Perspective: An Illuminating Worldview
Book Seven of the Earth Manifesto
PREAMBLE IN WHICH THE AUTHOR OFFERS HER SERVICES AS AN INTERPRETER, GUIDE,
COMPETENT ASSESSOR AND VISIONARY AND FIGURATIVE SEDUCTRESS, AND SUMMARIZES THE
BROAD TOPICS CONTAINED IN THIS EPISTLE:
LIFE AND DEATH, HOPE AND LOVE, FAITH AND DOUBT, INDOMITABLE SPIRIT,
LYRIC STORIES, PARABLES, PREDICAMENTS, PROPHECIES, MYSTERIES, VAULTING TRIUMPH
AND SHAME-FACED IGNOMINY, INTRIGUE, AMBITION, THE ADVENTURES AND MISADVENTURES
OF POLITICIANS AND THE CAPTAINS OF INDUSTRY, VAINGLORY, VILLAINLOUS TREACHERY,
THE THIRST FOR POWER, THE FOLLIES OF PREEMPTIVE WAR, PERVERSIONS OF JUSTICE,
DENIERS OF EVOLUTION, FEAR OF GOD AND THE SNARES OF THE DEVIL, CURIOSITIES AND
CONUNDRUMS, SMOKE AND MIRRORS, SLINGS AND ARROWS, MUSINGS AND AMUSEMENT,
ABSURDITY AND LAUGHTER, SESQUIPEDALIAN SPECULATIONS, INDULGENCE AND ABANDON. *
An Introductory Ode.
Oh, Muses of divine Inspiration, your evocative powers are summonsed
Nine daughters of all-powerful
Zeus, the supreme ruler of the Greek heavens,
And of fair and reasonable
Mnemosyne, the graceful Titan goddess of Memory
Please provide us with clear Insight, and
all the best understandings we can deduce.
Let heart-felt and passionate
ideas ring forth --- ones that address the basic question
Of how our societies can balance
today’s needs with tomorrow’s health and well-being
For it is quite crucial that we
accomplish this vitally important and salubrious goal
So that we can achieve
salvation, true security, clearer perspective and sane-seeing.
An integral new morality is
needed to allow humanity to prosper and survive;
A natural reverence for the
health and vitality of individuals, communities and ecosystems
And a cooperative respect for fair balance between competing interests,
bound by a bold movement
Towards ecological sanity,
international peace, and other essential wisdoms.
“I am the Poem of the Earth,
said the voice of the rain,”
Whispering wistfully to us of
our connectedness to the elements,
To the wild animals, to the
birds singing, to ourselves, and to each other
Bringing our attention to the
wonders of life, and to our joys and laments.
At this current juncture in
time, open-mindedness and receptive versatility are needed
As ever-changing conditions
favor nimbleness and adaptability, and far-sightedness
And conservative’s support of
the Status Quo proves to be inadequate in coping with rapid change
Mandating that we explore and
embrace new ideas with courage and boldness.
Dr. Tiffany B. Twain
March 5, 2015 (First begun in 2005)
Manifesto manuscript contains understandings that have been evolving for many
* A big
Thank You to Brazil’s foremost novelist Jorge Amado for the idea of the
stylistic introductory device in this Preamble.
Comprehensive Global Perspective:
An Illuminating Worldview
© 2015 Dr. Tiffany B.
Perspective: An Illuminating Worldview
This manuscript consists
of 121 Chapters, roughly organized as follows:
Introductory Thoughts and Declaration of
Interdependence (Chapter #1)
The Astonishing Parable of Nauru (Chapter
Understandings of a Big Picture Nature
Primary Principles and the ‘Bet Situation’
Insight, Ideas, Opinions and the Search for
Wisdom in America (Chapters #39-43)
Economics, Capitalism and Politics
Energy Considerations, Peak Oil,
Neoconservatism and Corruption in Politics (Chapters #67-94)
Philosophical Perspectives on values, women, healthy societies, sex,
astrophysics, beliefs, philosophy,
extinction, creativity and reason
Insights into Religion and
Culture (Chapters #115-121)
My aspiration in
writing this manuscript has been to create a modern-day version of Thomas
Paine’s Common Sense, an
extraordinarily influential pamphlet that advocated independence from the
power-abusing monarchy of the British Empire back in the year 1776. To readers, men and women, I submit the same
caveats as Thomas Paine:
the following pages I offer nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments,
and common sense: and have no other
preliminaries to settle with the reader, than that he will divest himself of
prejudice and prepossession, and suffer his reason and his feelings to
determine for themselves … and generously enlarge his views beyond the present
paraphrase Thomas Paine: “Who the Author of this Production is, is wholly unnecessary
to the Public, as the important thing is the IDEAS THEMSELVES, and not the
author. Yet it may be necessary to say,
that she is unconnected with any Party, and under no sort of influence, public
or private, other than the influence of reason and principle.”
distillations of the ideas, policy prescriptions and recommended initiatives
that are included throughout this manuscript can be found summarized in Common Sense Revival (Book One of the Earth
Manifesto), and in Part Four online.
Declaration of Interdependence
2. The Astonishing Parable of Nauru
3. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
4. Overarching Theme
5. Profound Perspective
Macro-Economics and the Value of Incentives
7. A Vast and Rash Uncontrolled Experiment
8. A Transformation Is A-Comin’
9. Crisis as Dangerous Opportunity
10. The Embrace of New Ideas
11. The Sustainability Revolution
12. Redefining Progress
13. Intelligent Redesign
14. The Importance of the Precautionary
15. Morality and Right Action
16. Three Basic Considerations
17. A Big Perspective
18. The Decline and Fall of Civilizations
19. Machiavellian Machinations and Their
21. Better Plans for Global Security
22. The Gaia Understanding
23. Carrying Capacity and Far-Sighted Ecological
24. Rueful Reflections
25. In Defense of Reason
26. Political Madness
27. The Tragedy of the Commons
28. On Climate Change
29. Earth Advocacy
30. Reflections on Feminine Perspective
31. Youthful Insights
32. Arguments Against Maintaining the Status Quo
33. Endangering the Tree of Life
34. A Focus on What Is Really Important
35. Conflict and Its Undesirable Consequences
36. A Cautionary Tale
37. Primary Principles
38. The Bet Situation
39. Insight into Pyrrhic Victories
40. Greatness, or Ignominy?
41. Ideas and Beliefs
42. A Thoughtful Digression on Opinion
43. Searching for Wisdom in America
44. The Nature of the Wealth of Nations
45. Capitalism and Democracy
46. Pathological Aspects of Capitalism
47. Problems Associated with Corporatism
48. The Best Political Philosophy
49. Clean Money Campaigns and a Healthier
50. Waste Not, Want Not!
51. Clarifying Rational Ends
52. So Many Choices, and So Hard to Make the
53. The Causes of Problems, and Some Solutions
54. The Failings of Congress
55. Advocating a Better World
56. My Simple Dream
57. Ideals and Reality
58. Sensible Strategies
59. The Conjunction of Idealism and Pragmatism
60. Seductive Sirens
61. Inequality and Its Implications
62. The Wisdom of the Golden Rule
63. The Selfishness of the Wealthy
64. To Be or Not To Be
65. Bubble Economics
66. The Failings of Business and Government
67. Our American Achilles Heel
68. The Ramifications of Peak Oil
69. Other Addictive Behaviors
70. Global Warming
71. Intelligent Energy Policy
72. The Problems with Misguided Subsidies
73. Introspection into Government
74. Power and Corruption
75. More Thinking Outside the Box
76. The Consequences of Corruption
77. On Improving People’s Lives
78. The Need for Progressive Reform -- and
79. A Call for Political Change
80. Negative Nabobs of Neoconservatism
81. The Continuum of Political Perceptions
82. Is Fascism Encroaching on America?
83. Speaking Truth to Amoral Power
84. Neoconservatism and Right-Wing Think Tanks
85. The Foolish Toad
86. The Hero Archetype vs. Wisdom
87. The Truth
88. Misguided Priorities
89. The Federal Budget Is a Moral Document
90. Considering Deeper Causes and Consequences
91. Constitutional Principles
92. Liberty and Justice for All
93. Progressive Principles
94. The Politicization of Science
95. The Dalai Lama and Wholesome Values
96. True Values
97. Healthy Societies
98. Beliefs, Convictions, and Philosophies
99. Good Fortune and Generosity of Being
Universal Point of View
Evolution of Life
103. Only Reason
Can Save Us
Importance of a Positive Attitude
105. Women of
the World, Unite!
106. A Call for
the Education and Empowerment of Women
Initiatives for Women
109. Sex is
Perspective on Abortion
Absurdities of Inflexible Religious Dogma
112. The Need
for a New Feminism
113. More Noble
Not to Be Nobody
on Religion and Culture
Dangers of Fundamentalism
Importance of the Separation of Church and State
120. We Need a
121. Literate Ideas
#1 – A Declaration of Interdependence.
The overarching drive that has sparked the writing of this manuscript is
a vivid and passionate belief that we could collectively create a fairer,
safer, and saner world. As an American
who cares deeply about the future health and well-being of our children and communities,
and our country, and the biological health of life on planet Earth, it is my
strong conviction that a dramatic transformation in our societies should be
undertaken that will give greater respect to longer-term considerations.
There is a profound
interconnectedness and interdependence of our fates with all other forms of
life on Earth. Natural ecosystems are
astonishingly resilient, but since all species of life have survived by
adapting to existing conditions and their natural surroundings, living things are
vulnerable to rapid changes in habitats, competitive influences, excessive
harvesting, increased temperatures, introduced pollutants, and shifting climate
and precipitation patterns.
The survival of a
species is, by definition, indefinitely sustained biological existence. The
human race needs to more clearly recognize and respect the fact that we cannot
continue to consume far more than can be supplied by natural resources,
regeneration, and healthy ecosystems.
The carrying capacity of damaged ecosystems is less than that of healthy
ones, so it is an overarching necessity for us to act to prevent harms to
habitats that will upset the providential balance in nature that serves as the
foundation of our prosperity and survival.
Chief Seattle, a Native American leader in the
Pacific Northwest in the 1850s, warned the U.S. government against the misuse
of the land, rivers, lakes and animal life. He reputedly said the
following words, which have cogent meaning to us today:
“Whatever happens to the
Earth, happens to the children of the Earth … All things are connected, like
the blood that unites one family. Mankind did not weave the web of
life; we are but one strand within it. Whatever we do to the web, we
do to ourselves.”
We should honor this wisdom, and the sagacity of
other far-sighted philosophers who have gone before us. Jacques-Yves
Cousteau was a great French ecologist, researcher, explorer, inventor and
filmmaker who summarized our basic obligations best when he said:
“Each generation, sharing in the heritage of the Earth, has a duty as
trustee for future generations
to prevent irreversible and irreparable harm
to life on Earth, and to human freedom and dignity.”
In the course of satisfying
our basic needs for food, water and energy, we are inexorably depleting natural
resources. Rapid population growth and
stimulated consumerism and mindless greed generally make these dilemmas worse. Aggressive resource exploitation tends to
damage and alter ecosystems, and to contribute to heightened international
conflicts over resources, with critically detrimental environmental
impacts. It is becoming increasingly
crucial for us to recognize and acknowledge that we are completely dependent on
a healthy balance in natural ecosystems, and with this greater awareness, we
should begin to find good ways to mitigate the most damaging of our activities.
Theodore Roszak provided a valuable perspective in
2001 in his profound book, The Voice of
the Earth: An Exploration of Ecopsychology
“In the nineteenth century, anti-capitalist critics like Karl Marx
insisted that economics must be contained within an ethical context; they
contended that social justice counted for more than industrial efficiency or private
profit. In the late twentieth century, the environmental movement is trying to
teach us that both economics and ethics must be contained within an ecological
We clearly need to
boldly adopt a new trajectory of ecological concern. We should restructure
economic incentives and our political system to change the unsustainable mega-trends
in human affairs. Our public policies
are fundamentally flawed by their excessively heavy emphasis on economic
drives, to the exclusion of adequately satisfying vital social and ecological
needs. We should strive to see the
shortcomings and follies of our current systems in a clear light, and to heedfully
invest in plans that are more socially just, fiscally sound, and environmentally sane.
