Huckleberry Finn, the California Gold Rush,
and Related Reflections
An Earth Manifesto publication by
Dr. Tiffany B. Twain
One of the most perceptive and visionary persons I’ve ever met died tragically
of a sudden heart failure not long ago at the age of 49. He was a great man, exceptionally
intelligent, alert, energetic, gregarious, and heart-aware. He greeted his friends and acquaintances
alike with enthusiastic bear hugs, and conversed passionately with them about
important and ecologically sane causes.
He was commendably committed to making the world greener and more likely
to be sustainable. He worked tirelessly
as a county official who took courageous stands on local, regional and
international issues to help advance more sensible priorities in public
planning. He was a keen listener who was
open-minded in his assessments of the merits of ideas. He loved animals, nature and the
out-of-doors, and was a strong proponent of finding ways to ensure that open
spaces will be protected for people today and in future generations. I dedicate this essay to this eminently
remarkable human being.
you think or dream you can do, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”
--- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
“Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time
--- Victor Hugo
“Never doubt that a small group
of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.
it’s the only thing that ever has.”
--- Margaret Mead
“My role in
society, or any artist’s or poet’s role,
Is to try and express what we all feel.
Not to tell people how to feel.
Not as a preacher, not as a leader, but as
a reflection of us all.”
--- John Lennon (1940 – 1980)
Subliminal Message: Get organized!
My literary and philosophic hero,
the humorist Mark Twain, first published his Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in 1884. Folks who are familiar with this great novel might
recall how the story ends. Huck was an
adventurous and observant fourteen-year-old boy, and Jim was a black slave
running away on a quest for freedom, and Huck had found out that his father was
dead so he had thus been set free from his abusive Pap, the town drunk. He considered his personal situation, and reckoned
that he had to “light out for the territory ahead of the rest” ... “because
Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before.”
Wouldn’t you just love to read the
sequel of Huck actually setting out for the territories? Imagine what wild adventures Huck and his
great friend “the nigger Jim” (important disclaimer below) could have had, back
in those Gold Rush days of yore in the Wild West. Unfortunately, Mark Twain never got around to
writing a sequel.
Here’s the good news: just 99 years after the publication of Mark
Twain’s novel of boyhood adventure and friendships, a writer named Greg
Matthews actually impersonated the author and wrote such a sequel. He gave it the straight-forward title, The Further Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Ya gotta love it!
Mark Twain was the master
impersonator himself, having adopted the persona of a teenage vagabond and
written one of the classics in all of American literature in a first-person
voice and using the evocative vernacular speech of the times. Greg Matthews likewise wrote from a first person
point of view and used vernacular speech, and his copy-cat style is so
creatively true to Mark Twain’s that it’s remarkable. This book is a brilliant, imaginative, entertaining
and humorous conceptualization of Huck’s further adventures. It is downright delightful to read.
From the opening paragraph,
readers suspect that they are likely to be “in for a good read”. The tale begins: “There was another book I writ before this one which
gives the story about how me and Jim went down the river on a raft, him looking
for freedom on account of he’s a nigger slave and me looking to get away from
the Widow Douglas who’s trying to sivilize me, and you could say we both wanted
the same thing. I reckon most people
don’t read but one book in their life so if that warn’t the one you read I best
tell what happened at the end of the story …”
In this new narrative, instead of
rafting down the mighty Mississippi in search
of freedom, Huck and Jim join the river of humanity heading west for the ‘gold
country’ of the California
foothills. A colorful collection of
miners, adventurers, rogues and assorted misfits were making the perilous
journey across vast prairies, high mountains, and harsh deserts, through
sometimes hostile Indian lands and Mormon territory, in hopes of striking it
rich and thus attaining an easy life.
Mark Twain himself had made his own adventurous journey west,
absquatulating for the territories in 1861 and generally Roughing It right after the Civil War had so rudely interrupted his
exciting but short career as a steamboat pilot plying the sometimes treacherous
The authorities are in hot pursuit
of Huck in this new tall tale. Huck has
been accused of having murdered Judge Thacker and then of having lifted Becky
Thatcher’s skirts, to boot. It is an
incidental cause of literary misfortune that Becky Thatcher makes so few
appearances in this new adventurous cavalcade of Huck and Jim’s experiences. When she does show up, as Huck observed, she
was “kind of hard to reckernize without Tom Sawyer draped all over her, but I
picked out the curls and the frilly dress and the smug look easy enough.” Ha!
Further Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is well worth reading
for Chapters 6 and 7 alone. In these
chapters, readers are introduced to the McSween Traveling Church of Christ the
Lamb. Phineas McSween and Ma and their ‘seven
virtues’ daughters and the Reverend Mordecai are traveling around the towns and
open spaces of the old West in a congregation of five covered wagons. It turns out that this family puts on a highly
unusual kind of religious revival services.
While McSween plays a steam calliope in a big makeshift tent, the
virtues sing beautiful hymns and the fire-and-brimstone preacher Mordecai starts
in with some impressive and intimidating speechifying.
“Who among you is without sin?!”
he roars. After sermonizing a fair bit, Mordecai
slaps all the sinners one-by-one to drive Satan out. But curiously, at about this time, all the
men begin to slide out of the big tent, leaving their devout wives behind. They depart in ones and twos, and then tilt a
bottle outside and wait in line to enter the wagons behind the tent, where six
of the seven virtues are providing highly personal services to the men.
“I went over to the trees and lit
my pipe to give the matter consideration,” Huck reflects, “and by and by I got
to smiling on it, one of them crooked ones you smile when you see the joke’s on
you. It’s a feeling I reckernized from
other times before this, when big expecterations come crashing down and all you
can do is ask why you was sap-head enough to have had them expecterations
Phineas McSween later leveled with
Huck about the true nature of the Traveling
Church’s services, which
were somewhat on the scurrilous side of astonishingly scandalous. McSween managed to make it seem plausible
that his troop of vice-propagating virtues was doing a distinctly honorable
part “in holding together the sacred institution of marriage.” Huck observed, “I seen how it’s possible to
take things and twist them into whatever shape you want, and see them another way entirely that don’t
have no resemblance to the truth.”
Hold that thought. The tale of Huck and Jim and the McSween
family is a surprise-filled and sensationally humorous one, and it includes
some enlightening reflections on religion.
Check it out:
“Huck, I bin thinkin’ on dis here
travelin’ church. Why you reckon dey
“Humans got a basic need for
religion, Jim. It fills in all the holes
that can’t get filled in with just thinking and pondering. There’s questions that’s just too big for
understanding, so folks put it all down to God and His workings. That way they can sleep at night and not have
to worry about not finding the answers to the questions.”
“What kinder questions, Huck?”
“I reckon the biggest is why we
got to die. Philosophers has been asking
it for hundreds of years and they ain’t got the answer yet.”
“Why you reckon we has to die?”
“It’s obvious, Jim. If we never died the whole country would get
cluttered with people just getting older and older, and you know how cussed and
cranky old folks is. They’d be three and
four deep everywhere, just complaining and snapping their gums and getting in
the way of everyone, so they got to die to make room for them that’s
young. We get our parcel of years and
when they’re done we wing it up to heaven.
That’s the theory of it.”
Jim then inquires why some of the
characters in the Bible like Methuselah lived “nine hunnerd years. How come he got de extra portion?” Huck reckons, “It must have been his
holiness. If you’re really holy, God
gives out another hundred years or two as a reward.” When Huck mentions Cartaphilus, the
longest-lived mortal ever, Jim whistles in contemplation of how holy he must
have been. But, no! -- Huck explains
that there was a completely different reason for the long life Cartaphilus led.
Huck launches into the whole story
of Cartaphilus, best known as “the Wandering Jew”. It turns out that Cartaphilus had been
divinely condemned to wander and wander for all of eternity. What happened was this, Huck elucidates. Cartaphilus had gotten Jesus really riled up
by giving him a succession of wrong directions at a crossroads in the Near East. He
repeatedly sent Jesus on a figurative wild goose chase. The story is a riot! In the end, Cartaphilus pulls out a calendar
and exclaims, “April Fool”! This gesture
makes Jesus so mad that he cursed Cartaphilus to wander forever. So, that
was the real key to his burdensome longevity.
Huck ruefully concludes about Cartaphilus, “… and I just bet he kicks
himself every April Fool’s day.” Ha!
One might wonder, when in a mind-wandering mood, why religious
faiths have so powerful a hold on our consciousnesses. Most of the doctrines of established
religions are not particularly rational or plausible. Nor is it probable that these dogmas are even
relatively true. Every experience we
have in our lives, after all, involves us and the natural world. Every belief in a supernatural
explanation of things is a leap of faith that involves superstition more than it
does sensibility. Michael Shermer
asserts in The Believing Brain that
beliefs come first and then explanations for the beliefs follow. “Ultimately, Shermer demonstrates why science
is the best tool ever devised to determine whether or not a belief matches
All myths were originally concocted to explain the pervasive
mysteries of existence. All ancient
myths were explanations which had their archaic genesis in pre-scientific days
when the bar for accuracy in providing explanations was much lower than today
(in theory, at least!).
“I’ve said many times that
we can expect delusional beliefs to rise in proportion to the
economic hardships we experience. That’s exactly what’s happening.”
--- James Howard Kunstler, The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of
Change, and Other Converging
Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century
The famous novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand was an
atheist. She believed that NONE of the
mythological deities that humankind has invented over the millennia, in attempts
to explain the inexplicable, were literal beings that actually existed. This perspective would be in accord with the
definition of religion provided by Ambrose Bierce in his Devil’s Dictionary: “Religion,
n. A daughter of Hope and Fear,
explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable.”
Steinbeck had noted in his Log from the Sea of Cortez: “We knew that what seemed to us true
could be only relatively true anyway.
There is no other kind of observation.”
It turns out that narrowly-focused observations and beliefs are similar
to overly-wrought convictions: they are
fraught with risks of being rudely inaccurate, and are oft wrongheaded, so they
generally involve the sacrifice of truths about the objects of our beliefs -- and
about our selves, as well.
and ‘Doc’ Ed Ricketts had debated and articulated valuably holistic worldviews during
their famous voyage on the Sea
of Cortez in 1940. One conclusion they reached was that to see
things clearly and with keen insight is a prerequisite to “breaking through”
to a fuller understanding of situations, or people, or concepts. John Steinbeck saw humankind as “a creature
of earth, not a heaven-bound pilgrim”, so he believed it was vitally important
to see things whole, and to work purposefully to change the way things are, for
is that useful social action is required of us all. It seems apparent to me that we should all
strive to minimize the adverse effects we have on others, in accordance with
the ethos of the Golden Rule. We should also
responsibly contribute to achieving goals that are consistent with the greater
Established religions assert that they should be
the final arbiter in the fields of morality and ethics. What they really seek appears to be a
monopoly on judgmentality to use as a beachhead from which to control and
manipulate people for power, profit and dominion. They usurp the highest moral concepts of our
language, claiming words like exaltation, reverence, righteousness, sacred and
enlightenment. By placing these concepts
in an ecclesiastic, supernatural and other-worldly frame, they essentially debase
them and simultaneously degrade mankind.
Morality should be arguably be emancipated from
religion, and be brought into the realm of reason, logic, empathy, Golden Rule
fairness and personal responsibility.
Morality should be consistent with the overarching human good. Spirituality should be anchored in loving
kindness, open-mindedness, and an inner path to deeper connectedness, not in narrow
orthodoxy. That’s my opinion!
Disclaimer: A Quick Digression on Racism
Mark Twain’s original novel about
Huckleberry Finn once again became big news 101 years after the author’s
death. A whole hullabaloo took place over
a revised edition of the book in 2011 in which more than 200 references to
“nigger Jim” were replaced with a sanitized “slave Jim”. Political correctness has its place, and there
surely have been too many offensive and ill-willed uses of the N-word in the
past century. But it is foolish to misconstrue
the social satire of Twain’s book, which “allows mature readers to see the
social injustices of the time period for what they were”, as one observer saw the
situation. “Mark Twain knew that the
very baggage of the word itself would leave readers feeling wounded and
uncomfortable. And yet he used it. Over and over again to make a very clear
point -- that racism feels uncomfortable because
it is wrong.”
Deep racial prejudices still exist
in our nation, and we should strive to mitigate the far-reaching legal, social
and economic injustices associated with these biases, and with the discrimination
and lack of opportunity that accompany them.
To be fair with regard to this sanitizing project of Mark Twain’s novel,
it was undertaken with the commendable goal of helping ensure that this important
book is more widely read, and it is a fact that the book has been banned from
libraries and classroom reading lists in many places over the years due to its
language and use of the N-word. Hmmm …
There is always a wide variety of different ways to look at things. Whatever!
I personally feel that altering the
vernacular speech of the times changes, and its cultural context, changes the
real authenticity in Mark Twain’s writings.
I further feel that people should be alert to underlying issues, and
attentive to deeper and more important meanings and themes and symbols used by
Early in The Further Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck inadvertently
slides head first into the mighty Mississippi,
“which give the bullfrogs something to croak about for days, I bet.” So may these reflections!
Lest anyone be uncertain about
Mark Twain’s personal feelings about black people, one need only read his
recently published Autobiography. In this oddly weighty tome, Mark Twain writes
that “All the negroes were friends of ours, and with those of our own age we
were in effect comrades.” He expresses a
strong liking for the black race and an “appreciation of certain of its fine
qualities”. The crowning epitome of
these qualities for Mark Twain was embodied by Uncle Dan’l, who was “a
middle-aged slave whose head was the best one in the negro-quarter, whose
sympathies were wide and warm, and whose heart was honest and simple and knew
Mark Twain had used Uncle Dan’l in
several of his famous novels as the persona model for the character Jim, and he
did this because he remembered Uncle Dan’l fondly and respectfully from his
boyhood experiences. Of Uncle Dan’l, he
wrote: “He was a faithful and
affectionate good friend, ally and advisor.”
better understand literature, it is helpful to cultivate a good idea of the
times and the place and the culture in which the writings are set. It is also valuable to understand the formative
influences that affect those who set pen to paper (or equivalent). Such insights can give readers a fuller
context. In this regard, I find the
following passage from Page 212 of Mark Twain’s Autobiography quite illuminating:
“In my schoolboy days I had no
aversion to slavery. I was not aware
that there was anything wrong about it.
No one arraigned it in my hearing; the local papers said nothing against
it; the local pulpit taught us that God approved it, that it was a holy thing,
and that the doubter need only look in the Bible if he wished to settle his
mind -- and then the texts were read aloud to us to make the matter sure; if
the slaves themselves had an aversion to slavery they were wise and said
nothing. In Hannibal we seldom saw a slave misused; on
the farm, never.”
In Southern states further south
slavery was a distinctly harsher and more heart-rending economic and social
institution, and racism was more deeply embedded, then as it is now. It took a lot of political maneuverings and
the terrible Civil War to finally bring the issue of slavery to a
conflict-filled end, and to bring freedom to black people (more-or-less!). Much troubled water has figuratively flowed
under the bridge since those days. A
clear comprehension of the evolution of injustices in American society since
then is explored in the pages that follow.
As a temporary conclusion to these
introductory thoughts, I give sudden perspicacious attention to an important
conundrum. I say to myself, sotto voce,
“Are there any new territories anymore that any of us can light out to, if our
civilizations become too onerous, unlivable, uncompromising and unsivilized?” Perhaps the new territories we need are
spacious areas of the mind -- and maybe we need principally to escape from the confusions
and absurdities of our increasingly indoctrinated, stressed, partisan, and
An Aside on Inspiration
“The only real voyage of discovery consists
not in seeking new landscapes,
but in having new eyes.”
Sometimes the sun rises and beams down upon us like a benediction. Too bad most of us are not usually wide awake
for this spectacle!
Note that no higher power or authority
communicated the insights in this essay to me, either by booming voice from the
skies or burning bushes in the mountains.
Nor do I lay claim to having found any Golden Plates etched with scriptures
containing divine truths. But if I had,
they certainly would not have somehow subsequently mysteriously disappeared. Besides, to lay claim to having found inspiration
written on Golden Plates suffers from a great difficulty: the insurmountable challenges associated with
the necessity of magically and accurately translating revelatory
engravings on metallic pages from the Deity level to the level of human understanding.
Mark Twain wrote about the Book of Mormon in his 1872 book Roughing It. The founder of
the Mormon religion, Joseph Smith, Jr., claimed to have translated engravings
made by the Lord on golden plates. Mark
Twain satirized the resulting Book of Mormon as “imaginary history”, calling it
“an insipid mess of inspiration”, and “a tedious plagiarism” of the Bible. And so it came to pass!
The great writer was, of course, rather cynical
about the Bible itself, having written in Letters
from the Earth that: “It is full of
interest. It has noble poetry in it; and
some clever fables; and some blood-drenched history; and some good morals; and
a wealth of obscenity; and upwards of a thousand lies.”
But this is neither here nor there. My inspiration in the Earth Manifesto has
been to try to advance big picture worldviews which would help humanity live more
wisely, fairly and sustainably. These insights
into the nature of things have been affected by my upbringing, experiences,
education, and propensities, along with a fair dose of good fortune in having a
good amount of free time and propitious personal circumstances. These conditions have allowed me to devote
myself regularly to exploring objective and introspective ideas and vitally
One conclusion I have reached is that we must
all give greater respect to the natural world by making greater efforts to
protecting it from severe ecosystem harm and depletion. The scale and
impact of human activities in today’s Anthropocene Era has become “so large
that it has thrown every fundamental, life-sustaining system on Earth off
kilter.” So says Jeffrey Sachs in his book Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet. Significant investments are needed to
avert the greatest risks facing the world -- to fight climate change, the loss
of biodiversity, rapid population growth, and extreme poverty.
Each and every person should feel a larger responsibility
for doing this, to the greatest possible extent that they can afford. Note to wealthy
people: you can afford a lot more! Pillars of our communities, please step forward with more financial
assistance for the wide range of causes which so desperately need funding to
ensure social justice and environmental sanity in the world.
Most people do not have the time and energy
to be more responsible in civic activities, or the financial resources to
devote to good causes. It is exceedingly
important that we make bold commitments to the greater good. This will require a progressive restructuring
of tax laws to ensure adequate financing, rather than leaving the plan to voluntary
philanthropy. The people who can most
easily afford to help make our societies healthier should be required to make bigger
contributions. Simultaneously, tax
incentives for making charitable contributions should be made more attractive.
