HistoryBits: This and That

HistoryBits: This and That

Bits and Pieces of History

Society


Society/History

The more things change, the more they stay the same, right? That’s why we study history: the reason that history repeats itself is that human nature is so consistent, and we keep making the same mistakes and incurring the same lessons over and over again.

Society/Ancient Historians

Ancient historians often come across as spectacular bullshit artists (forgive my saying so), but once we understand the bias of their perspective, we’re able to arrive at a more balanced and realistic point of view. In evaluating the credibility of each source, we ask: Why did he write his account? Who did he expect would read it?  Who was the writer and what was his background and beliefs? Each of these sources had their own motives and beliefs, and once we come to a better understanding of the writers, we can use that insight to better evaluate their writing.  Our goal today is to arrive at as balanced and accurate an understanding as can be formulated from a comprehensive view of all available sources, so that we might form our own opinions.  But it’s worth bearing in mind too that even the most inflated and sensational and flattering contemporary writings are of interest too, since they help us understand how historical subjects wished to be viewed, or how certain individuals wished to view them—all of which adds to our insight.

Society/Equal Treatment

People must come to respect themselves, and so much of that depends on what they earn by dint of their own (and not their ancestors’) blood, sweat, and tears. I’m all for making the money and other means available for people to use judiciously in helping themselves get ahead, and I believe that any investment in people is the most productive investment possible: people who are gainfully employed generally have the money to build a decent life for themselves, they pay taxes and contribute their talent to society rather than drain society’s resources, and money tends to be less of the corrosive issue that can tear families apart and leave children with one parent instead of two. But the investment in people must be made from the get-go, in the form of decent housing in crime-free neighborhoods, good schools, medical care, and college and vocational training… and not in the form of some sop to a guilty conscience that in effect says “take the money and get out of my face.” Regrettably, with our $2 trillion war, our government deems it wiser to invest in destroying lives than in helping to build them.

Society/Birth Control

There’s a world of difference between religion and spirituality. Spirituality tends to be value-neutral, since a man’s spiritual justification for his actions is always well intentioned, however misguided (consider how many wars have been waged for God’s glory). Religion, however, serves the very practical purpose of drawing up the slate of values that holds society together and keeps everyone on the same page, so to speak, and sanctifying those values with the blessing of God (though I’m not sure how any man can hope to speak for God). The sexual revolution of women, instigated with the help of birth control, gave way to a slew of questions on gender roles. Sex and love, of course, are part and parcel of society’s paramount interests in the stability of marriage and family—small wonder that the Church has birth control at the top of its list!

Society/Capital Punishment

I’ve often wondered what point is served by punishing murder with murder (to say nothing of whether the state—which is a composite of the will and values of its constituents–has any more right to commit murder than would an individual). Capital punishment recalls the eye-for-an-eye retribution of Hammurabi’s time, as well as the lust for pain and suffering that animated the public executions in Imperial Rome’s Colosseum. It is founded on the gratification of vengeance—plain and simple. But is vengeance a proper motive for punishment? Each and every human soul is a work in progress, and the purpose of our existence in this earthly vale of tears is to grow—both through learning to love and through overcoming the many obstacles that life puts in our path. If a criminal offender is to fulfill their God-given imperative to grow, it must transpire through reflection, remorse, and in time, a genuine desire to reform… and to deprive anyone of this imperative can only serve to place an even greater burden of wrongdoing (and its innumerable consequences) on those who countenance capital punishment.

Society/Censorship

I’m not sure where we’re likely to end up with constantly pushing the envelope as to what’s acceptable in the media, other than to say that the consequences of dispensing with standards of good and bad leave us indifferent to values whose fulfillment provides us with our highest and best reason for coming to Planet Earth. Personal growth is best accomplished through personal relationships in the context of struggling to overcome life’s countless obstacles. Value-neutrality, and the attitude that good and bad are merely irrelevant value judgments, leaves us numb and indifferent to love, forgiveness, compassion, and respect for ourselves and others—the things that see us through trials and tribulations where neither money nor any other means would have sufficed. If we don’t establish values, we render ourselves unable to learn to love, and with that, what’s the point of learning anything else? Consider what happens whenever society really takes leave of its senses, and its sense of values, under the aegis of such arbiters of “a new morality” as Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and Mao Zedong.

Society/Child Labor

It seems to me that the greatest advances in industry are marked not just by quantitative and qualitative breakthroughs, but by better ways of adapting people to the work process. We’ve come a long ways from the abuses of child labor, which represented the worst fit, to where we are today. In a sense, though, we’ve come full circle, having gone from Paleolithic hunter-gatherer mobility to the sedentary life of the Agricultural Revolution to the drudgery of the Industrial Revolution to mobile-everything now: not just phones, but hook-up relationships, a virtual Internet world, cheap global communications, portable pension and medical plans, and even jobs. With traditional employment and all its benefits becoming too pricey for many companies to afford, we’re quickly becoming a nation of plug-and-play independent contractors. It’s back to the hunter-gatherer stage, it seems.

Society/Pre-Modern Children

I’ve heard it said that in ancient times, maternal love for a child was a luxury that women didn’t allow themselves to develop until the child was safely past most of the factors of infant mortality, which were legion–few children survived childhood diseases and all the other hazards of life back then. In fact, children were not cosseted and indulged as they are today until sometime in the mid-19th century in Western societies, but were treated more as miniature adults. Same thing with marriage, which was never for love, but only for the purpose of striking up alliances between families that could derive mutual advantage therefrom. Our modern ideas of maternal and marital love would seem altogether strange to people from those times.

Society/Children and War

Of all the tragedies of civil war and such, it’s the plight of the children that affects me the most. The loss of life of soldiers and civilians alike is undeniably tragic… yet in a sense these lives were willing participants in a war of their own making. Sounds odd, I know—especially when you consider the young men drafted to fight a war they may have detested, the faceless victims of bombs dropped on hamlets and cities, the families sundered by the loss of a son, a husband, a father. Still, many of these people at least had a choice of some kind, whether Canada, heading north or staying south, fighting or refusing to fight. And until the moment when death came and clapped its cold hand on their shoulders, there was love: families, friends, and society. Yet, for the kids caught up in geopolitical calamity—wherever that may be–who in many cases were left to fend for themselves, there was never a choice… and where was there love?

Society/Civil Rights

Equality of civil rights may rank as one of the biggest accomplishments of 20th-century democracies. It defines a melting pot society such as America whose greatest challenge will continue to be its ability to embrace its members’ most conspicuous differences—and become enriched by them in so doing—without regarding such differences as a threat to the cultural values that unify our society. Truly, diversity strengthens us and sharpens our wits, while homogeneity and conformity dulls them. Remember: nine out of ten American recipients of the Nobel Prize have been either first- or second-generation immigrants.

Society/Coffeehouses

Small wonder that coffeehouses have always enjoyed (?) a faintly seditious reputation. Awash as Enlightenment society was in caffeine and controversy, what else could possibly have come of it but revolution?

Society/Consanguinity

So, West Virginia is not the only place where “everything’s relative”. 🙂 This sort of thing seems to be the usual consequence of a society where civic responsibility (placing the common good on equal footing with self-interest), the rule of law (protection of property rights), and equality of opportunity (in public employment) are deficient–people devise all kinds of ways to take care of themselves and their own.

Society/Crime/Drug Legalization

One of the key tenets of both the modern economy (and by inference, the drug trade) is that supply is driven by demand, and not vice-versa. If we can’t beat ’em, maybe we should join ’em. Knowing that whoever wants the stuff will find a way to get it, maybe we should consider legalizing it. If the government makes and sells what the market wants, it would accomplish several objectives that have so far eluded us: a) it would put the dealers and the desperadoes out of business overnight, and drug-related crime would become non-existent; b) it would facilitate contact with users who have hit bottom and want help; c) it would fill government coffers to the brim, and that’s money that should be invested in substance abuse education and rehabilitation; and e) knowing that nobody’s going to stop them from using it, people just might become more accountable for their own actions. With our government already subsidizing the production of tobacco, I personally find no moral dilemma in this course of action.

Society/Death

I would submit that the natural condition of mankind is not drudgery or officiousness, but joy. And it would certainly change the character and function of memorials is we had a different understanding of death, which in turn is probably the best perspective from which to understand life. But death? How do you explain such a thing to people who insist on believing that what they get is only what they can see and otherwise experience with their physical senses. Reason, logic, and the senses are merely tools that enable us to contend with physical reality, and they’re very good at deceiving us as to the true nature of personal reality.

Society/Debt

Should the American Empire one day come to grief on the shoals of oppressive debt, as did Rome and so many other empires, one wonders if self-imposed slavery might not become the “peoples’ tax shelter”—affordable to one and all.

Society/Debt Slavery

Slavery (in one form or another) has persisted into modern times, partly as a consequence of globalization, free trade with sweatshop economies, and a superabundance of unneeded human beings. I suspect that we Americans, after generations of struggle to establish fair wages and decent workplace conditions, are about to get a taste of what it’s like for workers to be brutalized by free trade and the global economy. The preponderance of McJobs in the American economy is part of the fallout from globalization, as America continues to fit itself into a global economy. As we increasingly come to compete with low-wage economies like China, India, and all the others that are struggling to emerge from the Third World, American companies are forced to compensate by developing ever-higher productivity. All this is bad news for American workers who find themselves working 60- and 70-hour workweeks for dwindling wages, but good news for workers in China and India who are at long last able to climb out of destitution and into the burgeoning ranks of the middle class. America, with 6% of the world’s population, commands 40% of its resources, and the fact of the matter is, we’ve been way less than generous in sharing that wealth with the one out of four people in this world who live on less than a dollar a day. Painful as they are, the harsh economics of globalization may ultimately be for the best, since if we don’t learn to be more generous (at least to the extent of forgiving food-related debt), we’re going to continue to be reminded of this enormous disparity in ways that—like 9/11–are likely to be pretty ugly.

Society/Demographic Trends

Germany shares with Japan and the United States the dilemmas posed by aging and the rampant influx of immigrant labor. These problems are the inevitable result of societies becoming wealthy; higher education and the lifestyle that generally goes with being well educated are terribly expensive, and as we work smarter and are paid better for it, we work less hard (with fewer children needed to help run the family farm or other business). Who, then, is going to pick up the garbage, sweep the floors, pour the cement, and perform all those necessary but unglamorous and ill-paid tasks? And how–apart from an enormous transfer of wealth from the bank accounts of the knowledge-worker generation–are we going to care for our aged? The first person who will live to the maximum potential human lifespan of 150 years has been born. Part of the answer lies in resolving our own prejudices: if we expect people to be productive until much later in life than is generally assumed they can be, they will be. It wasn’t that long ago when a man of 50 was considered ready to be put out to pasture; nowadays, he’s just starting to hit his stride!

Society/Divorce/Effect on Children

Parents should stop to think, and realize that the abuse, heartache, and dysfunctionality of troubled and broken marriages are lessons that children learn only too well… and go on to perpetuate as adults themselves. Small wonder that this particular plague has reached epic proportions.

Society/Drugs

With every age, there’s an opiate for the masses (as gin was in Restoration times) and a pet poison for the upper crust for everyone else. In our times, while Joe settles for his Six-Pack, sensitive souls dote on fine wine, and for those who live life in the fast lane, it’s cocaine and designer drugs. One’s favored method of mind muddling, it seems, may be less a matter of personal taste than an attribute of social class.

Society/Education

I’m no longer as confident as I once was that redoubling our investment in education and in building a knowledge economy will save America from the ravages of competing in a global economy. There’s a great number of highly sophisticated folks in places like India and Russia who are willing and able to do the job for a fraction of the price, and in a knowledge economy where information is instantly and globally mobile, the barriers are bound to continue to fall, and our productive enterprises will continue to move offshore. So where does that leave us? There are two considerations that weigh in our favor. Firstly, Americans enjoy an enormous qualitative advantage in creativity—and that vis-à-vis the generally hidebound Asian and other traditional societies where creative thinking is frowned upon; we can exploit this advantage in developing concepts and intellectual property for the next generation of products and technologies across the board. Secondly, Americans must learn how to better develop markets for our products in countries and cultures (like China and India) that were heretofore deemed inaccessible or not worth the candle. All the world loves the American lifestyle and its galaxy of consumer goods and brands; but although we’re the world’s greatest salesmen, we’ll need a crash-curriculum in cross-cultural marketing to do the job. This is where I have always believed that Hawaii (where I live) could find its destiny: instead of making beds and scrubbing toilets for tourists, Hawaii could become the center of professional and cross-cultural expertise for the burgeoning Pacific Rim economy… and the work is very well paid! Unfortunately, though, nobody’s listening. But how long will it be before America is making beds and scrubbing toilets (so to speak) for its foreign sugar daddies (the ones that are funding our deficits to the tune of $2 billion a day)?

Society/Families

The evolution of the modern family is bracketed by phenomena that affect both young and old. I fear that the burgeoning popularity of the phenomenon of hooking up will only defeat our purpose in coming to Planet Earth in the first place–that of personal growth, which is best accomplished through personal relationships in overcoming life’s countless obstacles. How often have love, forgiveness, compassion, and respect for ourselves and others seen us through trials and tribulations where neither money nor any other means would have sufficed? If we don’t learn to love, what’s the point of learning anything else? And how are we to learn to love without taking all the lumps that come with traditional relationships? At the other end of the age spectrum, how–apart from an enormous transfer of wealth from the bank accounts of the knowledge-worker generation–are we going to care for our aged? Those who purport to know say that the first person that will live to the maximum potential human lifespan of about 150 years has been born. Part of the answer may lie in resolving our own prejudices: if we expect people to be productive until much later in life than is generally assumed they can be, they will be. It wasn’t that long ago when a man of 50 was considered ready to be put out to pasture; nowadays, he’s just starting to hit his stride. But what’s happening in-between will really rock ya! It’s only a matter of time before we solve the bandwidth problem and enable people to experience websites as virtual domains that replicate the full range of sensory impressions. Imagine strapping on your “virtual reality helmet,” dialing up a website, and having sex (likely to happen within the next 20 years, they say), canoodling with spouses that are forever warm and fuzzy, and enjoying virtual children that don’t have colic or need to have their diapers changed. What might all that do to relationships, and to marriage (a struggling institution as it is)? With all this, I would be surprised if the bedrock of families (as we thought we knew them) didn’t crumble like a week-old cookie.

Society/Family Size

Family size almost certainly has a lot to do with income. Lower-income families traditionally require as many hands as can be raised to run a family business, or to cobble together an aggregate income sufficient to make ends meet. (It may also be that such families often live their lives in difficult circumstances that take their toll in child mortality, through crime, disease, or other privations.)  Higher education–and the lifestyle that is often lived by a well-educated family–is expensive, and that sort of expense mitigates against having large families. Anytime there’s a mystery, look first of all to the bottom line (the one with the dollar sign next to it) for the answer.

Society/Fashion

Fashion, like art, reflects the times. What, for example, might the fact that hemlines tend to rise when times get tough seem to suggest?

Society/Fashion/Footwear

The human foot is the one appendage that is most fraught with complications if injured or not properly cared for. We here in Hawaii would seem to occupy the cutting edge of progressive thinking in footwear and care, knowing that less is more. No matter how you dress them up in tasseled loafers of kid glove leather and pumps primed to kill, there is nothing that the cloistered and stressed-out feet of haute couture would not give to slip into a good old pair of Hawaiian wingtips (you know—“flip-flops”, or “rubbah slippah” as they are known hereabouts). Though the operative concept can hardly be improved upon, rubbah slippah these days wear a more uptown attitude, with embroidered straps and wide-track, tri-ply soles. And no worry about get flat tire—these buggahs going outlast Gibraltar. Whether they outlast the timeless vanity of bound and tortured feet may be a bit more of a stretch.