The purpose of my
creating this manuscript has been to advance perspectives that are practical,
progressive, fair-minded, and far-sighted. Fresh and comprehensive Big
Picture insights into complex issues could help create a powerful impetus for
positive change. An expansive awareness
of the challenges we face, in all of their complexity, is a valuable
precondition for energizing us into making salubrious changes in our habits and
institutions. Valid and expansive
knowledge serves society better than ignorance and misconceptions.
Another purpose of all Earth Manifesto writings is
to capture and express a positive perspective that broadly expresses a true understanding
of the state of the world today. With an
all-encompassing sense of issues and best practices, and a better comprehension
of the lessons of history, we should be able to confidently debunk the
misleading ideas and inaccurate orthodox beliefs that are promoted by vested
interest groups, partisan think tanks, scheming politicians, and assorted
demagogic talk show hosts and economic fundamentalists and religious
This would be a positive step toward making the
world a significantly better place for all, and it would help ensure a greater
probability of our leaving a fairer legacy to posterity.
“Consult your own
understanding, your own sense of the probable, your own observation of what
passing around you.”
--- Jane Austin
For those who seek concrete and detailed ideas right now about how we could
be making constructive and pragmatic changes in our national policies to
significantly improve our societies, see the proposals in Common Sense Revival or in Part Four of the
Earth Manifesto online.
The bottom line is that public policies are
wrong-headed when they are designed to benefit the few in the short-term rather
than the many, both now and in the long run. Social inequities are made worse
by national policies that cause income inequalities to increase, and such
policies make the majority of people less secure. This tends to motivate the powers-that-be to impose
more strict control in order to maintain the anti-democratic injustice of
prevailing conditions. When the
disparities between the rich and the poor are mercilessly increased to an excessively
big extreme, it makes our societies less safe for everyone. As a result, it becomes even more difficult
to achieve true justice, societal stability, cooperation in problem solving, peaceable
coexistence and sustainable living.
Let’s be honest with ourselves,
and learn as much as we can, and develop the most accurate understandings. This will help us create a revolution of
economic and cultural ideas that would provide a spark that enables vitally
needed reform and social progress. When
we take into account the root causes of problems, we are better poised to be able
to formulate good solutions that are more holistic and comprehensive.
And let’s not only
strive to be more perceptively aware: let’s
also get better organized!
Senator Gaylord Nelson of
Wisconsin founded the first Earth Day in April 1970. He referred to it as a “battle to restore a proper relationship
between man and his environment”. Nelson
wisely noted that this struggle requires a political, moral, ethical and
financial commitment that is long and sustained, and one that is far beyond any
efforts yet being made.
The number of human beings alive on Earth has grown
by about 3.5 billion people since the first annual Earth Day almost 45 years
ago. Environmental problems have become
starkly worse during this time, and the evidence of potentially catastrophic
human population overshoot is growing conclusive. Particularly stunning is the Living Planet
Report 2014 that reveals a decline of more than 50% in the number of mammals,
fishes, birds, amphibians and reptiles in the past 40 years alone. Nonetheless, the voices of those who deny the
damaging impacts we are having on our home planet are still overly influential. These voices are basically denying our
responsibility for the mitigation of these damages. Entrenched interest groups generally strive
to perpetuate the unsustainable exploitation of people and resources, and to
facilitate profit making no matter what impact it has on the greater good.
During the years of George W. Bush’s presidency, the
proverbial pendulum swung sharply toward expanded corporate and presidential
power and Neoconservative ideologies.
And the Supreme Court shifted from a 5-4 majority of liberal-minded
Justices to a 5-4 majority of “conservative” pro-corporate Justices. But the proverbial writing on the wall is
clear: positive change and reform needs
to be put into effect, and we should act to cause the pendulum to swing back
toward greater reason, fair-mindedness, sensible regulation, better accountability,
progressive politics, support for family planning options, long-term
sensibilities, and ecological sanity.
always seems impossible until it's done.”
--- Nelson Mandela
The election of Barack Obama in November 2008
promised hope of a potential dramatic shift in the political landscape toward
fairer and smarter ways forward. His
first term in office proved how difficult it is to achieve auspicious change in
our sadly dysfunctional political system.
The need for positive change, meanwhile, continues inexorably to grow.
Let’s be honest with ourselves about
the scope of our task: the average
“ecological footprint” of most Americans has been growing larger for
decades. Never in history have there
been more people on the planet, and never have these people -- us! -- been
consuming more resources on an average per-person basis, or in total. Think about your own individual footprint,
and correlated impacts. For most people
today, it is larger now than it has ever been in their life. And our average longevity has been on a
dramatic long-term upward trend.
A tipping point of ecological awareness seems to be gaining
strength. At the same time, we are also
teetering on an ominous tipping point of accelerating change that portends
irreversible resource depletion, destabilizing climate disruption, encroaching overpopulation,
and intensified conflicts. We would be
wise to have the foresight to lend our support to a far-reaching reorientation
and restructuring of our societies to
make them fairer, more sustainable, and more conservation-oriented.
"Human history becomes more and more a race
between education and catastrophe."
--- English writer H.G. Wells
People worldwide have been marching lockstep down a path that invites
cyclical instability and is at risk of ecological collapse. We are leaving a sad legacy to our descendants
that will be significantly less providential, in general, than the legacy we
collectively inherited from our parents.
This makes it imperative that we demand our representatives begin to
exhibit an overarching concern for the greater good. More honest leaders are needed who will guide
us toward smarter national policies in order to rectify this situation.
A Bill of Rights for Future Generations, with specifics
similar to those proposed in this manifesto, should be ratified in nations
worldwide to provide this guidance.
Let’s boldly embrace the serendipitous idea of beginning to
“pay forward” good deeds to people in future generations by making
revolutionary changes in the way we structure our economies and our collective
activities. Sticking with the status quo
of constantly BORROWING from people in the future will almost certainly prove
to be woefully ill-advised. Minor
reforms are simply not adequate. We can
no longer afford to allow misguided people to implement wrong-headed
Naomi Klein offers a modern caution in her recently published book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The
Climate. She explores the
overarching problem of why the
climate crisis challenges us to abandon the core “free market” ideology of our
time, and to restructure the global economy and remake our political
systems. “In short, either we embrace
radical change ourselves or radical changes will be visited upon our physical
world. The status quo is no longer an
“We have not
been borrowing, we have been stealing the future of our children …”
--- Jane Goodall
The way we perceive things has a profound affect on the way we
live and act in the world. One of the
freshest and most entertainingly provocative books I’ve read in recent years is
Spontaneous Evolution - Our Positive
Future (and a Way to Get There from Here).
The authors of this book give readers surprising insights into how we
interpret our perceptions of the world, and of the nature of our brain waves in
various frequencies that range from sleepy Delta to meditative Theta to dreamy
Alpha to attentive Beta to intently-focused Gamma. They point out how strongly our individual
and collective behaviors are influenced by behavioral conditioning and
programming, and by commercial advertising.
They also provide great hope for transcendent changes through proper
understanding, enlightened education, cooperative problem solving, and a more
knowledgeable body politic.
I particularly love the second chapter in Spontaneous Evolution, “Act Locally … Evolve Globally”. It contains a discussion concerning the four
principal paradigms of perception that have pervaded the conscious awareness of
humanity since ancient times: Animism,
Polytheism, Monotheism and Scientific Materialism. I look forward to re-reading this book, and
to thinking further about its concepts, so that more of its insights and humor
can be incorporated into Earth Manifesto essays.
“In a shrinking world that could use a good
We don’t need another theory of
What we need is a better practice of
--- Swami Beyondananda, Spontaneous Evolution
Many people know the concept of someone being an undesirable ‘persona non grata’. What the world needs now is a contrasting and
more valuable type of person: a ‘persona grata’, a good person, a decent
sort, an honest person, an honorable mensch.
Millions of people like this are needed to lead us to pay forward some
sensible and fair-minded deeds. To
harvest good outcomes, we have a pronounced need for leaders who understand and
communicate clearly the existential need for us to champion fairer and more
ecological sane public policies, and to sow justice and other sensible seeds.
These insights are dedicated to the great American
author and humorist, Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain. The 180th anniversary of his birth will take
place on November 30, 2015, and the 105th anniversary of the day he died will
be commemorated on April 21, 2015. In
addition to having written quite marvelous novels like the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain involved himself in
trying to beneficially influence the foreign policies of the United States to
stop American imperial involvements in wars and occupations of Cuba and the
Philippines. Mark Twain cleverly
lampooned the distinctive foibles and absurd behaviors of the human race, and he
provided us with keen insights into the true nature of political power,
corruption, greed and human folly.
Wallace Stevens once poetically opined: “Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around a
lake”. Before continuing, let’s take a
break, think about things, and wait a moment for guidance. Let’s dare to anticipate -- aha! -- some
epiphanies. Breathe in slowly and
deeply, and as you calmly exhale, imagine making a spiritually purificatory and
Nature-respecting circumambulation around a body of fresh water. Do some invigorating and mildly exhausting
outdoors exercise, or soak for a while in a tub of hot water; whatever!
Breathe deep, and let go; then focus!
Let the paradigm shift begin!
for joining me on this odyssey of philosophy.
“Entertain your brain!” Let us
seek inspiration that springs from the lovely Greek Muse Calliope, the
feminine muse of eloquence and epic poetry, a goddess who was regarded as
the eldest and most distinguished of the nine divine Muses.
Chapter #2 – The
Astonishing Parable of Nauru.
The true story of
the history of the island republic of Nauru provides us with a compelling
parable and valuable cautionary tale. A
careful consideration of this story illuminates dilemmas
associated with a lack of foresight and the shortcomings of short-term oriented
planning in human affairs.
The Republic of Nauru is a small
oval-shaped island in Micronesia that lies northeast of Australia and New
Guinea in the South Pacific, just 26 miles south of the equator. It is the smallest island nation in the
world, and the smallest independent republic.
The island of
Nauru once had rich resources of phosphates.
These mineral deposits were mined for about 100 years for use as
fertilizers, because phosphate is one of the three primary nutrients that
plants require for growth. Nauru’s
non-renewable phosphate resources have now basically been completely depleted,
and more than three-quarters of the island has been turned into a barren
wasteland with a jagged central plateau that is like a moonscape of deep pits
and tall remnant rock pillars. Most of the
extracted phosphate was exported to Australia to enrich agricultural soils
When Nauru gained
independence from Australia in 1968, the native inhabitants began to receive most
of the financial benefits of phosphate mining for the first time. They became relatively rich virtually
overnight, and gained one of the world's highest per capita incomes. A kind of generous welfare state was
implemented soon thereafter.
The government of
Nauru took much of the income from phosphate sales and invested it in secretive
trust funds. Some of the investments
went awry and failed, and others suffered heavy losses due to bad investing and
financial mismanagement and corruption.
Nauru today has a stunning unemployment rate near 90%, and its outlook
for the future is dreary due to the republic’s dwindling assets, its few
sources of income, and the environmental devastation of its home island.
provides a compelling and illustrative, but decidedly non-illustrious example
of the colossal folly of dominant forces of greedy shortsightedness in human
endeavors. This story makes us viscerally
aware of the reasons we should soon begin a radical redesign of our own
economic and political systems. One of
my pet theories is that the most effective and freedom-honoring way to
undertake a revolutionary modification of our aggregate habits is through the
effective use of intelligently targeted incentives and disincentives.
Nauru’s experience sends a potent message
to business leaders and politicians in America:
we should not be so closely mimicking the policies that Nauru followed. We should NOT be so aggressively exploiting
and depleting non-renewable resources.
We should not be consuming unsustainably, causing excessive environmental
degradation or investing unwisely and allowing corruption in government and
business. We should reject shortsighted
leadership, have the discipline to create fair and affordable entitlements, and
prevent the wealthiest 1% from imposing harsh austerity measures on everyone.
All the nations
of the world are acting in similarly ill-advised manners, but on a far grander
scale, a global one. The example of Nauru serves as a “canary-in-a-coal-mine”
warning to all nations that we should be acting in less myopically exploitive
and impetuously improvident ways. The
resources that we are currently depleting on Earth are not limited to oil,
natural gas, coal, and fresh water. Many
minerals are also being depleted to critical extents worldwide, and one of the
most essential for food production is phosphorous. Yes, the very same resource that has been
basically exhausted in Nauru!