One of the biggest ‘quality of life’ issues concerns
protected parks, open spaces, and public lands.
People need a greater exposure and personal access to the natural world
in order to feel a greater appreciation of it.
Parks and open spaces play a vital role in our physical and emotional
well-being, so they require more committed protections. This understanding is articulated in the
findings of the National Park Service, which promotes a Healthy Parks, Healthy People campaign that acknowledges the role
that parks play in contributing to healthier people and healthier nations.
I call on our civic leaders and wealthy people to
give stronger support and more funding to the protection of National Parks,
Wilderness Areas, National Forests, National Marine Sanctuaries, National
Wildlife Refuges, Wild and Scenic Rivers, State Parks, and County and municipal
open spaces. A civilized society should
not sacrifice these important natural areas, just as it should not abandon art,
or science, or ethics and the common good.
“Invoke a little moxie. Think big.
Risk failure. Laugh at
yourself. Make a difference.”
--- Tiffany Shlain, UC Berkeley 2010
Commencement Convocation (paraphrased)
Hopi Indian Elders have long recognized Koyaanisqatsi, a word in the Hopi
language that means ‘life out of balance’.
We are extensively upsetting the natural balance in the world, so the
Hopi Elders advise us to walk more gently upon the earth. They essentially recommend that we give
greater respect to ecological precautionary principles. They tell us to honor Mother Earth and to
respect “our sacred life-giving waters and all life for future generations of
our children.” Our elders have spoken. Let us pay attention, and heed their words!
Lifetime Ecological Footprint Tally (LEFT)
Everything on Earth is interconnected and interdependent. As a result, each of us is involved in impacting
everything else. These impacts live on
as legacies like fading echoes after we die.
Even if someone lives to be 100 years old, life goes by relatively
quickly in the context of the duration of our species’ existence. We are born, we live an indeterminate but
distinctly limited life span, and then we die.
The legacy of each person is different, depending on a variety of
factors. This legacy ranges from
relatively inconsequential for those who die in childhood to more significant
for those who live a long life, or contribute in major ways to the common good
or intellectual advancement or spiritual illumination, or for those who make
large harmful impacts on the Earth because of their despotic acts or outsized
consumption or prodigious child-bearing, or some other relatively big
Every one of us, in any case, has an aggregate impact which could be
measured by a lifetime ecological footprint tally, or LEFT. What’s LEFT?
This measurement is an individual total of all energy and resources used
throughout a lifetime, plus a per-person share of the infrastructure of the
nation in which they live. A factor should
be included for the number of children one has, due to the multiplier-effect
impact that having children has on the planet.
The use of non-renewable resources would be given heavier weight than
the use of renewable resources in assessing our lifetime impacts. The LEFT would also take into account the
total amount of garbage and wastes and toxins and carbon dioxide a person
produces over their lifetime. This idea
would be an extrapolation of the Global Footprint Network’s measurement of how
many planet Earths would be required for an individual, or for all people in
each nation on average, to sustain consumption indefinitely at current
The World Footprint currently would require about 1.5 planet earths to
provide the resources we collectively use.
The aggregate “lifestyle” of people in the United States would require 5
planet Earths to provide for our current ‘needs’. Needless to say, we have only one Earth. Biocapacity is diminishing in almost every
nation on Earth as the result of our business-as-usual activities. Check out http://www.footprintnetwork.org for more
Business as usual is simply not tenable in the long run because it is
diminishing the carrying capacity of the earth to sustain our species. Collapsing fisheries, diminishing forest
cover, and a steady depletion and degradation of fresh water systems are not
positive developments. A build-up of
carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere is creating ominous problems
associated with changes in weather patterns both locally and globally. These are just a few of the most noticeable
effects of “overshoot”, a phenomenon of overuse that contributes to conflicts
over resources, wars, mass migrations, famine, disease and a large variety of
other human tragedies. These trends tend
to have a disproportionate impact on the poor, who cannot buy their way out of
the problems, or get resources from somewhere else.
Good plans on how to remedy these problems are investigated in the rest
of this narrative.
Ponder the Facts about the California Gold Rush,
and Their Implications
Hark back, for a moment, to the Gold Rush that Mark Twain
wrote about in The Celebrated
Jumping Frog of Calaveras County and other stories. Gold had
been discovered in the South Fork of the American River
in the Central Valley of California in January, 1848. An epic Gold Rush ensued in which about
90,000 people arrived in 1849 -- the Forty Niners. This vastly swelled the population of
non-Indians in California. By 1855, perhaps 300,000 people had
come. It is estimated that miners
extracted $12 billion dollars of gold in the first five years of the Gold Rush,
at today’s equivalent prices. That is a
lot of money for a bunch of adventurous frontier ‘pan handlers’!
The Gold Rush became
one of the most destructive environmental onslaughts by human beings in world
history, as everyone who lived downstream from hydraulic mining operations was
well aware back in those days. This harmful kind of mining had its heyday in California from 1853 to
1884. Miners in the mountains channeled water
from Sierra Nevada rivers into flumes that
were miles long. Then the water entered high-pressure
hoses and was blasted against consolidated gravel hillsides from iron nozzles
called monitors. This process washed
enormous quantities of gravel and silt down through large sluices where nuggets
and flakes of gold could be captured.
mining method had unintended consequences and severely negative impacts on
people who lived downstream. The enormous
volumes of sediments washed into waterways were carried down into California’s Central Valley,
where it causing significant flooding damage to farms, crops, homes and
businesses. Streambeds became so choked
with silt that big ships could no longer navigate upstream to Sacramento
from the San Francisco
Bay. The populations of fish, oysters, and other
species of life in this river system and the Bay were decimated. The scars of these hydraulic mining activities
are still starkly visible in eroded foothill locales like Malakoff Diggins, the
site of California’s largest hydraulic mine.
was a pronounced conflict of interests between hydraulic miners and those who lived
downstream from the heedless and mindlessly-obtuse activity. Intense legal battles eventually ensued. The conflict was finally resolved in an epic
environmental ruling by Judge Lorenzo Sawyer in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco in 1884. The Judge promulgated a sweeping injunction
to abruptly stop all hydraulic mining activities in the state. This was one of the
first great legal decisions in the history of the United States to halt environmental
This early defense of environmental protection was
essentially a first step toward fairer and bigger picture adjudications of
inherent conflicts of interests that exist in so many arenas. The adverse impacts of big mining operations,
real estate developments, and other activities that exploitation natural
resources and habitats are particularly outsized. The Sawyer decision leads us to the precipice
of vitally important insights for humanity from the perspective of the second
decade of the twenty-first century.
These illuminating insights provide a springboard into
understandings of overarching challenges related to corporatism and efforts to maximize
private profits through the insidious expediency of allowing corporations to foist
costs and environmental damages onto society as a whole. These insights also provide provocative ideas
about wider considerations, like the corrupting influences of Big Money in our country,
the role of corporate lawyers in advancing such unfair influences, and broader
understandings about our civil justice system and individual freedoms and
Insights Engendered from the Gold Rush
a new Gold Rush mentality seems to pervade our twenty-first
century economics and politics. Giant
corporations are rashly exploiting resources and displaying a serious disdain
for the law. They are obtusely and selfishly
disregarding the collateral consequences of their actions. Many industrial activities have extremely
harmful impacts on natural ecosystems and human health, and these negative
effects take place literally and figuratively downstream in location, as
well as downstream in time.
is another reason that, when we are formulating national priorities and public
policies, we must think beyond ourselves and our times, and give greater consideration
to the impacts of our aggregate activities on the prospects and well-being of
our descendents in future generations.
quantities of harmful wastes, which often pollute streams and the underground water
table and the atmosphere, are being created by mining
operations that seek gold, silver, iron, copper, tin and other minerals. The processes of mountaintop
removal mining for coal are particularly damaging to the environment. Large
industrial pig and cattle ‘farms’ cause significant air and water pollution. Large corporations
involved in these activities are required by law to make efforts to prevent the
wastes they generate from getting into rivers and the underground aquifers, but
often they fail.
the Environmental Protection Agency levies fines for infractions, but this does
not usually happen. Why not? Corporate lawyers are shrewdly able to game
the system and get their employers off the hook, allowing these institutions to
evade their proper roles as socially-responsible civic entities that truly
support good citizen goals.
Lawyers, of course, are to be found on both sides of every
legal conflict. One of the most
egregious and influential involvements of lawyers can be found allied against
environmental protections and the public health, rather than in their
favor. One of the most dangerous ideas
that corporate lawyers have ever managed to foist upon society is the
interpretation by the Supreme Court of the Fourteenth Amendment to the
Constitution. Lawyers and judges have
managed to misconstrue this Amendment as a justification for granting rights of
“personhood” to corporations.
But look here!
The Fourteenth Amendment was enacted after the Civil War to
guarantee rights to newly-freed slaves, NOT organizational entities. The Amendment includes important clauses that ensure
all citizens of ‘due process’ and ‘equal protection’ under the law. In a terrible irony, numerous cases have been
adjudicated that interpret this law to primarily guarantee rights to corporations
rather than individuals. This results in
many outcomes that are miscarriages of democratic justice on our republic.
Corporations have used this legal justification to
significantly increase their capabilities for abusing the power they hold over
people and public lands. This point is
powerfully portrayed in the insightful book The
Corporation - The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power, and also in the
fascinating film “The Corporation”
that is based on the book. Check them out
for entertaining and more detailed background information!
This book and film essentially ask the question: “If a corporation actually were a person,
what kind of person would it most resemble?”
Using the “Personality Diagnostic Checklist” of the World Health
Organization to make this determination, a clear indication was given: corporations
frequently act like anti-social psychopaths. Big corporations, in their aggregate
activities, resemble psychopaths in many ways.
They demonstrate a frequent reckless disregard for the safety of people,
they are often deceitful, and they con people to make bigger profits. Many of them show a callous unconcern for the
feelings of others, an incapacity to feel guilt, and a failure to conform to
social norms with respect to lawful behaviors.
These attributes are not merely the results of the
activities of “a few bad apples.”
Corporations often make a type of cost/benefit analysis with regard to breaking
the law. They take into account the
chances of getting caught and the cost of fines that would be associated with their
wrong-doing. And they often choose to violate
the law when corporate accountants and lawyers determine that it would be the
most profitable thing to do.
“Corporation, n. An ingenious device for
obtaining individual profit without individual
--- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary
study of the 100 most egregious instances of guilty pleas by
corporations in violations of laws reveals a distinct tendency for corporations
to make these analyses to determine whether or not to obey the law. When they choose to violate laws because
potential profits exceed the possible costs of fines, they do so partially
because they have deep pockets and are able to employ cadres of often
unscrupulous professionals to advance their narrow interests.
also basically bribe politicians to enact laws favorable to their interests. They help get policies implemented to
hyper-stimulate the economy and create speculative bubbles. Then, when inevitable economic downturns
occur, they treat workers ruthlessly, firing thousands of people to strive to remain
Monitor, a watchdog magazine, published an article in 2008 titled “20 Things About
Corporate Crime.” It is an eye-opener! “20.
Corporate crime inflicts far more damage on society than all street
crime combined.” … “17. Corporate crime
is under-prosecuted by a factor of, say, 100.
The flip side of this is that corporate crime prosecutors are
underfunded by a factor of, say, 100.”
Monitor states that “we’ve never had a year like 2008.” The financial crisis was emblematic of the
worst aspects of our corporate-dominated political and economic system. Over and over again, we see that these
harmful policies include improper political influence, non-enforcement of laws,
wrong-headed deregulation, fraudulent activities, insider crimes, short-term
thinking, and widespread externalizing of costs upon workers, homeowners and
bottom line is that institutions that are practically anti-social and
psychopathic have grown in power and influence over the years. Corporations are, by law, primarily liability-avoiding
and profit-prepossessed organizations that circumvent social and environmental
responsibilities and try to avoid paying taxes.
They are essentially amoral, acting with deep deception even when they
are giving generously to good causes or “greenwashing” their activities. They spend lavishly on public relations to
convince people that their true nature is caring, honest, responsible, fair-minded,
environmentally sound and ecologically sane, but this is demonstrably not true,
in far, far too many instances.
The 2005 documentary film McLibel provides a chilling understanding of abusive business
practices and pernicious tactics that corporations sometimes use to intimidate
people and censor criticisms. The film highlights
the nefarious efforts of corporations to stack the courts with conservative
judges against the best interest of consumers.
It makes clear the extent to which corporations try to control consumers
and workers as well as governments which do the bidding of corporations
worldwide. The McLibel case involved two protestors and the fast-food franchise
McDonald’s. It became the longest libel
trial in British history. “It will go
down in history as the most expensive and disastrous public relations exercise
ever mounted by a multinational company,” according to a television news
of helping solve the overarching problems that face the United States
and humanity in general, big corporations are making many of the most pressing
problems worse. They are contributing to
pollution, environmental destruction, resource depletion, poverty, wars, fiscal
imbalances, and the ill health of millions of people.
greed and organizational mandates for narrow selfishness, and blatant hubris
demonstrated by violations of the law, must give way to more humane values. The
terrible legacy of the ascendancy of corporate power in modern societies is that
workers are being exploited and the public is being harmed. Simultaneously, resources are being squandered
with profligate abandon, and the environment is being damaged, and ecosystems
are being poisoned or destabilized. This
legacy is a form of insidiously-harmful tyranny of current generations of
people alive today against all people in future generations. Many rich people and CEOs may be noble, friendly,
smart, accomplished, fun-loving, and generous on the whole, but in their roles
as leaders of this tyranny, and as complicit participants, they are acting as villains.
“A century and a half after its birth, the modern
business corporation, an artificial person made in the image of a human
psychopath, now is seeking to remake real people in its image.”
--- Joel Bakan, The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of
Profit and Power
In a further blow to the rights and privileges of
the people, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in January 2010 to overturn
long-standing legal precedents that had been designed to limit the powerful and
highly unfair influence of corporations and unions in American elections. This narrow decision has undermined the free
speech rights of individuals and ramped up the power of Big Money in our
political system. This ruling has
further distorted and corrupted our collective decision-making processes. I find this to be a crucially important
understanding. See Common Sense vs. Political Realities: An Anatomy of Dysfunctionality
in the Earth Manifesto for an in-depth analysis of this problem and the ruling
in the Citizens United case.
Ideally, all interests should be given fair
representation in our societies, including young people under the age of 18
even though they are not allowed to vote.
The interests of all people in future generations should be strongly
represented. To achieve these sensible
goals, we should limit the corrupt tyranny of insider influence on our
politics. Our Founders did a great job
creating a democratic republic which has more or less withstood the test of
time, but today democratic governance is being significantly undermined by Big
Money and corporate abuses of power.
The Founders essentially stated in the Declaration
of Independence that whenever a political system becomes destructive of the goals
of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”, We the People have the right to alter the
Government and lay new foundations for governance on such principles and forms
of organization that “shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”
It is our right, and indeed our obligation,
to institute fairer, saner, and more prudent public policies sometime soon!
Let’s just do it!
“Always do right -- this will gratify some and
astonish the rest.”
--- Mark Twain
Freedom and Responsibility
When The Further Adventures of Huckleberry Finn opens
with words about Huck and Jim going down the river on a raft looking for
freedom, it inspires us to exclaim, “Hallelujah for freedom!”
reckon that we live in a free country -- more or less. This freedom is assured to all citizens thanks
to the positive dispensation of our Constitution and rules of law. Everyone is free to believe A-N-Y thing they
choose. But with freedom comes
responsibility. Ethical responsibility. Golden Rule responsibility to others. And inter-generational responsibility --- hence
the need for a Bill of Rights for Future Generations!
Bill Moyers was honored by the Harvard Medical
School with a “Global
Environmental Citizen Award” in 2004. In
his acceptance speech, Moyers noted that when he reads the news about all the
things humanity is doing in the world, he concludes that it is not as if
“Father, forgive us, for we know not what we do.” As he reads the news, and looks at the photos
on his desk of his five grandchildren, he observes:
“We do know what
we are doing. We are stealing their
future. Betraying their trust.
is our collective duty to act more responsibly.
One example of the fact that guaranteed rights are irrevocably
accompanied by responsibilities can be understood in light of the Second
Amendment right to bear arms. Owning a
gun is a right, but gun owners must be responsible to keep their guns safe from
accidental discharge by children, and to refrain from murdering their spouses
or neighbors in fits of anger. Having
private citizens own rapid-fire semi-automatic assault weapons has less
sensible justification, so it would be smart to re-authorize the Federal
Assault Weapons Ban that was in effect for 10 years from 1994 to 2004.
Another freedom which is guaranteed in the Bill of
Rights is the free exercise of religion.
Make no mistake about it, however:
When politicians take their oaths of office, they place their hand on
the Bible and swear to uphold the Constitution.
Note that they DO NOT place their hand on the Constitution and
swear to uphold the Bible! A robust
separation of church and state is an important principle for democratic
fairness and peaceable coexistence.
A virtual marriage of church and state has too often
throughout history proven to be a dastardly affair. This is the reason that a representative
democracy must have a separation between government and religious orthodoxy,
just as there needs to be a distinct separation between the executive,
legislative, and judiciary branches of government.
Every established religion, like every body
politic, has adherents who lie on a wide continuum that extends from the
radical far left to the reactionary far right.
It is sad to see the right wing dominate the scene in so many
religions. It would be a better world if
moderates or progressives in every faith exercised greater influence. The right wing brings shame to their creeds
in the form of intolerant attitudes toward others. Reactionary conservatives in many faiths cling
to extreme beliefs, and they do much pathetic harm to under-represented people
in society by abusing the influence they have in politics. The tax-exempt status of churches should be
revoked for all money spent on political goals like opposition to abortion and
the rights of gay people.
These things are not only sad, but dangerous as
well. Hard-nosed attitudes and
influences in faith traditions can have deleterious effects on people and governments
and societies. I regard it as disastrous
that right-wing Christians have so much influence in the United States. It is socially harmful to have right-wing conservatives
wield so much power, people like Pat Robertson, Rush Limbaugh, Mitch McConnell,
Glenn Beck, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and
Sarah Palin. These people emulate the
repressive Ayatollahs who rule in Iran in curious ways, and they are
even a bit like radicals in fundamentalist terrorist organizations like al
Qaeda in many nations.