Society/Homosexuality

With all the hatred out there in the world, what could possibly be wrong with two people committing to (and formalizing) a lifetime of love, care, and companionship? We seem to have turned our backs on what we once accepted: homophobia is largely a modern-day pathology that had no place in many ancient and traditional societies. Yet, I’ve come to the conclusion that the unorthodox sexuality of many of the most famous artists, writers, and leaders in history was one of the most critical elements in their creativity—after all, it’s the distressed tree that bears the sweetest fruit, wot?

Society/Hooking Up

I fear that the burgeoning popularity of the phenomenon of hooking up will only defeat our purpose in coming to Planet Earth in the first place–that of personal growth, which is best accomplished through personal relationships in overcoming life’s countless obstacles. How often have love, forgiveness, compassion, and respect for ourselves and others seen us through trials and tribulations where neither money nor any other means would have sufficed? If we don’t learn to love, what’s the point of learning anything else? And how are we to learn to love without taking all the lumps that come with traditional relationships?

Society/Law/Pre-Modern Codes

Laws are designed to keep everyone on the same cultural page, so to speak, and tuned into the same values that serve to weld everyone into a cohesive society. The Hebrew concept of an all-in-one God which underwrote much of Mosaic law was revolutionary, and like most revolutions, it put a lot of guys out of work—most notably the myriad deities whose specialized functions answered to man’s every need and purpose. This lent enormous significance to the leap from the fractious mayhem of warring tribes to the social and philosophical unity required for society to be viable. The priorities reflected in Hammurabi’s Code were different, and the notions of equal justice (“an eye for an eye”) generally gave way here to the primacy of commercial value (as in paying half a slave’s value in the event of injury to a slave) and family cohesion. So much of Hammurabi’s Code is concerned with property rights, slavery, taxes, prices, dowry, and child support (in an age of high theocracy, it still seems that the bottom line was the one with the dollar sign next to it). As for Justinian’s contribution, our own Constitution (for all it has in common with his codes) could very well have been the thirteenth of Rome’s Twelve Tables. The Truth is forever in flux, and changes with the times. If any one document were left to stand by itself, it would not stand the test of time; hence the provision for a Judiciary that is independent from the Executive and Legislative branches allows the Supreme Court to interpret the statutory Truth in light of the times. All of this accords with the particular genius that we Americans (and the Romans) have of making abstraction conform to the practical exigencies of life as we live it.

Society/Law/Torture

As you can see, the issue of torture and government–as you see it today with respect our occupation of Iraq–has ancient roots. As with the Spanish Inquisition and the background of religious war that it took place against, the issue of torture in Iraq evokes ugly implications of what many regard as a modern religious war.

Society/Longevity

The dilemmas posed by aging are the inevitable result of societies becoming wealthy. How–apart from an enormous transfer of wealth from the bank accounts of the knowledge-worker generation–are we going to care for our aged? The first person who will live to the maximum potential human lifespan of 150 years has been born. Part of the answer may lie in resolving our own prejudices: if we expect people to be productive until much later in life than is generally assumed they can be, they will be. It wasn’t that long ago when a man of 50 was considered ready to be put out to pasture; nowadays, he’s just starting to hit his stride!

Society/Male and Female Biases

Everything means something. In the eyes of others, a man or a woman is inescapably associated with the attributes of gender (and much else). If society can erase the distinctions and attributes associated with gender, then people might fully utilize their abilities without being encumbered by the excess baggage of prejudice. On the other hand, what are obstacles… if not opportunities to grow by overcoming them?

Society/Memorials

A public war becomes a very private matter the moment one has lost a loved one or friend to the cause. The things that the war stood for take a back seat to the things that private loss stands for. The moment of private loss defines whether a war was a good war or an unjust war; America lost 290,000 men in World War II, yet had it been necessary, would we have paused for a moment to sacrifice every man, woman, and child to the defense of our country? Consider the Japanese perspective: even after some sixty-five of Japan’s largest cities had been firebombed by the Americans into heaps of rubble and ash, the Japanese were resolved to take to the beaches, with sharpened bamboo spears, to fend off the invaders who were poised to land on the sacred soil. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki put paid to that plan, and had not their emperor called upon the Japanese people to lay down their arms, there can be little doubt that the Japanese would have done just that. World War II was a good war for America, just as it was for the Japanese in their misguided perception, and the loss of an entire nation in its defense would have mattered no more than the loss of one individual. A monument should not just commemorate, but cause one to reflect on the justice of the cause, and to affirm for succeeding generations whether our national values were well or poorly served by the war that is commemorated. More than just commemorating the dead, does the Vietnam Memorial cause those who behold it to reflect upon the justice or injustice of the war? Does it cause the war’s dead to be commemorated as lives sacrificed… or squandered? Everything means something… monuments, most of all.

Society/Mixed Marriage

All in all, I must say that I regard myself as the luckiest man on earth, and that’s largely thanks to the woman I married. Most people probably wouldn’t believe me, but the truth is that, in the 30 years that we’ve been married, my wife and I have had a grand total of one argument. That happened when she and I had just started living together, when I spoke no Korean and she spoke no English, and if you’ve ever tried arguing with dictionaries–having to look up every word of your argument–you soon realize that it’s a lot easier just to forget the whole thing and let it blow over. Which is what we still do today whenever there’s hard feelings (seldom). So I suppose that might suggest that a happy marriage really isn’t something you have to talk through or work through—mainly, you just have to let love work its gentle magic. I should say also that one of the very best things about our marriage is the sense of humor that we’ve developed about our many differences (and we do relish our differences—that’s part of the fun of a mixed marriage); a sense of humor will usually answer quite nicely in situations that have no easy answer. Korea’s a very conservative, Confucian society, and their thinking is quite different, though in ways that I’ve usually liked. “Usually”, I say, since sometimes things got a bit prickly with Koreans who did not approve (and most of them do not) of their women marrying foreigners. In fact, while we lived in Korea, my wife made it a habit to walk a few paces behind me–that avoided some of the problems. Still, I’ve always appreciated the Old Country graciousness of Korean women, and the genuine hospitality of most of the Korean people. As far as how our kids fared, they grew up as American kids, never seeing themselves as anything much other than that. Here in Hawaii, people are so mixed up that they don’t even think in terms of race or ethnicity, but rather in terms of “local” or “not.” Someday, it’s going to be like that everywhere in America.

Society/Money and Justice

It’s interesting how justice was denominated in money terms back in Hammurabi’s day, then for thousands of years reverted to corporal punishment–until the barbarian invaders of the Roman Empire introduced the idea of wargeld (money compensation for criminal offenses), and closed the circle. After all, what real good does it do the victim to send the offender off to jail or to the gallows? This is a legal concept that we Americans have gotten onto only recently; in fact, it surprises me that with our fine instinct for money—and with American tort law’s propensity for denying accountability for one’s actions–we hadn’t long since realized that there’s money in victimhood!

Society/Monuments

Monuments and the gods or other supreme beings they commemorate point up one of the many problems that attend government’s embrace of religion: altogether too often, the name and blessings of God are invoked to lend sanction to the most base, cynical, and ungodly of causes. If there is anything more presumptuous (and suspect) than a man who purports to speak for God, it’s the government—and its laws–that purports to enact His will. 

Society/Multiculturalism

I think that what I really want to be when I grow up is a man of the world. As a teacher, at any rate, I’ve tried to encourage my students to focus on those qualities of humanity that might endure beyond the ebb and flow of empires and nation-states (including ours) to fashion themselves–in the fullness of time–into a truly global community. I’m not sure that we’ll ever achieve multiculturalism in America; our immigrants typically like to distance themselves from the idea as fast as their legs will carry them, in their determination to make themselves and their children into the most ardent Americans of all. And for born-and-bred Americans, multiculturalism seems more a sanitized and themed play-thing than a working proposition; we like our ethnics best when their cultural colors are on display in a Chinatown lion-dance, the menu of a Cuban restaurant, or perhaps in the spires of a Buddhist institute in Boulder. Beyond that, we prefer that their core values conform to solid republicanism (and they’re usually more than happy to comply). I suspect that we’re more likely to realize true multiculturalism in the burgeoning global cognoscenti of the Internet–in which case, it would have less to do with ethnicity than with the culturally-nuanced perspectives of folks who might like to hold themselves as a nation apart from a world that seems increasingly run roughshod over by hateful, small-minded, and mean-spirited ignoramuses. With the American Dream in such disrepair these days, there needs to be a focal point for a community of like-minded souls who wish to distance themselves from the demagogues that have hijacked for their own sordid political purposes the values that America (and the higher reaches of human civilization as a whole) purportedly stands for, and to chart their own course. Some feel that those values–democracy, civil liberties, and Christianity being paramount among them–are uniquely or at least more or less American. But I have become increasingly uneasy and even ashamed over the distortions that we Americans have applied to their practice, so that I’d prefer to regard freedom, compassion, and participation in the concerns and blessings of globalization as the prerogatives and obligations of humanity rather than of any particular nationhood. To that end, I submit that the virtual domain where we hang our website shingles may well become the most multicultural entity of all. However hackneyed it may be, all the din about diversity still speaks with resonance to what I believe is the defining theme of both the American experiment and of globalization–that either we embrace our differences and become enriched in so doing, or we allow ourselves to become overwhelmed and embittered by those differences… and impoverished in the bargain.

Society/Myth

I’m not sure where superstition blends into mythology and religion, but I would submit that it’s all cut from the same bolt of cloth—namely, the fabric of belief systems. Reality is personally construed, and what you imagine, believe, and expect is what you get. Imagine… above all—that’s the key word, for imagination is the precursor of personal reality, and in order for something to become material, it must first be imagined, then progressively invested with the emotional force that puts the meat on the bones, so to speak. In societies—ancient or modern–that are ordered around divine authority, myth serves that all-important purpose of expressing collective imagination in building culture. Myth is imagination writ large by culture and society, essential to forming the emotional precepts of culture—much as Paul Bunyon signifies the American spirit of man’s primacy over nature, or as the Sun God may have signified the congruence of the Egyptians’ desert environment with the otherworldly Realm of Light.

Society/Myth

Myth, in its most utilitarian sense, is much like religion and God in how it serves the tawdry purposes of whatever two-bit wannabe tyrant presumes to speak for Him.

Society/9/11 and Racism

9/11 may well turn out to mark the point where the tide of a thousand years of Western intrusion into other cultures turns (against us). With globalization so dominating our future, the lessons that America has learned at home about racism will need to serve us well in helping us find our place in a global economy where the old tariff barriers no longer apply. More than ever, we’re going to have to realize that the well being of our fellow human creature in the most far-flung parts of the earth has a direct effect on our own well being.

Society/Overpopulation

One can sense that we’re at the end of our tether: diminishing resources of oil and other commodities coupled with the burgeoning potential of Internet virtuality and nanotechnology would suggest that the mindset of “more and bigger are better” will give way to making better use of “fewer and smaller.” The breakthroughs in nanotechnology show that the domain of the infinitely small is no less capacious (and pregnant with potential) than the domain of the infinitely large. When one reads, for example, of a new generation of semiconductors based on bacteria, and of the potential of internet virtuality to dispense with the need for travel (and its attendant energy drain), it seems clear that with an ever-burgeoning population making ever greater demands on ever-dwindling resources, it’s high time that we changed our thinking. With technology, the less intrusive, the better, and I imagine that future civilizations may well come to de-emphasize technology to the point where life again resembles the simplicity of certain ancient (and long forgotten) civilizations that, for all we know, may have gone through all of this before.

Society/Personal Space

Personal space is probably more societal than personal. I’m not sure that the Japanese or Chinese, who inhabit very crowded societies, would feel much at ease in the sort of environment that Americans thrive in that provides us with lots of breathing space and elbow room. That also points up our ethos that rewards individual incentive and thinking, whereas Asian societies (which are largely Confucian and oriented toward consensus decision-making and social harmony) generally frown on that sort of thing. You could take this way back to our pioneer roots, when tremendous courage was required of the individual in opening up those limitless horizons of the West.

Society/Prostitution

Prostitution is something that I believe many people misunderstand as a profound moral failing on the part of the woman; more commonly, it is, I submit, a failure of family love that brings a woman to this tragic juncture.

Society/Racism/Skin Color

Everything means something, right? In much of Asia, the old prejudice persists against dark skin as the result of low-class, menial labor in the sun; I find it ironic that white Americans are willing to go to great expense and trouble to darken their skin–a tan being seen as a badge of affluence which connotes vibrant good health and costly vacations to faraway tropical lands. Some African-Americans are known to seize upon the various gradations of blackness—a distant consequence of slavery and intermingling with whites–in differentiating themselves from one another. People are strange.

Society/Sacred Societies

You’ve hit on a very good example of how far modern man had distanced himself from the nature wellsprings of his being–some of us probably do believe that meat comes from Safeway–and a good example of how different our scientific society is from the sacred society. Sacred societies can be characterized by their reverence for nature, their belief that man should live in harmony with his environment, their subordination of earthly and temporal concerns to divine will, their different concept of time, their love of tradition, their mysticism. Scientific societies, on the other hand, live by reason, objective reality, and their belief that man must be master of his environment, and worship progress, wealth, and material comfort. Both sacred and scientific societies have something to learn from each other: rationalism enables man to fulfill his creative potential, while mysticism and the sense of the sacred would teach us that man must make his way in the world without ruining his environment and riding roughshod over his fellow human being; either approach by itself leaves much to be desired. Western man is clearly in need of the metaphysical perspective that sacred societies afford, since for all of our worldliness, affluence, and technological prowess, we still don’t seem to understand that the true measure of gratification in life is meant to be more than who dies with the most toys.

Society/Slavery

Anti-slavery societies and movements have usually stopped way short of abolishing slavery, contenting themselves with salving their consciences by urging more humane treatment and improved ethics—as if ethics had any place in any consideration of slavery! Slavery has persisted into modern times, partly as a consequence of globalization, free trade with sweatshop economies, and a superabundance of unneeded human beings. I suspect that we Americans, after generations of struggle to establish fair wages and decent workplace conditions, are about to get a taste of what it’s like for workers to be brutalized by free trade and the global economy. The preponderance of McJobs in the American economy is part of the fallout from globalization, as America continues to fit itself into a global economy. As we increasingly come to compete with low-wage economies like China, India, and all the others that are struggling to emerge from the Third World, American companies are forced to compensate by developing ever-higher productivity. All this is bad news for American workers who find themselves working 60- and 70-hour workweeks for dwindling wages, but good news for workers in China and India who are at long last able to climb out of destitution and into the burgeoning ranks of the middle class. America, with 6% of the world’s population, commands 40% of its resources, and the fact of the matter is, we’ve been way less than generous in sharing that wealth with the one out of four people in this world who live on less than a dollar a day. Painful as they are, the harsh economics of globalization may ultimately be for the best, since if we don’t accomplish a leveling of the playing field one way or the other, we’re going to continue to be reminded of this enormous disparity in ways that—like 9/11–are likely to be pretty ugly.

Society/Social Differentiation

The beliefs that form a nation’s culture come about for a reason. Isolation weighs heavily in the character of a culture, although in today’s global village, it can be nearly impossible for a relatively isolated culture to maintain its integrity and distinctiveness. As a result, such cultures may turn inward, and place more emphasis on religion and esoterica.

Society/Social Mobility

It seems that we’ve come full circle, having gone from Paleolithic hunter-gatherer mobility to the sedentary life of the Agricultural Revolution to mobile-everything now: not just phones, but hook-up relationships, a virtual Internet world, cheap global communications, portable pension and medical plans, and even jobs. With traditional employment and all its benefits becoming too pricey for many companies to afford, we’re quickly becoming a nation of plug-and-play independent contractors. It’s back to the hunter-gatherer stage, it seems.

Society/Surnames

How better to describe us than to just call us what we are! (I guess that was the idea behind surnames, anyhow.) In my own case, the name “Monroe” means “Dweller by the Red Swamp”—a fitting description of my financial condition, if nothing else.