The depletion of
phosphorus is not an isolated incident;
it is part of “the gravest natural resource shortage you’ve never hear
of.” Supplies of this critical component
in fertilizers are being used wastefully worldwide, and this could lead to
severe food shortages. The availability
of mined phosphorus, which plays so crucial a role in plant growth, could peak
in the next 30 years. This would
naturally lead to falling yields of crops on cultivated lands. Within 50 years, the severity of this crisis
could result in big increases in food prices, and possibly large-scale famines
and related extremes of social and political turmoil.
Some say that the
peak of phosphorous production in the world has already taken place. It seems like it should be imperative that we
begin to recycle this indispensable macronutrient, and that we start to reclaim
it to decrease the need for mined phosphorous to fertilize crops.
The century of exploitative
mining on Nauru harmed the native people's culture and traditional way of life,
and it also took a curious physical toll on the islanders themselves. The people of Nauru have been forced to
import nearly all of their food because of the island’s lack of soil,
vegetation and crops. As a result of
eating processed fatty foods like potato chips and canned meats, and of
drinking alcohol, there has been an increase in high blood pressure, diabetes
and obesity. These problems have reduced
the average life expectancy of islanders to only 64 years. This compares to 85 years in Japan, on
average, and 80 years in the U.S. (ranking us, oddly, 36th in the world.)
It is interesting
to note that the source of phosphates in Nauru’s 8-square mile landmass is not
fossiliferous sediments uplifted from the seafloor, as with most phosphate
deposits that are being mined in the world today. Nauru’s phosphate consisted, instead, of a
deep accumulation of decayed bird guano.
Yow, Mc Now! -- This cautionary ecological tale has a messy poetic
Another fascinating aspect of Nauru is its
early history. Seafaring Polynesian and
Micronesian explorers first settled on the island in small clans. They believed in a spirit land, Buitani,
which was also an island. They believed
in a female divinity named Eijebong, and they traced their family descent on
the female side. The rest of the world
would arguably be much better off to believe in a female divinity, and to fervently
and protectively worship her -- like Gaia (Mother Earth), for example! And females in families should be shown
greater respect than they currently are in our patriarchal societies. Honestly!
Stories, myths, legends, and ‘holy book’ tales
are provocative because they invoke our imagination and feelings, and touch us
in universal ways. They evoke human
needs and timeless themes that are a part of the collective human
inheritance. They often contain valuable
lessons, or “morals to the story”, just as folk tales or wisdom tales do. In the mythology of ancient Greece, Athena
was the Goddess of Wisdom. She was known
for thinking clearly and monitoring events and noting effects and changing a
course of action when it became unproductive.
Athena’s wisdom counsels us to use our wits resourcefully and to act
perceptively to save ourselves, much like Hansel and Gretel did in the fairy
tale that tells of children having been abandoned in the forest.
We need not act
like tortured souls to be able to give careful consideration to the lessons of
Nauru and other prudent understandings.
Optimism and hope are valuable traits, so readers are encouraged to
maintain positive perspectives and attitudes of Olympian detachment while they
read these words.
healthy and wholesome cheerfulness is not necessarily impossible to any
Another tale with an urgent and sobering
message for our times is found in the story of Easter Island in remote southeastern Polynesia. Monumental iconic stone statues carved from
quarried volcanic rock there reveal a story that is both provocative and
compelling. Check this story out in the Open Letter to Barack Obama in the Earth
Manifesto for illuminating details.
Remember: perspective literally
means clear seeing! We would be well-advised to strive to see
Earth concerts took place on 7/7/07, and a great Concert for Sandy
Relief was held on 12/12/12 that featured an amazing lineup. These events gave humanity hope and belief
that artists and musicians and activists among us can help launch a spirit of
collaboration and renewal that will yield positive efforts to find better ways
of getting along, and of respecting others, and of improving our societies, and
of better managing crucial resources, and of healing the ecosystems of our home
against something, because everything ain’t right!”
--- A message seen on o green T-shirt at a
Chapter #3 – The
Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.
Basic Needs Destroying Planet Rapidly
--- A March 2005 headline in a national newspaper
This sobering piece of news was astonishingly not on
the front page of the newspaper; in
fact, it was buried more than a dozen pages back in the front section.
Such critically important information was ostensibly deemed, remarkably enough,
to be unworthy of more prominent coverage.
The headline concerned a study called the Millennium
Ecosystem Assessment. More than a thousand experts in 95 countries had
spent four years compiling its findings. This makes the report one of the
most extensively researched understandings in the history of humankind. The Assessment concluded that the human race
is unsustainably consuming natural resources and significantly degrading the
ecosystems upon which we depend. It warned that we essentially need to
develop new methods of economic activity, so that in the course of living our lives
we will simultaneously better protect the vitality of our environment and the
future prospects of life on Earth.
These findings profoundly concern each and every one
of us. Yet the news barely made a splash. It seems to have
practically disappeared from the radar of public attention like a skipping
stone sinking in the riffles of a river.
“The first rule of intelligent tinkering,” noted
Aldo Leopold in the Sand County Almanac,
“is to save all the parts.” Save all the
parts! One way to do this in the grand
scope of human affairs would be to develop a better
appreciation of synergistic relationships between the health of natural
ecosystems and the well-being of human societies -- and to respectfully plan
and act accordingly.
Either ecologists “are wrong about the
human need for other species and for the well-being of Planet Earth as a
life-support system; or our species is
intent on suicide; or there is something
we are overlooking. Our life-endangering
and habitat-destroying ways are like “a kind of failure in some fundamental
dimension of human existence, an irrationality beyond mistakenness, a kind of
--- Deep ecologist Paul Shepard
The Earth’s biological support systems consist of a
vast network of interdependent life forms that live in a variety of habitats,
ranges and ecological niches. We rely on this biodiversity and these
natural ecosystems for our well-being and survival. In particular, we
depend on the bounty of fertile soils, forests, oceans, wetlands, rivers and
aquifers for our food, nutrients, fresh water, building materials, flood
protection, and even the oxygen in the air we breathe. As the Nature
Conservancy succinctly notes, “Human well-being is derived directly from the
health of natural systems.”
to Genesis 1:26 in the Bible, God
said: “Let us make man in our image,
after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and
over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over
every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” (Who the heck was ‘He’ talking to? Gaea, Cronos, the Titans and the Olympians,
two thousand years have elapsed since Biblical times, and we seem to have
gained little more respect for all the ‘creeping things’. But it is preposterous to suppose that God
would be in favor of our striving for ‘dominion’ without demonstrating a more
responsible stewardship of wildlife and resources, and without a more profound caring
for the ecological underpinnings of our well-being. Buddha, Brahma, Jesus and Mohammed would
almost certainly agree, if they were around to pass judgment today on this
transcendent issue. Instead of waiting
for God to get really angry with us again and bring on another globally
devastating Flood like ‘He’ is said to have done in the Genesis story, I
suggest many ways in this manifesto that we should be taking bold actions to
help ourselves and to improve the prospects of our descendents.
overarching guidance of a Bill of Rights for Future Generations would be a very
smart start. One primary way to help
ourselves and improve the prospects of people in the future would be by moving toward sustainable uses of resources. This course of action necessarily involves a
revolutionary shift from the profligate use of non-renewable resources to a
reliance on renewable resources. Such a transformation
would help assure that we will leave a more auspicious legacy to our
descendents. It is shortsighted for us
to wastefully consume resources, and to inexorably deplete them, just as it is
foolish to intentionally or inadvertently damage Earth’s vital natural
It is only because of our myopic perspective and the
short-term orientation of our economic systems that we can continue to
aggressively clear-cut forests, overfish seas, pollute the commons, and
incessantly encourage unsustainable development. We cannot afford any longer to resist
adaptive change, and we shouldn’t allow the status quo to remain the way it
is. We should reject ideological denials
of the fact that it is folly to continuously degrade fertile farmlands, damage
rivers, destroy wetlands, slaughter wildlife, poison waterways, harm habitats,
spew record amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and assault
Earth’s biological diversity by contributing to the extinction of numerous
species of life.
It is particularly crazy to continue emitting
climate-disrupting greenhouse gases into the skies without bold cooperative
international efforts to make deep and decisive cuts in the quantity of emissions. The British government’s Stern Review (named
after former World Bank chief economist Nicholas Stern) provided a turning
point in understandings in 2006. It was
asserted in the report that there will be substantial economic costs for doing
nothing about the things that contribute to climate change. The report’s conclusion stated that the benefits of strong, early action on climate
change outweigh the costs by a considerable margin. Billionaire
industrialists are spending heavily to sow doubt about this crucial
understanding, but deceptive propaganda is not full-fledged truth.
adversities are being caused by global warming, and much more extensive and
costly harm is predicted to occur in the future. These facts are starkly outlined in reports done
by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
strikingly blunt language, the 4th report of the IPCC in November 2007
described climate change as “the defining challenge of our age”. It called on the United States and China, the
world’s biggest emitters, to play a more constructive role in reducing
emissions. The report reads like "a final warning to humanity," noted Time Magazine. The Panel chairman Dr. Rajendra Pachauri
declared: "What we do in the next
two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment." NOW is the time to act!
than seven years have passed since the IPCC sounded this clarion call, and yet
governments worldwide are continuing to dither on this issue. It is becoming crystal clear that we are not
dealing with these challenges in appropriate ways. People are continuing to figuratively bury
their heads in the sand by using rationalizations, denials, obstruction or
proposals for mere baby steps of remedial action. Voluntary efforts at emissions reductions,
however, are not enough. We must ‘Step It Up’ to
truly mitigate climate disruptions being caused by a warming atmosphere. It is time for us to act to prevent
potentially abrupt and irreversible climate change. Otherwise, risky feedback loops will increase,
and this will likely have very negative consequences. These issues are discussed below in The Gaia Understanding (Chapter #22).
The sound of the
disintegration of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is providing a scary and audible
backdrop for these words, as scientists realize that the melting of this ice
sheet has “reached a point of no return”.
We should take such understandings into account when policies are
formulated. We can no longer allow
governments and big businesses to suppress valid scientific understandings of
on-going developments related to climate disruptions and overpopulation
pressures. Effective responses to
gathering threats are unconscionably delayed by such self-serving deceptions. These risks will get worse until we give them
our alert attention, and until we devote committed action to mitigating the
severity of the effects of resource depletion and anthropogenic climate
The ideas of the Skeptical
Environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg that are summarized in the film Cool It should be taken into account and
thoroughly analyzed in global efforts to intelligently and practically
prioritize world problems and determine how we should make bold investments in
Patience, n. A minor form of despair, disguised as a
--- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s
Chapter #4 – Overarching
One theme of this
manuscript is that more comprehensive Big Picture perspectives could lead to
more responsible collective actions. To
prevent the perceptible ecological degradation of our wonderful home planet, we
need to find good ways to reduce the insider influence of short-term thinking,
greed, overly ruthless competition, mismanagement, excessive alarmism,
ignorance and hubris.
One of the best ways to change our
country for the better would be to shift the focus of our political
representatives from tactics that win elections to solutions that benefit
society. Citizens should demand that all decision-makers
begin to establish fairer priorities, and to heed more enlightened
understandings of important issues. We
need to make our policies and institutions fairer, more
ecologically sound, and longer-term oriented.
There is nothing high-fallutin’ about it!
entrenched influence of vested interests dominates our societies. Congress and the Executive Branch of the
government are essentially owned, operated and directed by wealthy people and
giant corporations in our “political duopoly” system. The primary aim of the federal government has
become to advance the interests of large corporations and vested interests, NOT
to promote the general good or to ensure greater fairness, and it is certainly
not to maximize people’s civil liberties or to protect people from abuses of
power by wealthy people or big corporations.
Charles Ferguson, the
director of the compelling 2010 documentary film Inside Job that concerned the financial crisis, made this
characterization of our system of government as a political duopoly. The few
are effectively dictating policies, and corporations are tools used to further
concentrate wealth and power, and banks and Wall Street are abusers of power
and influence peddling.
One fortunate aspect of
the necessity for us to make our societies greener is that businesses can often
“do well by doing good”, especially in areas such as efficient uses of water,
energy and materials in green building construction. But the business-as-usual status quo is
primarily concerned with short-term profits and myopic understandings of
self-interest, so it strives to keep economic and political systems the way
they are, or to change them in retrogressive ways. In doing so, entrenched interest groups
impede progress and oppose common-good reforms.
They also strive to prevent changes that would be beneficial to the
majority of people -- and to posterity.