The wedding of church and state has caused
profound adversities over the centuries.
This is confirmed by a study of the effects of the “divine rights of
kings” in history and the Crusades and the Inquisition. The retrogressive influence of reactionary
right-wing elements of the Christian Right in American politics today is to an
extent similarly misguided and unfortunate.
freedom of America
has been strongly wedded to private property rights. The Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment to
the Constitution is near and dear to the heart of many Americans because it
involves issues concerning “just compensation” for eminent domain seizures of
private property by the government when such takings are deemed necessary for vital
civic purposes like building highways.
legal issues are involved in economic rights when “imputed takings” occur for socially-desirable
zoning or regulations that qualify as “public uses”. Such planning
decisions may directly diminish the value of a property or proposed
development, but it surely is in the public interest to be able to make such
choices without excessive costs. This
issue is of considerable interest to free market conservatives and landowners
and wealthy people -- and to the best interests of people and communities as
novelist and philosopher Ayn (rhymes with ‘mine’) Rand
popularized a view of individuals as heroes who utilized economic and political
freedom to generate wealth in a free-market capitalist economy. She felt passionately that such individuals
should be allowed to make money with a minimum of government regulation -- and that
they deserved to keep a maximum amount of their earnings by paying a minimum in
taxes. Former Federal Reserve Chairman
Alan Greenspan and other officials enthusiastically embraced her points-of-view. They pursued anti-regulatory schemes like the
ones that led to the disastrous Savings-and-Loan debacle of 1989. The outcome has proved to be the even more costly
Inside Job of the financial crisis and
economic recession that began in 2008.
Fine, fine, fine, Ayn and your disciples, if you
want to lionize greed as a virtue. But it
is abundantly clear that when greed contributes to increasingly extreme
inequities between the Haves and the Have Nots, it is socially
undesirable. When someone fiercely
advocates for initiatives that lead to radical increases in inequities, it is
like a socially detrimental vice rather than a virtue. This is especially true if greed leads to
impulses being unregulated, undisciplined, and unaccountable so that it facilitates
hyper-speculation and distorted incentives that cause systemic economic collapses
which disproportionately harm the Have Nots.
Fair competition, to be sure, can have positive
influences in our societies in many ways.
For instance, the contrast in the quality, dependability and safety of
automobiles today compared to 50 years ago is dramatic. This has resulted from intense competition between
American auto manufacturers and foreign auto makers like those in Japan. However, the insidious expediency of creating
higher demand for large fuel-inefficient SUVs and other big vehicles through
the use of seductive advertising has stimulated the compulsion to buy big,
powerful, fuel-wasting vehicles. Automakers
have aggressively marketed these kinds of vehicles because profits on large
SUVs are higher than on smaller, less polluting vehicles. Unfortunately, this has caused far-reaching
misallocations of resources, the socially and environmentally negative
squandering of fossil fuels, and continuing increases in greenhouse gas
concentrations in the atmosphere.
whole issue of individual freedom and social responsibility is explored in Earth
Manifesto essays like Ayn Rand, Jack
London, and a Fountainhead of Philosophy, and in Freedom – Utopian Idea and Unifying Objective, and in Comprehensive Global Perspective – An
Illuminating Worldview. Check them
Perspectives of the Economist Milton Friedman
“Only a crisis -- actual or perceived -- produces
real change. When that crisis occurs,
the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies,
to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the
--- Milton Friedman
Friedman was right about this. In fact,
the entire Earth Manifesto is dedicated to the idea that some day, perhaps
after we have tried a lot of other options that prove to be inimical to the
greater good, a growing consensus will develop that is centered around the
propositions contained throughout this manifesto, and particularly in the ideas
summarized in Book Two, which contains ideas from Part Four online, Overarching Considerations –Transformation
Ideas and Enlightened Proposals.
ideas that Milton Friedman wanted to incubate were unfortunately a form of gospel-like
economic fundamentalism which has been shown to be potentially disastrous in
the bubble economics, inegalitarianism, and fraudulent activities that have
been so harmful to billions of people during the “Great Recession” that began
author Naomi Klein writes convincingly in her important book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster
Capitalism that free market policies advocated by Friedman have been used
in many nations worldwide to exploit people, ravish natural resources, harm the
environment, and enrich the wealthy Few while imposing austerity on the
rest. Such unsavory economic policies
have been forced on many nations in the world in the past few decades with the
help of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. One observer called Naomi Klein’s book “the
most important book on economics in the 21st century.”
Naomi Klein cautions us that we need to recognize what is actually
happening in the world, and why it is happening, in order to protect ourselves
against tyrannical abuses by amoral profit-prepossessed multinational corporations
and right-wing governments. Ms. Klein’s
book is valuable in sparking incisive dialogue about the causes of financial
instability, people’s revolutions, military coups, dastardly acts, wars, and economic
disequilibrium. A greater awareness of
these intricate interrelationships would help us find the collective will to
more sincerely commit our societies to fairer dealings.
powerful motivations that spark such events, and that make them attractively
profitable, make it inevitable that we will have more of such disasters. This is not paranoiac speculation or
conspiracy theory. It is simply lucid historical
perspective and a reflection on human nature, along with predictable outcomes
of cause and effect!
critic of Naomi Klein’s book pointed out that she may be conflating “free
market orthodoxy with predatory corporate behavior.” Read the book, and decide for yourself! No matter what one says, whether negative
outcomes are the result of corporate malfeasance or political shenanigans or other
complexities, it would be sensible to demand that leaders in nations worldwide take
smarter steps to protect people, our societies, and the ecological commons. Overall well-being is intimately intertwined
with public policies.
playwright Tony Kushner made a similar observation to Milton Friedman’s about
crises and change, though from a different perspective, when he stated: “There are moments in history when the fabric
of everyday life unravels, and there is this unstable dynamism that allows for
incredible social change in short periods of time. People and the world they’re living in can be
utterly transformed, either for the good or the bad, or some mixture of the
things unravel in the course of coming decades, as seems to be probable with
the prospects of diminishing fossil fuel resources after Peak Oil production, and
in conjunction with population growth past 7 billion and all, it seems obvious that
we should strive to assure that we use the coming crises to transform our
cultures in healthier directions. We
should not let authoritarians and vultures amongst us grab all the perks for
themselves and command the opportunity to assert their rigid hegemony!
free enterprise system does not regulate itself well. A myriad of specific instances makes this
abundantly clear. The dynamics of ‘free
markets’ do not always result in optimal outcomes for society as a whole, no
matter what the laissez-faire ideologues theorize. Instead, the free enterprise system tends to result
in optimal advantages for individuals and entities that have the most influence
and power. Frequently, outcomes are
merely beneficial to the narrow and self-interested goals of a very small
subset of people. Thus it is incumbent
upon us to design and implement smarter rules and regulations for all.
contrasting economic understanding recognizes that all economic activities are intrinsically
affected by the prevailing rules which are established in a system, so we must
create smarter rules and adopt better priorities. Intelligent incentives must be put into place
to achieve fair-minded goals. Pragmatic
and optimal solutions for society as a whole must be developed. All people in future generations must be
considered when these determinations and priorities are formulated. This is another reason why the Earth
Manifesto advocates that Americans and people in nations worldwide make an
overarching commitment to a Bill of Rights for Future Generations.
Friedman also pointed out that special interests always strive to gain
strangleholds in response to every law that is passed. Interested parties work to make sure that
whatever law is passed, they themselves will gain the maximum amount of benefit
from it. Soon after a new law is
enacted, many interests become vested in the way things are, and thus a repeal
of the law becomes nearly inconceivable.
Then new legislation is required to cope with the problems produced by
the original law. This, as one instance,
is how benefits designed to help farmers beset by dust-bowl calamities and
agricultural depression in the 1930s ended up primarily benefitting big
corporate agribusinesses today. Sure
enough, it is proving to be nearly impossible to sensibly reduce the distorted
and overly-generous subsidies to these vested interests, even in the face of
high agribusiness profits and dire federal budget deficits.
noteworthy tremor unsettled global stock markets on April 18, 2011 when the
Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services warned that the intractable
unwillingness of politicians to find real solutions to government financing
problems could cause a destabilizing downgrade of the safety and
trustworthiness of U.S. credit and the dollar, and of the nation itself.
Many agree that the orgy of borrowing to finance
government operations is likely to hit a wall sometime soon. It is a significant risk to allow this
shortsighted expediency to continue without bold and fair-minded efforts to
resolve the issue.
“Our national debt is our biggest national security
threat”, stated Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in
June 2010. It is downright stupid to
allow trillion dollar deficits to continue year after year after year. Our representatives in the House and Senate
and the White House have simply become too partisan and short-term-oriented to
act to make the needed difference. The
time is NOW to change course before economic and social calamity strikes our
The cost of inaction gets higher every year. The longer we wait to address certain issues,
the more difficult they will be to solve.
The longer we delay sensible reforms, the more difficult the reforms will
become -- and the bigger the required adjustments will be.
Consider, for instance, Social Security and Medicare, the two main
components of the U.S.
social safety net for older people. The
number of people alive who are over the age of 65 is steadily increasing as the
Baby Boom generation reaches retirement age.
Simultaneously, the average age of Americans continues a long-term
increase, meaning that there will be more people collecting benefits relative
to the number of workers paying into the system. These demographic trends resulted in benefits
being paid out in 2011 that exceeded the amount that was collected in payroll
taxes. This was the first year since the
creation of these programs that such deficits occurred for both programs. This fiscal problem will get more serious
until reforms are made. Other government
funds will be needed to make up the shortfalls, and national budget deficits
will increase significantly if no reforms are instituted.
Sensible solutions do exist. Good recommendations on how we could tackle
stubborn funding issues and reduce related deficit spending are made in Radically Simple Ways to Make America
Fairer, and to Fix Both Social Security and Health Care So We Can Move On to
Address Much Bigger Issues. It can
be found in Book Two of the Earth Manifesto (Part Four online).
Greater Public Good is Sacrificed to “Insider” Advantages
grossly disproportionate voice is being given to big corporations in our
elections. This has been a growing trend
since 1980. With the elimination of the
Fairness Doctrine in 1987, and with the narrow 5-4 Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case,
this trend is distinctly harming our nation.
The corporate political right wing, and to a lesser
extent public employee unions, have been overplaying their hands and abusing
are two competing subsets of this subversion of the greater public good. One, decried so vociferously by conservatives,
is the “greed of the public servant”.
Sure enough, allowing public employees to have collective bargaining
rights has given them more power and influence, and some people in the upper
echelons of unions have abused this power to get excessive perks for themselves. Unions have also been complicit in getting
bureaucratic rules, inefficiencies, and distorted policies accreted around
government policies and services. The
result is a goodly number of highly publicized pension-spiking scams, a complex
plethora of school tenure-related problems, many confusing and sometimes contradictory
regulations, and a variety of other significant inequities.
the private sector is where the impacts of this problem are by far the most
egregious. The abuses of power in the
private sector were the original impetus for the movement that created collective
bargaining rights in the first place. In
a free market, working people need a modicum of power to negotiate better in
the face of the overwhelming influence of big corporations.
Hitchcock, a talk show host on Radio America, pointed out that “Greed is
not good -- either in private life or public service.” Hitchcock concluded that, “In business, greed
is tempered by competition.” Hmmm. That may be the theory of it, but it is also
true that wealthy people and corporations effectively lie, cheat, steal, and indulge
in predatory behaviors all too frequently.
Government interventions are consequently needed to protect “the unwary,
the unwitting, and the innocent” from these abuses of power.
businesses are closer to the people, and deserve more protection than
multinational businesses that tend to quash smaller companies and mom-and-pop
organizations. This fact provides cogent
justification for reforming our system to make it fairer to small businesses,
rather than continuing to allow the system to be stacked so distinctly in favor
of big companies.
Friedman also once said, “One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and
programs by their intentions rather than their results.” Once again, this particular assessment by Friedman
has merit. But the results of his
laissez-faire, pro-privatization, anti-regulation, tax-cutting ideologies have
ironically proved to be damaging to the ecological commons and quite harmful to
the prospects of the vast majority of Americans, today and in the future. This is particularly apparent in the past
decade, during which time people in the lower and middle classes have been
increasing under assault by the tyranny of Big Money in our politics.
results of the policies and programs associated with right-wing orthodoxy are clear: we have increasing extremes of inequalities
in opportunity, healthcare, income and wealth, and the world is out of balance due
to wasteful uses of resources and associated ecological degradation and
diminishing biological diversity.
Conservatives figuratively see red when they read
the inscription from Virgil inscribed on the edifice that was originally the San Diego Civic Center
building: “The noblest motive is the
public good.” Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated
this building in 1938, making a compelling observation: “American democracy will live as long as the
people keep in their hearts the motto inscribed.”
Today, our democracy in America is under severe assault by
those with the most wealth, power and influence. We would be wise to consider the dangers this
presents, from the largest and most comprehensive perspective possible.
Bill Moyers succinctly stated: “The soul of democracy -- the essence of the
word itself -- is government of, by, and for the people. At the core of
politics, the soul of democracy has been dying, drowning in a rising tide of
big money contributed by a narrow, unrepresentative elite that has betrayed the
faith of citizens in self-government.”
This is why the need is so critical for campaign finance reform and
Congressional ethics reform, as extensively articulated in Earth Manifesto
essays like Existence, Economics, and
Ecological Intelligence, and Common
Sense Versus Political Realities – An Anatomy of Dysfunctionality.
long after democracy made its debut on the American continent, requiring the
consent of the governed, those who were skilled at manufacturing consent
set up their operations. They were in
the employ of those who were driven to exploit people and resources to get the
most wealth for themselves that they could possibly accumulate. Such gambits are generally contrary to the
An excerpt from Tall Tales, Provocative
Parables, Luminous Clarity and Evocative Truths: A Modern Log from the Sea of Cortez seeks
an opening to be expressed here:
there is a natural serendipity of cause and effect. On these rare occasions, the unintended
consequences of activities actually turn out to be salubrious. Don’t you love it when this happens? How sweet it is! Consider, for instance, the circumstances
that surrounded the tuna fishery that John Steinbeck describes in his Log from the Sea of Cortez. The fishermen of Cabo San Lucas, the town
that lies on the southern tip of the Baja
Peninsula, once caught
great quantities of tuna. The tuna were
canned in a cannery on the pier, and the fish guts and cuttings of the tuna
were thrown into the bay from the end of the pier. This refuse brought in schools of small fish,
which were then netted and used for bait to catch more tuna. Voila, a closed circle, and perfectly
fortuitous good luck!
was, however, a proverbial fly in this otherwise “perfect ecological
ointment”. The schools of fish were
driven away from the pier by black cormorants, which are big gangly birds that
dove into the bay to catch the small fish.
“Thus”, writes Steinbeck, “they are considered interlopers, radicals,
subversive forces against the perfect and God-set balance on Cape
San Lucas. And they are
rightly slaughtered, as all radicals should be.
As one of our number remarked, <Why, pretty soon they’ll want to
scholars indicate that the modest and soft-spoken author was sensitive to
creatures being considered subversives
for a cogent personal reason: his novels
like The Grapes of Wrath had achieved
great fame, and this had brought him notoriety, hate mail and surveillance by
the FBI. His literary themes were
unsettling to the privileged, who hated anyone poignantly pointing out social
problems related to poor people and the plight of immigrants and farm workers,
or startling contrasts in economic inequities or other failings of the ruthless
dog-eat-dog capitalist system. Great
literature evokes universal themes and images, so it provides deeper contexts
in which readers can more viscerally understand. It can sometimes be ‘subversive’ of the
status quo, but even more valuable for being so!
Final Perspective on the Current Supreme Court
Lawyers can rationalize and justify just about anything
they want. John Roberts, Samuel Alito,
Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, and Clarence Thomas (mum’s the word!) claim
that they don’t think there is any distinctively corrupting effect of allowing record-profit-making
corporations or large unions to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence
the outcomes of our elections.
Listen in on Justice Anthony Kennedy as he issued a
blithe opinion in the Citizens United
case: “We now conclude that independent
expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to
corruption or the appearance of corruption.”
Laugh out loud! As Jim Hightower
writes in The Lowdown, “Wow, if ignorance is bliss, he must be ecstatic!”
overturned campaign finance laws that sensibly restricted corporate spending in
elections. Eighty-nine-year-old Supreme
Court Justice John Paul Stevens, one of the four Justices at the time who
disagreed with the decision, read his dissent aloud to give additional emphasis
to his words. He noted that the decision
“rejected the common sense of the American people, who have fought against the
distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of
A Common Sense People’s Judge, listening to these
contrasting arguments of Supreme Court Justices, would almost certainly
overrule the Citizens United
decision. Any evaluation of the Super
PAC spending in the 2012 Republican primaries would be forced to say that the
influence of individual Americans in our political system has taken a back seat
to billionaires and vested interests. As
the 2012 national elections in November approach, and the frenzy of political
ads escalates, this unfair and untoward influence will become ever-more
intrusively apparent. The people will
start to hate the record amounts of money spent on obtrusive and deceptive
spin, clashing ideologies, fear-mongering, and negative attack ads that will
inundate the airwaves.
The “conservative” Justices on the Supreme Court even
seem to agree with those who believe that enormously-influential corporations
should be allowed to make contributions largely in secret. This is a stunning development for a supposed
democracy in which the consent of the people is important. Let’s demand that Congress enact truly
effective and fair-minded campaign finance reform!
The decision in the Citizens
United case is right up there with the five worst decisions in the
history of the Supreme Court, which include the dumbfounding Dred Scott ruling
in 1857 that institutionalized racism for decades, and the Fred Korematsu
ruling in 1944 that justified the relocation and internment of 110,000
Japanese-Americans without individual cause or suspicion.
“Judges are like umpires", Chief Justice John
Roberts famously declared at his confirmation hearing. “Umpires don't make the rules; they
apply them." The Citizens United case, however,
overturned many decades of precedents. It
looks very much like an instance of conservatives on the Supreme Court actively
making up new rules. This Citizens United ruling is clearly detrimental
to the interests of the vast majority of Americans.