Society/Terrorism/Bin Laden

There’s an aspect of terrorism that few people know anything about: When the Afghans were fighting in the late 1970s to get the Russians out of Afghanistan, the U.S. helped out by financing the training and arming of the freedom fighters, thousands of whom poured into Afghanistan from throughout the Muslim world to fight the Good Fight–Osama Bin Laden among them. Bin Laden and his buddies liked being in the action. But once the Russians had been evicted and the action stopped, the only way to keep this band of rum fellows together and in a fighting mood was to drum up a new enemy. Guess who filled the bill? That’s right: thanks to our support of Israel and stationing of troops on Saudi soil, the U.S.A. became the new Satan of choice, and the support for Bin Laden’s agenda of hatred and terror is fueled by each new generation of children from the destitute urban masses who are fed, cared for, and indoctrinated in the ideology of hatred taught by the madrasses, the neighborhood religious schools that have been a tradition in the Middle East from the days of British rule in India.

Society/Terrorism/9-11

The preponderance of McJobs in the American economy is part of the fallout from globalization, as America continues to fit itself into a global economy. As we increasingly come to compete with low-wage economies like China, India, and all the others that are struggling to emerge from the Third World, American companies are forced to compensate by developing ever-higher productivity. All this is bad news for American workers who find themselves working 60- and 70-hour workweeks for dwindling wages, but good news for workers in China and India who are at long last able to climb out of destitution and into the burgeoning ranks of the middle class. America, with 6% of the world’s population, commands 40% of its resources, and the fact of the matter is, we’ve been way less than generous in sharing that wealth with the one out of four people in this world who live on less than a dollar a day. Painful as they are, the harsh economics of globalization may ultimately be for the best, since if we don’t accomplish a leveling of the playing field one way or the other, we’re going to continue to be reminded of this enormous disparity in ways that—like 9/11–are likely to be pretty ugly.

Society/Terrorism/Third World Response

I fear that the Western world is about to embark on a vastly expanded stage of religious warfare that may go well beyond the lethality of the religious feuding that plagued Europe throughout most of its history. While 9/11 was its catalyst, the impending invasion of Iraq is bound to widen into just the war between the Judeo-Christian and Muslim worlds that bin Laden always wanted. There are, after all, some 1.2 billion Muslims worldwide, and for every Muslim killed in this dust-up, countless terrorists will be born.

Society/Tobacco

The existence of tobacco—as with cockroaches, mosquitoes, and rattlesnakes—would seem to contravene all the going assumptions as to the nature and operation of intelligent design in the universe. And considering the noxious chemical fog of cigarette smoke that gives me an instant headache, I’d generally not disagree. On the other hand, moderation being the key to enjoying most any of life’s little sins, I hope that I can be forgiven the occasional pipe-full of fragrant weed that soothes and serves as my philosopher’s stone. And, as the writer Evelyn Waugh once put it, “The most disastrous, futile day can seem well spent when reviewed through the blue, fragrant smoke of a cigar.”

Society/Welfare State

Karl Marx and all the other utopian socialists were probably onto something that was either light-years ahead of his time, or ages behind it, in his understanding of something that the ancient Hawaiians knew all along, that the earth can no more be divided and owned than can the sky and the sea. However, predation—whether of one class upon another, individuals upon each other, or amongst wild animals—is an essential part of the elegant scheme of life. Yes, it’s vicious, it’s bloody, it’s unjust, and a few other things. But is human development even possible without it? After all, we grow through struggle, and in overcoming life’s myriad obstacles. At one end of the spectrum of struggle lies reward… and at the other, you’re someone else’s lunch. Their vision of a utopian welfare state in which each gives according to his ability, and is given according to his needs, precludes the operation of incentive… and the whole dynamic of risk and reward that animates human progress.

Society/Women

I once heard it remarked that “apart from the obvious anatomical differences, women are men.” Simplistic as this remark may seem, the more I think about it, the more implications seem to reveal themselves. There’s no question that in their way, women are as tough, as durable, as combative, and as competitive as men; and, I believe that anyone who has raised girls will readily concede that femininity is an acquired behavior. The fact that there is no more formidable adversary in nature than a mother whose young are threatened suggests (as you do) that these “base instincts” operate in women more on behalf of protection and conservation than acquisition. Which force is the more powerful? It’s like speculating on whether greed is more powerful than fear; the fact that a stock market collapse can destroy–virtually overnight–the value that often takes years to accrue makes the answer clear. History tells us it is far more difficult to conserve an empire than to build one, much as those who create often have little patience for those who manage. Left hemisphere/right hemisphere, yin/yang… male/female?

Society/Women/Mary Mayson Beeton

The popularity of Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management seems to have anticipated the full circle that society, in its headlong rush to get ahead of itself, has finally come. For all our modernity and sophistication, are we finally coming to realize that the management of a family and household is an endeavor that requires no less critical and comprehensive a skill-set than the management of a Fortune 500 enterprise?

Society/Women/Equality

It’s astonishing how certain things that are so brain-dead obvious to many of us today (such as the need for absolute equality of opportunity for women) were so utterly impossible for people to get a grip on back then. It makes us think twice the next time we’re inclined to dismiss something as daydreaming or star-struck lunacy.

Society/Women/Leaders

Ever since the serpent ingratiated itself with Eve, women have been tarred as the minions of Satan and detractors from the innately virtuous nature of men. But to me, women represent civilization and the conservators thereof, while men, in spite of their much more conspicuous profile in history, have done at least as much to tear down the edifice of civilization as to build it.

Society/Women/Objectivity

In the movie “As Good As It Gets”, Jack Nicholson’s character, a cranky screwball writer of “chick lit”, is asked how he’s able to write about women so well. His sarcastic response: “I think of a man, then subtract reason and accountability.” That’s a crock, of course… except when I reflect upon my own experience with a daughter’s devotion to her daddy, and come to realize that love can easily conquer objectivity, especially if the latter proves inconvenient.

Society/Women/Power

Clearly, women in history were not only the equals of men, but in many ways their betters, since they at least had the good sense to stay out of the way of male vanity and its many complications (war and much more), and exert their influence in more subtle ways. Women often occupy a badly underestimated role in history, thanks to the behind-the-scenes influence they exert on men who lend a willing ear in the interest of preserving good relations, as it were, and there are countless cases that suggest that the real power of statecraft may just as easily be found behind the throne as upon it. But that’s pretty old-fashioned, isn’t it? Women must have every measure of the same opportunity that men do, and be able to exert their influence as forthrightly as men do.

Society/Women/Virtuous Widows

The Chinese used to build monuments to virtuous widows–a fitting tribute, I think. To me, women represent civilization and the conservators thereof, while men, in spite of their much more conspicuous profile in history, have done at least as much to tear down the edifice of civilization as to build it.

Society/Women/World War I

Contrary to the commonly held view of war as destructive, war is actually one of mankind’s most creative ventures! War provides an environment of hothouse growth for not only economic productivity, as when the Second World War awakened the United States from the torpor of the Great Depression, but for social reform as well. Both world wars served to debunk a lot of preconceptions that people held about the role of women in society: American women were never the same after their experience in World War II in filling in for the men who had been dragged off to the war; their role in keeping the bombers and ships rolling off the production lines was as vital as actually fighting the war. World War I not only disabused men of their certainty that women should not serve in a combat role, but caused women to realize that if they’re good enough to fight, they’re good enough to vote. Sometimes it takes a war to cause us to understand that the most important prerequisite of change is changed expectations.

Culture


Culture/Art

Art reflects not only the tastes, but also the values of its time. It allows you to experience for yourself those most keenly felt sentiments that shaped the topography of the mindset of an era. For this, words don’t always suffice–there being things that, if explained to us, we cannot truly understand.

Culture/Art

Culture/Art Versus Craft: Craft is to art as style is to substance. Art reflects not only the tastes, but also the values of its time. It allows you to experience for yourself those most keenly felt sentiments that shaped the topography of the mindset of an era. For this, words don’t always suffice–there being things that, if explained to us, we cannot truly understand. But with a bit of craft, perhaps we can.

Culture/Art/Impressionism

With art, there are imitators and there are innovators. It used to be that the more realistically one imitated nature and people and whatnot, the more one was esteemed a master (as with the Old Masters of Dutch landscape and portrait painting). Then along came the Impressionists, who held that the object of the painter’s eye was to be interpreted and not merely emulated. Predictably, the work of such artists is at first an acquired taste—as reviled in the early going as it is beloved later. The arts are such that popular acclaim typically rewards those whose work conforms to the mold of established tastes, while those who break it are rewarded with opprobrium and poverty. Moral of the story: whatever you do artistically and creatively, do for yourself first and foremost… and let popular acclaim (which may take a generation or two to catch up) go where it may. Each of us is a master in our own right, at least of those values within us that we are meant to fulfill.

Culture/Art/Modernism

With art, there are imitators and there are innovators. It used to be that the more realistically one imitated nature and people and whatnot, the more one was esteemed a master (as with the Old Masters of Dutch landscape and portrait painting). Then along came the Modernists, who held that the highest purpose of art was not emulation but personal expression. Predictably, the work of such artists is at first an acquired taste—as reviled in the early going as it is beloved later. The arts are such that popular acclaim typically rewards those whose work conforms to the mold of established tastes, while those who break it are rewarded with opprobrium and poverty. Moral of the story: whatever you do artistically and creatively, do for yourself first and foremost… and let popular acclaim (which may take a generation or two to catch up) go where it may. Each of us is a master in our own right, at least of those values within us that we are meant to fulfill.

Culture/Art/Picasso

With art, there are imitators and there are innovators. It used to be that the more realistically one imitated nature and people and whatnot, the more one was esteemed a master (as with the Old Masters of Dutch landscape and portrait painting). Then along came Picasso, who asserted that the highest purpose of art was not emulation but personal expression. Predictably, the work of such artists is at first an acquired taste—as reviled in the early going as it is beloved later. The arts are such that popular acclaim typically rewards those whose work conforms to the mold of established tastes, while those who break it are rewarded with opprobrium and poverty. Moral of the story: whatever you do artistically and creatively, do for yourself first and foremost… and let popular acclaim (which may take a generation or two to catch up) go where it may. Each of us is a master in our own right, at least of those values within us that we are meant to fulfill.

Culture/Art/Jackson Pollock

With art, there are imitators and there are innovators. It used to be that the more realistically one imitated nature and people and whatnot, the more one was esteemed a master (as with the Old Masters of Dutch landscape and portrait painting). Then along came Jackson Pollock, who asserted that the highest purpose of art was not emulation but personal expression. Predictably, the work of such artists is at first an acquired taste—as reviled in the early going as it is beloved later. The arts are such that popular acclaim typically rewards those whose work conforms to the mold of established tastes, while those who break it are rewarded with opprobrium and poverty. Moral of the story: whatever you do artistically and creatively, do for yourself first and foremost… and let popular acclaim (which may take a generation or two to catch up) go where it may. Each of us is a master in our own right, at least of those values within us that we are meant to fulfill.

Culture/Christmas

The evolution of Christmas in the hands of creative folks worldwide reminds me of the improvement that we Americans have made on pizza: there’s scant resemblance to the original article… but who cares when you’re having fun?

Culture/English

I read an article in the New York Times this week about how Mongolia’s decision to make English its official second language (the same thing happened recently in Chile). Irrespective of the unsavory implications for cultural globalization, I’m pretty well convinced that nations that don’t adopt English will be increasingly marginalized.

Culture/English/Etymology

The proposition that everything means something takes on a whole new dimension with the etymology of the English language, which Winston Churchill averred was the world’s richest. Be that as it may, there’s no better proof that the best way to understand a culture is to learn its language—the code of its entire ethos. In the case of the Chinese language (with which I have some familiarity), certain canons of the culture can be discerned in the fact that the high art of Chinese calligraphy could only be mastered by the scholar-mandarin, and mastery of the written language was emblematic of the gulf that separated the scholar from the commoner. It is a language that is supremely ill-suited to science and technology–the Chinese term for “cement” is “foreign dust;” for “theater,” it is “electric shadow-hall”—but which is very well suited indeed to poetry, philosophical epigrams, and the cultivation of an artistic turn of mind. At the same time, it accords well with the Chinese veneration of the ancient idyll, and with the Chinese concept of the highest and best qualities of its culture and the literati who best represent them. That said, one would have to agree that the tendrils of English-language sayings twist and turn through the ins and outs of our cultural legacy in no less byzantine a fashion.

Culture/History

It’s fascinating how hometown goes from humdrum to how interesting with a little help from history. That’s as true with Honolulu as it is with Pittsburgh, and I would never have appreciated this place for what it is–and all that it has been–had I not been given a course in Hawaiian history to teach. With all that I’ve since learned, there’s nothing I can look at hereabouts without seeing it in its former iterations. As they say, history is, not history was; there’s no such thing as time, really, and everything is alive and well in the capacious Present.

Culture/Humanities

Who’s to say what’s important? Consider the movers and shakers–prepossessed with the importance of their every moment–who got us into the tragic quagmires of Vietnam and Iraq. I’m reminded of a couple of things happened around 400 BC that combined to produce a remarkable change of heart upon the Greek nation: the defeat of Athens by Sparta, and the death of Socrates. From the depths of ruin, Athens transformed itself from an empire that had gloried military conquest (Athens more than Sparta, in fact) to a nation consecrated to intellectual inquiry, democracy, and the arts. The shattering defeat that he led Athens into in the Peloponnesian War caused Athens to abandon its militaristic empire and concentrate instead on becoming an Empire of the Mind. The cultural and political values of Athens (democracy, most notably) survived to flourish thousands of years after its empire bit the dust–giving us an excellent example of the Law of Unintended Consequences. In this context, perhaps art reflected the determination of Classical Greece to redirect its focus on ideal forms that endure where empire could not. Consider democracy, for example: at the end of World War II, six nations were democracies; now, some 160 are. That’s a pretty impressive accomplishment for an idea, which suggests that, in the long run, freedom endures; conquest and empire do not. I would submit that the reason we come here to Planet Earth is not necessarily for accomplishment; for notwithstanding our best efforts, the world will never be appreciably changed for them. Nor do we come here to build fortunes that only disappear with our demise. As for power, I submit that the most lasting effect that we can ever have on others is not to impress people with our ability to make them do our bidding, but to cause people—unbidden—to say and think of us that we were helpful, generous, and kind. By this reckoning, many succeed far beyond others who left behind a legacy of power unleavened by kindness, or wealth unleavened by generosity, or accomplishment that never lent a helping hand. In our headlong rush and daily struggle to stay ahead of things, and to get ahead, it’s easy to overlook the simple but profound joy of those things–poetry, art, literature, music, and philosophy and simple contemplation–that remind us of our highest and best qualities. But are they not at least as important as all the moving and shaking that gets us into so much trouble?

Culture/Literature

Writers like Steinbeck, Dos Passos, and Wolfe put all Americans on the same page in terms of defining their common experience in the most wrenching social upheaval of our times. Calamities like war and depression are in a sense masterpieces of the human condition–much as Picasso’s Guernica–that bring out both the worst and the best in mankind. It is for the literary voices of the era to illuminate that masterpiece, much as the spotlights that play on the canvasses on museum walls.

Culture/Literature/Literary Craft

With literature, nothing rings truer than the old truism that genius is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. So much of pre-modern literature suffers from a paucity of perspective, voice, structure, and other such technical legerdemain, and come across as wooden posturing and drunkish drivel. With the evolution of literary talent came the awkward realization that sentiment and artistic inspiration only went so far. All this is emblematic of the timeless struggle between Right Brain and Left Brain, and while it’s true that artistic inspiration only goes so far, technology and logic (and literary craft) have their limits as well–they are tools, and we need to employ them to lend style and palatability to the often rough and exuberant passions of inspiration.

Culture/Movies

The reason we study history is to learn the lessons of history from the experiences of others. In my view, it is impossible to understand anything unless one personally experiences it; experience is what makes the difference between knowledge and understanding. While we obviously cannot (in this lifetime, at least) experience the things that other generations in history have, we can come close in some cases with movies, since good acting can go a long ways toward imparting the emotional texture of the experience; emotional empathy adds an essential dimension to understanding.