These interests lobby successfully for the privatization of profits and
the socialization of costs and risks, and always for more corporate perks,
privileges and subsidies. And they favor
the bottom-line short-term interests of big businesses over the best interests
of the people.
Disciples of Milton Friedman
and his Chicago school of economics champion privatization as if it is the
panacea for all social ills. But it
turns out that privatization can create severe problems. Rather than advancing positive and salubrious
goals like lower costs, greater efficiency, better management and social
improvements, the outcome of privatization is often a spike in unfair cronyism,
costly no-bid contracting, excessive fees, price gouging, cost-externalizing
gambits, increased fraud, inadequate monitoring and less accountability. The privatization of government functions and
the elimination of sensible banking regulations create big opportunities for
corporations to swindle taxpayers. These
are not good things!
The outsourcing of
government activities to corporations has more-or-less doubled in the last
decade in the United States. The outcome
of this development has generally been detrimental, in distinct contrast to
ideological arguments to the contrary.
Just consider how the contracting of war services turned out in
Iraq. Exorbitant costs resulted, along
with a disastrous failure to achieve optimistic reconstruction goals. Billions of dollars disappeared without a
trace, and there was much deception and misinformation. Accountability was distinctly lacking, Iraqi
civilians were murdered, women were raped by U.S. military contractors, widespread
social upheaval took place, sectarian strife spiked, millions of people became
refugees from violent conflicts, and many injustices were perpetrated by our
One way that corporate
interests gain advantages is by foisting costs of their detrimental social and
environmental impacts upon society as a whole. Corporations should not be allowed to indulge
in this corrupt expediency of externalizing costs onto society, and these costs
should be required to be included in product prices. These costs include living
wages, adequate worker protections and benefits, the prevention and mitigation
of pollution, the clean-up of toxic wastes, and a well-designed system of carbon
emissions green fees that would be effective in reducing the amount of
climate-change-causing greenhouse gases being spewed into the atmosphere.
Here is a valuable
insight: every one of us partially
favors the externalizing of costs onto society.
We do this through our demands as consumers for good deals and cheap
prices, and through our expectations as owners and investors for maximum
profits. These twin influences make
consumer and investor goals paramount in our economy. Our economic and political systems weaken our
focus on contrasting priorities that
we all want in our roles as good citizens. These good citizen goals include secure
communities, greater social fairness, better quality public education, an
adequate social safety net, reasonable health care for all, democratic
safeguards, environmental justice, healthy ecosystems, clean air and water, and
public lands and open spaces that are protected from undesirable development, unwise
exploitation and unnecessary damages. It
is becoming obvious that we need to establish a better balance between consumer
and investor goals and vital good citizen goals. The greater-good nature of these goals is
being given short shrift by our political representatives.
fairest way to adjudicate between competing interests is to have fair
institutions and fair laws that are fairly applied with the purpose of securing
the best interests of the common good over the long term. Entrenched interests, however, strive
stubbornly to gain greater power and make bigger profits and expand their
privileges. Consequently, they obstruct
efforts to make reasonable national commitments to good citizen goals. Unfortunately, these interests control our
political processes and pervert our national priorities. Instead of advancing true justice, human
rights, smart planning and the prospects for healthier societies, the interest
groups that dominate our society promote laissez-faire economic policies and
stimulated increases in inequality, along with deregulation, more highly leveraged
risk-taking, exploitive profiteering, privatization, and the movement of
operations overseas to countries with cheaper labor and fewer environmental
regulations. And instead of advancing
peaceful coexistence, vested interest groups often favor aggression in
international interventions and reinforcing advantages in our sprawling
American economic empire.
Many interest groups
strive to gain the support of social conservatives and those who evangelize for
orthodox and doctrinaire concepts of God, generally in order to help them
achieve narrowly self-serving goals.
This manipulation of religious people is critically dysfunctional. The outcome of such strategies is generally
unfair to the majority of the world’s people, and it even threatens the
well-being of all life on Earth.
Revolutionary change must come!
How can we transcend preconceptions, fixed beliefs
and misunderstandings? What is the true
nature of reality? How do we really fit
into the world? What impacts on the
natural world do our activities actually have? How can we lead honorable and
meaningful lives in ways that help improve our communities and protect our
beautiful home planet and guarantee a better legacy for future generations to
come? Can we find ways of living that
give greater respect to the well-being of other forms of life on Earth?
Our thinking and philosophizing is important because
future generations depend on the legacy we leave. More than 12 years have passed since the
terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and I feel compelled to express the
following point of view: “War is not
peace, Camerado!” George Orwell and Walt
Whitman would surely have agreed, as would billions of others. If we want a peaceful and sustainable world,
then we need greater social justice and fairer foreign policies and effective
strategies to emasculate extremism. We
do NOT need bigger disparities of wealth in the world or more ruthless
aggressiveness in warfare.
To achieve wholesomeness and peace and stability in
the world, we should strive to be better friends and neighbors. We should make a transcendental commitment to
reducing inequities and preventing wars and avoiding military occupations of
other countries. And the United States should
use its superpower status more judiciously.
Twain called war “a wanton waste of projectiles.” Intrinsic in the sardonic and irreverent wit
of this observation is the recognition that war is terribly wasteful. It can also be indiscriminately violent to civilians
caught in collateral damage circumstances.
Civilian casualties in our aerial bombings of places like Iraq,
Afghanistan and Pakistan serve to turn more people into enemies. This invites blowback retaliation and erodes
the moral rectitude of our cause, as well as our true national security. Such methods are crude, and essentially make
our Air Force the police, judge, jury and executioner all in one broad
stroke. War lacks fairness, moderation,
mutual respect and sanity. More of my
views on this topic, and of Mark Twain’s, are contained in Reflections on War -- and Peace! Check it out!
War is the ultimate expression of competition. But we cannot allow competition to become a
rogue’s economic free-for-all dominated by brute force, manipulative marketing,
unscrupulous profiteering, and prerogatives for capital and investors that unduly
harm workers or the environment. We
cannot allow unbridled competition to take place without accountability or
effective oversight. We should sensibly
control monopolies and corporate conglomerates, and limit predatory banking
practices. We should work to prevent
supremacist ideologies from empowering an ‘anything-goes-to-get-what-you-want’
morality or an ‘any-means-is-justified’ approach to accomplishing narrow ends.
To create a less dangerous world, competition should
be made fairer by regulating it more wisely.
We should also eliminate absurd provisions in bureaucratic red tape, and
simultaneously ensure that the rules of our economic and political systems are
fairer. These rules should be designed
to ensure that our societies more propitiously protect the common good. If we develop and implement enlightened
initiatives and farsighted incentives, and support radically broad-minded new
ideas, the aggregate choices people make will be channeled into healthier
directions that are more likely to be sustainable. New commitments should be made to responsibly address wrong-headedness in government and
business planning, and to mitigate conflicts and prevent unjust wars.
“An inglorious peace is better than a
--- Mark Twain
A more expansive concept
of peace should be formulated. It’s not nearly
enough to consider peace as merely the absence of war. Peace, in more enlightened terms, is a state
in which there is a presence of social justice and respectful goodwill. In even larger terms, peace has a meaning
similar to the one that it has in the Great Lakes region of Africa, where the
word for peace is kindoki, meaning a harmonious balance between human beings and
the rest of the natural world. Peace!
Chapter #5 – Profound
We live in an extraordinary time in history.
The combination of capitalism, democracy, industrial agriculture, free
enterprise, abundant quantities of fossil fuels, and technological innovations
in mining and medicine and communications have allowed humanity to feed more
than 7 billion people, and to create enormous wealth. We have built increasingly complex
civilizations, and dramatically improved literacy, sanitation and public health. Life spans have been significantly lengthened
and the material quality of life has gotten better for the majority of
people. Political freedom has been provided to more people than ever
before. Hooray for humanity for these
accomplishments! Yay for us!
The range of human needs and desires has also been
substantially enlarged, along with an overly heavy focus on consumer
materialism. It is one facet of human
nature that when resources are freely or too cheaply available, we tend to lack
a proper appreciation of them.
We do not need to look far to see that many of these
great accomplishments have come at a high [rice -- and one that is largely
yet-to-be realized. Every living system on Earth is in decline. We
have used more natural resources in the last 100 years than in all of previous
human history. The planet’s rainforests are being rapidly destroyed, and
more than 95% of old-growth forests in the continental United States have been
logged at some point. Ocean fisheries are being depleted wastefully and
unsustainably. Wetlands, grasslands, and
coral reefs are being damaged worldwide. Vast areas of wildlife habitat
are being altered. Billions of tons of fertile topsoil are lost each year
across the planet. More than 20 billion gallons of fresh water from
aquifers are being used in excess of the amount replenished annually by
In addition, we have burned 50% of all known
reserves of oil, and our demand for this non-renewable resource is increasing
wantonly. The volume of plastics pollution and electronic wastes is
growing rapidly. Billions of tons of greenhouse gases are being spewed
into the atmosphere each year, and this is contributing to ominous changes in
weather patterns around the globe. More
than 400 nuclear power plants in 25 countries around the world are generating
both high-level and low-level nuclear wastes that will be radioactive for
thousands of years, and very few good long-range solutions to the problem of
storing them safely have been implemented anywhere.
We are essentially living rashly, and “high on the
hog”. We are profligately wasting
resources and recklessly damaging and upsetting the healthy balance of
nature. We are engaging in unwise development schemes and causing
practically irreversible ecological damages.
These conditions are staggeringly unwise. As a result of these and accompanying trends,
the number of political, economic, environmental and war refugees in the world
will increase dramatically in this century, as is happening now in places like
Africa and the Middle East.
It is virtually certain that these trends will get
worse unless we address the compulsive drive to achieve growth in consumption,
and unless we simultaneously find better ways to reduce strong political and
religious opposition to any means other than ineffectual sexual abstinence of
limiting the rapid growth in the number of human beings on the planet. Our sanest endeavor would be to find
comprehensive ways to address the issues that are contributing to our
unthinking embrace of risky outcomes and increasing vulnerabilities.
bottom-line goal of democratic capitalism is to create jobs and wealth by
encouraging economic activity and stimulating economic growth. This goal is being pursued no matter how
foolish the actual impacts of this growth may be. One driving reason for this state of affairs
is that stagnant economic conditions crimp profits and disappoint the
influential wealthy. On the other hand, high
rates of unemployment cause dissatisfaction among workers, and this contributes
to social unrest and heightens political risk for incumbent politicians.
small number of powerful people pull the strings behind the scenes in societies
worldwide. They help ensure that many economic
stimulus mechanisms are used to prime
the pumps of growth. These mechanisms
include tax-cutting, deficit financing, and a variety of subsidies and tax
breaks that are given to businesses and investors. Indulgences in pork barrel spending by various
government entities often make matters worse. Great sums of money are expended
on the military and government bureaucracy and federal bailouts, and a strong
impetus is given to the depreciation of the dollar by allowing the Federal
Reserve to print trillions of dollars in new money. Powerful incentives are created for people to
profit through speculation in equities and housing and commercial real estate,
and the demand for products is hyped through seductive advertising and sly
sales tactics. Meanwhile, wrong-headed
public policies encourage suburban sprawl and population growth.
An enlightened perspective of these stimulus
mechanisms is needed to provide the motivation for us to change policies, and
to improve long-term planning, and to invest more wisely. Courageous actions are needed to restore
natural ecosystems instead of focusing on activities that squander and deplete
is the antithesis of true conservatism for our leaders to support policies that
endlessly stimulate consumption and create economic bubbles and facilitate
population growth. ‘What would Jesus
buy?’ Read on!
Chapter #6 –
Macroeconomics and the Value of Incentives.
There are essentially two ideas of
macro-economics. One is that we should
strive to maximize consumption and wealth creation in order to generate a
prosperity that will allow us to mitigate the harmfulness of our activities. The other idea is that we should place
emphasis on harmonizing our activities with the foundations of our prosperity
by acting to ensure the health of natural systems. The latter idea posits that by nurturing and
protecting and restoring the soundness of natural ecosystems, a longer-term and
more general prosperity will come about that may be sustainable long into the
Effective market mechanisms exist that could help us
to solve many of the daunting challenges facing us. But we lack the will and courage to change
policies and establish smart new incentives that dare disappoint the current
beneficiaries of existing policies.
