So, what is socialism?

Fotosearch_k22192444
(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:

konstant www.fotosearch.com
(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.

 

 

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.

 

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?

 

 

 

 

 

The last great extinction event on Earth?

Fotosearch_k22192444
(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.

When a soldier fights.

 

Fotosearch_k17282832 (1)
(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?

 

Fake News, It’s Nothing New

Mag picFake news.  It’s a term which we’ve encountered a lot the past couple years.  However, as history attests, it’s not a new phenomenon.  Fake news, or the reporting of fabrications as if they were real, is older than the invention of the printing press.  It’s not that there aren’t reporters and media genuinely dedicated to bringing honest news of the world to the general population.  It’s just that it seems a media with widespread customers who rely upon that media to know what’s going on in the world is apparently too readily manipulable a commodity for unscrupulous politicians and profiteers not to take advantage of.

Most of the time, in centuries past or the past several decades, it seems “fake news” is most often used to incite fear and conflict.  Or to cover up the misdeeds of those powerful enough to manipulate the media to do so.  A recent movie, “The Post”, memorializes the spirit of some who were willing to be politically incorrect, and more, in order to bring the truth to the public.  Does that spirit still exist?

Just in my lifetime the shadow of unexplained realities around some horrendous events calls to question whether genuine, hardcore, investigative journalism, at least in the “mainstream media”, has become unfashionable, threatened, if not facing extinction.  The Kennedy assassinations, Oklahoma City, 9/11.  These are a few instances in which the media is used to repetitiously reassert highly suspect official stories.  Those who do dare point out the inconsistencies are often dismissed with the label “conspiracy theorist”.  What makes the difference between a “conspiracy theorist” and an award winning investigative journalist?  Is it too often merely the willingness, or reluctance, of those who control “mainstream media” to report certain realities?  We need a media which consistently places truth above politics.