Culture/Muppets

With art, there are imitators and there are innovators. It used to be that the more realistically one imitated nature and people and whatnot, the more one was esteemed a master (as with the Old Masters of Dutch landscape and portrait painting). Then along comes someone who asserts that the highest purpose of art was not emulation but personal expression. Predictably, the work of such artists is at first an acquired taste—as reviled in the early going as it is beloved later. The arts are such that popular acclaim typically rewards those whose work conforms to the mold of established tastes, while those who break it are rewarded with opprobrium and poverty. But Jim Henson had the radically different idea of doing a new take on the very old-fashioned art form of puppetry. Who’d a thunk it?! The further we go, the more we come back to where we began.

Culture/Music

With music and other forms of art, there are imitators and there are innovators. It used to be that the more realistically one imitated conventional forms, the more one was esteemed a master. Then along comes someone to break the mold and assert that the highest purpose of music was not emulation but personal expression. Predictably, the work of such artists is at first an acquired taste—as reviled in the early going as it is beloved later. The arts are such that popular acclaim typically rewards those whose work conforms to the mold of established tastes, while those who break it are rewarded with opprobrium and poverty. Moral of the story: whatever you do artistically and creatively, do for yourself first and foremost… and let popular acclaim (which may take a generation or two to catch up) go where it may. Each of us is a master in our own right, at least of those values within us that we are meant to fulfill.

Culture/Music/Organ

There’s something about its majestic nature that makes one wonder: was the organ built for the cathedral… or the cathedral for the organ?

Culture/Music/Arnold Schonberg

With music and other forms of art, there are imitators and there are innovators. It used to be that the more realistically one imitated conventional forms, the more one was esteemed a master. Then along came Arnold Schonberg, who asserted that the highest purpose of music was not emulation but personal expression. Predictably, the work of such artists is at first an acquired taste—as reviled in the early going as it is beloved later. The arts are such that popular acclaim typically rewards those whose work conforms to the mold of established tastes, while those who break it are rewarded with opprobrium and poverty. Moral of the story: whatever you do artistically and creatively, do for yourself first and foremost… and let popular acclaim (which may take a generation or two to catch up) go where it may. Each of us is a master in our own right, at least of those values within us that we are meant to fulfill.

Culture/Olives

The cleverer we become with Franken-foods, the more we become too clever by half. Here in Hawaii, we have a fruit called the noni, which we know to be good for every malady in Pandora’s box–and I for one can say that anything that tastes that bad has got to be good for you. The olive reminds us, however, that something that’s that good for you can taste good as well.

Culture/Philosophy/Evolution

Logic—Aristotelian or otherwise—has its limits. I find it hard to believe that an intelligent being can look around and conclude that a flower is just an angiosperm, that the sun is just an exploding star that we happen to have situated ourselves in precise relation to so that we neither roast nor freeze, that a concert violinist–or even the most mundane of mortals–came from the mud. I believe that we must look at life—and its origins–with a sense of the magical and miraculous, and try to appreciate the profound limitations that our senses and sense of logic impose on our coming to grips with the metaphysical (metaphysics being “ultimate reality”) nature of it all. We need to look beyond what our senses are telling us. I suspect, in other words, that we have been ill served and deluded by science, and that mankind may one day regard the Enlightenment and the spirit of scientific and philosophical inquiry that attended it as a necessary but misguided detour in our search for truth.

Culture/Philosophy/Metaphysics

Our much-vaunted system of reason and logic, and the five physical senses, are little more than tools that enable us to contend with physical reality. And the more we rely on them to distance ourselves from God and metaphysical (ultimate) truth, the more we become too clever by half.

Culture/Philosophy/Personal Growth

Some would say that God created us to become co-equal with Him… in the fullness of time. In the meantime, we come to Planet Earth (again and again) to grow by overcoming obstacles. And in truth, humans do seem to thrive best under adversity; when the times are good, we’re too busy making hay to want to change anything, and it’s only through change that we grow (that’s why times of war often prove to be hothouses for social reform). Maybe that’s why the Sumerians (and a few others) concluded that the gods were not in business to do us humans any favors.

Culture/Printing

Gutenberg’s gimmick must have had its detractors– learned Latin-speaking heads who would have denounced the whole business of publishing as pandering to the mass-market demand for cheap tracts in vernacular tongues. But wasn’t it Bill Gates who once said, “Who could need anything more than 64K?” As earth-shaking as its consequences were, the impact of the printing press may well pale before that of the Internet–it’s only a matter of bandwidth before websites become virtual realms that replicate all the sensations perceived by the physical senses, and those who purport to know say that we’ll be having virtual sex within twenty years. The implications of the virtual world are mind-boggling.

Culture/Printing

Consider the geometric acceleration in the pace of innovation, the development of Gutenberg’s press to the typewriter… to linotype… and now the Internet. At the beginning of the 20th century, the total volume of man’s knowledge was doubling about every 50 years, and now it’s what… every 10 years? I really don’t know what the rate is, but it’s clear that the day is fast coming upon us when those of us in a technical field will have to content ourselves with occupying an ever-narrowing niche in order to keep up with the phenomenal growth of knowledge therein… or throw our hands up in despair and become philosophers (or history teachers). Wasn’t it Bill Gates who once said, “Who could need anything more than 64K?” As earth-shaking as its consequences were, the impact of the printing press may well pale before that of the Internet–it’s only a matter of bandwidth before websites become virtual realms that replicate all the sensations perceived by the physical senses, and those who purport to know say that we’ll be having virtual sex within twenty years. The implications of the virtual world are mind-boggling.

Culture/Symbols

Everything—whether swastikas or state flags–means something, and those who insist that things should be taken at face value are so often missing the forest for the trees. This goes way back to Plato, who understood that everything means something—not just ideas, but physical forms like the sun, the sky, and the trees and mountains. There is an idyllic psychic counterpart to every physical form, and its purpose lies in what it means to you and to all men. But it took a Hitler to construe the less-than-idyllic Dark Side of an ancient Buddhist symbol.

Culture/Television

The reason we study history is to learn the lessons of history from the experiences of others. In my view, it is impossible to understand anything unless one personally experiences it; experience is what makes the difference between knowledge and understanding. While we obviously cannot (in this lifetime, at least) experience the things that other generations in history have, we can come close in some cases with television, since the proximity of the medium can go a long ways toward imparting the emotional and real-life texture of the experience–all of which adds an essential dimension to understanding.

Culture/Science/Alexander Graham Bell

Alexander Graham Bell was one of those gifted souls—like Mozart–whose accomplishments exceeded those of a hundred—even a thousand—others in their field. We’ve seen time and again that the attributes of genius have little to do with education or even effort; rather, I suspect that genius is a conduit for forces that are available to many of us… if only we might understand what it is that we came here to contribute, and open ourselves up to those forces.

Culture/Science/Ancient Astronomy

The ancient astronomers may well have anticipated the greats of the Scientific Revolution (Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton), who were both Mechanics and Magicians—architects of scientific theory leavened with a generous dollop of Hermetic magic and alchemy. With both magic and mechanics, we’re really talking about the same thing here: the Egyptians, Sumerians, and Druids saw the world as the living embodiment of divinity, and man could use his own spark of divinity to work magic (especially mathematical and astronomical magic) to control and dominate the natural world–the same objective that was ultimately advanced by the Scientific Revolution.

Culture/Science/Big Bang Theory

Just one man’s opinion, I can’t help regarding the Big Bang Theory as yet another misguided attempt to hammer the round peg of Life into the square hole of Logic. I believe that we must look at life—and its origins–with a sense of the magical and miraculous, and try to appreciate the profound limitations that our senses and sense of logic impose on our coming to grips with the metaphysical (metaphysics being “ultimate reality”) nature of it all. We need to look beyond what our senses are telling us. I suspect, in other words, that we have been ill served and deluded by science, and that mankind may one day regard the Enlightenment and the spirit of scientific inquiry that attends it today as a necessary but misguided detour in our search for truth.

Culture/Science/Bridges

They say that everything means something, and that being the case, what I admire about bridges is all that they connote about man’s defiance of the law of gravity and other constraints of physics, and of our ability to connect with communities that nature and geography had decreed should never meet. Yet, notwithstanding the sublime science and engineering that went into some of these spans, it seems that our ability to bridge and transcend the cultural differences of our fellow human creature is more elusive than ever. But that’s why we study history: since nothing throughout history is so consistent as human nature, it’s not as if we lack the necessary signposts to point the way, do we?

Culture/Science/Calendar

It’s startling to realize how far we’ve come in refining the accuracy of our clocks and calendars, from tacking on a couple extra months at year-end… to the concerns raised by the realization that the recent earthquake in Indonesia is thought to have been powerful enough to affect the rotation of the earth and throw our reckoning of time off by a millisecond.

Culture/Science/Chaos Theory

The chaos theory holds that the beating of a butterfly’s wings can give rise to a hurricane on the other side of the globe (since proven to be largely true). In a global economy, the old ratio of America’s 6% of the globe’s population accounting for 40% of its resources can no longer obtain without incurring sobering repercussions. Everything is inter-related, as your observation that “the world’s problems have the potential to affect all of the world’s nations” suggests, and the more we shrink into a global village, the more germane that insight becomes.

Culture/Science/Marie Curie

The contributions to science made by women like Marie Curie, Maria Meyer, and Rosalind Franklin were dwarfed by the accomplishment their rising above the stereotypes that until the 20th century had largely prevented their participation in the masculine domain of science–all in all, an excellent example of how our own self-imposed limitations make us into our own worst enemy!

Culture/Science/Disease Transmission

Solving the lethal mysteries of the transmission of disease required us to think outside of the box in ways that are intrinsically awkward to man as a creature of reason—which is in turn a creation of empirical evidence, cause-and-effect, see-it-and-believe-it. If you don’t mind me venturing off the deep end for a bit, this might well point up the limitations of logic and the physical senses that restrain us from reaching the next plateau of understanding that lies beyond the pale of our previous way-stations of Faith and Reason in our ascent toward the pinnacle of Ultimate Truth.

Culture/Science/Disease/Puerperal Fever

Puerperal fever—that ironic kiss-off from the dead to the newly living—was for the longest time largely understood as the result of an imbalance of bodily humours. In spite of the stupendous ignorance of the times, nursing, midwifery, and herbal healing were all very well served by women, at least until those practices were largely subsumed by the traditionally male medical preserves of medicine. Of all the diseases that women contended with, those that they were least effective in dealing with were ignorance and bigotry toward women. (In fact, nursing was considered a profession fit only for prostitutes even by Florence Nightingale’s time!) Before there were midwives, there was Mother Nature, with her traditional means—a high birthrate–of compensating for the often-fatal complications of childbirth.

Culture/Science/George Eastman

The thing about photography is that it doesn’t preach or lecture, but simply presents an image that forces the viewer to reflect and listen to himself (and that’s the only person that anyone ever listens to and learns from). But notwithstanding the straightforward and objective principles that George Eastman employed in developing his camera, the key to its invention remained to be able to imagine the thing. Imagination is the matrix upon which physical reality collects, like lint on a dryer filter. But back then, who could imagine a machine that could capture the living, spitting image of the moment? And what else in our own time could be made to exist… if only we would be so bold as to imagine it?

Culture/Science/Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison was one of those gifted souls—like Mozart–whose accomplishments exceeded those of a hundred—even a thousand—others in their field. We’ve seen time and again that the attributes of genius have little to do with education or even effort; rather, I suspect that genius is a conduit for forces that are available to many of us… if only we might understand what it is that we came here to contribute, and open ourselves up to those forces.

Culture/Science/Albert Einstein

Einstein’s accomplishments in theoretical and nuclear physics offer us another example—along with dynamite, the cotton gin, and genetic modification–of the double-edged sword posed by certain of man’s most brilliant breakthroughs in science and technology. Sadly (yet predictably), Einstein’s theories were rushed to the drawing board of the bomb that made a cruel mockery of his lifelong commitment to building peace.

Culture/Science/Energy

The breakthroughs in nanotechnology show that the domain of the infinitely small is no less capacious (and pregnant with potential) than the domain of the infinitely large. When you consider the fact that less than a pound of hydrogen is needed for a bomb with seven times the explosive power of the Hiroshima bomb, it seems clear that with an ever-burgeoning population making ever greater demands on ever-dwindling resources, it’s high time that we changed our mindset from “more and bigger are better” to making better use of “fewer and smaller.” With technology, the less intrusive, the better, and I imagine that future civilizations may well come to de-emphasize technology to the point where life again resembles the simplicity of certain ancient (and long forgotten) civilizations that, for all we know, may have gone through all of this before.

Culture/Science/Energy Crunch/Big Cities

I simply cannot imagine how big cities will survive the energy crunch—once it’s here to stay. Who will live in those high-rises; can you imagine a 50-story walk-up? Where will the urbanites grow their food, and how will they obtain it? Where’s the power to run the factories? Where are the trees to fuel the furnaces? I know, someone’s going to pull an Energizer Bunny out of the hat, right? And none of this will happen, hopefully. But until whichever genius it is does pull the rabbit out of the hat, I’m going to have to go with what I can absolutely count on as certainties: we’re running out of fossil fuels, and the icecaps are melting. (Sorry, but you’ll have to go find your own tropical island: Hawaii’s not a very big place.)

Culture/Science/Eugenics

Eugenics is predicated on the misbegotten premise that there’s an ideal human form to aspire to, and that culling the human species of its evident defects brings us ever closer to the Holy Grail. In fact, the mentally defective are often emotionally richer, and the limitations of the physically handicapped are in another sense growth opportunities denied to the rest of us. All of these myriad variations on the theme of human being contribute to the fabulously rich fabric of our earthly experience.

Culture/Science/Hot Air Balloons

Almost invariably (it seems), the debut of a new technology is given the most impetus as a result of the diligent and fevered consideration (as the French seem to have given to the possibilities of Vicente Lunardi’s hot air balloon) as to how it might be made to serve prurient purposes. Those who purport to know say that we’ll be having virtual sex in twenty years, which suggests that the vanguard of digital research may lie as much on the casting couch as in any more legitimate venue. J

Culture/Science/J. Robert Oppenheimer

Oppenheimer’s accomplishments in theoretical and nuclear physics offer us another example—along with dynamite, the cotton gin, and genetic modification–of the double-edged sword posed by certain of man’s most brilliant breakthroughs in science and technology.

Culture/Science/Internet

The Internet will almost certainly go down in history (if it doesn’t re-fashion history completely, that is) as great a revolution as the printing press—and we’ve only just begun! Imagine websites as virtual domains; strap on your virtual reality helmet, and experience whatever you like: sex, Singapore, or a ’63 Puligny-Montrachet. It’s just a matter of bandwidth and processing speed before we’ll be able to replicate anything that the physical senses can experience. What will it do to relationships and marriage, for example, when we can keep the company of a virtual companion who never says no? Or have virtual children that don’t need to have their diapers changed? What will become of travel when you can (virtually) go anywhere, anytime, without visas, jet lag, shots, or Delhi Belly? What about work and the quest for material rewards when, with the click of a mouse, one can change one’s shabby little dive into a sumptuous abode replete with kid glove leather sofas, rare Persian carpets, designer kitchen filled with virtual delicacies, and an 84-inch LCD TV for viewing all of your virtual favorites? Imagination has always been the matrix upon which the stuff of physical reality is formed… but in this case, the Internet will have taken all the work out of it!

Culture/Science/Eugenics

Like so many things that sound good in theory, eugenics leaves a certain amount to be desired in its application to human beings. I would submit that the human race would be much the poorer without the many folk that may well be deficient by quantifiable measures of intelligence, productivity, and so forth, but who are emotionally richer than their more polished counterparts. In a world that’s become too corporate, too officious, and too busy, that probably adds something of value to the gene pool. That’s the problem with scientists like Mr. Davenport, forever trying to hammer the square peg of theory into the round hole of humanity—something that usually doesn’t happen without a great deal of bruising in the process.