Note that if several of John Roberts’ colleagues
really were professional sports umpires, they would have been disciplined or
fired long ago for egregious breaches of professional conduct rules which require
scrupulous neutrality and the avoidance of fraternization with players and club
Both Justices Alito and Thomas have attended lavish
retreats organized by the right-wing corporate and political financier Charles
Koch, a billionaire who funds dozens of Republican campaigns. The billionaire Koch brothers have been
instrumental in supporting a number of front groups and foundations which pump
millions of dollars into “conservative” causes.
Another reason why ethical storm clouds float over the
Supreme Court today, according to one observer, is that several Justices appear
to have forgotten basic lessons about conflicts of interest. Every professional sports team, and many other
organizations, act in accordance with rules that prohibit conflicts of interest. But several Supreme Court Justices have stepped
out of their proper judicial roles and engaged in professional, social,
political and fundraising activities with political partisans and ideological
factions that are directly involved in Supreme Court litigation or are committed
to particular judicial and legislative outcomes. Clarence Thomas’ wife Virginia, in fact, is a
lawyer who is actively involved in the Tea Party. Here is another aspect of the status quo
which requires honorable reform sometime soon!
Hot Coffee -- Another Take on
An intense on-going struggle is taking place between lawyers who strive
to defend the rights of individual people and lawyers who work to strengthen
the power and privileges of big businesses.
Large corporate entities abuse the power of their deep pockets to get
organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other political “front
groups” to wage a sustained campaign to elect corporate-friendly conservative
judges to county, state and federal courts.
As the courts are filled with such judges, our civil justice system is
becoming ever-more ideologically stacked against workers and the general
Other similar efforts to benefit big corporations at the expense of people’s
rights are found in laws that limit supposedly “frivolous lawsuits”. Likewise, laws that impose caps on
jury-imposed damages, or that require mandatory arbitration rather than seeking
remedies in the civil justice system, can be seen to erode the power and rights
of ordinary Americans. Additionally, the
Supreme Court has ruled to undermine people’s efforts to participate in
These initiatives reduce the legal costs and liabilities of corporations
and allow them to evade penalties for harms that their actions cause in a wide
variety of specific cases. Comprehensive
understandings of these manipulations of the civil justice system reveal that,
in the bright light of big picture understandings, our legal system is
extensively corrupted by the influence of Big Money.
The documentary film Hot Coffee
provides provocative perspective about the inimical influences that big
corporations have in court cases and judicial elections. Corporations are legal entities which are the
primary instruments used by wealthy people to maximize their earnings and limit
their liabilities. Big Media
collaborates to help “catapult the propaganda” in order to achieve these
No matter how fervently the propaganda is propagated by giant
corporations, Wall Street moguls, right-wing think tanks, Fox News, Big Media
promoters, CEO hot shots, hedge
fund tax cheats, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a myriad of other
generously-funded front groups, the truth is different. Extensive social, financial, and environmental
problems exist which need to be boldly addressed. And these challenges require proper priorities,
progressive legislation, and adequate funding to solve them.
Rich people and big corporations are highly effective in limiting their
liabilities. This makes it nearly
impossible for us to collectively address the overarching challenges that face
us in an honest and fair manner. The
greatest economic and political challenges of our times are the sustainability
of the environment, the stabilization of the world’s population, and the end of
destabilizing extreme poverty. Our
attention, energies and resources have been diverted from these challenges by a
focus on profiteering and hot-button social issues, and by gambits like the
single-minded prosecution of an extremely costly international “war on
terror”. Undertakings like this tend to
address symptoms, not causes. They also
undermine global cooperation toward achieving goals that are consistent with
the greater good.
A fairer balance of power between corporations and the people must be
Voters Have a Voice!
Jerry Brown of California stated in March 2011
that far-right extremists were opposing his plan to let the people of California vote on
matters that intimately concern them.
Republicans apparently want to prevent people from having a say in the
public policies of our states and nation, as if politicians know what the best
course of action should be for the common good, and as if they can be trusted
to decide fairly!
have been leading the corporate charge to eliminate environmental protections
and even the Environmental Protection Agency itself. They have been staunch in their stubborn
striving to protect banks and Wall Street from reform efforts that would protect
consumers, limit risky financial leverage, create smarter incentives, constrain
systemic risks, and rein in rapacious greed.
They want to eliminate crucially-important rules, government oversight,
and corporate accountability.
bureaucratic government entities grow like proliferating algal blooms, creating
often onerous red-tape without effectively solving problems or limiting the
influence of big businesses. The largest
and most ruthless businesses tend to benefit at the expense of small businesses
and working people. The federal
government has built an increasingly unaffordable National Security apparatus in
military and Intelligence establishments, which have been intervening aggressively
in the affairs of other nations worldwide.
The primary ostensible purposes of these activities are to further the
complicit aims of the military-industrial complex and profiteering impulses and
other ends that are deceptively cast in patriotic and nationalistic frames.
Americans can and must change this state of affairs. We must diminish the power and influence of
corporations by reducing the access of Big Money in our politics. To do this, we must enact smart Campaign
Finance laws and Fair Elections legislation.
While we are at it, we should enact serious Congressional ethics reforms
and much more stringent rules on lobbyists.
We should also formulate a law like the 2009 proposal for an Arbitration
Fairness Act which would end the predatory practice of forcing non-union
employees and consumers and others to sign away their rights to legal
protections and access to the courts.
Republican Party Mutates, Confirming the Theory of
The seriously satirical humorist Andy Borowitz
suggested in a funny April 2011 assessment that “The U.S. policy of exporting
democracy abroad has meant that there is very little of it left at home.” Borowitz went on to speculate that, if the U.S. continues
to export democracy at the current pace, we “may completely run out of it at
home by the year 2015.” A burst of
cynical laughter emanates viscerally from within.
The Republican Party was once a political
organization known for integrity, civic-mindedness, and fiscal discipline. In recent decades, it has officially
announced that the Party is, in effect, against democracy altogether. Republicans in many states across the nation
have been taking actions to disenfranchise millions of voters in states. In California,
Republicans spearheaded a movement to deny the majority of people the right to
make civic funding decisions by getting the egregiously unfair Proposition 13
passed in 1978. This law changed the
requirement for all budgetary decisions involving tax revenues from needing the
support of 51% of the people’s representatives to needing 67% of them. Fast forward 33 years. The Republican Party in California has now
basically ‘moved the goal posts’ to prevent the people from being able to vote
on revenue-continuation measures as proposed by Governor Jerry Brown, even
though such measures are needed to help solve the State’s increasingly
desperate fiscal problems.
It appears that
Republicans must have had a come-to-Jesus epiphany of some sort. Perhaps they cherish the memory of George W.
Bush’s proclamation that HE was “the Decider.”
As President Bush simple-mindedly stated on July 27, 2001, “A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, there's no
question about it."
I love our country, and I believe in Enlightenment Era principles
that our Founders respected and found so provocative and useful, like those of
the English philosopher John Locke. Locke
and other Enlightenment philosophers advocated respect for reason, independent
thinking, and the questioning of traditional institutions and customs, and it
embraced liberal ideas of personal liberty, democracy, and equality for all
under the law.
In contrast, the domineering control of those who advocate
Strict Father ideologies is anathema to fairness. Uncompromising Republican insist on the triumph
of their narrow agenda, even when such insistence is counterproductive and
contrary to the best interests of the vast majority of Americans. When we are struggling to decide how to rein
in the dangerously burgeoning national debt, we should refrain from focusing so
exclusively on small potatoes budget items like cutting the budget for the
Environmental Protection Agency, apparently to undermine its effectiveness, of slashing
public funding for Planned Parenthood and public broadcasting. We must be more open-minded about fair tax
policy, and find ways to achieve vital goals without always yielding to demands
for more tax cuts to be given to rich people.
A Digression on Family Planning
The world population of human beings reached 7 billion people in the
autumn of 2011. The social and
environmental problems created by large numbers of needy people are extensive
and undeniable. We should find better
ways to work together in nations worldwide to reduce the rate of population
growth, especially in developing countries.
One of the best strategies would be to empower women and provide them
with the means to control their own reproductive destinies, especially when
they do not want more children.
The United Nations population projections published in a May 2011 report
indicated that there will likely be more than 10 billion people on Earth by the
end of this century. The U.S.
population is projected to increase from about 310 million today to 478 million
by 2100. Just imagine the impacts of
this crowd on our country! Think about
the traffic problems alone!!
An increase of this magnitude in the number of people in the United States
will create extreme management challenges.
They will also exacerbate social conflicts. Think about the fact that black people have
children at twice the rate as white people, and that Latinos have children at
twice the rate as blacks. Let us be
honest about the racism of many social conservatives and religious people in
and admit that this surge in the number of non-whites will cause much more
intense racial conflicts in the future.
The fact that inequities in opportunity and incarceration have been
increasing radically in the past 30 years will surely create more intense
social conflicts as demographic trends shift.
We should change course, and guarantee women more options than
abstinence in being able to avoid having children they do not want!
Consider the daunting projection that the number of people on the
continent of Africa will increase from about 1
billion today to 3.6 billion in 2100. Imagine
the population of cities in Africa increasing
by a factor that is more than TRIPLE!
The high rates of growth in Africa and
other developing countries will significantly increase probabilities that hardships
will be extreme for people in places already struggling to provide enough food,
water, and economic security for their people to lead decent lives.
There are already 381 cities on earth today that have more than 1 million
people living in them, and their urban problems will get far worse. Delegates to the 2012 sustainable development
conference in Rio de Janeiro
are ironically being greeted on their trips from the airport by the stench of
raw sewage in a nearby bay that reportedly absorbs about 320 million gallons of
raw waste every day. The Earth Summit
held 20 years ago in Rio had formulated a
Declaration emphasizing environmental protections, the eradication of poverty,
and cooperation to conserve, protect and restore the health and integrity of
Earth’s ecosystems. Twenty years later,
the failings of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development are turgid,
Large increases in human numbers will make life more difficult for billions
of people worldwide. Social turmoil,
destitution, financial instability, inflation, political revolutions,
authoritarian repression, violent conflicts, resource depletion, onslaughts
against ecosystems, desertification, global warming, sea level rises and other
likely impacts of rapid population growth make it urgent for us to find ways to
mitigate these problems, and to reduce rates of population growth.
Some people interpret the Bible’s Genesis 1:28 to say “Go forth and
multiply.” A new farseeing biblical
injunction should be adduced, one that advises, “Go forth and ADD”!
The consensus of expectations until recently was that human numbers would
stabilize just above 9 billion people by mid-century. This expectation has been dashed due to the success
of social conservatives and religious fundamentalists in opposing family
planning programs, sex education, and the reproductive rights of women in many
nations worldwide. Without concerted
efforts to stabilize the world’s population, all of the environmental and
social problems that face humankind will become significantly worse.
I call for us to honor concepts of the quality of life for those alive,
and to support measures that could help stabilize human numbers at safer
levels. Those who are ideologically
opposed to women’s rights, family planning, contraception, abortion, fairer opportunities
for females, and the education and empowerment of women must yield to truer
understandings of the greater good.
The most important initiative required to stabilize the global population
is to find ways to reduce rapid rates of population growth in developing
countries. The best way to do this would
be to make generous investments in education, gender equity, economic
opportunity, and family planning services for women in all nations. We must cooperate together to accomplish this
Staunch opposition to Planned Parenthood has erupted in the House of
Representatives this year due to the election of many Tea Party social
conservatives in 2010. Almost all of the
total spending by Planned Parenthood clinics is for services that are vitally
important to the health of women. Only
3% of the budget for Planned Parenthood organizations is spent on providing
abortion services. About 36% of Planned
Parenthood spending is devoted to contraception services, 32% for the testing
and treatment of sexually-transmitted diseases, 16% for cancer screening and
prevention, and 13% for other health services.
Opposition to these important services for millions of low-income women
and teenagers is a form of discrimination and paternalistic prejudice that is
driven by extremist agendas. These attitudes
should not be allowed to dictate our national policies.
Contraception helps prevent sexually-transmitted diseases. Thus, it is vital to society to support
contraceptive services. Contraception
also helps prevent pregnancies. The main
reason women have abortions is that they become pregnant when they do not want
to be. Clearly, by preventing pregnancy,
the use of contraceptives prevents tens of thousand of abortions every year. The opposition of social conservatives to
contraception is an antediluvian, socially backward, and essentially
misogynistic attitude that should not be given determining influence in our
national policy-making. It is ironic,
then, that social conservatives have been holding national budget decisions
hostage this year to their arrow agenda, particularly in the House of
Representatives. Anti-Planned Parenthood
sentiments and stubbornly unreasonable tactics are outrageously unfair to
Social conservatives have used their rigid opposition to abortion to try
to eviscerate all federal funding for the valuable services performed by
Planned Parenthood. One reason
Republicans do this is to pander to the Christian Right. Many religious fundamentalists are opposed to
all forms of contraception, no matter how inimical the impacts of this position
will eventually be on society and the planet.
Such ideological opposition to contraception is affiliated with
women-demeaning, manipulative, male-domineering, control-obsessed ideas about
women and sexuality.
To paraphrase Mark Twain, “religious folks is very reverent about the
unborn and the dead, even if they never give a damn about them when they are
Sexual drives are basic to our human nature. Males are hormonally and culturally driven to
want to have sex, to “score”. Men are
generally not overly concerned with being responsible for the effects that the
fulfillment of these drives can have on the female objects of their lust. From this perspective, the rights of women
must be more strongly defended and protected.
What’s the Big Idea, Buddy?
As seen through the eyes of an accomplished polymath who sought to
explain the biological roots of patriarchal domination in human societies in
the largest possible context at the dawn of history, social roles began a
revolutionary transition from women-respecting, motherhood-honoring attitudes
to paternity-protecting, women-controlling male dominion. Humankind had become the first species of
animal with the foresight to realize we all will eventually die. This recognition was one of the impulses for
people to begin performing rituals, burying their dead, and creating art in
human cultures about 40,000 years ago during the upper Paleolithic period.
The knowledge that all human beings will die has caused deep existential
anxiety. It was no doubt one of the original
impetuses that gave shamans the motive to invent religious stories. The fear of death is the mother of all
gods. Extensive evidence points to the
fact that early religions honored fertility, motherhood, Mother Earth goddesses,
and women. But then about 4,000 years
ago, curiously coincident with the advent of the written word, the divine
feminine was overthrown and replaced by jealous, domineering male gods. A simultaneous shift took place in human
societies in which women’s roles were diminished and women were more
Sometime after the recognition dawned on humanity that all people will
die, women realized that having sex with a man was intimately correlated to having
a child nine months later. Pregnancy and
childbirth were dangerous for a female, then and now. Not only does pregnancy involve a variety of
heightened vulnerabilities and health risks, but having children is a big
lifelong commitment, so women began to be more choosy about WHOM they would have
sex with. The veto power over sexual
relations gave women the revolutionary power of “original choice”.
Males cottoned on to the realization that they had a role in paternity,
and perhaps they began to essentially appreciate the subtly death-defying nature
of gene-perpetuating fatherhood. This
made them increasingly interested in making sure they controlled women’s
sexuality. They formed long-lasting
commitments like marriage in an attempt to mandate sexual exclusivity. Without such exclusivity, after all, there
can be no assurance of exactly who fathered a child. For further insights, check out Lenny
Shlain’s brilliant Sex, Time, and Power: How Women’s Sexuality Shaped Human
Today these understandings are often lost in the battle between the sexes,
and in the attempt by men to curtail women’s freedom of choice and
self-determination. Here is another
arena in which cooperation would be more advantageous than competition or
An Incisive and Illuminating New Voice Is Heard
Jennifer Siebel Newsom, beautiful-inside-and-out, has written, produced,
directed, and narrated an important documentary film titled Miss Representation. This compelling film is filled with
interesting information and insights into the powerful influence that mass
media outlets like television, magazines and movies have in creating
sexualized, titillating, trivializing and demeaning attitudes toward
women. This skewed representation of
females in our male-dominated culture distorts important perspectives and
diminishes feminine ways of seeing the world.
As a result, women are often judged far more by their bodies,
appearance, clothes, hair and shoes, rather than by their brains or talent or accomplishments
or effectiveness or more valuable virtues.
Such narrow-minded attitudes affect humankind in extensive and
far-reaching ways which really need to be more clearly understood.
The mass media plays a large role in contributing to
a negative status quo of curiously-biased and perversely degrading portrayals
of women. In significant part this
status quo is a result of the domination of the media by a handful of giant
media conglomerates which are controlled by men in positions of ownership and on
their Boards of Directors and in top management. It turns out that the inadequate
representation of women in positions of control in media companies has a
dramatic adverse influence on women in society at large. This leads to fewer and less-important roles
for women in boardrooms and management, and in politics and society in
Women, for instance, are drastically
under-represented in American politics.
ranks 90th in the world in the number of women in Congress or its national
legislative equivalents. Ninetieth is
NOT an adequate showing for us to present to the world in this important gauge
of social fairness. Out of a total of
about 200 countries around the globe, this is a pathetic statistic that reveals
one reason why women are treated unfairly in pay, status and privilege in America. This fact is a contributing factor to making
our national decision-making unfair, poorly prioritized, and hyper-partisan.
Biases in the media have the effect of hindering
progress toward vitally important goals like allowing women more power and more
equal opportunities. Fairer
representation for women is needed to improve our decision-making by taking
into account the valuable perspectives and best interests of the 51% of
Americans who are female. Karl Marx once
pointed out a simple sociological fact:
“Social progress can be measured by the social position of the female
This is what Mark Twain meant when he wrote the
following words in his Notebook in 1895:
“We easily perceive that the peoples furthest from civilization are the ones
where equality between man and woman are furthest apart -- and we consider this
one of the signs of savagery. But we are so stupid that we can’t see that
we thus plainly admit that no civilization can be perfect until exact equality
between man and woman is included.”
One measure of the extent to which women are
unfairly treated is found in statistics on pay and other compensation for
work. These statistics reveal that women
still receive less than 80% of the pay men get for comparable work. This outcome is due, in part, to the
inadequate representation of women in the upper echelons of government and
business and the media.