It seems indisputable that we should reform
government regulations to eliminate foolish subsidies and cumbersome and costly
bureaucratic red tape. In their place,
smart and socially beneficial incentives should be enacted that are sustainable
by design. The principal way we should
distinguish whether regulations and incentives are good or bad, smart or
foolish, is to make an objective analyses of their impacts on the common good,
and of reasonable probabilities that the long-term consequences are favorable
for the greatest number of people over the longest period of time.
authors of the 1972 book The Limits to
Growth cautioned readers about the potential for “overshoot” in resource
consumption. Now, 42 years later, the
indicators are significantly clearer. We
are living in unsustainable ways. Limits
are beginning to affect us that will pose serious risks to people in future
generations. But we are failing to
sensibly adjust to limiting factors and changing social, financial, and
environmental realities. Stop in the
name of love! We must not figuratively
pave paradise just to put up a whole bunch of spiffy new parking lots and
shopping malls and factory outlets. Let
us recognize what we’ve got before it is gone -- and work together to protect
it! Let’s work together, and organize
better for the common good!
was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it
was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of
incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was
the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us,
we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going
direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period,
that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good
or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
--- Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Chapter #7 – A Vast and
Rash Uncontrolled Experiment.
cease thinking only of ourselves and reasoning only in the short term. Let us assure for
the children to come the same rights that
have been declared for their parents.”
times of trouble we need someone to speak cogent words of wisdom to us, with
honesty and clarity. Rachael
Carson did this when she wrote the impactful book Silent Spring in 1962, stirring a great awakening of public
environmental consciousness. Her writing
taught the world about the basic lack of responsibility that industrialized
society demonstrates toward the natural world, and particularly about the
dangers of wanton usages of chemical pesticides like DDT.
The worldwide impacts of human activities
have never been as all-encompassing as they are today. The course upon which humanity is embarked
has many parallels in history, but at the same time it is unprecedented in
global scope. Technological and
demographic changes are affecting societies and the natural world with a broad
scope, and with accelerating speed.
We are all inextricably involved in a rash
uncontrolled experiment in (1) industrialization, (2) urbanization, (3)
stimulated consumerism, (4) profligate resource use, (5) rapid population
growth, (6) large-scale monoculture agriculture, (7) economic globalization,
(8) excessively high levels of deficit spending, (9) asset speculation, (10)
financial deregulation, (11) status-seeking behaviors, (12) inegalitarian
social policies, (13) divisive political strategies, (14) militarism, (15)
extensive habitat modification, and (16) the generation of a myriad of
pollutants, toxins, wastes and greenhouse gas emissions into the
atmosphere. Almost every species of life
on Earth is affected by this complex concatenation of activities. No one knows exactly what the outcome and
consequences of this risky experiment will eventually be.
One of our worst predicaments is that our
cumulative activities in this experiment are causing unintended consequences
that are likely to prove to be highly negative.
We are committing all species of life to impacts caused by our
collective activities that are radically unwise. We are doing this instead of acting in ways
that are precautionary, ethical, truly conservative or benign. In Chapter #38 of this Comprehensive Global Perspective, the Bet Situation is examined to clarify the real nature of some of the
choices we are making, and incisive insights are provided about fourteen of the
most significant and foolish gambles that these choices entail.
Who has the most control over this
experiment? There is no doubt about it: rich people and our business and political
leaders have outsized and determinative influence. Yet many of these leaders have the hubris to
pretend that they are certain that most of the doctrines driving these
risky behaviors are right, best, necessary and socially good, even in the face
of mounting evidence that this is certainly not the case. Their actions are narrowly partisan and
short-term oriented, and often contrary to the greater good. Deep and extensive conflicts-of-interest
abound, and the result is that our national decision-making and public policies
lack propriety and wisdom. It is often only
an illusion that our leaders in government have a foremost concern for citizens. Spike Lee makes this clear in his 2006 HBO
documentary, “When the Levees Broke: A
Requiem for New Orleans in Four Acts”.
Oddly and paradoxically, “conservatives” are
the ones who, instead of advising that we proceed with caution, clamor for us
to go along, headlong and wholeheartedly, with imprudent extremes in this experiment. It is one of the more supreme ironies in the
history of human thought that conservatives are among the most stubborn deniers
of scientific understandings about environmental risks, and that they are often
prominent and reactionary voices opposed to sensible precautionary actions that
would protect the economy from systemic risks -- and the environment from
destructive exploitation. This is stunning and pathetic!
Dr. Pachauri of the United Nations’ IPCC
encouraged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Bush White House to
cease their “unprecedented obstructionism” of initiatives that would address
the anthropogenic causes of global warming.
He said they should come to the table to help solve looming problems
related to greenhouse gas emissions.
While some progress has been achieved under the Obama Administration, we
need to come together to more effectively deal with this issue, and vested
interest groups should stop their stubborn obstruction.
Gordon Brown, the British Prime
Minister in December 2007, indicated that nations who met in Bali that month for
13th Session of the United Nations Climate Change Conference should agree on
binding emissions caps for all developed countries. Brown said, "I know this means facing up
to hard choices and taking tough decisions.
That means governing, not gimmickry."
Politics is too often about gimmicks rather
than real solutions. This perspective
was confirmed when a record-late California state budget was passed in
2008. At the time, a preposterous
gimmick was proposed to borrow money from lottery profits in future years to
reduce near-term budget shortfalls.
Smarter ideas and more fair-minded plans need to be enacted, along with
more sensible solutions to national and global problems. Americans should demand wiser and more honest
When Barack Obama was first elected in
November 2008, many Americans sincerely hoped and believed that he would be
able to lead us in far more intelligent directions than the ones in which we
have been proceeding for so long. But the
forces of inertia are proving to be very powerful and the status quo is hard to
change, so our political system is beginning to appear to be almost incapable
of adequately addressing the problems we face.
Radically different visions and policy prescriptions by conservative and
liberal partisans have led to a paralysis of action in Congress.
Times have gotten significantly more
complex since Thomas Malthus, an English political economist and demographer
(1766 – 1834), proposed a “Principle of Population”, which held that humanity
faces eventual disaster unless population growth is somehow better controlled. Doubters still debate whether the contentions
of Malthus are valid, even though there are now 7 times as many people on Earth
as when Malthus was around, and the negative impacts of our growing numbers are
becoming more and more apparent. It is
becoming ever clearer that we need to begin adopting sensible Precautionary
Principles, as discussed in detail in Chapter #14, rather than continuing to endorse
policies that ignore gathering threats.
R. Buckminster Fuller once said, “Nature is
trying very hard to make us succeed, but nature does not depend on us. We are not the only experiment.” We should cultivate a profound understanding
of Albert Einstein’s meaning when he said: “The release of atom power has changed
everything except our way of thinking.”
In a starkly similar manner, our rash experiment is creating a heavy
burden on planetary ecosystems that threatens to overwhelm them, yet we
continue to obtusely march down the same path of thinking and acting that has
gotten us into these current predicaments.
The stakes are enormous. We risk not only the quality of life for
every child and for all people in future generations, but ultimately even the
very survival of our species. When we
see that we are collectively contributing to irreversible climate change,
serious environmental damages, widespread extinctions of other species of life,
societal instability and intransigent conflicts, we should also see that new
ways of thinking and acting are needed to reduce these risks. Albert Einstein was surely correct when he
observed, “We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used
when we created them.”
To better manage our economic, social and
environmental challenges, we should cultivate new ways of thinking, and behave
and act with more broad-minded intention.
Strong resistance generally arises in opposition to ‘paradigm shifts’,
but when we are able to understand these challenges in bigger-picture
perspectives, the opportunities accelerate for achieving important progress and
propitious change. Among the many things
that we should unflinchingly reform are socially irresponsible aspects of
unbridled capitalism and unfair imbalances in globalization. National policies that create speculative
bubbles should be scrupulously evaluated to preemptively prevent the need for
costly bailouts. We should invest in
measures designed to gain independence from fossil fuels. We should make bold commitments to avoiding
hawkish nationalism and imperial aggression.
Sensible and open-minded attitudes should be adopted toward women’s
reproductive rights and family planning policies and contraception and abortion. And our electoral system that obeys Big Money
over all other influences should be reformed.
Carved in stone at the Temple of Apollo at
Delphi in ancient Greece were two wise maxims: “Know Thyself”; and “Nothing in Excess”. In ancient times, Delphi was considered the
center of the known world, the place where heaven and earth meet. This was the place on earth where mankind was
supposed to be closest to the gods.
Delphi was the center of worship for the god Apollo, a divine son of
Zeus who embodied the virtues of moral discipline and spiritual clarity. A trip to Delphi was, for many centuries, a
spiritual experience that offered hope of enlightening revelation.
Thyself. Nothing in Excess. These are not just primitive or irrelevant
clichés. The goddesses and gods of
ancient Greek mythology personified archetypes in human character and behavior. They also contained deep truths underlying
the cultural expressions represented by these mythological conceptions. Compare
these precepts to the oracles of today, where relentless competition and
pervasive advertising have etched in our minds, and practically wired into our
bodies, entirely different messages:
“Buy More!”; “Go Shopping!”; “Supersize Me!”; “Be Cool”; and “Get Yours Now!”
Many influences urge us to consume
mindlessly, to use wastefully, to borrow heavily, to act in self-centered ways,
and to abandon the virtues of moderation and self-discipline. It is no wonder that so many Americans have
become physically obese and intellectually unmindful. Let us strive to achieve a better understanding
of ourselves, and to embrace a modicum of moderation -- for our communities,
our planet, and ourselves!
“The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new
landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
--- Marcel Proust
When we strive to achieve the clarity of greater awareness and
honest realization, we will be better able to shift our understandings, and to resist
the potent power of opportunistic exploitation and manipulative persuasion and
misguided ambitions. “Don’t believe
everything you think!”
Russell gives us pause for thought when he opines:
“The fundamental cause of trouble in the
world today is that the stupid are cock-sure, while the
intelligent are full of doubt.” Whoa! -- Woe is us!
Chapter #8 – A
Transformation Is A-Comin’.
Planet Earth speeds through space, traveling more
than 65,000 miles per hour in its annual orbit around the Sun. The moon seemingly stoically and magically
revolves around us, affecting the ocean tides and evocatively changing moods,
its reflected sunlight bearing silent witness to the evolving saga of life on
Humanity is collectively faced with a critically
serious choice: either we can make intelligent and courageous choices to
transform our activities into ones that are more fiscally secure, ecologically
sound, and mutually safe -- or we can foolishly choose to stick with
business-as-usual activities until devastating crises arise that force
wrenching changes upon us. There is a
natural propensity for us to wait until a crisis arises before taking remedial
steps to make course corrections. A
crisis provides a clarion call that urges us to begin to act more wisely and
The cranial capacities of our brains have tripled
in size from that of our ancestors a few million years ago. We have evolved big brains, and it is a good
time for us to start using them to plan ahead more intelligently. Since the need is so substantial for us to
find better ways of protecting the well-being of our societies and life on
Earth, we should work overtime to overcome the enormous momentum and ponderous
inertia of forces that dominate our decision-making.
A series of crises may be required before we really
begin to seriously seek good solutions to the big challenges we face, but it
seems foolish to procrastinate, because the gathering crises will result in
severe resource scarcities and disruptions in economic activities and even a
possible collapse in natural ecosystems.
These outcomes would likely be accompanied by intense strife, chaotic
social change, faltering institutions, environmental dislocations and harsh
conflicts. As Henry Kissinger once said, “The absence of alternatives
clears the mind marvelously.”
Why do we continue to figuratively back
ourselves into a corner by waiting until few good alternatives remain? Let’s act now! Unfortunately, “disaster capitalism” is
hyper-ready to take advantage of collective insecurities and vulnerabilities
during times of crisis. Since
extraordinary opportunities arise to exploit emergencies and catastrophes for
big profits, such adversities become more probable. This is not paranoiac speculation or conspiracy
theory; it is lucid historical
perspective and human nature and the predictable outcome of cause and effect!
economic recessions, military coups, natural disasters and terrorist attacks
produce big opportunities that facilitate things like the imposition of
austerity policies, privatization initiatives, costly bailouts, radical
reconstruction, the oppression of workers, hard-times swindles, more extreme
economic inequities, and repressive rule.