Culture/Science/Gadget Printing

As we approach the end of our tether–diminishing resources of oil and other commodities versus soaring demand from China, India, and the rest of the world where an emerging middle class is clamoring for the same share of the pie as the West–the burgeoning potential of Internet virtuality, nanotechnology, and new production concepts like gadget printing would suggest that the mindset of “more and bigger are better” will give way to making better use of “fewer and smaller.” The breakthroughs in nanotechnology show that the domain of the infinitely small is no less capacious (and pregnant with potential) than the domain of the infinitely large. Gadget printing could well represent a qualitative breakthrough in resource utilization efficiency. And when one reads, for example, of a new generation of semiconductors based on bacteria, and of the potential of internet virtuality to dispense with the need for travel (and its attendant energy drain), it seems clear that with an ever-burgeoning population making ever greater demands on ever-dwindling resources, it’s high time that we changed our thinking. With technology, the less intrusive, the better, and I imagine that future civilizations may well come to de-emphasize technology to the point where life again resembles the simplicity of certain ancient (and long forgotten) civilizations that, for all we know, may have gone through all of this before.

Culture/Science/Global Warming

Global warming seems largely the result of greed: the United States—with 6% of the world’s population, accounts for 40% of the world’s resources, while on the other hand, the 40% of the world’s population accounted for by China and India is now emerging into the middle class… with all its predictable aspirations for the energy-intensive Good Life. This is all very bad math, and clearly unsustainable. Assuming Mother Nature doesn’t break down in the meantime, the breakthroughs in nanotechnology may offer some hope. The domain of the infinitely small is no less capacious (and pregnant with potential) than the domain of the infinitely large. When you consider the fact that less than a pound of hydrogen is needed for a bomb with seven times the explosive power of the Hiroshima bomb, it seems clear that with an ever-burgeoning population making ever greater demands on ever-dwindling resources, it’s high time that we changed our mindset from “more and bigger are better” to making better use of “fewer and smaller.” With technology, the less intrusive, the better, and I imagine that future civilizations may well come to de-emphasize technology to the point where life again resembles the simplicity of certain ancient (and long forgotten) civilizations that, for all we know, may have gone through all of this before.

Culture/Science/Human Hibernation

The key to invention is to be able to imagine the thing. Imagination is the matrix upon which physical reality collects, like lint on a dryer filter. But back then, who could imagine a machine that could fly… much less space travel? And what else in our own time could be made to exist… if only we would be so bold as to imagine it?

Culture/Science/Magic

With both magic and mechanics, we’re really talking about the same thing here: the Egyptians, Sumerians, and Druids saw the world as the living embodiment of divinity, and man could use his own spark of divinity to work magic (especially mathematical and astronomical magic) to control and dominate the natural world–the same objective that was ultimately advanced by the Scientific Revolution.

Culture/Science/Mathematics

Consider the Greeks, who built the Parthenon in accordance with the mathematical ratios found in nature; Kepler, whose universe resonated with the “music of the spheres”; Pascal’s “odds of God”–even Isaac Newton’s embrace of the Hermetic ethos in the formulation of his universal Clockwork Mechanism: the ancients understood mathematics to be the language of magic.

Culture/Science/Medicine

We think it out of the question today that medicine could be practiced without a comprehensive understanding of internal anatomy. The objection back then was that the study of anatomy intruded upon God’s creation, the human body. But was such intrusiveness ever really necessary? Or was it just a reflection of the Western insistence on empirical evidence and mechanistic cause-and-effect? After all, the Chinese developed a highly sophisticated system of medicine based on the yin and yang of bodily organs, acupuncture, an herbal pharmacology, and a very different mindset that involved little or no intrusion into the body… which might lead us wonder about the essential philosophical differences between sacred and scientific societies.

Culture/Science/Medicine/Malaria

If it’s true that everything means something, then I imagine that the war against malaria should remind us that there are limits to man’s dominion over nature. In the course of the West’s empire building, its military might was subverted by the malaria that made the empire into its graveyard… until quinine and mosquito control helped turn the tables. The same environmental obstacles that prevented the development of these regions by their own inhabitants obtained for the white man, whether burning desert, impenetrable jungle, or a deficit of natural resources. But none of that dissuaded him from carving out his place in the hot sun, with the lion’s share reserved for himself and the leftovers for his benighted brethren. It all begs the question of who was the civilizer, and who the savage.

Culture/Science/Medicine/Yellow Fever

If it’s true that everything means something, then I imagine that the war against yellow fever—even though we won that one–should remind us that there are limits to man’s dominion over nature. In the course of America’s empire-building, our military might was subverted by the yellow fever that made the empire into our graveyard… until quinine and mosquito control turned the tables. The same environmental obstacles that prevented the development of these regions by their own inhabitants obtained for the white man, whether burning desert, impenetrable jungle, or a deficit of natural resources. But none of that dissuaded the white man from carving out his place in the hot sun, with the lion’s share reserved for himself and the leftovers for his benighted brethren. It all begs the question of who was the civilizer, and who the savage.

Culture/Science/Nanotechnology

The breakthroughs in nanotechnology show that the domain of the infinitely small is no less capacious (and pregnant with potential) than the domain of the infinitely large. When one reads, for example, of a new generation of semiconductors based on bacteria, and of the potential of internet virtuality to dispense with the need for travel (and its attendant energy drain), it seems clear that with an ever-burgeoning population making ever greater demands on ever-dwindling resources, it’s high time that we changed our mindset from “more and bigger are better” to making better use of “fewer and smaller.” With technology, the less intrusive, the better, and I imagine that future civilizations may well come to de-emphasize technology to the point where life again resembles the simplicity of certain ancient (and long forgotten) civilizations that, for all we know, may have gone through all of this before.

Culture/Science/New Dark Age

A proposition for you to consider… that a new Dark Age is upon is, thanks to the man’s betrayal by his over-reliance on reason, logic, science, finance, and energy (among other culprits) that has disconnected him from his once intuitive and intimate relationship with nature and (for lack of a better word) God. The Promised Land of our presumptive dominion over nature–that we had so heavily invested our hopes in–has turned out to be bogus. The Energy Age–meaning not only hydrocarbon-based energy but also the energization of money in the form of finance and credit–that had funded this presumption, is turning out to have been a flash in the plan, as $415 trillion in financial derivatives melt away with the icecaps. We were too clever by half, it seems, and are losing our confidence in our own ingenuity to create boundless material abundance in defiance of the law of moral balance. The fact that the United States, with 6% of the world’s population, accounts for 40% of the globe’s resources is bad math–especially bad for those 1 out of 4 people that live on less than a dollar a day. Everything is interconnected–the implications of which may have escaped us before but which are now becoming obvious in a global community where physical location is increasingly irrelevant. Do we not need to put such artifices as nation-states, nationalism, and (dare I say it?) patriotism behind us? Do we not need to think globally, and return to our metaphysical wellsprings? Is the era of reason and contrivance passing before our very eyes?

Culture/Science/Florence Nightingale

Public hygiene and the nursing profession were spectacularly well served by Florence Nightingale’s example, and of all the diseases she contended with, those that she proved most effective in dealing with were ignorance and bigotry toward women. (In fact, nursing was considered a profession fit only for prostitutes at the time!) She was a country mile ahead of her time with the statistical approach she developed to disease control, which anticipated the computer-modeled plans that are in place today to control outbreaks of smallpox and other agents of bioterrorism. More so, her selfless dedication to her profession serves as an excellent example of all that can be accomplished when we rise above pecuniary concerns and naked ambition to focus on what we are truly meant to contribute to the world.

Culture/Science/Nanotechnology/Suez Canal

The Suez Canal, like the Panama Canal, is in danger of being made obsolete by the new generation of supertankers that can no longer squeeze through its narrow strictures. Same thing with the new generation of mega-jumbo jets on the drawing board that will require much longer runways. With developments like these, one can sense that we’re at the end of our tether: diminishing resources of oil and other commodities coupled with the burgeoning potential of Internet virtuality and nanotechnology would suggest that the mindset of “more and bigger are better” will give way to making better use of “fewer and smaller.” The breakthroughs in nanotechnology show that the domain of the infinitely small is no less capacious (and pregnant with potential) than the domain of the infinitely large. When one reads, for example, of a new generation of semiconductors based on bacteria, and of the potential of internet virtuality to dispense with the need for travel (and its attendant energy drain), it seems clear that with an ever-burgeoning population making ever greater demands on ever-dwindling resources, it’s high time that we changed our thinking. With technology, the less intrusive, the better, and I imagine that future civilizations may well come to de-emphasize technology to the point where life again resembles the simplicity of certain ancient (and long forgotten) civilizations that, for all we know, may have gone through all of this before.

Culture/Science/Alfred Nobel

Alfred Nobel’s ground-breaking (pun intended) research in high explosives provides us with yet another example—along with nuclear physics and the development of the cotton gin–of the double-edged sword posed by certain of man’s most brilliant breakthroughs in science and technology. How ironic that Nobel’s name has come to be associated with the Peace Prize.

Culture/Science/Louis Pasteur

As with nanotechnology, Louis Pasteur opened up an intellectual domain as immense as its constituent building blocks are miniscule. As both the Germ Theory and the present-day development of a new generation of semiconductors based on bacteria show, the domain of the infinitely small is no less capacious (and pregnant with potential) than the domain of the infinitely large.

Culture/Science/Ivan Pavlov

Ivan Pavlov’s work ponders the implications of conditioning in behavior—apt, I think, given the constant preoccupation of the ordinary mortal with gratifying desires or assuaging cares and concerns. With most human behavior conditioned by anticipation, why not a dog’s? While a dog is not cursed with this psychic construct we call “time”, how often do we humans live for the moment, rather than in constant anticipation of the next task on our list or our next acquisition, or in dread of what tomorrow may bring?

Culture/Science/Photography

The thing about photography is that it doesn’t preach or lecture, but simply presents an image that forces the viewer to reflect and listen to himself (and that’s the only person that anyone ever listens to and learns from). I think one of the best examples of the impact of photography came with the war in Vietnam. It was easy to put the war out of one’s mind as long as it was relegated to the sanitized realm of armchair strategy or the evening news, as so many of American public (and the people who ran this war from Washington) were in the comfy habit of having the war served up to them. The fierce combat of the Tet Offensive, as played out on prime-time newscasts nation-wide—along with the myriad other photos and footage that made Vietnam America’s Television War–brought its ugly reality home to Americans who were at last made to understand that a war that was so far out of sight could no longer remain out of mind. The determination that was evident in the eyes of our enemy—and the indifference and futility that was to be seen in the faces of our soldiers and allies–had a way of taking hold of the viewer and shaking his conscience by its collar: their stark immediacy was such that they offered no sanctuary from our administration’s ignorant rationalizations and its word-processed, stage-managed public relations campaigns. Ultimately, the truth won out: the supreme irony of Tet was that its military victory for the United States proved to be the turning point that—in large part because of its extensive news coverage–soured American opinion on the ultimate prospects for victory in Vietnam, and broke the spine of public support for the war. Small wonder the Bush administration was so averse to allowing photography of the caskets returning home from Iraq.

Culture/Science/Planck and Einstein

Imagine the possibilities implicit in looking at “matter as frozen energy.” Apart from the physics of it, one such possibility is the realization that what you see isn’t necessarily what you get. Max Planck and Albert Einstein understood physical reality in a way that opened up the field of nuclear physics, and in time, this could prove to be an essential step toward a metaphysical understanding of physical reality that could open up stupendous new horizons.

Culture/Science/Pollution

America, whose 6% of the world’s population consumes 40% of the world’s resources, has super-sized itself at the expense of public health, the environment, and the equity of global economic relations. The Suez Canal, like the Panama Canal, is in danger of being made obsolete by the new generation of supertankers that can no longer squeeze through its narrow strictures; same thing with the new generation of mega-jumbo jets on the drawing board that will require much longer runways. With developments like these, one can sense that we’re at the end of our tether: diminishing resources of oil and other commodities coupled with the burgeoning potential of Internet virtuality and nanotechnology would suggest that the mindset of “more and bigger are better” will give way to making better use of “fewer and smaller.” The breakthroughs in nanotechnology show that the domain of the infinitely small is no less capacious (and pregnant with potential) than the domain of the infinitely large. When one reads, for example, of a new generation of semiconductors based on bacteria, and of the potential of internet virtuality to dispense with the need for travel (and its attendant energy drain), it seems clear that with an ever-burgeoning population making ever greater demands on ever-dwindling resources, it’s high time that we changed our thinking. With technology, the less intrusive, the better, and I imagine that future civilizations may well come to de-emphasize technology to the point where life again resembles the simplicity of certain ancient (and long forgotten) civilizations that, for all we know, may have gone through all of this before.

Culture/Science/Psychology

Certain of our modern-day psychologists (William James perhaps foremost among them) seem to have understood that our much-vaunted system of reason and logic, and the five physical senses, are little more than tools that enable us to contend with physical reality. And the more we rely on them to distance ourselves from God and metaphysical (ultimate) truth, the more we become too clever by half.

Culture/Science/Psychology/William James

William James seems to have understood that our much-vaunted system of reason and logic, and the five physical senses, are little more than tools that enable us to contend with physical reality. And the more we rely on them to distance ourselves from God and metaphysical (ultimate) truth, the more we become too clever by half.

Culture/Science/Wilhelm Roentgen

The development of x-rays forced the most die-hard objective realists into the realization that it was no longer necessary to see in order to believe! Such folks as Max Planck, Albert Einstein, and Wilhelm Roentgen understood physical reality in a way that opened up the field of nuclear physics, and in time, this could prove to be an essential step toward a metaphysical understanding of physical reality that could open up stupendous new horizons.

Culture/Science/Stem Cell Research

The present climate of controversy over stem cell research seems to have caused an ancient controversy over the involvement of religion in science to raise its ugly head once again… some 500 years after the Church hauled Galileo into its court to demand that he repudiate his assertion that the earth revolves around the sun… or face imprisonment or worse. Galileo caved, though he has heard to mutter ruefully under his breath as he left the Church’s chambers, “Yet it does!” Will American scientists be similarly stifled someday and left to mutter their protest to themselves?

Culture/Science/Technology

They’ve been making the same complaint ever since the Luddites set about smashing the looms in 18th-century Scotland: these machines are taking our jobs! On the other hand, none of us would still want to be doing our laundry in the stream; technology supposedly liberates us from drudgery so that we can go on to more productive things. (Remind me of this the next time my computer crashes.)

Culture/Science/Technology/Time and Civilization

I suspect that the farther we reach back into time, the more sophisticated the civilizations we’d uncover if only we could. For us to believe that history is a linear progression from the primitive to the present is a massive conceit. In fact, I imagine that future civilizations may well come to de-emphasize technology to the point where life again resembles the simplicity of certain ancient civilizations, and that with technology, the less intrusive, the better.

Culture/Science/Wright Brothers

The key to invention is to be able to imagine the thing. Imagination is the matrix upon which physical reality collects, like lint on a dryer filter. But back then, who could imagine a machine that could fly? And what else in our own time could be made to exist… if only we would be so bold as to imagine it?

Culture/Science/Disease/Cholera

If you don’t mind me going off the deep end here for a bit… I’m given to understand that the viruses for all diseases exist, alive but dormant, in each human body, and their activation is up to us. Sadly, we usually activate these diseases for the wrong reasons, misguidedly doing so to atone for or resolve problems of personal growth; cancer, for example, comes as a perverse “growth response” when personal growth is otherwise frustrated, and the cholera epidemic that struck England—and which could have struck New Orleans–might well be understood as a form of social protest against the pervasive filth and appalling conditions that prevailed back then. In fact, it seems that our good health and longevity have little to do with anything apart from what we believe we need in order to accomplish our purposes of personal growth here on Planet Earth. We live as long as we want, and as well as we wish to. How do I know these things? My kahuna told me. 🙂

Culture/Science/Disease

I’m given to understand that the viruses for all diseases exist, alive but dormant, in each human body, and their activation is up to us. Sadly, we usually activate these diseases for the wrong reasons, misguidedly doing so to atone for or resolve problems of personal growth; cancer, for example, comes as a perverse “growth response” when personal growth is otherwise frustrated. In fact, it seems that our good health and longevity have little to do with anything apart from what we believe we need in order to accomplish our purposes of personal growth here on Planet Earth. We live as long as we want, and as well as we wish to. How do I know these things? My kahuna told me. 🙂

Culture/Science/Disease/Epidemics

Keep in mind as well that the reason there wasn’t enough plantation labor to be found in the New World was that about 95% of the some 115 million pre-contact inhabitants of the Americas had been wiped out by the smallpox brought by the conquistadors (which is why a “pristine wilderness” awaited the arrival of the Pilgrims a hundred years later).