The sexualization of women is accompanied by an
idolizing of youth, sexiness, thin bodies, long legs, and alluring
cleavage. These portrayals diminish the
ways women are able to compete and find fulfillment in many roles in
society. It is no wonder that women
consequently have deep insecurities about their appearances, and why they spend
so much money on things like clothes, jewelry, handbags, shoes, and makeup --
and facelifts and breast implants.
The media helps create deeply-ingrained stereotypes
of women as well as men in our societies.
It also helps define the respective roles they play. These associations are extremely complex, so
it is difficult to generalize about it accurately or even to clearly grasp the
big picture. But it is provocatively
compelling to see that social roles are so profoundly affected by media images.
The relative absence of fair representation of a
group in the media is known by the daunting term “symbolic annihilation.” Sociology professor Gaye Tuchman divides the
concept of “symbolic annihilation” into three aspects: omission, trivialization, and
condemnation. The use of narrow
stereotypes in the portrayal of women is a subsidiary means of symbolically
annihilating them. Consult with any
woman, or for that matter any gay man, lesbian, black person, Latino or other
devalued minority, and they will likely describe some of the nefarious effects
that omissions, trivialization and condemnation have personally had on them.
King Lear tells the character Gloucester in a tragedy by Shakespeare: “…
you see how this world goes.” Gloucester replies: “I see it feelingly.” Picture that.
We all arguably need to see things not only more clearly and
comprehensively, but also more feelingly!
Since women are generally portrayed in a highly
sexualized light in movies and on television and the Internet, this
misrepresentation distracts everyone from being fully aware of other more
important feminine qualities. By
contributing to making females feel treated as sex objects in our societies,
inadequate respect for females as human beings leads to a variety of unfair and
dangerous and even violent outcomes.
Some say that our societies have, in a sense, been hijacked by
inconsiderate, sexist, male-domineering, prejudiced, authoritarian,
backward-looking people who have formed a coalition with religious
fundamentalists to oppress women and keep them subservient to men. Keep your hands off my body, buddy, unless I
give you permission!
The male-dominant culture of the U.S. military turns out to be one
of the worst places for women. According
to Rep. Jackie Speier (D, CA), women in the military are much more likely to be
raped by fellow soldiers than killed by enemy fire. “The Department of Defense estimates that
more than 19,000 service members were raped or sexually assaulted in 2010. Due to a military culture heavy on
retaliation and light on prosecution, only 13.5 percent of the victims report
the rape.” The situation does not appear
to be definitively improving, according the documentary film The Invisible War. It is a national disgrace for the Department
of Defense not to completely honestly, fairly and adequately address this
Rep. Speier specifically mentioned the case of
Sergeant Rebekan Havrilla. Ms. Havrilla
asserts that she was raped during her time in the military and later sought
assistance from a military chaplain. The
priest told her that “it must have been God’s will for her to be raped”. He then recommended that she attend church
more often. Dastardly! Circumstances like this call out for
far-reaching reform and fairer treatment.
Insensitive fundamentalist patriarchal sexist religious clerics should
be denied such defining roles in our military.
One of the worst of the sexist perspectives that has
been broadcast in the media was a comment that has been judged one of the 10 Stupidest Things Pat Robertson Ever
Said: “The feminist agenda is not about equal rights
for women. It is about a socialist,
anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands,
kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.” Pat, you’re a bigot and an idiot!
Mr. Robertson should be marginalized for such
attitudes rather than being allowed to preach them on a national platform. When he spews narrow-minded, biased and
hateful beliefs, there should be a fairness doctrine to set forth critiques and
opposing perspectives. Such attitudes as
Pat Robertson’s are partially a backlash against the powerful feminist movement
of the 1960s, because that social movement led to significant gains in women’s
empowerment, education, opportunity and liberation.
Tiffany Twain is a strong proponent for the freedom
of expression. Yet she wonders why there
isn’t such a fairness doctrine to rebuke idiocies like Pat Robertson’s, or some
sort of penalty for intentional obliviousness.
The psychological and practical motives behind bigotry, evangelical
obtuseness, and reprehensibly manipulative viciousness are no doubt
profound. It’s too bad someone can’t
invent a new gadget that can be used by people to assess the legitimacy of
every point of view, and thus provide humanity with a valuable gauge for
ranking various opinions in a kind of grand Meritocracy of Ideas. We need such a gadget because of our failure
to properly educate people in critical-thinking skills, hypocrisy detection,
open-mindedness and common sense fairness.
Jennifer Siebel Newsom calls for a new and
reinvigorated movement to change the current state of misrepresentation of
women in our society. She hopes that the
bright light of awareness will lead to positive, fair-minded, Earth-respecting
social change which will give women more power.
A more respectful reflection of women in the media might allow them to
be better represented in the halls of power and to gain fairer opportunity and
compensation in the workplace. Media
images should give greater respect to women as legitimate human beings whose
interests and vital perspectives and rights to equal treatment have been denied
and repressed for too long.
The Pernicious Effects of Propaganda
In 2009, $235 billion was spent on advertising in
to stimulate demand for products and services and to sway people’s ideas. This amount exceeds the GDP of 80% of the countries in the world. What a colossal waste! As a manipulative form of indoctrination,
this advertising results in a wide variety of outcomes that are misguided,
socially undesirable and even harmful, when considered from a big picture
perspective. Advertising especially
affects children, whose minds are not yet fully formed or capable of realizing
that such persuasion can be untrue and distorting and negative for their mental
Americans once thought that the Chinese Communist
government pervasively “brainwashed” its citizens. Chinese leaders, like most authoritarian
rulers, freely use scurrilous tactics such as censoring the press, suppressing
information, repressing free expression and stifling dissent. Yet just think of the insidious effects in
our own “free world” that result from spending $235 billion annually on
persuasive propaganda targeted to influence people’s buying decisions and
political opinions and self-images.
Marketing and promotion contain subliminal messages that are highly manipulative. Such forms of conditioning are sad aspects of
our econo-political system. Even more
pathetically, they are driving forces in our system of supposedly democratic
capitalism. As a result, we have become pawns of those who slickly
create demand, manufacture consent, and exploit
people’s hopes, fears and emotions.
Sly sales tactics and seductive advertising use
persuasive testimonials, sexy user imagery, amusing parody, deceptive demonstrations
and simplistic slogans to influence us. Such
promotion strategies often appeal to our base instincts for dominance over
others. Or they exploit desires to be titillated,
or take advantage of people’s propensities to conform. And they tend to subvert and diminish our
higher, more virtuous instincts.
Advertising on television and radio, and in
newspapers and magazines, tends to indoctrinate us with false values. It effectively enshrines the gods of
materialism on the highest pedestal of our imaginations. The message of
advertising seems to be that happiness is found above all in the possession of
things. Much marketing subtly preaches that you should not be happy with
what you have, and that you should get all you can for yourself, and that you
should get it as quickly as possible. It champions shopping, pleasure
seeking, variety, indulgence and luxury. It has helped make buying and
owning things a central means for us to try to make ourselves feel “cool” and
special and worthy.
Advertising has been described as “the manufacture
of discontent”. When designed to have
such an influence, advertising should be restricted. Our shopping-seduced consumer culture is
causing us to fail to appreciate truer values. We have supersized our
meals, our houses and our automobiles, but these “gains” have come at high
social and environmental costs, so they are arguably diminishing the true
quality of our lives. I have faith in
the potentiality of people to develop richer lives without at the same
time harming others and impoverishing the planet.
Mark Twain once noted: “Civilization is the limitless multiplication
of unnecessary necessities.” Should we
not devote more resources to satisfying essential and basic needs, rather than
frivolous, egocentric, triumphal, and resource-wasting desires?
The demand for unneeded things is increased by
clever product promotion, changing fashions, planned obsolescence, perceived
obsolescence, and the disposability of goods.
While this may stimulate the economy, it results in undesirable wastes
of resources, excessive damages to ecosystems, and the undermining of vital
initiatives aimed at conserving resources. These outcomes are inimical to
all of our descendents!
Advertising generally does not contribute to
wholesome values. It conditions people to envy others, to want to be
envied, and to be jealously protective of possessions and privileges. It uses sex and celebrity to sell products. Advertising and the media divert people’s
attention from vitally important perspectives by glamorizing youth and using shallow
distractions, intrigue, scandal, violence, sensationalism in the news, sports
spectacles, and the vaunted glory of victory and the contrasting agony of
defeat. A sinister side-effect of these
influences is to encourage winning at any cost.
One aspect of this state of affairs is that people
who have the most money, power, assets and privileges always demand more and
more, and MORE, year after year. They
want to pay lower tax rates, despite the fact that their unfair influence has
already been successful in getting tax rates on millionaires and billionaires
reduced to the lowest level today in more than 80 years.
Slick marketing contributes to making shopping a
ritual that is oriented toward ego satisfaction. In doing so, it contributes to a loss of
awareness of positive values such as healthy moderation, genuine connectedness,
fairness, generosity of spirit, appreciation of the outdoors, integrity of
character, thoughtfulness, good communication, responsible thrift, and civic
aspect of the gross commercialization of our societies is the manipulation of
children for marketing purposes.
Advertisers shrewdly use the “Nag Factor” to exploit the credulity and susceptibility
of children. This form of advertising is
targeted to manipulate kids into nagging their parents to buy things like toys
and electronic games and fast foods.
of the most harmful outcomes of marketing to children is a resulting excessive
indulgence in unhealthy junk foods like sugary cereals, salty foods, fatty
burgers, candy, and soda pop. Fast-food
chains spend millions of dollars every week to promote toys that children will
nag their parents to get. Promotions like
this contribute to our nation’s epidemic of childhood obesity and diabetes and
other health problems.
marketing by the toy industry additionally affects young minds by diminishing
the imagination of children through corporate tie-in toys that narrow the
abilities of young people to engage in more spontaneous play activities. These trends effectively brainwash children
into being good consumers rather than being good citizens or healthy, virtuous,
and emotionally intelligent human beings.
Some advertising falls in the category of Deadly Spin.
This is the title of a book by Wendell Potter, a former public
relations executive for two of the largest health insurance firms in the United States. Potter became so disgusted at the tactics of
these corporations that he quit and set out to tell the world the truth about
what is really happening. “The book
describes in astonishing detail how corporate America sets the public agenda by
manipulating the news media, buying politicians and effectively misleading
It really is amazing how effectively rich people and
corporations have been able to use clever advertising to get people to vote
against their own best interests, and to allow ever more of the economic pie to
be grabbed by the Few at the expense of the Many. We clearly would be wise to find better ways
of running our societies. We should
begin to cooperate together a bit better, and we should find ways to prevent
the propaganda of the privileged from subverting honorable intentions and
sensible initiatives and the embrace of greater social fairness!
We obviously need a better master plan than formulating
policies that create an ever-bigger disparity in economic security between the
super-rich and all other people in our country.
The Need to Defend People’s Rights
Consider a different question: Shouldn’t every woman have a right to be able
to protect herself by using freely-available contraceptives to prevent
sexually-transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies? Religious fundamentalists, along with
“conservatives” who embrace tax cuts over all other values, apparently don’t
give a damn about the true health of women, or about public services that help
children to prosper. They are prudish
and domineeringly allied together to prevent sexual permissiveness,
contraception, and the termination of a pregnancy under any circumstances. When a woman is impregnated by a man, they
fervently defend the “rights” of the egg/sperm, instead of standing up for
women’s freedoms and fair prerogatives to self-determination. And because of the opposition of economic
fundamentalists to fairer, more progressive national tax plans, the social
programs that help women and children are being slashed mercilessly.
In light of the fact that millions of children die in the world each year
due to poverty and malnutrition, it is clear that if we were truly committed to
saving human beings, we would start with ones who have already been born and
are living challenging existences, rather than staunchly defending the right of
an embryo to survive just as soon as an egg and sperm meet!
“I don’t repeat gossip, so listen carefully.” Tea Party social conservatives talk about
freedom from government interference, but they are certainly not talking about
women’s freedoms from government interference.
Ever since the supposedly libertarian Tea Party helped Republicans gain
a majority in the House of Representatives, they have been the driving force
behind a veritable war on women’s healthcare and
reproductive rights. They are trying to eliminate all
funding by the government for Planned Parenthood. They want to kill the Title X family planning
program. At the state level, they have
launched a veritable cluster bomb of anti-abortion laws.
The Title X Family Planning Program is a federal
grant program that is dedicated to providing comprehensive family planning
services and other related preventive health care to individuals. By law, priority is given to persons from
low-income families or uninsured individuals who cannot afford the services
available to women with more money. The Title X program
provides contraceptive services at more than 4,500 community health centers
across the nation. By doing so, it
prevents an estimated 1 million unintended pregnancies each year. About half of these unwanted pregnancies
would end in abortion, so Title X prevents about 500,000 abortions a year. Those against abortion should thus strongly
support Title X. Those who are against
contraception? Get a life!
Tea Party types also want to slash funding from
the Women, Infants, and Children Programs that promote good health and
nutrition, and from the Head Start program which promotes the readiness of
low-income children for school. Their
priorities therefore seem clear: they
care far more about the fusion of eggs and sperm and their narrow ideologies
than about real living people, and they want to control women and suppress
their rights and prerogatives.
The Evolution of Social Roles of Men and Women
All the major religions of Western civilization posit that
domineering male gods created and rule the Universe. This religious worldview, however, is a
relatively recent phenomenon. Before
about 1,750 B.C., all prehistoric cultures since the beginning of the
Agricultural Revolution 10,000 years ago worshipped Mother Earth goddesses and
other female deities of fertility and propitious providence. Before the Agricultural Revolution began, our
ancestors were nomadic hunters and gatherers for more than 150,000 years from
the times our species first became distinct from earlier progenitors, and
evidence reveals that these ancients also likely honored motherhood, female
deities, wild animals, and the natural world.
Dr. Leonard Shlain in The
Alphabet Versus the Goddess provides a fascinating thesis for how male
domination of modern times came to be.
He draws correlations between the overthrow of divine feminine deities
and the concomitant rise of patriarchal cultures. He points out that the historical timing of
this development happens to have coincided with the advent of alphabets, the
written word and an extensive expansion of literacy. Curiously, at the same time that the rise of
patriarchal male gods took place, harsh and sexist codes of written laws came
into being, like Hammurabi’s Code, the female-status demeaning, eye-for-an-eye
and tooth-for-a-tooth set of laws promulgated in about 1750 B.C.
Dr. Shlain explains this coincidence by pointing out the discovery
by neuroscientists that the two hemispheres of our brains have different functions. The right brain is associated with images,
emotions, intuitive understandings, and feminine ways of seeing the world. The left brain is associated with analytical
thinking, literacy, and masculine ways of viewing the world.
Dr. Shlain’s provocative thesis is that a shift took place from
right-brain dominance to left-brain dominance after alphabets were invented,
and this change facilitated cultural shifts in which men became more
domineering. The importance of this idea
lies in the fact that one primary legacy of male-dominated societies is an
inadequate amount of respect for fairness doctrines, women’s rights, and the
health of Earth’s ecosystems. Such
attitudes have far-reaching implications for our collective future.
Today, most cultures worldwide are characterized to a certain
extent by attitudes and impulses that are hyper-competitive,
Nature-denigrating, militaristic, women-suppressing, female role-denigrating,
patriarchal, and misogynistic. And they
worship male Gods. This disrespect of
women’s rights and ecological sanity is causing epic existential problems. A new paradigm of understanding is urgently
needed, and a new vision of how to live well on Earth. We simply must cultivate new understandings
of fairer and wiser ways forward!
Readers interested in gaining deeper perspective about these
issues should check out the Earth Manifesto essay, A Feminine Vision of an
Achievable Better World: Anima Should
A Sprig of Philosophy
It would be wise for us, individually, to choose to strive
to make the world a better place for all.
This would be the best way to positively influence the rest of the
world. It is not our place to complete
the task; it is ours to begin it. As the Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu wrote long
ago, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Even the longest journey begins where we now
stand, and it seems obvious that the most sensible and intelligent plan is to
head in the right direction.
This is a new aspect of the “fierce urgency of now”,
about which Martin Luther King preached in the year before he died. If we are unable to prevent the human species
from destroying the healthy balance of natural ecosystems, we will surely be
unable to save ourselves. There will
never be a convenient time for the inconvenient need for us to begin boldly
addressing the overarching challenges of economic injustices, enormous debt,
climate change, and the growing dangers of overpopulation. We have been avoiding the solutions to these
problems, and our partisan and vituperative haggling over these issues is a
tragic example of figuratively fiddling while the empire burns.
Everyone who lives in an environment should be an environmentalist, as
David Brower once said. In Hebrew, there
is a phrase, tikkun olam, which means
“mending the world.” In Judaism, this
concept of tikkun olam requires that a practice be followed not
because of Biblical law, but because it is in accord with the greater public
interest. Tikkun olam implies that we should all work to make the world a
better place, and to relieve human suffering, and work for peace between all
people, and protect the earth and all it contains. Hallelujah!
The people I respect the most are those who are passionate advocates for
good causes. Perhaps I’m just a “meshuga
shiksa”? (A “crazy young non-Jewish
woman”.) Honest civic virtue and public
service, it seems to me, are at the core of civilized behavior. Firsthand experiences of inequities and
injustices in our society lead people toward the transcendence of
self-centeredness and a break through to ethical values. These are the seeds of humane and just
societies. Plenty of inequities and
injustices exist, so I am impatiently awaiting the anticipated break
through! Help out!
“Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around a lake”,
Wallace Stevens once poetically opined, or maybe the real truths lie in
introspective circumambulations around more interior bodies of water, like our
In case anyone ever reads Huckleberry
Finn, the California
Gold Rush, and Related Reflections and feels they aren’t getting their money’s worth,
here is an interim reward: yummy
cookies! Before reading another word,
brew some Ginger-Infused Health Beverage and bake some Bittersweet Chocolate
Chip Cookies Made with Almond Flour and Lots of Oats, Walnuts, Pecans,
Sunflower Seeds and Spices. The recipes
for this drink and these delicious, relatively healthy cookies can be found in Twelve Delicious Recipes for Good Health and Gourmet
Appreciation in the Earth Manifesto.
