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         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.

 “Whatever 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 has come.”

                                                                                --- Victor Hugo

   Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. 

      Indeed, 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 Mississippi.

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!

The 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 anyway.”

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 does it?”

“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 reality.”

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 Oil, Climate

                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.” 

John 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.

John Steinbeck 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 the better. 

The implication 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 good. 

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 great writers. 

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 no guile.”

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.” 

To 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 from Missouri, 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 inegalitarian world.

An Aside on Inspiration

    “The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes,

              but in having new eyes.”                                   

                                      --- Marcel Proust

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 important issues.  

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 influence. 

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 rates. 

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 information.

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.

This 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. 

There 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 despoliation. 

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 responsibilities. 

Insights Engendered from the Gold Rush

Today, 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. 

This 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.

Vast 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. 

Sometimes 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

A 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. 

Corporations 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 profitable. 

Multinational 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.”

Multinational 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 the public.

The 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 channel.

Instead 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. 

Rationalized 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!”

I 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.  Civic responsibility.  Ecological 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. 

   Despoiling their world.”

It 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.

Property versus People

The 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. 

Complex 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 well.

The 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.

The 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 out!

Important 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 politically inevitable.”

                                                                                     --- Milton Friedman

Milton 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.  

The 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 in 2008.

Canadian 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. 

The 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!

A 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.

The 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 two.”

As 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!

The 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.

A 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.

Milton 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.

A 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 nation again.

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).

The Greater Public Good is Sacrificed to “Insider” Advantages

A 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 their power.

There 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.

But 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.  

Roger 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. 

Small 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.

Milton 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. 

The 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.

Not 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 greater good!

Subversive Ideas

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:

Sometimes 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! 

There 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 vote.>”

Steinbeck 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!

A 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!”

This ruling 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 Theodore Roosevelt.”

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 owners.

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 Corporatism

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 public.

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 class-action lawsuits. 

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 goals. 

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 established!

Let Voters Have a Voice!

Governor 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!

Republicans 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.

Meanwhile, 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 the U.S. 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.

We 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 Evolution!

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 the U.S., 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, indeed.

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 goal.

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 women.

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 alive.”  Ha!

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 repressively controlled.

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 Evolution.

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 ruthless repression!

An Incisive and Illuminating New Voice Is Heard

Breaking news!  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 general. 

Women, for instance, are drastically under-represented in American politics.  The U.S. 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 sex.”

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 problem. 

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 the U.S. 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 development.

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 responsibility. 

Another 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. 

One 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. 

Saturation 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 consumers.” 

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 Reign!

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 brains!


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 future generations.

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, instead.

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 fired!

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 in Libya, 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 harder!

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 right-doing,

       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!  Stay tuned!

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:

   “That which 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 and pathetic.

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 born!

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 parenthood. 

The Cairo 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 proclaims. 

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

Bif!  Baff!  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 Way.

What, parenthetically, is the American Way today?  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.

The 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 nineteenth century.

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,

    “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right-doing,

       there is a field.  I’ll meet you there.”

                                                                                    --- Rumi

Another Arcane and Unknown Fact

I 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. 

The 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 obstacles. 

Extrapolating 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.

Back in Nepal, 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.

Some 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 direction.

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

 know what they wanted;  two, did not know how to go about getting it;  and three, didn't

 know when 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. 

Far-reaching 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!

  “Committing 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 and activities.

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.

In 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 propensity!

“What, are we mad?!”

                       --- The underground Mole

There 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 love it!!

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. 

Truth 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.

After 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.

Now 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. 

Let 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.

After 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. 

The 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.

Not 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.

This 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. 

Incarceration Nation

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 cries out:


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.

“All national 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.

It 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.” 

Let 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 on deception.”

                                           The Art 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 weaknesses. 

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 and Iraq, 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 people. 

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 today: 

“… 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 and

   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 financing. 

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 spending.

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 humanitarian adversities. 

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.

A Visualization Exercise with a Poetic Purpose

Visualize 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 human tenderness.” 

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!

Commanding 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!

A veritable 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!

These 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 be sustainable.

Discover 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 expecterations anyway.”

Well, 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”!

Thanks for reading this.


       Dr. Tiffany B. Twain

           Hannibal, Missouri 

                    April Fool’s Day, 4/1/11. 

                    Updated on Earth Day, 4/22/11 and again sporadically in 2011 and 2012.