Culture/Science/Disease/Epidemics/Bird Flu

Whenever the Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse shows up–in the form of pestilence—his exactions on humanity go well beyond mortality to create a variety of unintended consequences. The Black Plague, for instance, caused a severe labor shortage that resulted in wage inflation; an oversupply of goods and price deflation; a grave deterioration in the position of landlords and a corresponding improvement in the lot of peasants; and a rash of peasant and urban revolts that ushered in an age of social conflict. The implications for us folks are unavoidable: as America becomes ever more divided politically, economically, and socially, an outbreak of bird flu could scatter us like chickens.

Culture/Science/Disease/Tuberculosis

If you don’t mind me going off the deep end here for a bit… I’m given to understand that the viruses for all diseases exist, alive but dormant, in each human body, and their activation is up to us. Sadly, we usually activate these diseases for the wrong reasons, misguidedly doing so to atone for or resolve problems of personal growth; cancer, for example, comes as a perverse “growth response” when personal growth is otherwise frustrated, and tuberculosis might well be understood as a form of social protest against the pervasive filth and appalling conditions that prevailed back then. In fact, it seems that our good health and longevity have little to do with anything apart from what we believe we need in order to accomplish our purposes of personal growth here on Planet Earth. We live as long as we want, and as well as we wish to. How do I know these things? My kahuna told me. 🙂

Religion


Religion

Religion helps bridge the gap between what a person’s logical mind tells him and all that he senses it is not telling him, and helps form the prism through which a person translates perceived reality into the personal values that make sense of the world around him. Something, whether myth, science, or religion, must order the outside world in such a way that it accords with the values that one’s personal experience forms… otherwise, we have no way of contending with things. However misguided each approach may be, it is important to respect whichever path a person has chosen to find their way to God; the main thing is that he finds Him–God cares not by which name He is known.

Religion

Religion helps form the prism through which a person translates perceived reality into the personal values that make sense of the world around him. Something, whether myth, science, or religion, must order the outside world in such a way that it accords with the values that one’s personal experience forms… otherwise, we have no way of contending with things. When we’re talking about religion, it’s much more than how one comes to terms with God, it’s about how one sees and interprets everything around him. As such, two different lenses can reveal two entirely different worlds; imagine the potential for conflict!

Religion/Bible

Regrettably, there isn’t a lot of evidence to support much of what we have come to believe we know about Biblical events, leaving those accounts wide open to interpretation and misunderstanding. And speaking of misunderstanding, the tone of bloodthirsty vengefulness that pervades much of the Old Testament seems almost calculated to arouse the antipathy of the reader, whether Jewish, Christian, or Muslim. In reading the Bible, I must say that I was struck by the feeling that for many readers, much of the Old Testament is just not believable, and even more by the suspicion that the New Testament is largely misunderstood—ironic, given that the Good Book forms the basis of what may be the world’s highest-profile religion. I have heard it said that when Christ counseled his followers to turn the other cheek, what he meant was that in a world that is the product of each person’s perception, violence ignored is violence that does not exist. I have no idea, except that the more I come to know, the more I realize I don’t know.

Religion/Bible/Apocrypha

So many of these accounts are apocryphal, and with religion, you really don’t know what to believe (pun intended). Regrettably, there isn’t a lot of evidence to support much of what we have come to believe we know about these events, leaving those accounts wide open to interpretation and misunderstanding. One point that shines through it all is that ambiguity admirably serves the purpose of political manipulation, and if you want to get to the bottom of it, you’d need to ask yourself what political purpose is served by the story. And speaking of misunderstanding, the tone of bloodthirsty vengefulness that pervades much of the Old Testament seems almost calculated to arouse the antipathy of the reader, whether Jewish, Christian, or Muslim. In reading the Bible, I must say that I was struck by the feeling that for many readers, much of the Old Testament is just not believable, and even more by the suspicion that the New Testament is largely misunderstood—ironic, given that the Good Book forms the basis of what may be the world’s highest-profile religion. I have heard it said that when Christ counseled his followers to turn the other cheek, what he meant was that in a world that is the product of each person’s perception, violence ignored is violence that does not exist. I have no idea, except that the more I come to know, the more I realize I don’t know.

Religion/Christianity/Christ

I’m constantly dogged by the suspicion that the teachings of Jesus are largely misunderstood. I have heard it said that when Christ counseled his followers to turn the other cheek, what he meant was that in a world that is the product of each person’s perception, violence ignored is violence that does not exist. I have no idea, except that the more I come to know, the more I realize I don’t know.

Religion/Christianity/Impact

If Christianity today were practiced in accordance with how it was originally preached, its legacy might be less conspicuous, but far more profound. In its origins, Christianity was different from all the other cults and mystery religions in its universality: everyone was welcome. Amidst the general gloom and hopelessness that besieged the ordinary mortal, it held out the promise of a better life to love. To be a Christian was to be part of a community of kindred souls to assist and be assisted by, and its appeal to idealism rose above the usual mundane clamor for wealth and power. One could be forgiven for wondering how values such as these might serve the purposes of statecraft, but altogether too often, the name and blessings of God are invoked to lend sanction to the most base, cynically political, and ungodly of causes.

Religion/Christianity/Crucifixion of Christ

Leaving aside the question of whether Christ was man or God, there’s no question that his crucifixion was an event of profound psychic import. Everything means something—especially this… and the agony of Christ’s crucifixion should remind us of what he died for. If Christianity today were practiced in accordance with how it was originally preached, its legacy might be less conspicuous, but far more profound. In its origins, Christianity was different from all the other cults and mystery religions in its universality: everyone was welcome. Amidst the general gloom and hopelessness that besieged the ordinary mortal, it held out the promise of a better life to love. To be a Christian was to be part of a community of kindred souls to assist and be assisted by, and its appeal to idealism rose above the usual mundane clamor for wealth and power. One could be forgiven for wondering how values such as these might serve the purposes of statecraft, but altogether too often, the name and blessings of God are invoked to lend sanction to the most base, cynically political, and ungodly of causes.

Religion/Christianity/Sacraments

Everything means something, and the purpose of sacrament is to take ritual beyond mere ceremony and into the realm of psychic event. The seminal event of Christianity, the crucifixion of Christ, was an event of profound psychic import, and much as the agony of Christ’s crucifixion should remind us of what he died for, the sacraments commemorate different dimensions of that event. If Christianity today were practiced in accordance with how it was originally preached, its legacy might be less conspicuous, but far more profound. In its origins, Christianity was different from all the other cults and mystery religions in its universality: everyone was welcome. Amidst the general gloom and hopelessness that besieged the ordinary mortal, it held out the promise of a better life to love. To be a Christian was to be part of a community of kindred souls to assist and be assisted by, and its appeal to idealism rose above the usual mundane clamor for wealth and power. One could be forgiven for wondering how values such as these might serve the purposes of statecraft, but altogether too often, the name and blessings of God are invoked to lend sanction to the most base, cynically political, and ungodly of causes.

Religion/Church Punishments

In its origins, Christianity drew no lines of distinction–everyone was welcome, and amidst the general gloom and hopelessness that besieged the ordinary mortal, it held out the promise of a better life to come. Here on earth, meanwhile, to be a Christian was to be part of a community of kindred souls to assist and be assisted by, and its appeal to idealism rose above the usual mundane clamor for wealth and power. One could be forgiven for wondering, then, how Christianity became such a jealous and mean-spirited affair—with sanctions that emphasized that most dreaded of punishments: exile—once it got into the hands of organized religion. But as Western civilization matured politically, religion itself became less a matter of spirituality and goodwill among men… and more of a naked political force.

Religion/Church Scandals

Evaluating ancient actions against current standards is risky business—a generous measure of give-and-take has to be ascribed to cultural relativism as well as to intent. Did Muhammad sin by having sex with his nine-year old bride? Considering that the average lifespan would have been thirty-something in those times, child marriages made a certain amount of sense, and once the marriage was made, I suppose that consummation would only have awaited the physical capability to commit the act. Did Christ consort with prostitutes? What man hasn’t? And when Christ counseled those who were supposedly without sin to avoid condemning others, it’s reassuring to know that he spoke from experience. Homosexuality and extra-marital dalliances were not considered a sin in many ancient societies, owing in part to the severe constraints on women; such relationships may in fact have been socially constructive under the circumstances. Is pedophilia in the modern Church a sin? Intent (and sin) is probably best evaluated by considering the standards that apply today: Does it contravene the rules that society has broadly agreed upon to safeguard its coherence? One can be forgiven for wondering whether history and cultural relativism brings clarity to an issue, or whether it just hopelessly muddies the waters, but in this case, I submit that the answer is quite clear.

Religion/Differences

With so much in common, you’d think that the three religions would derive a sense of solidarity from their shared origins. But no, man is such that wherever there are differences, there are reasons to hate and kill each other. The fact is that no matter how different we may be from one another, what we have in common with each other far outweighs those differences. Some day, perhaps we’ll realize that we have the choice of embracing our differences and enriching ourselves in so doing, or making an issue out of our differences and impoverishing ourselves in the bargain.

Religion/Druids

The Druids practiced an ancient wisdom that some would call polytheism, and others paganism; I would prefer to understand it in the sense that God is everywhere, and in everything. The Druids may well have anticipated the greats of the Scientific Revolution (Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton), who were both Mechanics and Magicians, altogether taken with Hermetic magic and alchemy. With both magic and mechanics, we’re really talking about the same thing here: the Hermetics saw the world as the living embodiment of divinity, and man could use his own spark of divinity to work magic (especially mathematical magic) to control and dominate the natural world–the same objective advanced by the Scientific Revolution.

Religion/Faith Versus Reason

Man needs to believe in something more than life and death by the numbers. Man needs to believe in something more than life and death by the numbers. Our system of logic and reason (along with our physical senses) are merely tools that enable us to contend with physical reality; logic is not an end unto itself! I find it hard to believe that an intelligent being can look around and conclude that a flower is just an angiosperm, or that the sun is just an exploding star that we happen to have situated ourselves in such precise relation to that we neither roast nor freeze. I can’t help regarding the Big Bang Theory as yet another misguided attempt to hammer the round peg of Life into the square hole of Logic. I believe that we must look at life—and its origins–with a sense of the magical and miraculous, and try to appreciate the profound limitations that our senses and sense of logic impose on our coming to grips with the metaphysical (metaphysics being “ultimate reality”) nature of it all. We need to look beyond what our senses are telling us. I suspect, in other words, that we have been ill served and deluded by science, and that mankind may one day regard the Enlightenment and the spirit of scientific inquiry that attends it today as a necessary but misguided detour in our search for truth.

Religion/Festivals

From its Dionysian origins, Easter outgrew its controversies over calendars, Jews, and whether to feast or fast to become a celebration of renewal—both of faith and of nature. Christmas, too, celebrates a renewal of faith–for it is upon Christmas (and its attendant orgy of consumer spending) that the fortunes of our economy and American Way of Life depend.

Religion/God

Man needs to believe in something more than life and death by the numbers. Our system of logic and reason (along with our physical senses) are merely tools that enable us to contend with physical reality; logic is not an end unto itself! I find it hard to believe that an intelligent being can look around and conclude that a flower is just an angiosperm, or that the sun is just an exploding star that we happen to have situated ourselves in such precise relation to that we neither roast nor freeze. I believe that we must look at life—and its origins–with a sense of the magical and miraculous, and try to appreciate the profound limitations that our senses and sense of logic impose on our coming to grips with the metaphysical (metaphysics being “ultimate reality”) nature of it all. God is understood not with the mind, but with the heart.

Religion/Golden Age of Sages

Must have been something goin’ round. There was once upon a time a Golden Age of Sages when most of the heavies of pre-Christian philosophy seemed to have been tuned into the same wavelength. Buddha, Confucius, Lao-tzu, the Greek thinkers, the Zoroastrians, and the Hebrew prophets had all signed onto pretty much the same humanist proposition: that man is the measure of all things in a universe that was an ordered, harmonious whole. Then, along came Alexander the Great and the first intrusion of Western civilization into the rest of the world; with that, everything changed, and thus began a pattern of cross-cultural encounters that encompassed slavery, the decimation of indigenous populations with disease, colonialism, and globalization.

Religion/Hermeticism/St. Simeon

Who says that spirituality can’t be fun? The antics of St. Simeon could have borrowed a page from the Confessions of St. Augustine, in which the latter implored: “Dear God, let me be good… but not just yet.” Hermetics like St. Simeon saw the world as the living embodiment of divinity (indeed, the most natural state of a human being is joy) and man could use his own spark of divinity to work magic (especially mathematical magic) to control and dominate the natural world–the same objective that would later be advanced by the Scientific Revolution.

Religion/Heterodoxy

The thing that strikes me about sectarianism is how any particular creed can hope to endure in a world where knowledge (and its interpretation) is growing at an exponential rate. If at the beginning of the 19th century, the sum of man’s knowledge doubled every fifty years, and at the beginning of the 20th century, every fifteen years, it’s now doubling at the rate of every five years. How are we to keep up, once it doubles every five minutes!? (It’ll happen in your lifetime.) That said, how will the Church (any church, for that matter) remain relevant in a materialistic society like America that’s changing like greased lightning?

Religion/Humans and Gods

I’ve always suspected that lightheartedness and joy were the most natural condition for humans, and I believe the Egyptians and the Greeks had the right idea: the extraordinary creativity of their religion, with their pantheons of very fallible deities, gave rise to a rich mythology of fables and moral stories that showed time and again that the gods were only human.

Religion/Iconoclasm

Everything means something, and the Iconoclasts took that very seriously. In these value-neutral times, it’s too bad in a sense that more people don’t. Not that I countenance zealotry, but once we render ourselves numb to the implications of things, we defeat the most central purpose of why we come to this earth: value fulfillment and personal growth.

Religion/Monasticism

There’s a world of difference between religion–the glue of society–and spirituality. Religion serves the very practical purpose of drawing up the slate of values that holds society together and keeps everyone on the same page, so to speak, and sanctifying those values with the blessing of God (though I’m not sure how any man can hope to speak for God). Spirituality tends to be value-neutral, since a man’s spiritual justification for his actions is always well intentioned, however misguided (consider how many wars have been waged for God’s glory). It is only by shunning society and the tangle of social and political complications that conventional religion is meant to sort out that the monastic tradition is able to focus on spirituality and enable its adherents to find their own way to God, knowing that the main thing is that they find Him–God cares not by which name He is known.

Religion/Paganism

The multiplicity of gods and goddesses in the pagan pantheon of deities would seem to approximate the understanding that many of us enlightened moderns have that God is in everything. Ironic, huh?

Religion/Persecution of the Jews

The long chronicle of rumor-mongering and hatred and persecution of the Jews is history’s single best textbook example of how nothing sows such terror and savagery in the human breast as the enemy within—the perceived threat of a stand-apart society to the shared values that form a culture and the rules by which it safeguards itself.

Religion/Quakers

There’s a world of difference between religion and spirituality, and the Quakers seem to have taken the view that whenever organized religion gets in the way of man’s relationship with God, things can only go downhill. Spirituality tends to be value-neutral, since a man’s spiritual justification for his actions is always well intentioned, however misguided (consider how many wars have been waged for God’s glory). Religion, however, serves the very practical purpose of drawing up the slate of values that holds society together and keeps everyone on the same page, so to speak, and sanctifying those values with the blessing of God (though I’m not sure how any man can hope to speak for God)—-sounds like politics by another name.