Now, let’s continue.
Gallant Gal Challenges Establishment
One thing is becoming increasingly clear as the
economic deck becomes ever-more startlingly stacked in favor of the financially
fortunate Few, and as disparities of wealth in our society become more and more
starkly extreme and the Many suffer increasing economic insecurity.
The responsibility for contributing to the
ecological and social greater good of people today, and of all people in future
generations, is being shifted onto the shoulders of the diminishing number of
people who can easily afford to pay more to help preserve the planet in a
habitable condition. Some group of
people must courageously step forward to help prevent society from melting down
due to the increasing desperation and economic insecurity and healthcare
vulnerability of the poor and the declining middle class. Strong advocates are needed for the best
interests of young people, and for people who are being subjected to
discrimination in opportunity and legal justice, and for every person-to-be in
Unfortunately, just as this need is reaching record
extremes, those who can most readily afford to pay a bigger share of society’s
costs are becoming ever-more eager to evade this far-reaching responsibility. Giant corporations and wealthy people are
becoming increasingly influential in making sure that our national tax laws are
structured in ways that allow them to pay ever-lower rates of taxes on incomes,
dividends, capital gains and inheritances.
Here is another aspect of this issue.
Corporations use their power to jerry-rig the rules in our society to
allow a variety of costs to be foisted upon society that are incurred in the
processes of producing goods and providing services. These externalized costs include those
related to the mitigation of harms caused by pollution and the clean-up of
toxic wastes, and of providing health care to workers, and helping pay for
damages caused to communities.
Big corporations and investors are, in essence, perpetrating an
institutionalized scam that artificially inflates profits. These profits give investors higher returns,
but they do so at the expense of the general public. In addition, tax reductions on dividends that
were made in 2003 by the Bush Administration compounded this problem by giving
investors bigger benefits at the same time that environmental harms and social
ills associated with modern economic activities are increasingly being foisted
onto society to achieve this artificial boosting of profits. It is becoming ever-more urgent for us to
collectively find fairer ways to finance initiatives for social and
environmental justice. Investors must
pay a larger portion of these costs, not an ever-smaller one. Robert Reich’s insights in Supercapitalism make this idea clear.
All of these trends are on a collision course. Though there are many laudable exceptions,
people in general tend to become more politically conservative as they get
wealthier, and they tend to develop a more pronounced disinclination to paying
progressively higher taxes on higher levels of earnings. Many become obsessed with ways to evade
taxes. They often deny that progressive
systems of graduated taxes on income and capital gains are eminently fair, even
though this is a simple fact. Graduated
tax systems are fair because each and every honest taxpayer is required to pay
exactly the same amount of tax on every dollar they earn.
This riff is repeated in a number of Earth Manifesto
writings, because it is crucially important, and yet widely misunderstood. In a system of progressively graduated taxes,
for instance, every person whose Adjusted Gross Income is one million dollars
pays exactly the same amount of tax on the first $50,000 they make as a person
who earns only $50,000. The same is true
for every category level of earnings. In
fact, most of those who make $1 million in a year pay lower tax rates than
those who earn incomes from nose-to-the-grindstone work, due to the fact that a
higher proportion of rich people’s earnings tend to be made in capital gains on
investments, which are subject to much lower tax rates than wages.
Our economic system has been “gamed” to be this way
by politicians who facilitate the abuse of the power by those with capital and
Big Money. These eminences rely on the
subterfuge of ideological propaganda to achieve this narrow goal. They promise that benefits will trickle down
to everyone, despite the overwhelming evidence that it mainly just gushes up,
Emboldened by success, I guess, rich people want to
get more and more for themselves. And
they want to keep it. They often
jealously hold grudges against the hordes of the envious Have Nots, the lazy
bums! “No more time off for you!” If you’ve got an attitude problem, you’re
Right Brain, I Said, Not Right Wing!
An ancient Chinese blessing and curse says, “May you
live in interesting times.”
Well, we sure do live in compellingly interesting
times -- for better or for worse. The
pace of change in technology and communications and social transformations and
world affairs has been radically accelerating during the past few decades. But who would have anticipated that, after so
many years of patriarchal authoritarianism and harsh repression in Arab nations,
corrupt and tyrannical governments would begin to crumble in such a
breathtakingly short period of time?
Tunisia’s long-time President
Ben Ali, for instance, was suddenly overthrown on January 14, 2011. He had come to power in a bloodless coup in
1987. After almost 24 years of autocratic
rule, a sudden spontaneous uprising began in Tunisia when a frustrated and
humiliated street vendor set himself on fire in December 2010 to protest the
confiscation of his wares. One analyst
observed, “Events in Tunisia
have shown the risk of a pressure-cooker effect: If you have a system of intense suppression
without addressing the causes of discontent, a crack in the system can lead to
an explosion.” Let us heed this lesson
here in “the land of the free.”
Soon after the Tunisian revolt, the authoritarian
regime of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt
crumbled. Mubarak had been the ruler of Egypt
for almost 30 years, but he was forced to resign after 18 days of protests and
a considerable amount of violence that followed the Tunisian uprising. Thereafter, terrible civil strife broke out
where madman Muammar Gaddafi wielded ruthless power from the time he seized
control in a military coup in 1969.
Significant turmoil and violence have also been roiling Yemen, Bahrain,
Syria, Jordan, Algeria and other Arab
nations. Syria has become the most violently
repressive of these countries, with more than 10,000 people killed to date.
There are many ways to explain these surprisingly
sudden developments. One of the most
persuasive is that freedom is the magnetic true north for humanity. When personal and political liberties are
repressed for too long, energy accumulates like the friction that builds
between two slowly-moving tectonic plates before being released in an intense
earthquake. Something eventually has got
to give, and inevitably it does. This
may take the form of an epic earthquake like the devastating earth tremor near Japan
on March 11, 2011,
or of violent turmoil like that which is shaking so many Arab nations today.
Huck and Jim would have seconded the explanation that the desire for
freedom is the most powerful motivating force in human affairs. Another factor that significantly affects the
unrest in Arab nations is the very young average age of people in these
countries. The median age in Egypt and Libya
is a mere 24 years old, compared to more than 36 years old in the United States. The median age is even younger in Syria at 22, and in Yemen where it is only 18!
Having attended one of the most liberal universities
in the States in the late Sixties and early Seventies, I am keenly aware of the
idealism, sensitivity to injustice, fervor, and hormonal drives of young
people. On American university campuses,
the late Sixties were an era of calls for an end to the war in Vietnam
and demands for personal freedoms and social justice. So it is no surprise that similar impulses
have resulted in the expression of youthful anger in Arab nations. The focus of unrest in Middle Eastern
countries is on high unemployment, a lack of opportunities, political
corruption, violations of human rights, and the general state of widespread
inequalities, injustices, and repression in Arab societies. Another factor in Arab revolutionary fervor
is the increasing desperation of the majority of people as costs for food and
fuel have grown rapidly in recent years.
I have a sensational, deeper, and far-more complex explanation for the
unrest that underlies this discontent.
It is explored below, because it is a compelling perspective. Note, however, that I do appreciate the
principle of “Occam’s razor”, or the law of parsimony. This principle essentially states that the
simplest explanation of any phenomena is generally the best one. Ideas which make the fewest new assumptions
amongst competing hypotheses just happen, most frequently, to be accurate than
more elegantly speculative ones.
Leonardo da Vinci once observed that simplicity is the ultimate
sophistication. I like it! But, while many people are predisposed to
prefer simple explanations rather than more nuanced and abstruse ones, that
doesn’t necessarily mean these opinions are accurate. Those who are enamored with simple ideas
often have suspect motives. Evangelical
Christians, for example, LOVE simple explanations! I mean, “Presto! – God, etc.” This doesn’t make such presumptuous
explanations more probable. Non-infidel
Muslims also embrace simplistic worldviews.
“Presto! – Allah, etc”. Whatever!
My personal religion is one that has an overarching
principle: the best worldview is one
that gives Respect for Others. Such a
belief system would be far better for the world than the whole passel of
conflicting dogmas of religious establishments all put together. As natural resources become more scarce and
conflicts of interest become more extreme around the globe, people with Big
Money, power and influence are becoming more jealously stubborn and
uncompromising. At the same time,
commitments to mutual respect, social justice, and mutual security seem to be
becoming harder to actualize, to embody, or to achieve. But it sure would be advantageous to try
I personally prefer existential philosophies that
really have love, compassion, and empathetic acceptance as core tenets. A wholehearted embrace of peaceable
coexistence and live-and-let-live sensibilities and Golden Rule morality should
be paramount. Human civilizations
already face enough epic challenges with a total of more than 7 billion of us
alive. We need to find effective ways to
minimize conflicts over resources, fresh water, economic development, fertile
soil, forests, fisheries and downstream pollution in both place and time.
We simply cannot accept the goad of ethnocentric
intolerance, divide-and-conquer demagoguery, and my-God-is-better-than-your-God
dogmas. Many religious establishments strive
to embellish their moral credentials by stressing love, peace, Golden Rule
fairness, and the virtue of helping poor people and the downtrodden. But when reactionaries within various
churches foster racial discrimination, anti-gay sentiments, the subjugation of
women and other forms of intolerance, it is necessary for every nation to
create a bold Bill of Rights guaranteeing all citizens protections under the
law. A strong separation of church and
state should accompany this resolve.
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”
--- The poet Rumi
It is a truism of nature that there is always more
than meets the eye, so there is much more to full explainerating than just
providing straightforward ideas. Here is
where clever Lenny Shlain comes in again.
He really may have been onto something in his observations about
cultural shifts related to the increasing use of images in our world
today. Images on TV and the World Wide
Web, and in photography and documentary films, have entered our collective
consciousness, and this may actually be having a pronounced positive effect on the
way we see the world.
Let me elaborate.
Dr. Shlain intriguingly postulated that our increasing use of visual
mediums like television and films might cause a shift from our left-brained,
word-oriented, male-domineering, analytical thinking toward a more intuitive,
empathetic, open-minded, fairness-oriented, feminine, right-brained
outlook. Lenny Shlain’s contention was
this: A revolutionary shift in the
opposite direction had already occurred early in recorded history. After the advent of alphabets and their
pictographic predecessors, hieroglyphics and cuneiform, human cultures shifted
from image-oriented and feminine-deity worshipping, right-brained,
women-respecting worldviews to word-oriented, male privilege enshrining,
male-deity worshipping left-brained worldviews that have been disrespecting
women and Earth’s ecosystems ever since.
Dr. Shlain postulated that the neural connectivity
of the human brain shifted from the right to the left hemisphere as we paid
more attention to conceptual abstractions associated with words and
language. Now that we are using more
image-oriented mediums, Dr. Shlain speculated that maybe a shift would occur
back to a better balance in our societies.
This development should surely be welcomed, for maybe now we can reverse
the inimical shift that accompanied the overthrow of the divine feminine and
the concomitant setback for women’s prerogatives and rights.
Such a new image-orientation might contribute to the
undermining of the ascendancy of left-brained machismo analytical
obtuseness. Will women achieve more
respect and greater rights in the Arab world as a result of the revolutionary
unrest that is transforming those nations today? I hope so!
Parenthetically, image this: Our brains need to shift right, while our
social attunement must shift moderately to the left.
A Diversionary Introspection into Healthy Brains
Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb, “the father of neuropsychology”,
proposed that there is a distinct process known as neuroplasticity in which the
repetition of neuro-electrical stimulation causes a growth process or metabolic
change in nerve cells that deeply affects the functioning of our brains. This development can be summarized by the
axiom, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” If we want the neurons of our brains and the
synaptic activities related to learning and memory to remain healthy, we can
stimulate our brains by reading, or by doing crossword puzzles, or by seeking
out stimulating conversation to reinforce our mental acuity. Think about it! And read on.
The book, A General Theory of Love,
proposes that the limbic systems of our brains are strongly affected by the
people closest to us. This process,
known as “limbic resonance”, involves synchronization with other people in ways
that have profound implications for our lifelong emotional health. Our emotions are seated in neural mechanisms
that are our genetic inheritance. A
discipline known as “affective neuroscience” explores the neuroscientific basis
for the psychology of personality, emotion, mood, and love. Smile broadly as you read these words, and
this act alone may help internalize these ideas with deeper and more forceful
understanding and retention! Lighten up,
and affirmative enlightenment may be revealed!
Perspective on Disciples of “Tough Love”
A Strict Father, “tough
love” adage was adduced by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche:
does not kill us makes us stronger.”
Oh, is that so?
Since pain and suffering are inevitable parts of life, it is natural to
try to ease suffering by rationalizing it, or by believing in an afterlife, or
by indulging in escapist outlets like the use of alcohol or drugs or other
means of denying or escaping the adversity.
We sometimes choose to see physical and emotional suffering as having a
kind of positive effect on us because hardships can radically alter our
worldviews and transform our outlooks on our own mortality. This old adage which says suffering makes us
stronger emphasizes the positive values that can come of hardships. But let’s listen to a differing perspective:
“Our brain is a
meaning-making machine, designed to sort vast and varied sensory information
into coherent, orderly perception, organized primarily in the form of
narrative: this happened, which led to
that, which ended up so. When two
things happen together, we assume they are meaningfully linked, and then we
rush to bind them in a quite unholy cause-and-effect matrimony.”
Noam Shpancer, PhD., What Doesn’t Kill
You Makes You Weaker, Insight Therapy
Superstitions are a result of such
striving-for-meaning thinking. Such
thinking can lead us to fall prey to ‘confirmation bias’ in which we choose to
believe something that may be absurdly and demonstrably untrue when applied to
other instances or events. In reality,
trauma and hardship have distinct neurobiological impacts which can lead to
subsequent mental health disorders, even long after the trauma. This is why Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is
such a terrible affliction of thousands of soldiers who have been involved in
terrible and gruesome wartime experiences.
When someone is involved in a traumatic event, distinct long-term
negative physiological and psychological impacts can result. In general, trauma and hardship are NOT
particularly good for us!
Noam Shpancer concludes that “Mayhem and chaos don’t
toughen you up, and they don’t prepare you well to deal with the terror of this
world. Tender love and care toughen you
up, because they nurture and strengthen your capacity to learn and adapt,
including learning how to fight and adapting to later hardship.”
From this perspective, it is a sad fact that
fairness of opportunity in our society has been sacrificed in acquiescence to
right-wing ideologues and proponents of regressive taxation schemes. The Reagan Revolution of the 1980s ushered in
a powerful resurgence of conservatism in politics. This ideology demands lower tax rates for the
wealthy, serving to increase the gap between the rich and all others. By allowing our national priorities to be
focused on increases in inequalities, more intense hardships result for the
majority of Americans, and we are allowing a master plan that is detrimental
for the whole of society.
Trends toward less fair and diminished opportunities
within the populace are negative for society as a whole. Accompanying ideologies that advocate
laissez-faire governance, no matter how significantly it degrades the
environment, radically diminish opportunities for all people in future
generations. Besides, unempathetic
“tough love” often seems like it is an expression of motives of greed,
selfishness, jealousy, and “hate masquerading as love”. These are not good things!
Population and Politics
Senator John Kyl seriously misrepresented the truth in April 2011 when he
stated that “well over 90 percent” of the services of Planned Parenthood are
for abortions. When challenged, his
office said, “His remark was not intended to be a factual statement.” I guess not!
There is a BIG difference, Senator Kyl, between the actual proportion of
3% and 90%. Such distortions are
unethical. Other right-wing
personalities like conservative political commentators Laura Ingraham and Glenn
Beck have grossly misrepresented the nature of services provided by Planned
Parenthood in order to advance right-wing causes. Glenn Beck suggested that only “hookers” use
Planned Parenthood services. Rhetoric like
this may be good for advancing reactionary biases, but such lies are disgusting
Consider, once again, the fact that millions of children die in the world
each year because of malnutrition and poverty.
Efforts to wage a war on poverty have morphed into a war on poor people
instead. This is because of the
effective efforts of the wealthiest 1% of people on Earth who own almost 50% of
the world’s wealth, who are using the power of their money to impose austerity
on everyone else.
It is time we give greater priority to saving human beings that have
already been born, rather than staunchly defending the right of a clump of
cells to survive just as soon as an egg and sperm meet. It is a damning indictment of ideologies that
defend absolute protections for clumps of pre-conscious cells when these
ideologies simultaneously show disdain for the health, well-being, feelings, and
rights of self-determination of all women and children who have already been
This is especially true in light of the growing realization that
anti-choice, anti-women ideologies are momentously contributing to an unfolding
global population explosion which is accelerating the rate at which we are
collectively damaging the health of vital ecosystems like forests, fisheries,
wildlife habitats, rivers, lakes, and oceans.
It is madness for humankind to be doing these things, and even to be
altering the balance of normal weather patterns and the gaseous composition of
the atmosphere to which all life is adapted.
Delegates to the International Conference on Population and Development
held in Cairo in 1994 explored the links that exist between sustainable
development and population-related policies which deal with fertility, family
planning, birth control, sexual and reproductive health services, infant and
maternal mortality, the education of women, and gender equity. Conference attendees gave official
recognition to the fact that family planning counseling is crucially important
for pre-natal care and safe delivery of babies, and for post-natal care and responsible
delegates concluded that services should be provided to people in nations
worldwide to help prevent AIDS, other sexually-transmitted diseases, and breast
cancer. They recommended in addition
that procedures and attitudes involved in female genital mutilation should be
actively discouraged. These are
important issues. We should not allow religious
extremists, political partisanship or culture-war conflicts to undermine
fair-minded approaches to dealing with them.
A Word on Genesis
There is a deep underlying meaning of the
narrative in the biblical story of the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden. It is enlightening to more fully understand
this story. Serpents were honored in
ancient times as potent symbols of feminine power. So when Eve, the biblical first woman, and a
serpent were blamed for disobediently defying a jealous God’s prohibition of
partaking of the fruit of “the tree of knowledge of good and evil”, this act of
blaming should be regarded with warning bells that sound to alert us to the
allegorical motive of the story.
Those who created this concept of God as an infinitely
unjust Supreme Being claimed that ‘He’ vowed to punish all of humankind
forevermore for this terrible transgression.