During such crises, corporations
and governments often capitalize on such moments to advance “shock treatment”
Milton Friedman’s economic doctrines were among the
first to advocate such shocks in order to achieve radical change. Friedman went to Chile to advance his
theories after the government of democratically-elected Salvador Allende was
overthrown in a right-wing coup by General Pinochet on September 11, 1973. The CIA infamously played a role in this
Naomi Klein, in The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster
Capitalism, cautions us that we need to recognize what is
happening, and why it is happening. She
regards this understanding as necessary to protect ourselves against tyrannical
abuses of power by right-wing governments and amoral profit-prepossessed
corporations. This book is valuable for
sparking dialogue about the curious underlying instigations of periods of
financial instability, military coups, wars and other dastardly acts that
provoke disequilibrium. An expanded
awareness of the causes of such turmoil could help prevent it.
Economic fundamentals severely deteriorated
between 2007 and 2010 because of the bursting of the housing bubble and related
mortgage and subprime loan problems and financial shenanigans. This economic instability harmed billions of
people. Abuses and risks in financial
markets became similar to those that characterized the late 1920s, just before
the Great Depression, according to testimony by journalist Robert Kuttner to the
House Financial Services Committee in October 2007.
Financial safeguards enacted during the
long Depression of the 1930s have been dismantled in the guise of promoting
benefits of free markets. Predatory
lending practices and speculative investments have been enabled by this
reduction in regulations and oversight.
Serious vulnerabilities and volatility in our system have been made
worse by enormous public debt and huge trade deficits. Risks were increased by
excessive leveraging, inadequately-collateralized speculative securities,
insider conflicts of interest, a lack of transparency, misrepresentations,
engineered asset bubbles, and deep fears on the part of investors. Government bailouts of banks have been
extremely costly, and they arguably have only delayed a fair reckoning and set
up more intractable economic disruptions in the future.
Chapter #9 – Crisis as
The Dalai Lama is a perceptive, broadminded, wise,
and eminently decent Buddhist spiritual thinker. He once said: “In order to accomplish
important goals, we need an appreciation of the sense of urgency.” Cool
-- think about this! The Dalai Lama is
one of the most philosophically calm people on Earth, and yet in the spiritual
tranquility of his equanimity, he communicates the fact that it would behoove
us to give clearer consideration to cautionary ideas -- and to boldly heed
Great challenges present ‘dangerous
opportunities’. This is the literal
meaning of the two Chinese symbols that represent the word for ‘crisis’.
Danger and opportunities arise in the wake of a crisis, creating a state of
flux that can precipitate a re-ordering of our world. Such a restructuring can turn out to be
favorable to the common good, or it can prove to be detrimental. It would be distinctly advantageous for us to
develop more accurate understandings so that we make smarter and fairer choices
that would create healthier communities and better prospects for a safer future.
It is my conviction that radically
compelling ideas, intelligently conceived and forcefully conveyed, could make
on-going transformations positive ones, both locally and globally. There is a prodigious need for such positive
change because the consequences of sticking with the social and economic status
quo are too risky. We need to herald the
advent of new ideas that will help us courageously solve the challenges facing
us and ensure that our societies will become more sustainable. People should join together to demand
non-partisan vision, broader coalitions, fairer initiatives, and management
that is much more competent and honest.
Our leaders should be held accountable for a dedication to the general
welfare, not just to serving the narrow goals of special interest groups.
Since forces of opportunism are always ready to take
advantage of adversities to alter the world to their own narrow benefit,
vigilance is required to head off these impulses. Sweeping positive change could reduce the
dysfunction that is being created by our current misguided tax, subsidy and
energy policies. Heck, we could even
choose to reduce suburban sprawl and bad air quality, and act to mitigate
injustices and social conflicts. New policies and better management would
contribute to solving these problems.
Hope, optimism and confidence can help us
create wiser plans of action. It is
beneficial for the psychological well-being of individuals to be proactive, and
to believe that positive outcomes can be achieved through our right-minded
actions. It benefits the common good
when people get involved in grassroots efforts to achieve better ends for our
communities and countries.
An upbeat movement driven by “blessed
unrest” evocatively conjures up an image of a healthy and dynamic
transformation inspired by passionate resolve and caring consideration and
popular involvement. Paul Hawken’s
intelligence and vision, as expressed in his book Blessed Unrest, gives us hope that changes are underway that will
galvanize humanity into sensible actions to improve the prospects of people
today and in the future.
I recommend that readers watch the video of
Amory Lovins’ rousing and hope-inspiring speech, “Imagine the World …”, which he gave at the 25-year anniversary
celebration of his Rocky Mountain Institute (Google it!). Or check out the ideas contained in the
website of the independent nonprofit entrepreneurial Rocky Mountain Institute,
Global problems can be solved, but they should
be addressed with determination and boldness.
And we should take steps to cope effectively with them sometime
SOON. It is distinctly unwise to
complacently continue to emulate Emperor Nero by figuratively fiddling while
Rome burns. A cogent clarity of
understanding and a committed concern for the larger contexts of human flourishing
would help ensure that our undertakings are sustainable, and that a better
quality of life is maintainable.
The challenges facing us can seem so
daunting that they paralyze us and inhibit us from taking remedial
actions. Feelings of despair,
inconsequentiality and eco-anxiety can be counterproductive and act against
effective responses. Our leaders already
often overly exploit public fears for profit and power and selfish advantage,
and they have practically created a growth industry in alarmism. The relative dangers of terrorist threats,
for instance, have been so exaggerated that Americans have been effectively
terrorized, giving us all a "false sense of insecurity". Our brains get all riled up when subjected to
fear, and this engenders a behavioral psychiatrist’s smorgasbord of glandular
secretions like adrenalin and cortisol, which can have startling affects on our
behaviors. Dorothy Parker would have
expressed her wonder with her catch phrase, “What fresh hell is this?”
child development psychologist John Bowlby developed a well-regarded scientific
theory that concerned “childhood attachment” behaviors. He wrote:
“All of us, from the cradle to the grave, are
happiest when life offers us a series of excursions, long or short, from a
secure base.” I believe! We all seek personal, financial and emotional security, and
by extension national security; but what
we really desire most deeply is a personal sense of safety that allows us to
relate more confidently, to relax, to accept ourselves, to make adventurous
excursions, to take thrilling risks, to experience ooh-la-la titillating
allure, or to open ourselves up to our own unique forms of creative
would be a noble plan to create an orderly and safer civil society with an open
structure. This would assure choices to
all individuals on how to live their lives more in accordance with their own
individual propensities, predilections and profound positive inner
motivations. When leaders exploit fears
and intimidate citizens through Big Brother-like authoritarian control ploys,
and when they enact policies that contribute to a more pronounced economic
insecurity for the vast majority of people, they cause perverse injustices and
deplorably detrimental social dysfunction.
Forcing people into sheep-like submission to inegalitarian social
policies is anathema to freedom-loving human beings.
Many established religions also use the
strategy of playing on people’s fears.
They do this to gain faithful adherents and to exert control over people
for specific ends, both noble and ignoble.
They encourage people to fear death and fire-and-brimstone ‘Hell’ and
calamitous ‘End Times’. Fear can anesthetize
us into feeling hopeless or futile, and it can render us less capable of
undertaking needed courses of action. It
can also divert our attention from more important values and make us retreat
into more constricted pursuits that characterize basic survival, escapism, or
faith in the wrong things.
speak eloquently and insistently of ecological sanity and social
intelligence. They communicate to us of
the urgent need for transformation. Carl
Sagan was a scientist, educator and humanist who spoke with such a voice. He dedicated his life to building a positive
and integrated worldview capable of providing guidance to human beings in the
coming decades and centuries. He
believed that this was necessary because our ancient inherited mythologies are
becoming less useful, and more detrimental, as they become outmoded in the face
of changing times. As more accurate
understandings evolve, we should
recognize new truths, even if they are economically or politically
inconvenient, and even if they are heretical to orthodox worldviews. We are, after all, in a
very profound sense all in this existence together -- interconnected and
Chapter #10 – The Embrace
of New Ideas.
The American poet Walt Whitman once wrote these
“Sail forth --- Steer for the deep water only,
Soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me,
For we are
bound where mariner has not yet dared to go,
And we will risk the ship,
ourselves, and all.”
Adopting the brave spirit of this poem, let’s
explore some illuminating ideas. “There is nothing more powerful than an
idea whose time has come,” wrote the great French poet, novelist and polymath
In the past century, ideologies like communism,
fascism, neoconservatism, and laissez-faire capitalism have had far-reaching
impacts on humanity. But these ideologies have failed us in many ways,
and for many reasons. We should now be open to the ascendance of new ideas
that could be able to deliver a more salubrious destiny for the human race.
The fundamental economic doctrine in the past 100
years has been that GROWTH is desirable, no matter what the cost. This
worldwide obsession with growth was reasonable and practicable as long as there
were plenty of available lands, vast forests, seemingly limitless stocks of
fish and unlimited amounts of fresh water and unpolluted air, and an
undiminished cornucopia of natural resources. Today, however, ecological
buffer zones like frontiers, wild lands, rainforests and wetlands are rapidly
disappearing, and places to dump wastes are limited by ‘not-in-my-backyard’
impulses, and the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is
increasing ominously, along with inauspicious extremes of weather events. Even the acidity of the oceans is increasing
due to the absorption by ocean water of the large amounts of carbon dioxide we
are spewing into the atmosphere. These daunting developments are making it
increasingly important that we redesign our economies so that they honor values
that are more wholesome and less destructive than the values expressed in
unbridled competition, greedy selfishness and materialistic consumerism.
Beneficial new approaches should be adopted to deal
squarely with the rapid and accelerating changes that are taking place in the
world. This transformation of our behaviors, institutions and systems
should be focused on two factors:
(1) Doing the right things, which is to say, doing things that
benefit the greatest number of people over the longest period of time, while
causing the least amount of harm; and,
(2) Doing things right, which is to say doing things reasonably,
efficiently, effectively and sensibly, and with greater respect for the biotic
health of the natural world.
Governments should not allow businesses to pursue
the single-minded purpose of making short-term profits without taking into
account social and environmental costs of their activities. The longer we delay in boldly tackling the
dilemmas this presents, the more difficult it will be for us to successfully
cope with these challenges.
There is indeed a
meritocracy of ideas, and it is time for us to truly seek the best ones. We have an increasing need for common sense,
saner ideas, clearer analyses, honest-to-goodness truth, and an improved
understanding of consequentialist ethics.
Broadmindedness, greater fairness, and more intelligently-designed
public policies would help us create healthier societies. National policies are exceedingly ill-advised
when they cause increasing numbers of people to be poorer and more desperate.
For a democracy
to work well, citizens need to be educated and well-informed so that they are
able to responsibly take part in the democratic process. This is why we need improved and broadened
public education, independent media, and transparency in government. We need
To achieve better outcomes, plans that are
more proactive are required. Shrewd
rationalizations for “staying the course” are not acceptable. Politicians should be forced to give social
well-being a much higher priority than they give to corporate prerogatives,
greedy opportunism, doctrinal partisanship, or aggressive militarism. Instead of championing fairer ideas, however,
our leaders often serve up specious arguments, deceptive propaganda, misleading
justifications, and reassuring words that are formulated to perpetuate the
privileges of those in power. In this
society is sadly lacking in fairness, honesty and “the truth, the whole truth
and nothing but the truth, so help me God”.
The best interests of the people, and the
greatest benefits for the common good, are completely different from the
dominant characteristics of the entrenched status quo. In summary, our societies today are
distinctly and undesirably oriented toward:
(1) Allowing corporations to make the
biggest possible profits by socializing many costs;
(2) Giving rich people the most extensive
benefits that they can possibly get;
(3) Stimulating the economy through the
hyper-consumption of goods and resources;
(4) Relentlessly pursuing activities that
(4) Promulgating public policies that are
unfair and shortsighted;
(6) Eagerly using military and CIA
interventionism abroad; and,
(7) Accepting an obsequious attitude of
government officials toward the authoritarian right-wing segments of
society. (This was particularly true
under the George W. Bush Administration.)
mode of consciousness causes us to feel a disconnection from Mother
Nature. Our success in
exploiting, modifying and controlling nature has been quite extraordinary, but
our hubris in thinking that we can continue to dominate nature without
respecting our best knowledge of its natural workings is becoming increasingly
foolish, absurd, and dangerous. The
value of giving better protections to natural habitats, ecosystems and biological
diversity should no longer be so foolishly ignored. D’oh!
are effectively daring nature to assault us by continuing to indulge in such
unwise activities as building in floodplains, forcing rivers into artificial
channels, destroying wetlands, contributing to the devastation of coral reefs,
clear-cutting forests, and pouring billions of tons of greenhouse gases into
the atmosphere every year. It’s as if we think we can impose our
dominion over nature by working against it, rather than recognizing the
necessity of working with it. A rapid “greening” of our perspective
regarding these activities is urgent.