Religion/Secular Attacks

The ferment of the late 19th and early 20th centuries comprised the most dazzling period of intellectual innovation ever. Until then, it was still possible to hold a Newtonian view that the universe was a composition of law-abiding matter and forces. Most of the natural sciences–especially physics, biology, and astronomy, along with the “soft” social sciences of psychology, sociology, and economics–were radically changed by new data and new interpretations of old data. Religion had long been in retreat before this sort of aggressive secularism, with many Christians adopting the posture that their religion must change with the times like everything else, and that the Bible might be just as flexibly interpreted. Still, I find it hard to believe that an intelligent being can look around and conclude that a flower is just an angiosperm, that the sun is just an exploding star that we happen to have situated ourselves in precise relation to so that we neither roast nor freeze, that a concert violinist–or even the most mundane of mortals–came up from the mud. It seems to me that we must look at life—and its origins–with a sense of the magical and miraculous, and try to appreciate the profound limitations that our senses and sense of logic impose on our coming to grips with the ultimate, metaphysical reality of it all. We need to look beyond what our senses are telling us. I suspect, in other words, that we have been ill served and deluded by science, and that mankind may one day regard the Enlightenment and the spirit of scientific and philosophical inquiry that attended it as a necessary but misguided detour in our search for truth. In our uncritical embrace of the evidence of the senses, we run the risk of becoming too clever by half, and we invite reaction from zealots who uncompromisingly insist on literal interpretation of the Bible, the Quran, the Book of Mormon, or whatever their Holy Writ as the sole source of God’s unchanging truth. When you think about it, though, is there anything more presumptuous—and preposterous—than a mortal who presumes to speak for God?

Religion/Separation of Church and State

The doctrine of separation of church and state is fine in theory, but it falls way short in practice with politicians who too often invoke the name and blessings of God to lend sanction to the most base, cynically political, and ungodly of causes. If there is anything more presumptuous (and suspect) than a man who purports to speak for God, it’s the government that purports to enact His will.

Religion/Stonehenge

Stonehenge may well have anticipated the greats of the Scientific Revolution (Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton), who were both Mechanics and Magicians—architects of scientific theory leavened with a generous dollop of Hermetic magic and alchemy. With both magic and mechanics, we’re really talking about the same thing here: the Druids saw the world as the living embodiment of divinity, and man could use his own spark of divinity to work magic (especially mathematical and astronomical magic) to control and dominate the natural world–the same objective that was ultimately advanced by the Scientific Revolution.

Religion/Values

There’s a world of difference between religion and spirituality. Spirituality tends to be value-neutral, since a man’s spiritual justification for his actions is always well intentioned, however misguided (consider how many wars have been waged for God’s glory). Religion, however, serves the very practical purpose of drawing up the slate of values that holds society together and keeps everyone on the same page, so to speak, and sanctifying those values with the blessing of God (though I’m not sure how any man can hope to speak for God).

Religion/Women

Ever since the serpent ingratiated itself with Eve, women have been tarred as the minions of Satan and detractors from the innately virtuous nature of men. Notwithstanding all the scandal over Mary Magdalene, early Christianity generally managed to rise above the gutter to accord women a prominent role in preaching in their homes and helping to keep the faith. To me, women represent civilization and the conservators thereof, while men, in spite of their much more conspicuous profile in history, have done at least as much to tear down the edifice of civilization as to build it.

Religion/Women/Reformation

Ever since the serpent ingratiated itself with Eve, women have been tarred as the minions of Satan and detractors from the innately virtuous nature of men. Notwithstanding all the scandal over Mary Magdalene, early Christianity generally managed to rise above the gutter to accord women a prominent role in preaching in their homes and helping to keep the faith. How they became relegated by the time of the Reformation to a subservient role probably has more to do with politics than social justice, since Christianity seems to have become a jealous and mean-spirited affair once it got into the hands of organized religion; as Western civilization matured politically, religion itself became less a matter of spirituality and goodwill among men… and more of a naked political force. To me, women represent civilization and the conservators thereof, while men, in spite of their much more conspicuous profile in history, have done at least as much to tear down the edifice of civilization as to build it.

Power


Power/Advisors

The skills that are needed to win and wield political power are not the same as those that are needed to successfully manage the realm and its electorate. This is why—in the fashion of Louis XIV and Colbert, Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu, or Nixon and Kissinger–politicians typically must look to men who have one foot in the political muck and the other in the more sublime realm of statecraft to straddle both worlds.

Power/Assassination

One wonders: if war is an extension of diplomacy by other means, is assassination an extension of democracy by other means?

Power/Conservatism

Given the propensity of conservatives toward cruelty, arrogance, rewarding those who have with even more, and generally anti-democratic tendencies, I often wonder what place conservatives even have in a democracy. On the other hand, if we didn’t tolerate all types, what kind of a democracy would we have?

Power/Ethnic Cleansing

The rearranging of national and ethnic boundaries–while straightforward enough on maps—takes a very ugly toll on the populations involved. Any such exercise in ethnic “purification” inevitably seems to lead to the doors of the Nazi death camps and to the charnel houses of Armenia, Rwanda, Cambodia, and the Balkans. We humans are round pegs that can rarely be made to fit into the square holes of ideology, at least not without quite a bit of bruising in the bargain.

Power/Globalization/McThesis

Globalization has since seen to it that markets—wherever they may be–are no longer the preserve of U.S. corporations, nor highbrow habits and tastes the preserve of the wealthy. The spread of democracy—and the democratization of taste–has taken on its own momentum, and the Internet and the information revolution, also courtesy of globalization, has made it virtually impossible to seal off a segment of society from its “appropriate station in life” and prevent it from acquiring an understanding of how the rest of the world lives.

Power/God and Government

One of the many problems that attend government’s embrace of religion is that altogether too often, the name and blessings of God are invoked to lend sanction to the most base, cynically political, and ungodly of causes. If there is anything more presumptuous (and suspect) than a man who purports to speak for God, it’s the government that purports to enact His will.

Power/Government

They say that in a democracy, people deserve the government they get. While democracy may seem for some the best way to represent the popular will, other societies may regard the popular will as an impediment. After all, how many of us would support something that benefits the community as a whole but does not accord with our self-interest? Would you trade your automobile for purer air? While unbridled self-interest may drive society to achieve a high standard of living, at some we bump up against limits—as evidenced in such pathologies as environmental degradation, crime and homelessness, and traffic congestion-–that a democracy must consider empowering a government that is not beholden to the aggregate self-interest known as popular will. This can also be taken to extremes as radicalism can develop when there is no legislature to show small, effective steps in committing action toward a goal.

Power/Government Lies

Politicians are forever looking for a fig leaf, however flimsy, to cover up their tumescent designs on power, perks, and other people’s property. Where did they ever get the idea that the public could not be trusted with the truth? I’m not sure, but I do know that the elected are a product of their electorate, and in a democracy, the government we get is the government we deserve.

Power/Grafting Democracy

Societies need to evolve their political systems at their own pace, in accordance with the evolution of their cultural beliefs. Mr. Bush is attempting to graft an alien system onto a native rootstock, and the graft may not take, because Iraq probably isn’t ready for that. Similarly, Alexander, Peter the Great of Russia, the Meiji leaders of Japan, and the American Occupation authorities in postwar Japan all tried to graft Western institutions onto a native ethos that wasn’t ready for it. Leave people alone, and societies will generally come around on their own to embrace the values and institutions that make sense for them once the time comes. Consider the fact that after World War II, just six nations were democracies, and now more than 120 are. You can thank the many incentives of globalization–material and otherwise–for that (and by the way, check out Thomas Friedman’s book The Lexus and the Olive Tree for an excellent read on globalization).

Power/Ideology

If it’s true that the reason we’re here on Planet Earth is to fulfill the values that are nearest and dearest to us, than it would hold, as you suggest, that ideology stands to occupy the more purposeful echelon of existence–once the basic needs of survival are taken care of. And the fact that men are creatures of values and ideology would explain why religion, totalitarianism, and terrorism–the most ideology-driven creeds of all–have proved so seductive—and lethal–to so many people.

Power/League of Nations

I know… it doesn’t seem that we’ve come very far with multilateralism (especially lately). The League of Nations represented our first faltering baby steps in that direction, and where we are now with the United Nations is still a very long way from where we need to be. But progress is bound to be slow and painful: asking a nation to sign onto an international armed force can mean giving up its own war-making prerogatives; there’s something about it that contravenes the pride of nationalism, and which goes against the instinctual grain of self-preservation. But how else are we to prevent such recent human catastrophes as the slaughter in the Balkans and central Africa and civil war in the Sudan–and ameliorate such calamities as the Asian tsunami—unless we build and wield an effective international force that can move out at the drop of a hat for peacekeeping and humanitarian purposes, or for armed intervention if need be. What we’re really talking about here is the need for us to get past the quaint and parochial idea of nation-states and come to the realization that in the global village, the well being of each of us is intimately tied to that of our fellow human creature in the most far-flung parts of the world. Much as the chaos theory holds that the beating of a butterfly’s wings can give rise to a hurricane on the other side of the globe (since proven to be largely true), we are affected by everything that happens in this world… in myriad ways that we cannot even imagine.

Power/Political Dynasties

People are forever suckers for a name. As with the Kennedys and the Bushes, people long for continuity and tradition in a political culture where leaders come and go in what seems like a revolving door fashion. At the same time, Americans have little appreciation for the drawbacks that attend the entrenchment and atrophy of power, and the delusion of political godfathers that their long tenure in office equates to popular mandate. The longer things stay the same, the harder they become to change, and our frequent elections in America at least spare us the problems of dislodging a politician who has overstayed his welcome.

Power/Political Maturity

With the cost of the Iraq War at $1.2 trillion and counting, can we continue to afford to fill in every pothole on the road to global democracy? Or should we just allow other nations to find their own way, on their own time and terms, in ways that make sense for them? At the end of the Second World War, only six nations were democracies; today, some 120 are, and most of those have come around in their own way, once the benefits of participating in the community of nations on the enlightened and transparent terms demanded by globalization became clear to them. Political maturity must be grown into.

Power/Totalitarianism

Totalitarianism (as the term suggests) is an all-or-nothing proposition—and that’s what makes it such a lethal business. It demands absolute subservience to One Absolute Truth—an ideology that brooks no compromise and suffers no obstacle to its implementation. Anything goes, and the more lethal your means of exterminating the opposition, the better (which is why we have weapons of mass destruction to worry about these days). In the face of the One Absolute Truth, what do such things as human decency have to do with anything?

Power/War/D-Day

The invasion of Fortress Europe calls to mind the sheer brute force that governed the conduct of war in the old days. But with the United States now the sole remaining superpower, it seems most unlikely that there will ever again be—at least in the foreseeable future—wars between vast standing armies such as at Normandy on June 6, 1944. The nature of war has changed accordingly, and how are such armies able to respond to the likes of suitcase nukes, smallpox, and exploding shoes?

Power/War/Mercenaries

It disturbs me to see the U.S. government hiring mercenaries (“security contractors”) to help fight its war in Iraq, since this reminds me of how Rome let the Republic slip from its grasp when it could no longer afford its wars, and began letting generals like Marius and Sulla form mercenary armies that they rewarded with the spoils of conquest. Oil, anyone?

Power/War/Military Vassalage

Serving in the armed forces is a bit like teaching: you don’t do it for the money–or at least they say you don’t. But in fact, it was the prospect of training, education, and economic betterment that induced a great many folks to enlist, and not many seem to have bargained on the possibility that they’d get caught up in a war. In a sense, our government is to be faulted for filling its enlistment quotas with those who are most susceptible, socio-economically. Perhaps we need to return to a more egalitarian form of service, such as the draft (if in fact it could be implemented equitably, and history shows that it can’t). The all-volunteer army won’t cut it… not when there’s a war on. On the other hand, It disturbs me to see the U.S. government hiring mercenaries (“security contractors”) to help fight its war in Iraq (much like how we hired entire armies of Koreans, Filipinos, and Thais to fight our war in Vietnam), since this reminds me of how Rome let the Republic slip from its grasp when it could no longer afford its wars, and began letting generals like Marius and Sulla form mercenary armies that they rewarded with the spoils of conquest. Oil, anyone?

Power/War/Military Technology

Man is always at his most clever and ingenious when it comes to devising ways to slaughter his fellow human creature, and I have great faith that warfare will soon become so computerized that it will be waged largely by drones operated from computer consoles in the Pentagon. There are already pilotless combat aircraft and crewless submarines on the drawing board, and the army is trying to develop mechanical combat units to replace human soldiers.

Power/War/Nationalism

Societies need to evolve their political systems at their own pace, in accordance with the evolution of their cultural beliefs. Mr. Bush is attempting to graft an alien system onto a native rootstock, and the graft may not take, because Iraq probably isn’t ready for that. Similarly, Alexander, Peter the Great of Russia, the Meiji leaders of Japan, and the American Occupation authorities in postwar Japan all tried to graft Western institutions onto a native ethos that wasn’t ready for it. However, once people come to realize that their values and way of life are distinctly their own, nationalism takes hold and becomes a force that nothing can defeat (not even overwhelming might: consider the vast superiority that the British Army wielded against the American rebels, or much later on, that of the Americans against the Vietnamese). Why is a war of “national liberation” insuppressible? Simply because the day must come–whether ten years on or a hundred–when the occupier must go home; inevitably, domestic support for a foreign war will erode as its tax burden becomes increasingly onerous and the divisiveness increasingly bitter and disruptive to the consensus. Foreign wars, occupation and empire are futile; leave people alone, and societies will generally come around on their own to embrace the values and institutions that make sense for them once the time comes. Remember: after World War II, just six nations were democracies, and now more than 120 are.

Power/War/NATO

NATO, along with nuclear arsenals, the Mighty Mo, and vast standing armies, are dinosaurs that call to mind the sheer brute force that governed the conduct of war in the old days. But with the United States now the sole remaining superpower, it seems most unlikely that there will ever again be—at least in the foreseeable future—wars between vast standing armies such as what clashed at Normandy on June 6, 1944. The nature of war has changed accordingly, and how are such armies—and alliances like NATO–able to respond to the likes of suitcase nukes, smallpox, and exploding shoes? It truly seems to me that the War on Terror will not be resolved until the day comes when we address the root causes–not of terrorism per se, but of the profound misery that causes desperate people to the ideologies of hatred and take up that weapon of last resort of the helpless: violence. What could we have done with a fraction of the money that we expended on “defense” in the 15 years that have elapsed since the fall of our most recent enemy, the Soviet Union? How many millions of lives could have been saved (and friends earned… and at such modest cost) by assisting the world’s poorest people in achieving basic sanitation and disease prevention? When are we going to learn that everything in this world is intimately inter-related, and that the well being of the most wretched people in the farthest-flung parts of the earth has as much bearing on our own well being as that of our fellow American?

Power/War/Nuclear Proliferation

In his assessment that modern man had reached an unprecedented threshold of savagery, Albert Camus may have confused the constant of human cruelty with our ever-burgeoning capacity to inflict it; man is always at his most creative, clever, and ingenious when it comes to devising ways to slaughter his fellow human creature. The most urgent concern with nuclear weapons is no longer the superpower tensions that might unleash Armageddon, but with the inability of a decaying and impoverished Russian state to safeguard its stockpiles of such weapons from the wiles and blandishments of the nuclear black marketeers. After all, the history of 20th-century warfare, and 21st-century terrorism, reveals that the civilian is no longer immune from being targeted in military conflict, but has in fact become the target.

Power/War/Nuclear Proliferation/South Asia

In his assessment that modern man had reached an unprecedented threshold of savagery, Albert Camus may have confused the constant of human cruelty with our ever-burgeoning capacity to inflict it; man is always at his most creative, clever, and ingenious when it comes to devising ways to slaughter his fellow human creature. The most urgent concern with nuclear weapons is no longer the superpower tensions that might unleash Armageddon, but with the proliferation of these things in the hands of states like India and Pakistan, and their inability to safeguard their stockpiles of such weapons from the wiles and blandishments of the nuclear black marketeers.