Obedience, apparently, was valued as the highest virtue in the
male-dominated patriarchal cultures that spawned this tale. This God was an extremely jealous God who was
not exactly being lenient when He subsequently promised in the Ten Commandments
to punish children of those who failed to believe faithfully in every word of
this tall tale, and to punish these innocents for generations if their parents
worshipped any other concept of the divine than the one the Bible
Scholars who study the deep anthropological and
psychological implications of mythological beliefs provide us with fascinating
revelations about such beliefs. Dr. Jean
Shinoda Bolen, for instance, has written two books, The Goddess in Everywoman and
The God in Everyman, which are about female and male archetypes and
stereotypes, the powerful inner and outer forces that profoundly affect us
all. These archetypes and stereotypes
are mirrored and embodied in the deities of the Greek pantheon.
Clearly, many stories in Greek and Roman mythology
reveal a richly-textured portrait of both the honorable and the ignoble aspects
of human behaviors, and of the roles our cultures emphasize and reinforce -- or
alternatively repress. Lest we dismiss
these mythologies too lightly, we should recall that the projections in these
cosmological belief systems dominated the religious and spiritual thinking of
Greek and Roman civilizations at the apex of their glory, power, influence and
intellectual achievements for many centuries.
The entire spectrum of human qualities that are
embodied in the archetypes of the human mind are an aspect of what the Swiss
psychiatrist Carl Jung called the collective unconscious. Each and every one of us is deeply affected
by these archetypal influences, which are inherited in the genes that define
our instinctual behaviors. All of us are
also powerfully influenced by subliminal stereotypical influences that are
imposed upon us by the cultures in which we live.
The relationship of dominant belief systems to the
deep-seated inequality of women in our societies is compelling, as is their
relationship to unequal opportunities, widespread pay inequities, and gender discrimination
against women in societies worldwide.
“Women’s equality is
not just a moral issue, it’s not just a humanitarian issue, it is not just a
fairness issue. It is a security issue,
it is a prosperity issue, and it is a peace issue. It is in the vital national interest of the United States of America.”
--- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Dao! Whatever happened to Wonder
Woman, now that we really need some of her heroic exploits to help save
us? For that matter, is there any way we
could resurrect the great caped-crusader superhero Superman? He was, after all, not only able to leap tall
buildings in a single bound, but he used his arsenal of super powers to fight
for Truth, Justice and the American
parenthetically, is the American
Two visions come to mind. One is
a dream of free people being given an adequate opportunity to pursue happiness
in a reasonably-just society characterized by a well-run government with an
affordable system of good public education, a balanced criminal justice system,
and universal healthcare for every person who might get injured or sick. This American dream includes a vibrant middle
class and sensible environmental protections.
other American Way
is like a bad dream, a system of ruthlessly-enforced inequalities between a
narrow minority of rich people and the vast majority of others. This system requires enforcement by the
dictates of a rigid Few, and it is a nightmare characterized by a crumbling
educational system, a messy criminal justice system, a costly and unfair
healthcare system, and foreign wars for resources, ascendancy, diversion, and
expanded opportunities to make profits at the expense of others while allowing
extensive damages to the environment which sustains us.
Environmental Impact Assessments
Congress passed The National
Environmental Policy Act in 1969 in recognition of the far-flung array of
impacts and conflicts of interest associated with industrial undertakings and
real estate developments. This
legislation required that environmental impact assessments (EIAs) be done of
the impacts and collateral damages likely to be caused by proposed
activities. EIAs are required to be
completed by an independent party so that all identified issues involved are
fairly presented. This is a giant step
beyond the heyday of environmental obtuseness as reflected in the hydraulic
mining of the Sierra Nevada foothills in the
Unfortunately, these assessments generally address
direct, on-site effects of developments alone, and not larger
considerations. It is clear that almost
all real estate developments cause a multitude of additional indirect
effects through such things as the mining of resources, the production of
building materials and machinery, the consumption and transportation of goods
and services during construction, and additional land use for activities
related to manufacturing services. There
are also associated impacts like increased traffic and vehicular emissions
related to on-going services by housekeepers, gardeners, landscapers, plumbers
and other service workers.
The indirect effects of real estate developments are often an
order of magnitude larger than the direct effects assessed by EIAs. These include national and global
environmental impacts like increases in greenhouse gas emissions and related
disruptions of weather patterns, as well as the stimulated depletion of
renewable and non-renewable resources. Intricate
complexities and interconnections are involved in all large-scale activities, so
humanity should arguably begin to take into account the bigger impacts that our
collective activities are having on the health and balance of our home planet’s
ecosystems. Let’s collaborate
together! Once again,
beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right-doing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”
Arcane and Unknown Fact
once got lost for 36 hours in the mountains in a remote part of Nepal. I had just spent a few days in the Annapurna
Sanctuary, a high glacial basin surrounded by five peaks of the Annapurna
Massif, all of which are taller than 24,000 feet. From within the Sanctuary, the views of the extraordinarily
beautiful “fish-tail” mountain Machapuchare are stunning. The native Gurung people believed this
mountain to have been the home of the god Shiva and other deities.
gods did not seem to be with me as I descended from the high Sanctuary. I had decided to make my way through a maze
of cultivated hillside fields up to a poorly-marked route across a high ridge
in hopes of getting to the deep canyon of the Kali Gandaki to the west. One’s best laid plans can be waylaid by unforeseen
circumstances. I became lost and was
engulfed by a foggy white-out. Being
adequately prepared with food, a tent, and a sleeping bag, this wasn’t too big
a problem, but the next day I did not know where I was, or which way to go. So I followed an old dictum: When lost, follow a stream downward. I did.
After several hours, I was confronted by an extremely steep, treacherous
and impassible canyon, so I made a new plan and sought a different direction,
which is surprisingly often a very good thing to do when faced with daunting
this truism to aggregate American dilemmas concerning our involvements in very
costly wars with poorly defined objectives, or with record amounts of deficit
spending and record levels of national debt -- or with gaping contrasts in
prosperity and economic security between super-rich people and the challenging straits
of most of the rest of the people -- one would be forced to conclude that it
would be wise for us to undertake a radical rethinking of our current
directions and policies. Flexibility,
open-mindedness and adaptive wisdom are, after all, keys to resilience.
I finally found my way to a point where I had originally gotten lost. I retraced my steps until I discovered a rough
route to the ridge summit that lay between where I was and my destination. After reaching the high ridge, I descended to
the small village
of Tatopani, which is nestled
between 26,000 foot mountains in a gorge that is, by some measures, the deepest
in the world. A tributary of the great Ganges River
flows down this canyon, and there are several natural hot springs.
Immersing oneself in soothing hot waters is an activity that is known to
be capable of making one feel perfectly relaxed, and at one with the
world. I did.
might say that it sometimes sounds as if Tiffany Twain is disoriented, but I’d
hasten to remind them that “All who wander are not lost.”
Indulgence vs. Abstinence, That Is the Question: Competition vs. Cooperation
The indigenous Piaroa people who live along the banks of the Orinoco River
in present-day Venezuela
have an interesting worldview. They view
competition as spiritually evil. They
laud cooperation. They are staunchly
egalitarian. They support individual
autonomy. They oppose the hoarding of
resources. And they are one of the most
peaceful of human societies. This radical
contrast to our American society is curious;
after all, many people regard America as a pinnacle of civilization,
despite our being unwitting slaves to ruthless competition, hard-nosed social
attitudes, far-flung wars, irresponsible budget deficits, and extreme
disparities in social and economic and health care well-being.
Think about it!
We all grapple with conflicting drives and emotions
in a variety of arenas. We do this in
our striving for competitive advantages and in our selfish behaviors, practical
moral dilemmas, sexual activities, materialistic impulses, greedy compulsions, urges
to gamble, food consumption, imbibing of alcoholic beverages, uses of drugs, and
even in our spiritual perspectives.
People frequently yield to temptations that are
likely to cause harm to others.
Alternatively, each of us sometimes chooses more honorably to abstain
from such courses of action. Genetic and
hormonal impulses may drive us in one direction, while understandings of
ethical right action and our consciences and discipline may compel us in a different
Freedom to choose is often complexified by such conundrums,
and by the curious affliction known as “choice congestion”. This phenomenon can transform a simple choice
into a paralyzing decision amongst too many options in which we may find
ourselves investing an absurd amount of time and energy “and no small amount of
self-doubt, anxiety and dread”!
“It was Fauna's conviction, born out of long
experience, that most people, one, did not
they wanted; two, did not know how to go about getting it; and
they had it."
--- John Steinbeck, Sweet Thursday
All of these individual quandaries and conflicts
add up to a great societal conundrum.
Given the wide variety and profound complexity of motives, and the
difficulty of optimally managing enormous populations of needy people and a sizeable
complement of greedy ones, how can we adopt greater good goals and enforce
moral understandings and prevent tragic harm to the global ecological commons?
Filmmaker Tom Shadyac made a documentary film
entitled I Am, in which he seeks to
understand what is wrong with our world, and what we can do about it. He states that hunger, poverty, greed, war, and
the environmental crisis are merely symptoms of a deeper endemic problem whose
root cause is to be found in the exaltation of competition and individualism
over cooperation and working together to achieve common goals. Interestingly, Shadyac found good cause to
believe that cooperation may be a fundamental operating principle in
many species of life on Earth.
Cooperative problem-solving would surely be far
superior for our societies than hyped-up polarization, acerbic partisanship, uncompromising
conflicts of interest, and improper abuses of power by those with the most influence.
The film I Am
is about the aftermath a life-threatening accident which caused Shadyac, who had
achieved significant success in making Hollywood films, to question the entire
ethos of ‘success’ and consumerism and compulsive impulses to acquire ever-more
possessions. As many home owners have
discovered in recent years, possessions can come to possess us, and this can
have significantly adverse effects on our personal well-being!
A friend recently told me that, in many respects, she believes “less is
better”. Since obsessions over possessions
can negatively affect our lives, ‘success’ can lead to a diminishment in our
quality of life and our personal freedom.
Compulsive needs to buy things can seriously diminish our quality of
life, especially when purchases are financed with bondage-like levels of debt.
costs are being incurred due to the mindlessly ruthless subjugation of nature
to human ends and our indulgence in hyper-consumerism. Errors of perception and understanding and
action are causing us to fail to see and appreciate the things which contribute
to the true quality of our lives, for ourselves and for our descendents.
Many people are beginning to suspect that what
youthful bohemians in the 1960’s called “the rat race” may be a competition
whose goals are ultimately a chimerical and unfulfilling illusion. Furthermore, upon honest introspection, it can
become quite clear that some of our defining drives are insanely and
unsustainably eroding the basic qualities that really make life most meaningful,
fulfilling, and enjoyable.
The great insights of evolution and natural selection were discovered
and published more-or-less simultaneously by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell
Wallace in 1868. Their interpretations,
however, curiously diverged. Darwin’s harsh view of “survival
of the fittest” led to social Darwinism and neo-classical economics and eugenics
societies and the idea of the “selfish gene”.
Alfred Russell Wallace, in contrast, focused on the tendency of
evolution to generate a world of complex co-dependence, and he became an
activist for social justice. Let us see
more feelingly, and cultivate better understandings of these issues -- and find
better ways to work together for the greater good!
An “immense wedge” is being forced through American society by “the
maldistribution of wealth, status, and opportunity,” as a journalist named Henry
George once wrote. Bill Moyers observed
that inequality has today exploded into what historian Clinton Rossiter
described as “the great train robbery of American intellectual history.”
Pro-corporate apologists and “conservatives” have hijacked the
vocabulary of Jeffersonian liberalism and turned words like “progress” and
“opportunity” and “individualism” into tools for making the plunder of America sound
like a divine right. Laissez-faire
ideologues have distorted Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution so much that
politicians, judges, and promoters passionately embrace the notion that
progress emerges from the elimination of the weak and the stimulation of
inequities between financially successful people and everyone else.
Impulses to abandon the most vulnerable people in society are gaining
traction as a national debt crisis unfolds and partisan politicians become increasingly
intransigent. We must see more clearly
that spending and tax decisions reflect moral values, and accordingly find ways
to deal with the challenges we face without abandoning the under-represented and
the most vulnerable in order to further enrich the wealthy!
to what is right, what is just, and what is good will bring you fulfillment.”
--- Coretta Scott King, quoted in Joyce Tenneson’s Wise Women
Moderation is desirable in almost all things. Moderation is a healthy attribute for society
in many arenas, and a more propitious one than either undisciplined indulgence
or harsh prohibition. This is true in
things as diverse as budgetary decisions, fiscal policies, sexual relationships,
pornography, and the use of intoxicants.
Discipline, moderation and self-denial are hard to achieve in the face
of a wide variety of temptations and alluring self-indulgences and escapist
pursuits. And yet it would be desirable
if we all began to see bigger picture perspectives and committed ourselves to
making our societies healthier by demanding that the incentives in our economic
system be restructured to encourage broader, fairer and healthier perspectives
Reevaluating and Restructuring
Our civilizations are structured, by hook or by
crook, in ways which encourage people to act on their impulses. Incentives are used to motivate people to buy
things whether they need them or not. Disincentives
are used to make people obey rules of law and to outline punishments for both wrong-doing
and violations of ethical courses of action.
Some say that episodes of faltering consumerism might
actually be a kind of proper adjustment in the larger balance of nature. Perhaps economic recessions are healthy
developments in the big picture, when considered from the point of view of the
long-run greater good. Maybe we could
all benefit by slowing down, relaxing more, and consuming less, and by honestly
re-assessing what really matters the most in our lives.
Perhaps we should strive more to be, rather
than to do. According to Buddhist
philosophers, one of the most beneficial of activities may be just to sit
still. Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There, says the title of an insight-filled
book by Sylvia Boorstein. Managing
gracefully is a good goal.
A variety of curious afflictions affect affluent
societies. Many people tend to become obese
in affluent cultures because of poor eating habits and inadequate
exercise. Harmful repercussions take
place in response to high levels of stress.
Having too many choices can even cause us to suffer from the paralyzing
condition, mentioned earlier, of “choice congestion”, according to the book The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less.
any case, human civilizations seem to be afflicted with “anthrohubrosity”, a
condition that is characterized by obtuse myopia and bizarrely arrogant
disregard for the well-being of future generations. To the extent this is true, we would be
well-advised to find better ways of conquering this selfishly solipsistic
“What, are we mad?!”
--- The underground Mole
is a growing need for us to be able to construct a coherent consensus about
what is happening in the world today, and what we should do about it. Let Earth Manifesto ideas lead the way!
“Dream as if
you’ll live forever, live as if you’ll die today.”
Film actor James Dean (who died at the age 24!)
Historic Breaking News
Osama bin Laden was assassinated in Abbottabad,
Pakistan on May 1, 2011 by an
intrepid team of U.S. Navy SEALs. Soon
thereafter a sound recording surfaced of eerie calls-to prayer which are
commonly heard emanating from minaret towers in Muslim countries, followed by a
sudden interrupting staccato of gun shots and then the American national anthem
striking up in a rousing triumphal orgy of exultant gloating. Yes, siree!
Only ten years and a trillion dollars, and we’ve finally vanquished this
arch-enemy. Yahoo for us! Intrigue, violence, mayhem and murder -- ya gotta
But let’s sober up! This
sensationalistic event closed a sad chapter on a CIA
project gone very, very wrong. One need
not be a sleuthing detective to be aware that the United States was responsible for
vaulting Osama bin Laden from obscurity into a position of power, influence and
notoriety in world affairs. We gave him
financial and logistical support in a covert operation in Afghanistan
known as “Charlie Wilson’s War” in the 1980s.
In this affair, the U.S.
clandestinely supported Osama bin Laden and Muslim guerrillas known as
mujahideen in their fight against Soviet interventionism in Afghanistan.
can sometimes be stranger than fiction.
This intrigue resulted in the end of the Cold War in 1989 when the “evil empire” of
the Soviet Union was bankrupted and its costly militaristic intervention in Afghanistan
came to an end. This American intrigue,
however, spawned a new ideological enemy.
In a classic case of blowback, Osama bin Laden tapped into the powerful
anger of long-suffering Arab frustration and humiliation, and used the tactics
of indiscriminate terrorism and ruthless extremism to oppose the new infidel, the
United States. The militarism, interventionism,
exploitation, domineering overreach, and arrogant ethnocentric supremacism of
the U.S. led many Arabs to
regard the U.S.
as “the Great Satan”. This helped rile
up extremists and recruit new believers to their oppositional causes.
the Soviets were finally defeated in Afghanistan, the Taliban came to
power. This vicious group of
backward-looking, woman-oppressing, terrorism-supporting rulers shared a
perspective with Osama bin Laden that the Americans were the new foreign
infidels, and this provided an impetus for a succession of terrorist attacks,
including the shocking 9/11 airplane hijackings and assaults on the World Trade
Center towers and the Pentagon.
that we have sobered up a bit after the killing of bin Laden, let’s focus on
deeper causes rather than just symptoms.
Let’s begin to address real underlying issues of the desperation of
billions of people, and of far-reaching injustices and abuses of power.
us clearly see the implications of the fact that violent opposition provides
counter-support for what it supposedly opposes.
It does this by signaling, energizing and strengthening what is
opposed. Our economic sanctions and
military presence in the Middle East has
created conflicts with Islamic peoples and stimulated the creation of terrorist
groups, and given them strength and expanded recruiting impetuses. This has had the unfortunate unintended
consequence of strengthening the power of the militaristic right wing in the U.S.
the end of the Cold War, some people sensibly expected a large “peace
dividend”. But no such thing ever
materialized. The debt-financed
profiteering of the military-industrial complex had become too powerful a
runaway train to be controlled. A range
of special interests like corporate investors, wealthy people, CEOs, and corporate
managers who are the primary beneficiaries of arms manufacturing and the
providing of war services are too addicted to the gravy train of the
military-industrial-congressional complex to allow it to be sensibly controlled.
potential for a broadly-shared peace dividend has been co-opted by the agenda
of a much smaller segment of society who profit from the dividends of war.
long after the end of the Cold War, a new nebulous enemy came along to justify
endless war and rapid increases in military spending, year after year after
year. This was just what the writer George
Orwell had predicted -- a perpetual war replete with propaganda and secret
police who would combat an amorphous enemy. George Orwell saw that the primary purpose of
permanent war would be to sustain authoritarian governance and to control
dissent by feeding popular insecurity and fear and hatred.
new rationale for endless war and military empire sprang into existence with al
Qaeda’s terrorist tactics. Can we now
expect a peace dividend since Osama bin Laden has been killed? It is unlikely because Congress, and
particularly Republicans, see how effective they can use fear and the need to
maintain defense industry jobs to promote a continuation of the status quo. It seems clear that the U.S., which
spends more money on its military than all other nations on Earth combined,
must make sizeable cutbacks in this out-of-control area of spending. Lavish spending on the military, together
with rapidly increasing expenditures on prisons, are targeted to fight the
symptoms of problems instead of being re-prioritized to help formulate wiser,
more effective, and more comprehensive solutions.
