. Then everyone can put the game away and head to the kitchen for snacks. That’s the part that’s missing in real life.
As in the game, in real life most (all?) people contribute in some way to building up and maintaining our communities. Most contribute throughout most of their lifetime. Building, serving, performing tasks meant to help keep the community vibrant. Unfortunately, these days it is happening within a system that is increasingly resembling the board game: designed to produce a relatively few big winners and lots of losers. Because we live in a finite system, there cannot be unbelievably extravagant winners without a whole lot of losers.
In the U.S. it hasn’t always been this way. Regulations against monopolies, a progressive tax system, wages and benefits people could thrive on, social safety nets and other safeguards kept the playing field more balanced; viable for the majority of, if not all, people. Then, those with more wealth began to find ways to manipulate the system. The regulations and safeguards which previously existed to protect the well-being of the whole have been, and are being, dismantled. This is leading to increasing economic imbalance with all the attendant debilitating effects on the general population that one can expect, even predict. We’re now seeing individuals with more wealth than millions of others. Others who have also been contributing.
The system needs repair. We need to restore lost safeguards. We need greater community mindedness. We need greater recognition of our inherent interdependence.

Update, 6/15/18:  The best laid plans of mice and men and all that.  I thought this was a good idea at the time, however, life has intervened and this plan for my blog did not materialize.  I’m not quite sure what I’m doing in terms of blogging these days.  I am certainly in a period of transition in my life.  To everyone who has read my blog at some time, maybe “liked” it or commented;  thank you!  I hope to be more actively involved at some time in the future…