Power/War/Bunker Busters

One of the most urgent concerns over nuclear weapons proliferation arises from our temptation for us to use strategic weapons in pursuit of tactical objectives. Can the line be drawn between a bunker buster designed to dislodge terrorists from a cave… and a somewhat larger version of the same weapon for use against an advancing army? With that one up for grabs, can the line then be drawn between the use of a nuclear weapon against the enemy in the form of an advancing army… and the enemy in the form of a civilian populace? After all, the history of 20th-century warfare, and 21st-century terrorism, reveals that the civilian is no longer immune from being targeted in military conflict, but has in fact become the target.

Power/War/Propaganda

Propaganda on behalf of rousing a populace to its own defense is useful: the horrors of war are a great deal easier to endure when the enemy is properly demonized, and when the cause is endowed with the higher moral purpose of Good fighting Evil. It’s no coincidence, then, that Mr. Bush has repeatedly characterized the “enemy” as evil. But terrorism is an enemy that is not so easily pigeonholed. The War on Terror will not be resolved until the day comes when we address the root causes–not of terrorism per se, but of the profound misery that causes desperate people to embrace the ideologies of hatred and take up that weapon of last resort of the helpless: violence. At this most crucial juncture in America’s relationship with the world—where wisdom, compassion, and insight are called for in place of brute force and brutish propagandizing–Mr. Bush has chosen instead to appeal to our most base and hateful instincts by vilifying a humanitarian crisis of which terrorism is a symptom, not a cause. What could we have done with a fraction of the money that we expended on “defense” in the fifteen years that have elapsed since the fall of our most recent enemy, the Soviet Union? How many millions of lives could have been saved (and friends earned… and at such modest cost) by assisting the world’s poorest people in achieving basic sanitation and disease prevention? When are we going to learn that everything in this world is intimately interrelated, and that the well being of the most wretched people in the farthest-flung parts of the earth has as much bearing on our own well being as that of our fellow American?

Power/War/Social Reform

War is the hothouse incubator of social reform. Nothing much happens when people are happily making hay–nobody wants the status quo to change. Consider what happened in this country with the social turmoil (the Civil Rights Movement, most notably) that was sparked by the Vietnam War. You can find the same thing with the domestic reforms (everywhere) that were brought about by the world wars.

Power/War/Submarines

The development of the submarine, like the atomic bomb, represented a qualitative leap in military technology that changed the calculus of weaponry and warfare from one of tactics to one of strategy. Yet, it’s ironic how such splendidly sophisticated stuff has so suddenly been rendered irrelevant by such low-tech threats of smallpox and suicide bombers.

Power/War/Terror

It truly seems to me that the War on Terror will not be resolved until the day comes when we address the root causes–not of terrorism per se, but of the profound misery that causes desperate people to the ideologies of hatred and take up that weapon of last resort of the helpless: violence. What could we have done with a fraction of the money that we expended on “defense” in the 15 years that have elapsed since the fall of our most recent enemy, the Soviet Union? How many millions of lives could have been saved (and friends earned… and at such modest cost) by assisting the world’s poorest people in achieving basic sanitation and disease prevention? When are we going to learn that everything in this world is intimately inter-related, and that the well being of the most wretched people in the farthest-flung parts of the earth has as much bearing on our own well being as that of our fellow American?

Power/New States

It does seem that in some respects the imbroglios in Korea, the Philippines, and Vietnam represented the final blows for empire that brought an end to the era of colonialism that began with the Portuguese and Spanish forays into the New World in the 16th century, and culminated in the carving up of much of Asia and Africa into European and Japanese possessions through the 19th century and continuing into World War II. In Asia, both Korea and Vietnam—and in Africa, Angola and Rhodesia–seem to have been wars fought by proxies of the United States and Soviet Union–knowing as they did that any direct confrontation could easily result in holocaust–and both were in a sense wars for empire, whether Communism or Western hegemony.

Power/Vanity Projects

Third World vanity projects remind me of a welfare queen in a Cadillac. There’s no limit to the price that tinhorn tyrants will pay for aggrandizement of their ludicrous regimes and legacies, and each society must attain political maturity in its own way, even if the process involves the usual adolescent indulgences that flatter the vanity of the regime rather than serve the needs of the people. Take heart, though; democracy is inevitable in any event. While only six nations were democracies by the end of World War II, now more than 120 are, and as the world becomes ever more interconnected and its people more wealthy, better educated, and more sophisticated, they will demand nothing less than the right to self-determination and fulfillment. But unless the world gets there on its own terms, it will only work against us to get involved in the sort of Third World power plays that involve financing some panjandrum’s puerile and megalomaniac fantasy.

Economy


Economy/Capitalism

One of the essential problems of capitalism lies in the nature of the corporation, whose sworn and chartered responsibility is to maximize returns for its shareholders (and certainly it’s in the best pecuniary interests of management—especially these days!—to do so). There are two ways to maximize returns: a) increase revenues and b) decrease costs. It’s with the latter half of this equation that corporations spit in the face of moral justice. A corporation will typically make every effort to put as many of those costs on the community and the environment: the consequences of laying off workers when business slows down a bit or when it offshores jobs to China; of dumping pollutants instead of paying to clean them up; of plundering non-renewable resources; of fraud and executive monkey-business; of failing to support constructive community endeavors, assist its less fortunate members, and to address its concerns… and much, much, more. Problem is, there is a fundamental law of moral balance–a law that is no less ironbound than statutory law or the law of gravity for being a moral law—that is violated when corporations that take from a community fail to give in return. Simply stated, what goes around comes around, and when a corporation—through layoffs, offshoring, polluting, plundering, piracy, or general indifference—saps and sunders the vitality of a community, the Day of Reckoning inevitably comes when it discovers that its community of customers no longer has the kinds of jobs that provide the income that enables them to buy its goods and services, or that its community has abandoned the social, natural, and economic environment that once sustained them but which can no longer do so. It’s all about sustainability; everything must be done in balance, with the understanding that giving back is absolutely essential to taking. Otherwise, it just ain’t sustainable.

Economy/Coins

There’s a lot to be said for coins and other forms of “hard money.” Knowing that there’s not enough euros, yen, or other paper to serve as a replacement reserve currency for the dollar, we continue to behave like a junkie paying for his habit with checks that he knows will never be cashed. But paper money is only good as long as confidence holds that it can be redeemed for something of consistent value, and as the dollar continues to slide, what will our creditors be able to redeem their dollars for? Or shall they just use them as wallpaper? When the confidence gives way some day and the psychology changes, Katie bar the door.

Economy/Fiscal Profligacy

Politicians should never be allowed to have anything to do with fiscal policy. This is why we have a (relatively) independent Federal Reserve Board, and if it doesn’t perform according to the highest standards of probity, then the currency will be made to answer to the iron discipline of the money markets–which will promptly trash it! Knowing that there’s not enough euros, yen, or gold to serve as a replacement reserve currency for the dollar, we continue to behave like a junkie paying for his habit with checks that he knows will never be cashed. But paper money is only good as long as confidence holds that it can be redeemed for something of consistent value, and as the dollar continues to slide, what will our creditors be able to redeem their dollars for? Or shall they just use them as wallpaper? When the confidence gives way some day and the psychology changes, Katie bar the door.

Economy/Gambling

Lasting prosperity requires productive—not speculative—activity. That’s what brought on the Great Depression: the misallocation of resources into speculative activity like monkey business on Wall Street. And that’s what will have brought on the next depression: monkey business on Wall Street (remember the tech stock mania of the late 90s?) and the credit (read that: “irresponsible lending”)/housing-as-ATM bubble.

Economy/Job Types

It’s important to remember that the apex of any pyramid rests upon a broad foundation. This is especially true with those most highly skilled and remunerated professions that account for the apex of the economic pyramid. Typically, the base of any economic pyramid is agriculture, and notwithstanding the prosaic nature of farming, society ignores agriculture only at its peril. Virtually every instance of economic calamity has been preceded by a significant downturn in the farming sector. While farming may not seem terribly cutting-edge, it has repeatedly proved to be the leading edge of the fortunes of most every economy, no matter how sophisticated and immune it might seem to such earthy concerns.

Economy/McJobs

The preponderance of McJobs in the American economy is part of the fallout from globalization, as America continues to fit itself into a global economy. As we increasingly come to compete with low-wage economies like China, India, and all the others that are struggling to emerge from the Third World, American companies are forced to compensate by developing ever-higher productivity. All this is bad news for American workers who find themselves working 60- and 70-hour workweeks for dwindling wages, but good news for workers in China and India who are at long last able to climb out of destitution and into the burgeoning ranks of the middle class. America, with 6% of the world’s population, commands 40% of its resources, and the fact of the matter is, we’ve been way less than generous in sharing that wealth with the one out of four people in this world who live on less than a dollar a day. Painful as they are, the harsh economics of globalization may ultimately be for the best, since if we don’t accomplish a leveling of the playing field one way or the other, we’re going to continue to be reminded of this enormous disparity in ways that—like 9/11–are likely to be pretty ugly.

Economy/Bad Money

There’s good money and there’s bad money; there’s gold and there’s wallpaper. There’s a lot to be said for coins and other forms of “hard money,” but paper’s another story. Knowing that there’s not enough euros, yen, or other paper to serve as a replacement reserve currency for the dollar, we continue to behave like a junkie paying for his habit with checks that he knows will never be cashed. But paper money is only good as long as confidence holds that it can be redeemed for something of consistent value, and as the dollar continues to slide, what will our creditors be able to redeem their dollars for? Or shall they just use them as wallpaper? When the confidence gives way some day and the psychology changes, Katie bar the door.

Economy/Cashless Economy

A cashless economy would seem to have many virtues. For starters, we wouldn’t have to handle the stuff anymore—some of the bills in our wallets are filthy enough to qualify as biohazards. And, electronic money could provide a foolproof audit trail that would drive the underground economy out of business overnight and make possible a more equitable system of tax collection. Businesses and consumers would save enormous amounts from not having to contend with bad checks anymore, and credit checks for things that really shouldn’t require a credit check would be a thing of the past—either the beans are there or they’re not. Severing our ties with paper money will hasten the day when life becomes virtually virtual. The Internet will almost certainly go down in history (if it doesn’t re-fashion history completely, that is) as as great a revolution as the printing press—and we’ve only just begun! Imagine websites as virtual domains; strap on your virtual reality helmet, and experience whatever you like: sex, Singapore, or a ’63 Puligny-Montrachet. It’s just a matter of bandwidth and processing speed before we’ll be able to replicate anything that the physical senses can experience. What will it do to relationships and marriage, for example, when we can keep the company of a virtual companion who never says no? Or have virtual children that don’t need to have their diapers changed? What will become of travel when you can (virtually) go anywhere, anytime, without visas, jet lag, shots, or Delhi Belly? What about work and the quest for material rewards when, with the click of a mouse, one can change one’s shabby little dive into a sumptuous abode replete with kid glove leather sofas, rare Persian carpets, designer kitchen filled with virtual delicacies, and an 84-inch LCD TV for viewing all of your virtual favorites? Imagination has always been the matrix upon which the stuff of physical reality is formed… but in this case, the Internet will have taken all the work out of it! The question will not be whether money is paper or electronic or something else altogether; rather, the question might well become whether there will even be a need for money anymore. If we don’t have to pay for any of this stuff and can just have it all virtually, what will happen to the work ethic, and to the economy as we know it?

Economy/Free Trade

I suspect that we Americans, after generations of dominating the global economy trade arena in the fashion of the bull in the china shop, are about to get a taste of what it’s like for workers to be brutalized by free trade and the global economy. The preponderance of McJobs in the American economy is part of the fallout from globalization, as America continues to fit itself into a global economy. As we increasingly come to compete with low-wage economies like China, India, and all the others that are struggling to emerge from the Third World, American companies are forced to compensate by developing ever-higher productivity. All this is bad news for American workers who find themselves working 60- and 70-hour workweeks for dwindling wages, but good news for workers in China and India who are at long last able to climb out of destitution and into the burgeoning ranks of the middle class. America, with 6% of the world’s population, commands 40% of its resources, and the fact of the matter is, we’ve been way less than generous in sharing that wealth with the one out of four people in this world who live on less than a dollar a day. Painful as they are, the harsh economics of globalization may ultimately be for the best, since if we don’t accomplish a leveling of the playing field one way or the other, we’re going to continue to be reminded of this enormous disparity in ways that—like 9/11–are likely to be pretty ugly.

Economy/Globalization/Women

Women represent one of the best hopes for Third World economies to claw their way out of destitution. Women have consistently proven themselves to be responsible and productive users of micro-loans—usually less than $300—used to fund small businesses that typically enable them to market the products of their cottage industries and to become self-sufficient (if not the family breadwinner) in the bargain. Their liberation from the oppression of their husbands and the tyranny of incessant childbirth marks the single greatest step that subsistence economies can take toward the gender equality that promises reproductive control, greater household savings, education, an entrepreneurial business culture, and a steadily rising standard of living.

Economy/Gold

Notwithstanding the sophistication of our financial markets, I wonder if we haven’t gotten too clever by half, and are about to close the circle that commenced with gold as the Rock to which the most ancient and rudimentary systems of trade and finance were moored. There’s good money and there’s bad money; there’s gold and there’s wallpaper. Knowing that there’s not enough euros, yen, or other paper to serve as a replacement reserve currency for the dollar, we continue to behave like a junkie paying for his habit with checks that he knows will never be cashed. But paper money is only good as long as confidence holds that it can be redeemed for something of consistent value, and as the dollar continues to slide, what will our creditors be able to redeem their dollars for? Or shall they just use them as wallpaper? When the confidence gives way some day and the psychology changes, Katie bar the door.

Economy/Taxes

Our present tax code is a Frankenstein monster of special interests and a dog’s dinner that should shame a drunken sailor. A cashless economy would seem to have many virtues. For starters, we wouldn’t have to handle the stuff anymore—some of the bills in our wallets are filthy enough to qualify as biohazards. But electronic money could provide a foolproof audit trail that would drive the underground economy out of business overnight and make possible a more equitable system of tax collection. More so, a flat tax with no deductions would simplify things so that even chronically confused people like myself could understand it.

Economy/Usury

Much as I detest the piracy of the credit card banks, I must conclude that money is a commodity which–like any other in a market economy—is entitled to go to the highest bidder, and that hindering the Invisible Hand of the market can only result in imbalances and untoward consequences. The ancient Greeks could be sent off to the silver mines for indebtedness, but awful as that was, it seems almost benign in comparison with the seven years of disgrace and banishment that American society imposes on the uncreditworthy!

Economy/Work Organization

I suspect that we Americans, after generations of struggle for fair wages, benefits, and decent workplace conditions are about to experience a derangement of the system of organizing work that we worked for so long and hard to establish; it may be that we are about to get a taste of what it’s like for workers to be brutalized by free trade and the global economy. The preponderance of McJobs in the American economy is part of the fallout from globalization, as America continues to fit itself into a global economy. As we increasingly come to compete with low-wage economies like China, India, and all the others that are struggling to emerge from the Third World, American companies are forced to compensate by developing ever-higher productivity. All this is bad news for American workers who find themselves working 60- and 70-hour workweeks for dwindling wages, but good news for workers in China and India who are at long last able to climb out of destitution and into the burgeoning ranks of the middle class. America, with 6% of the world’s population, commands 40% of its resources, and the fact of the matter is, we’ve been way less than generous in sharing that wealth with the one out of four people in this world who live on less than a dollar a day. Painful as they are, the harsh economics of globalization may ultimately be for the best, since if we don’t accomplish a leveling of the playing field one way or the other, we’re going to continue to be reminded of this enormous disparity in ways that—like 9/11–are likely to be pretty ugly.


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