Let us boldly act to make a difference, and not merely continue to emulate
Don Quixote tilting at windmills in hapless misapprehension.
Hermes, the Messenger God in Greek
mythology, was the god of travelers and seafarers, a seeker of meaning, and the
guide of souls. O Soul! He was regarded as a god of persuasive
communication who had a great love of freedom, an agile mind, and good skills
in creative expression and innovation.
He was thought to bring intuitive insight and luck, so it is appropriate
here to invoke Hermes in our quest for understanding. Let us see clearly, and act responsibly! (Hermes was also the proverbial trickster ---
but, Oh well, a good boy and a bad boy no doubt inhabits every man.)
Chapter #11 – The
Deep in our consciences we know that we need to find
better ways of protecting the environment and natural ecosystems. Such understandings are at the core of an
incipient sustainability movement, and of the insights of deep ecologists. Let’s respect them! Sustainability
should become a national security priority.
This Sustainability Revolution should be endorsed
and encouraged. We should strive to
collectively become much more responsible in the stewardship of natural
resources. We can no longer pretend that environmental concerns are a
luxury, because in truth a healthy
environment is a fundamental basis for the economic health and well-being of
How can we help facilitate
this sustainability movement? How can we
inspire people to give far-sighted protections to our supporting
environment? Well, it just so happens
that many great ideas and strategic initiatives exist that would help contribute
to the greater good. Such ideas are
explored throughout these writings in such salvos as One Dozen Big Initiatives
to Positively Transform Our Societies.
Eating all the seeds of future crops is a course of
action that only the most desperate person would consider. There are many “win-win” situations for
people and the planet, but policies that foster wins for rich people and big
corporations, while the majority of people become losers, are not
acceptable. Neither are short-term
“wins” for human beings that are achieved at a calamitous cost to the
environment and biological diversity.
To be able to sustain human existence is, of course,
an inadequate goal in itself. Beyond the
goal of mere survival, we should choose to create societies that do not degrade
the ecosystems upon which we depend. It
would be far more sensible to actually help RESTORE natural areas to a healthy
vitality. Heal, not harm!
The concept of our ecological footprint is
important. Imagine a continuum that runs
from the neediest of the poor to the greediest and most extravagant of the
rich. Every one of us falls somewhere on
this continuum, and each and every person eats, drinks, and creates wastes
every day. We make decisions every day
on what to consume, where to go, and what to do. These activities all contribute to the
aggregate impacts that our activities are having on planet Earth. Some individuals have exceedingly heavy
footprints, and some have much smaller ones -- but all contribute to the total. Thus, all of us are a part of the unsustainable
Each of us should feel a sense of obligation to help
ensure that we collectively forge a path to the future that can be followed
indefinitely. Using this as the
principal criterion for guidance in all of our national decision-making, new
national policies should be created and implemented that are forward-thinking
and flexible. Compromise is needed to
satisfy legitimate concerns of opposing viewpoints -- without compromising the
essential and more encompassing wisdom of the most auspicious actions.
Both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party
have serious shortcomings in our political duopoly system, as do the three
primary social institutions that dominate our decision-making: corporations, government entities, and religious
establishments. Our economic and
political systems should be reformed in order to achieve a sustainable
future. The needed Sustainability
Revolution requires that we begin to place a much higher priority on ecological
values. As Wallace Stegner once
“I believe that eventually, perhaps within a generation or two, they will
work out some sort of compromise between what must be done to earn a living,
and what must be done to restore health to the earth, air and water.”
The time is NOW to embrace new commitments to
accomplish this goal! Perhaps
it is time that we consider a new concept:
a Lifetime Ecological Footprint Total (LEFT). Imagine an omniscient super-computer that could
keep track of all the resources that each person consumes during his or her
entire lifetime, together with every iota of waste that is produced. That’s what LEFT is.
I can think of no greater moral imperative
than that we should take what’s LEFT into account in all our society’s planning
decisions. In other words, we should
always take sensible precautionary measures to ensure that we leave a fair
legacy to our descendents. “Our
prosperity as a nation will mean little if we leave a world of polluted air,
toxic waste, and vanished forests to future generations.” This fine rhetoric is contained in a letter
dated June 11, 2001 that was sent to me by the White House. The letter was signed by George W. Bush, and
was sent in response to concerns that I had voiced about damages to the
environment. These words were deeply ironic
in light of the President’s antagonistic actions toward environmental concerns
during his eight years in office!
Soon enough, yea, all too soon for most
people, each and every one of us will be dead and gone, every molecule of us
dispersed to its next indeterminate destiny in eternity. Any ascent through St. Peter’s pearly gates
of judgment will face a more sophisticated Lord, not one obsessed with other
gods, idols or graven images, or jealousy, or glory, or keeping the holy
Sabbath day or other commandments; nay,
it is my belief that we shall be judged by more relevant and important
criteria, ones like the Golden Rule, responsible citizenship, reasonably
nurturing parenthood, and ‘brotherly love’, and our personal contributions to
social justice and planetary protections.
And by our role in contributing to peace among nations. To me, these propositions sound much more
appropriate for a modern day Holy Book!
memorial dedication plaque placed in a grove of towering Sequoia sempervirens
redwood trees, the tallest living things, observes:
Remove Nothing from the Forest
Except Nourishment for the Soul
for the Heart
Inspiration for the Mind
Wouldn’t it be something if we began to
treat all of the remaining rapidly dwindling old-growth forests with greater
Within every country on Earth, people “game” the
system, both legally and illegally, to gain more advantages. Powerful developed countries abuse their
power to obtain natural resources, cheap labor, and access to markets
abroad. They are able to do this in
economically imperialistic ways because of a lack of fair and enforceable
international laws, multinational institutions, and effective constraints.
Future well-being is being negatively
affected by our current wrong-headed priorities, so the need is growing for us
to find ways to achieve beneficial outcomes by changing the rules and
regulations that govern our actions. One
of my core ideas is that the best way to accomplish this would be by creating smart
incentives and disincentives that are clearly focused on the greater good.
People’s behaviors are powerfully motivated
by rewards and recognition.
Knowing this, it would be advantageous to restructure our economy in
such a way that individual motivations are made consistent with
ecologically-sound outcomes. Such a
restructuring should involve full-cost pricing, so that all costs incurred in
the production of products are included in their prices. These real costs include pollution and toxic
waste prevention and cleanup, provisions for worker healthcare, and a
contribution to a Climate Change Impact Fund to offset the harmful effects of
greenhouse gas emissions. This plan
would automatically contribute to helping solve many problems related to working
people and environmental conditions.
the majority of our representatives have been opposed to any deviations from
the status quo of special corporate prerogatives and the subservience of
workers’ needs to the greed of shareholders and investors. Our political leaders engage in
dominance-oriented politics, extreme partisanship, aggressive militarism, and
pork barrel spending instead of fairer undertakings, and they have resisted
progressive reforms for too long.
Politicians seem to prefer to stay the course or give ever-bigger perks
to their supporters, who are primarily rich and powerful people. Counterproductive agendas have been advanced
that are contrary to the common good because such policies benefit the narrow
constituencies that provide most campaign contributions to elected officials to
help them get elected and stay in office.
This political duopoly system is seriously
flawed. “Clean Money” campaigns are a
positive and potentially effective way to reduce the dangerously unfair and
damaging influence of Big Money on American domestic and foreign policies. Chapter #49 provides compelling perspective
on how Clean Money electoral reform could dramatically help improve
decision-making and focus politicians on efforts to make our societies truly
fairer, safer and saner. Also, campaign
finance reform should be instituted now that Supreme Court conservatives are
making rulings that corrupt our democracy by letting special interest groups
contribute unlimited funds, in secrecy, to politicians.
Some say that our industrial culture will NOT
voluntarily stop damaging the natural world.
They say that poor people will continue to be exploited, and indigenous
cultures decimated, and the natural world damaged. They even speculate that those who resist or
dissent will continue to be mocked, disenfranchised, put in prison, or even
killed. But I am hopeful. There is still time and potential for us to
save ourselves by making positive changes to our economic, political and
Chapter #12 – Redefining
Optimum public planning requires that smarter
choices be made that are based on the best possible understandings. The
QUALITY of economic growth, for instance, should be given a higher priority
than the rate of growth. Economic indicators help express our social
values and drive public policy agendas, so they not only measure our
performance, but they also influentially help shape it. The insights of the discipline of ecological
economics need to be better cultivated, as articulated in Existence, Economics and Ecological
Our established measure of economic activity is
represented by Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
This measure is misleading because it reflects economic activity as if
increased spending is positive even when it occurs for undesirable things like
medical cost inflation, bigger government bureaucracy, and larger expenditures
for things like wars, military waste, fraudulent Homeland Security projects,
pollution clean-up, costly efforts to fight a “war on drugs”, locking more
people up in prisons, and disaster recovery and reconstruction.
In the early stages of the latest economic recession,
former French President Nicolas Sarkozy moved to begin a ‘statistical
revolution’ to end the political dominance of GDP as a measure of economic
health. Sarkozy, a right-of-center
politician, asked two left-of-center Nobel-laureate economists, Joseph Stiglitz
and Amartya Sen, to lead a commission witha goal of more accurately measuring
economic performance and social progress.
According to the report: “The
time is ripe for our measurement system to shift emphasis from measuring
economic production to measuring people’s well-being.”
Progress should be redefined by utilizing more
auspicious measures. For instance, a
Genuine Progress Indicator would be a much better gauge for the actual health
of economic activities and truer elements of the quality of life. These measures would take into account
factors like the health of communities, general well-being, greater fairness,
fulfilling work, authentic relationships, and respect for the natural
world. This change in focus would allow
us to see a truer picture of our economies, and to accordingly improve our
priorities and modify the negative aspects of our activities. This redefining of progress would give
recognition to deeper insights like those elaborated at the website
What would it look like if we courageously
and proactively CHOSE to reduce our growth to a more sustainable level? Think how salubrious it would be if we were
able to embrace understandings of growth that acknowledge the importance of
Genuine Progress measures rather than merely adding up all the
business-as-usual activities that are measured by GDP. I also believe that it is incumbent upon us
to consider the issue of overpopulation as an overarching concern, because of
its far-reaching environmental impacts.
It seems to me to be a good idea to encourage responsible parenthood and
make safe contraception widely available and strongly encouraged.
Good arguments can be made that government
methods of measuring things like inflation are seriously distorted. Judging from people’s common experience with
increasing prices for necessities like food, medical insurance, and rent or
home ownership, and in the face of low official inflation statistics, such
contentions have credence and merit much better analysis.
The small Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has the
extraordinary idea of measuring well-being by using comprehensive indicators of
“Gross National Happiness”. Bhutan’s Prime
Minister Lyonpo Jigmi Y Thinley once elaborated with this observation: “The
four pillars of Gross National Happiness are the promotion of equitable and
sustainable socioeconomic development, the preservation and promotion of
cultural values, the conservation of the natural environmental commons, and the
establishment of good governance. Kudos
to these ideas!
if the American people were able to commit themselves to more enlightened ideas
like these! Instead of hyping up
consumption, stoking economic growth no matter how counterproductive it may be,
stimulating the depletion of natural resources, and driving up the national
debt, we could once again become the beacon of sanity and hope to the rest of the
world. We could strive to attain a more
broad-minded approach to domestic and foreign policies, and we could pass sensible
laws that would better protect the environment.
Good governance would be a refreshing and positive change from today’s
partisan and corrupt political landscape with its serious shortfall of
ecological sanity, fiscal soundness, cooperation in problem-solving, civility
in national discourse, truth-telling, social responsibility, discipline,
fairness, accountability and oversight.
Entrepreneurship has been put on a pedestal
as the pinnacle of success in our society, and surely small businesses drive a
significant amount of job creation in the U.S.
