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

So 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.

Today, 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.  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.

 

 

 

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 call up those memories for a lot of people.  Memories of stories of a system where you lived where the State told you, worked where the State told you, 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 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 were 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, of 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 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, 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” and other government contracts and cronyism.

What I’ve personally seen this system deprive a 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).  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.  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.  It was kind of like seeing a beautiful woman show up to the party in a soiled dress.

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 billionaire, as opposed to just having a really nice lifestyle, seem 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 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.

 

 

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! 

The last great extinction event on Earth?

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

(Significantly edited on 9/19/18.)

It’s happening all around the world.  Once thriving oceans, seas, lakes, rivers are dying.  People are experiencing various forms of cancer at unprecedented rates.  Also hypothyroidism, diabetes, and other diseases are increasing in prevalence.  Then there are the dis-eases often categorized as mental disorders:  anxiety, depression, anger, and more.  What do all these things have in common?  All of these maladies, environmental and human, are either caused or exacerbated by one or more of the various forms of pollution which are rampant in our world today.

These forms of pollution include pollution of our water, air, earth, bodies, minds, and spirits.  Many types of corporeal pollution are listed above.  Regarding our minds and spirits, we are currently experiencing widespread pollution of human kind by greed, fear, hate and anger.  It only takes picking up a newspaper to find instances of this pollution at work.

Who to blame, or is there anyone to blame?  Do we always have to look for someone to blame?  In this case, yes, there most definitely are people at the root of the problem.

One source; a company, a government, a religion, or other agency with financial or other special interests produces “X” amount of physical and/or mental/spiritual pollution, another company produces 2 times as much.  Another company maybe only produces 1/2 as much.  And all of them are saying that they do not produce enough pollution to be causing such problems.  And all of them are right.  And all of them are wrong.  If you aren’t familiar with Aesop’s fable of the “The Crow and the Pitcher”, I hope you’ll read it.  It explains a lot.

Regarding the environmental pollution, where is the E.P.A. in all of this?  They’ve been busy repeatedly firing Dr. William Marcus and then repeatedly trying to defend that action in court.  And I imagine other activities of similar ilk, all conducted behind closed doors.  Don’t ask, don’t tell.  Many believe that today, under the Trump administration, the fox has been put in charge of the henhouse at the E.P.A.  (Personally I think that has effectively been the case for at least a few decades.)

Regarding the mental/spiritual pollution, what human agency is watching out for the common person?  At this point, no one.  We are pretty much on our own to decide what ideas, beliefs, we incorporate into our lives.  Which, in order for us to retain our humanity, is as it should be. Free will is a wonderful thing.  Yet, why are so many so quick, so willing to incorporate ideas filled with greed, hate, fear and anger?  One reason, I believe, is because those are the ideas people are being repeatedly exposed to by, again, those with the reins of power around the world.

Around the world, we see people being led to embrace greed, hate, fear and anger en masse by those whom those people trust to tell them what’s happening in the world. Special interests have most definitely infected many of the media, schools, and religious institutions. I heard a proverb years ago that: “When interest enters in, truth flies out the window.” Again, it’s a matter of no one contributing source being the whole problem, and again, the fable of “The Crow and the Pitcher” tells the story.

Don’t we see what’s happening?  Don’t we understand the real and potential problems associated with pollution?  Don’t we, with all our technology, possess the means to prevent and correct such problems?  The answer to all these questions is the same:  “Yes we do”.  However, there is another question and an answer which, together, underlie all these problems:  Don’t those with the reins of power around the world possess the wisdom and will to value our planet’s ability to sustain life, and the myriad benefits of humankind cooperatively coexisting, more than the unbridled acquisition of power and material wealth?  Unfortunately at this time, the answer to that question which we are seeing repeatedly demonstrated is:  “No”.

Too many people want their stock dividends, too many CEO’s want their large bonuses, the power and influence of too many public offices are for sale.  Amongst the common folk, apparently too many people are contributing to the culture of pollution with the purchases we make.  To some extent we are at the mercy of those in control of production and marketing.  However we should all be mindful of the impact our purchases have upon the burden of waste in the world.  And, I would add, too many are too readily accepting the “reasoning” being put forward by those in power for why our natural resources and our treasuries are being managed in the way they are.  And too many people are accepting the special interest driven “reasoning” being offered for why we should embrace greed and hold hate, fear and anger toward others.

I think at some point in the future when archeologists, quite possibly from another planet because Earthlings will have become extinct, look for the “whys” to the last great extinction event on Earth, they will find a direct causative chain of:  human greed – pollution – willful ignoring and exacerbating of the problems – extinction.

Yet, around the world, little by little, people are waking up.  So the last question is;  will enough people be awake and taking corrective action before it is too late?  It truly is a case of “United we stand, divided we fall.”

I am using the same artwork for this article as the last one because, well, it is just so appropriate.  And I would rather think optimistically then post a picture of the pollution, and it’s effects, which we can all see without any great effort.

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.

The Common Ground of Stewardship

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(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…