The Sentencing Project, a group which has been providing research and
advocacy for prison reform for 25 years, points out that the U.S. has the
highest rate of incarceration of people in prisons or jails of any nation in
the industrialized world. This extreme
rate of incarceration is unprecedented in our country’s history. The number of people locked up grew 375% from
1980 to 2008 -- while the total population grew just 34%. This is a form of social repression, and a
very costly one, and it has serious moral and social consequences.
Consider the “Three strikes and you’re out” laws which have been passed
in about half the States in the U.S. The Three Strikes law in California has been called “the worst
criminal law in the country” because of the fact that the third offense need
not be a violent crime or a serious felony, and yet it results in an automatic
life sentence. More than 8,000 inmates
have been incarcerated for life in prison in California because of the Three Strikes law. The costs of such incarcerations exceed
$40,000 per inmate each year, and this cost will increase significantly as
prisoners get older and need more medical care before they die.
The third felony for some of the criminals in California has been a minor crime that does
not merit such harsh punishment. California can no longer
afford the high costs of imprisoning such offenders for their entire lives. In some ways, this is a kind of unethical
scam oriented toward profiteering that seems designed to benefit
prison-builders and create jobs and perks for prison guard unions. This gambit is supported by Strict Father
ideologies in our Incarceration Nation. This state of affairs is wrong-headed, and
THE CIVIL JUSTICE SYSYTEM NOW!
A Digression on Words and Language
The Muslim world is outraged about having any image
whatsoever portrayed of their God, Allah.
This fact is demonstrated by a violence-provoking controversy that
concerned some political cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad. Why, one might sensibly wonder, is it such a
blasphemy to show visual depictions of any sort of Muhammad? Why, for that matter, do FOUR of the Bible’s
Ten Commandments thunder on about believers making no idols and accepting the Bible’s
WORD exclusively and avoiding the misuse of God’s name and jealously
threatening to punish “the children unto the third and fourth generation” for
any such “iniquity of the fathers”?
These are vitally important questions simply because
millions of people figuratively draw a line in the sand to defend their
religious beliefs. These people show much
more concern for their parochial religious beliefs than they do about far more
crucial issues like committing ourselves and our societies to guaranteeing
rights to people in future generations.
Mark Twain whistled at the preposterousness of religious
issues like this in Letters from the
Earth, a book posthumously-published in 1962. Likewise, Thomas Paine wrote The Age of Reason which has been described as “one of the most
persuasive critiques of the Bible ever written”. Thomas Paine’s benevolent goal in all of his
writings was to improve the condition of the common people and to deliver them
from oppression, poverty and hardship by advocating the blessings of good and fair
governance. Paine, like the famous Voltaire,
abhorred superstition and false theologies, and he maintained a humanitarian
vision of morality, justice and spiritual belief.
institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me
no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and
monopolize power and profit.”
--- The Age of Reason, Thomas Paine (a
“Doubting Thomas” of the first order!)
New light has been shed in the century since Mark Twain’s
death on objective understandings of the biological evolution of life on Earth,
and of the physical genesis of the universe.
Using understandings like these, together with modern economic,
sociological and psychological insights, we should be able to gain better
understandings of the essence of thinking that underlies the folly of ignoring
vitally important issues.
Perhaps it would help to recognize how the two distinct
hemispheres of our brains work, and to be more familiar with Dr. Leonard
Shlain’s brilliant and compelling theories in his book The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict between Word and Image.
Let me elaborate once again. It’s a tricky business providing “absolute
truths” to people about the ineffable, the indescribable, and the unknown. Perhaps anticipating the evolution of better
understandings about the true nature of the universe, holy books resorted to
the suppression of images of what deities looked like. They likely did this to avoid having visual misconceptions
eventually exposed as erroneous. At some
point before most of the world’s holy books were written between about 900 BCE and 650 CE, human societies were undergoing a
revolutionary transition from being agrarian, cooperative, right-brained,
Mother-Earth-honoring and image-oriented to being left-brained, analytical,
word-oriented, warrior-culture focused, materialistic, and wantonly exploitive
of the Earth’s resources.
In this challenging interregnum of change, human “world
views” and ideas, social mores, concepts, abstractions, beliefs, ideologies and
philosophies were in a profound state of turbulent flux. During times of rapid change -- like those we
are experiencing today -- epic and transcendental changes are more likely to
occur, for better or for worse.
Words, and indeed languages themselves, contain deep
perceptual predispositions and inherent presuppositions and a subjectivity of
notions. These are what John Steinbeck
referred to as personal “warps”. Reality
may not, in fact, be what it seems. This
is true in terms of everything from the mundane to one of the most profoundly
abstruse scientific ideas of all, that of quantum physics.
is cumbersomely difficult to conceive of truly expansive understandings, or to
wholeheartedly embrace them. Our vision
is blinded by a variety of complicating factors. For one, biases acculturated from birth
strongly affect the way we see the world.
Marketing, promotion, ideological spin, and outright propaganda and
untruths influence our comprehension.
Words and languages themselves affect our perspectives, subtly distorting
our perceptions of reality and our experiences and our circumstances.
Roget’s Thesaurus is the original bible of words and
their associations and synonymous meanings.
Peter Mark Roget (1779-1869) created the first thesaurus for precisely
“two classes of persons” -- one being those who are seeking just the right word
to express an idea most exactly, and the other being “metaphysicians engaged in
the more profound investigation of the Philosophy of Language.”
us cultivate clearer understandings of words, language, beliefs and
uncertainties, and of transcendent issues like ecological sanity. Let us “Invoke a little moxie,” and collaborate together boldly
to create saner societies. We can do
this, and we must!
Lightening Illuminates the Dark
Mark Twain was a master of telling
stories and tall tales. In an article
titled “Our Hippest Literary Lion” in Newsweek,
Malcolm Jones wrote about Mark Twain:
“Everything he thought or did came back to language, to words, playing
with them, arranging them and rearranging them.
It was how he made sense of what was, to him, an otherwise senseless
universe. <The difference between the
almost right word and the right word is really a large matter,> he once
said. <It's the difference between
the lightning bug and lightning.>"
The Chinese philosopher General Sun Tzu asserted
in The Art of War that it is vital to
study and clearly understand the circumstances that surround warfare. When lightening flashes on a dark and stormy
night, it instantaneously illuminates the surrounding scene, momentarily etching
it on our memories and providing us with momentary illumination. In the fog of war, political and military
leaders deal not only with the logistics of fighting, but also with the
manipulation of the masses to get We the
People to go along with the sordid, tragic, terrible and very costly
circumstances involved in violent conflicts.
“All warfare is based
of War, Sun Tzu
The Department of Defense coined the term
“perception management” as a euphemism for an aspect of information
warfare. Wars are based on deception in
two entirely different senses. An entire
fog of deception surrounds the strategies of war and its tactics, logistics,
and the knowledge about enemy forces and the secrets of one’s own
A second set of wide-ranging deceptions is used to
enlist public support for wars and to maintain the enormously expensive
standing armies and other military forces that the U.S. has had for decades. A critical aspect of launching wars of
aggression, like those against Afghanistan
involves public relations at home. Such
wars have to be “sold” and promoted. A
primary focus in this effort is the exploitation of fears and patriotic
nationalism and the use of secrecy and misinformation to deceive the
One strategy that makes it easier for leaders to
prosecute wars is the expediency of foisting the costs of wars onto future
generations instead of requiring people to pay for them today. Another tactic is the creation of an
“all-volunteer” army to help hide the sacrifices that are being made by
enlisted people who for the most part do not have better opportunities and who
must do the actual fighting and dying.
Lightening flashes on the sordid details of war,
revealing egregious instances of deception.
The Jessica Lynch episode in Iraq,
and the Pat Tillman story in Afghanistan,
reveal a farce of military propaganda and attempted deception. Jessica Lynch was used as a pawn in a film
production to make the American people think that the Iraq war
involved heroics as we launched our deadly Shock-and-Awe invasion. The story of pro-football player-turned-U.S.
soldier Pat Tillman also reveals the overarching willingness of the military to
lie to the public, and to cover up the truth all the way up the chain of
command to the highest levels. Check out
the documentary film, The Tillman Story,
for further illumination, and the dissertation in the Earth Manifesto, Reflections on War.
Lightening also flashed on harsh treatment of
prisoners when photos of demented torture tactics were disclosed at Abu Ghraib
prison in Iraq. These pictures revealed that such activities
may be Standard Operating Procedure,
as evocatively disclosed in Errol Morris’ documentary film by that name.
Other forms of “perception management” have oft
been used as propaganda tools. These
include the demonizing of foreign leaders, the exaggeration of threats from
abroad, the manipulation of the media, and the use of phony “false flag
attacks”. During the Bush
Administration, public viewing and photographing of military caskets that were bringing
dead soldiers home were prohibited to try and conceal the reality of the
horrors of war. I call for more honesty
from our government!
We distinctly need a better master plan than militarily occupying
entire foreign nations. We should save
the expense of stationing so many hundreds of thousands of military personnel
and their families abroad. We should cut
spending on our military instead of outlaying more money than all other nations
on Earth to maintain an unjust hegemony of superpower domination.
Mark Twain had become one of the most prominent and well-known personages
on the planet by the final decade of his life.
He was not just a novelist, entertaining lecturer, and humorist. He also took courageous stands on important
national issues. Mark Twain was
angered at the U.S.
occupation and annexation of the Philippines
in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War of 1898 because he saw that we had
chosen “to maintain and protect the abominable system established in the Philippines by
the Friars.” So he wrote these scathing words
in the year 1900, and they still have a bold relevance to our country
“… I have seen
that we do not intend to free, but rather to subject the people … We have
gone there to conquer, not to redeem. … It should, it seems to me, be our pleasure
duty to make these people free, and let them
deal with their own domestic questions in
their own way. And so I am an
anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put
its talons on any other land.”
The master manipulators of our modern war policy have
managed to parlay the post-Cold War superpower of the United States
into a military empire with military personnel stationed in 130 nations around
the world. Our armed forces have been aggressively
occupying entire nations in the Middle East
for many years. Our leaders have managed
to get the American people to go along with this foreign policy, even though it
involves irresponsibly costly and imperialistic militarism.
The military-industrial-congressional-media complex
has achieved this criminally misguided and supremely wasteful goal by using
propaganda, Big Lies, discriminatory exploitation of people with no better
opportunities, and the risky and deluded expediency of record levels of debt
Our political leaders have enlisted the support of
reactionary conservatives and the Religious Right to advance this agenda by
stoking hot-button social issues. This
tactic has exploited the fervor of American religious extremists to gain their
complicity and help propel this empire-building crusade. One of the dishonorably pathetic driving
forces behind this misbegotten foreign policy is a narrow goal of making
profits on military extravagance and the lack of accountability for Pentagon
One reason our foreign policy is failing is because we portray our “enemies”
in caricatures. Too often diplomatic dialogue has been rejected
in the past, or we have refused to negotiate fairly. Our partisan politics are organized in such
ways that they lead in the wrong direction.
At a time that we need distinctly better international partnerships and
goodwill, we are failing to achieve such goals.
We should be providing far-sighted development assistance to prevent
nations from becoming failed states. We
should be helping people who live in extreme poverty, in order to staunch the
instability associated with such degradation.
We should stress mutual security and peaceful coexistence with other
nations, and deal boldly with environmental threats that are likely to harm the
prospects for peace and prosperity in the future. We should accomplish these things by reducing
the spending of enormous amounts of money on military initiatives.
One result of our being on the wrong track in foreign policy is that we
have lost perspective on the real challenges facing our crowded planet. Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has failed
to play a smart leadership role in energy policy, or in international
environmental policy, or in initiatives to prevent climate disruptions. We have also failed to act as courageous
leaders in supporting methods to prevent overpopulation or in alleviating
extreme poverty around the globe. We
have invaded Middle Eastern nations, at a great cost in both money and
This is a human tragedy as well as an obtuse misdirection of human
energies. We spend far too much money on
military approaches. Today’s great
foreign policy challenges are political, economic, and environmental, so they
are not solvable by military means. Our
failure to invest in foreign assistance as a tool to promote global stability
is extremely shortsighted.
The intervention into Libya’s civil war by the United
States Air Force was given the name Operation Odyssey Dawn. Pundits speculated that this name sounds like
the name of a ship of the Carnival Cruise Lines, or a bad “Yes” album, or a
stripper. A commentator remarked that it
is actually a good name for a military intervention abroad, because in Homer’s Odyssey, “Odysseus wandered aimlessly
for years, barely escaping one disaster after another, and losing most of his
soldiers in the process.”
We need change we can believe in -- positive change,
bold change, and fair-minded change.
Visualization Exercise with a Poetic Purpose
standing on the precipice of a commanding view near the summit of a towering
mountain peak. Far below, the
invigorating sound of cascading waters of a clear mountain stream can be faintly
heard. The only other sounds near the
summit are the singing of birds and the gentle rustling of the wind in the
boughs of evergreen trees below. “Here,”
said Zorba the Greek, “a gentle, sober spirit could cultivate a religious
exaltation that would match the stature of men.
Neither a precipitous, superhuman peak, nor a lazy, voluptuous plain,
but what is needed, and no more, for the soul to be elevated without losing its
From a commanding viewpoint like this, with beautiful natural
scenery, it is good to stretch a bit, breathe deeply, and exhale fully. It has been proven that epiphanies occur more
frequently in such places. Just ask
anyone you find hanging out in such a spot.
Tell them you are writing a manifesto, and that you wonder if they have
experienced any epiphanies in the presence of the awesome and powerful presence
of big vistas in nature. The responses
you receive may surprise you … or confirm your every hunch!
views and the effect of exertions involved in clambering to such elevated spots
can inspire moments of reflection and feelings of incipient potential
epiphanies. As mountain climbers are
aware, expansive views invigorate the imagination. A naturalist, sitting aside a clear tumbling
mountain stream, might add that intimate awareness of the fine details of
close-up views can be equally illuminating.
Analysis and synthesis together can help us gather our wits and make
progress toward intellectual and spiritual enlightenment. I imagine.
Visualize in you mind’s eye being on a vantage point with the
same view as is shown on the masthead of the Earth Manifesto Home Page. A
brisk offshore breeze is blowing in the wake of a storm that featured towering
cumulus clouds and locally-unusual lightening and thunder. On the December 21, 2010 Winter Solstice, in
the early morning hours, a good omen occurred when a full eclipse of the moon
took place. Such an eclipse will not
occur for another 500 years on the exact date of the shortest day of the year. Could it have been a propitious sign?
That’s All, Folks!
plethora of philosophers and spiritual leaders, scientists and visionaries, politicians
and economists, poets and writers, and artists and filmmakers have informed my
thinking in the Earth Manifesto. John
Fowles. Will and Ariel Durant. John Steinbeck. ‘Doc’ Ed Ricketts. Jack London.
Bill Moyers. Paul Hawken. The Dalai Lama. Martin Luther King, Jr. Charles Darwin. Carl Jung.
Albert Einstein. Galileo
Galilei. Socrates and Plato and
Aristotle. Voltaire. John McPhee.
Bill Bryson. E.O. Wilson. George Lakoff. Ambrose Bierce. Ayn Rand.
John Maynard Keynes. Milton
Friedman. Dr. Leonard Shlain. Tiffany Shlain. Paul McCartney and John Lennon. It has been a long a winding road!
people have vitally important perspectives to convey to us all, and I hope that
readers will find my assemblage of these ideas to be illuminating and valuable. Once we have achieved more holistic
understandings, let us then break through to making positive changes in our
world and econo-political systems and behaviors!
Ideas that germinate in the arcane interstices of
my mind percolate and evolve. In a
sense, they are the collective expression of a boldly progressive strain of
thought that is evolving in our civilization.
These ideas posit that a revolution in our worldviews is necessary to
throw off the yoke of business-as-usual and to undermine the arguments of apologists,
promoters and enforcers of the status quo.
The revolution we need is one in our minds, not
one that takes place in the streets. More
comprehensive understandings of problems and issues are needed. Such understandings must encompass causes as
well as consequences. They must help us
identify and implement the best solutions.
A revolutionary transformation in our human modus operandi is needed,
and we must soon begin to act more fairly, and in ways that are most likely to
the Earth Manifesto! It is an entertaining
and yet seriously fair-minded assessment of history, trends, ideas and
understandings that is designed to help us together break through to more
comprehensive worldviews, so that when the long emergency of twenty-first
century economic challenges, environmental calamities, resource wars, violent conflicts
and natural disasters become catastrophic enough, these ideas will be laying
around conveniently available to provide overarching direction for us to
collectively begin a far-reaching and propitious restructuring of our societies. It is long-overdue for us to truly remake our
nation in ways that are fairer, safer and more sustainable. That’s the theory of it, anyway!
I’m beginning to feel another one
of those Huck smiles coming on, “one of them crooked ones you smile when you
see the joke’s on you. It’s a feeling I
reckernized from other times before this, when big expecterations come crashing
down and all you can do is ask why you was sap-head enough to have had them
hope springs eternal, and it’s a powerful force that may drive us to achieve
great things. I sure hope so! Help!!
Let us all find a way to help collectively fulfill
Mahatma Gandhi’s advice:
“Be the change you want to see in the world”!
for reading this.
Dr. Tiffany B. Twain
April Fool’s Day, 4/1/11.
Updated on Earth Day, 4/22/11 and again
sporadically in 2011 and 2012.