But sometimes, large corporations quash entrepreneurial spirit, and too
often there is an excess of underhanded opportunism, dishonest profiteering,
the deceiving of consumers, and efforts to milk the public treasury or
relentlessly exploit workers or cheat people or damage the commons in a manner
that is tragic for the general welfare.
Can’t we find good ways to do something affirmative about these
Margaret Mead’s thought-provoking observation should
guide us: “Never
doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the
world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
The compelling cultural phenomenon of storytelling
is being conveyed effectively today by means of the compelling imagery and
content of documentary films. This
medium is helping provide people with an intimate portrait of various issues in
our societies as they are coming into being.
Such films can positively impact the depth of our understanding. Check out more of them! (A partial list is contained in Recommended
Reading for a Broader Understanding and Appreciation of the World). And join
me in actively supporting positive change NOW, because the need for gentler,
fairer and more responsible undertakings is urgent!
Chapter #13 – Intelligent
in the course of human events it becomes necessary for people to assume individual
and collective responsibility for the future of their societies, it becomes
self-evident that a powerful conversation must take place around the world that
will result in our collectively choosing to alter the institutions that
perpetuate shortsightedness in human affairs.
I love the idea articulated by the brilliantly
sensible businessman and author Paul Hawken, who wrote in The Ecology of Commerce: A Declaration of Sustainability, “We must
design a system … where doing good is like falling off a log, where the
natural, everyday acts of work and life accumulate into a better world as a
matter of course, not a matter of conscious altruism.” Think about this
great yet revolutionarily simple idea!
Our economies and political systems should be redesigned
with the goal of having the aggregate daily choices of all people on Earth
result in RESTORATIVE impacts on nature’s ecosystems rather than destructive
ones. Bold incentives and disincentives that are consistent with freedoms
to choose personal courses of action are the fairest way to achieve these
goals. Fair-minded assessments of the
greater good should be the barometer of what policies should be enacted.
Earth from Above is a book of beautiful photographic images. Every library should obtain this great volume
because it also contains a profoundly insightful narrative of heartfelt and
philosophic ideas. Written by Yann
Arthus-Bertrand, the book makes this vital observation about our home planet:
“Ecologists understand the processes that support life on earth: the
fundamental role of photosynthesis, the concept of sustainable yield, the role
of nutrient cycles, the hydrological cycle, the sensitive role of climate, and
the intricate relationship between the plant and animal kingdoms. They know that
the earth’s ecosystems supply services as well as goods, and that the former
are often more valuable than the latter.”
Several years after publishing Earth from Above, Yann Arthus-Bertrand produced an extraordinary
film titled Home. This 90-minute film is a “must-see” for its
beautiful aerial images alone! Check it
out online on YouTube. A compellingly
haunting narrative voiced by Glenn Close accompanies these images. Once we viscerally understand the overarching
importance of the ecological ideas expressed in the film, we will see that it
is our duty to give greater protections to natural ecosystems. These ideas are simply common sense. Of
course we must protect our children, and the world in which they will
live! Will we?
live for ourselves alone. Our lives are
connected by a thousand individual threads,
these sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as
--- Herman Melville
Chapter #14 – The Importance of the
It is impossible to foresee exactly what changes
will occur in the future, or how they will affect us. Big Picture perspectives and the
extrapolation of trends, however, can help us frame probable scenarios. Despite substantial uncertainties about the
nature, scope, severity and implications of problems facing us, bold actions
targeted toward transforming our societies into more versatile ones will help
us adapt to accelerating changes that are taking place.
Our best strategy would be to follow an honest and
reasonable “no regrets” approach that is focused on actions and behaviors
consistent with shared prosperity and the common good. This “no regrets” idea is the basis for the precautionary
principle, as enunciated in Principle 15 of the Rio Declaration on
Environment and Development in 1992.
This principle states that “Where there are threats of serious or
irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a
reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental
This principle of precautionary action involves
controversy because there is a wide scope of complex uncertainties AND because
there is powerful resistance by Big Business to any initiatives that would
reduce their power, prerogatives and profits.
Multinational energy companies, as an example, are some of the biggest
and most profitable industries in the history of the world, so it is not
surprising how large their influence is in dominating our national
decision-making. The Bush/Cheney White House, in particular, was ridiculously
beholden to the selfishly myopic energy industry and vested interests that
profit from war. And so were the sketchy proposed policies of Mitt Romney and
Paul Ryan’s presidential campaign.
Businesses naturally strive to minimize costs, so
they act to avoid paying for costs of pollution and environmental damages they
cause, and they seek to minimize the amount of money they must pay their
workers, or expend on socially beneficial initiatives. Consumers, in their enthusiasm and congenital
disposition to get cheap prices and good deals, as evidenced by the success of
such retailers as Costco, Wal-Mart and Home Depot, do not demand that good
citizen initiatives be given higher priority.
And investors seem to feel that the more profit, the better, damn the
Conflicts and paradoxes abound in our policy
considerations. But the time has come
today to seek strategic alliances to overcome the unfairness and
shortsightedness of dominant forces. We
can begin to truly solve the dilemmas facing us by cooperating together and
using common sense and far-sighted intention.
We should strive to ascend above the fray and make reasonable and
intelligent judgments in every situation.
We need to establish a fairer balance between competing interests, and
give honesty, fairness, foresight and longer-term considerations greater force
in all policy decisions.
Bicycle race enthusiasts who watch the Tour de
France race can see that the winner in this intense competition is generally a
part of a committed team that cooperates together and takes advantage of
rigorous training and ‘drafting’ techniques.
The temptation may be strong to gain advantages by cheating through the
use of illegal steroids and underhanded tactics, but such tactics are risky,
unfair, and wrong. Similarly, ultimate
success in larger competitive enterprises is best achieved through savvy cooperation,
wise planning, fair adherence to the rules of the game, and far-sighted
preparation. Cheating, deceiving the
public, evading regulations, intentionally harming others, and acting illegally
are prescriptions for eventual failure and ignominy, and they are unprincipled,
Voltaire once wrote that history consists
only of fictions that contain varying degrees of plausibility. The same can be said of interpretations of
current events. Analysis is subjective. History adds a dimension of longer-term
perspective, but historical perspective unfortunately offers generous
opportunities for spin and historical revisionism. The truth can thus be substantially
Policy-making is generally dominated by large
private banking and corporate interests that generally oppose fair competition
and objectively honest evaluations.
These interest groups often work against sensible regulations, balanced
budgets, community and environmental protections, international justice, and
peaceable coexistence with other countries.
They tend to strive to subvert renewable resource initiatives and
undermine energy efficiency measures, and to prevent resource conservation and
suppress innovative competition. They
also often oppose affordable housing measures, safe and convenient public
transportation, and programs designed to alleviate poverty.
These dominating established interests sabotage
smart public planning, and they contribute to social and environmental
problems. Stratagems of hyped-up
consumerism and fiscal stimulus combine with human population growth to help
cause serious damages to Earth’s ecosystems.
So how can we best distinguish between what is right and
what is wrong? Sometimes our reason, and
sometimes our faith, is best equipped to determine. Click on the Refresh-Icon function of
your brain, and continue reading!
Chapter #15 – Morality
and Right Action.
Ambrose Bierce was one of the most influential
journalists of the late 19th century. He
created a satirical dictionary in which he defined politics as “a strife of
interests masquerading as a contest of principles.” Politics is rarely about noble
principles; it is often about gaining
power and privileges and making money.
There are definitely better ways to more fairly balance competing interests,
and these generally involve following fairer democratic and moral principles.
is the vital glue of society. It is
concerned with the judgment of what is “good” and “bad” in human action and
character. In its origins, morality consists of those things that are
essential to the health and preservation of a social group.
Moral right action should not merely be a function
of theological dogma, of fear, or of political ideology. Instead, moral right action should be a
function of sociology: what is right for society depends on the well-being
of the majority AND of people in future generations. What is right and
proper is what is best in the long run. It is not right to neglect the
interests of future generations by pandering principally to greedy interests
Greater social justice is a moral imperative in the world
today. Thomas Piketty’s blockbuster economic treatise, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, provides a clear understanding
of the driving forces behind increasing inequality. Piketty expresses the opinion that this trend
is “terrifying”, because it portends increased insecurity of the masses, which
could lead to disastrous developments as the world gets more crowded, and as
strife and the competition for resources intensifies.
the astonishingly shortsighted legacy we are leaving to our children,
grandchildren and great grandchildren. We are degrading the environment
by engaging in unsustainable development and allowing polluting activities and
the production of huge amounts of wastes, toxins and greenhouse gas
emissions. We are recklessly and
immoderately depleting non-renewable resources, and doing so at an accelerating
rate. We are carelessly contributing to
the extinction of many species of life and the diminishing of biological
diversity by damaging ecosystems and wildlife habitats in many places around
the world. We are making this state of affairs worse by irresponsibly
indulging in stimulative deficit spending and saddling people in the future with
enormous amounts of debt. We are allowing vested interest groups to make
our societies ever-more unfair and inegalitarian. Many politicians and religious organizations
are opposing sex education, contraception and the empowerment of women, even
though progressive initiatives such as these serve to increase responsibility
in parenthood and reduce high birth rates and rapid population growth.
We are, in
summary, ignominiously “fleecing the future” with our actions. This could
scarcely be less right! Somehow
we have created a world, 250 years after Voltaire wrote Candide, that is becoming less and less the “best of all possible
worlds”, as proclaimed by the haplessly optimistic character Dr. Pangloss. “The
tutor Pangloss taught metaphysico-theolog-cosmolonigology. He proved admirably that there is no effect
without a cause, and that this is the best of all possible worlds.” Golly!
In a delightful metaphor of healthy
perspective, Voltaire concludes Candide
with the advice that we must tend our own gardens. We would be far better off treating the
planet as a sustainable garden, or a revered open space, or even a well-managed
and productive farm, rather than a mine to exploit and abandon, or a land of
forests to be chopped down -- or a battlefield on which to viciously vanquish
down in our hearts, we all at least suspect that many of the patterns of
thought and behavior in our modern societies are shortsighted. Contemplate the perceptive understanding of
the Nobel Prize winner Alexander Solzhenitsyn: “Justice is conscience -- not a
personal conscience, but the conscience of the whole of humanity.”
I feel strongly that we should establish a
socially-just “Precautionary Social Principle”.
This new principle would enshrine a fair and bipartisan concern for the
common good as one of the highest values.
Perhaps an ethical earthquake is needed to shake up our entrenched,
wasteful and inequitable priorities, and to emasculate unfair partisanship,
dogmatic doctrine, deceptive propaganda and short-term oriented
Historians Will and Ariel Durant observed in their
enlightening book The Lessons of History
that the concentration of wealth in societies occasionally reaches a critical
point where either sensible legislative redistributions of wealth are enacted
(like progressive tax reforms), or increased violence or even destructive
revolutions take place that generally destroy wealth rather than redistributing
A progressive morality would be more auspicious than
either an ambitiously repressive one or a meek and yielding one. This new
overarching sense of moral rectitude would focus on larger concerns rather than
narrow self-righteousness, avarice or self-centeredness.
25, the Bible talks about God’s judgment of nations. It indicates that God will judge us by how we
treat the poor, the sick, the hungry, and strangers, and prisoners. While I personally doubt that there is a
Supreme Being that judges human beings, and that ‘He’ has some special and
unchanging ‘infinite justice’ criteria that ‘He’ applies in ‘His’ judgments,
any true moral judgment of leaders and societies and civilizations should take
into account considerations about how the most vulnerable members of our
society are treated.
"For what shall it profit a man, if he
shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"
--- The Bible: Mark
Ambrose Bierce offers a second satirical definition of politics: “The conduct of
public affairs for private advantage.” There are many ways we could reform our
economic and political systems so that they would prevent the most egregious
private advantages that tend to harm the greater good. It would behoove us to alter public policies
so that clear duties and incentives are established for citizens to act more
reasonably and responsibly. The
protections included in the Bill of Rights should simultaneously be defended to
fairly balance these policies with laws that respect personal freedoms and
privacy rights. It may be hard for us to
change our habitual ways of doing things, but the consequences will be severe
if we fail to recognize the risks of wrong-headed, shortsighted behaviors.
“Knowledge, above all, is a responsibility for the
integrity of what we are, primarily of what we are
--- The Ascent of Man, J.
Chapter #16 –
Three Basic Considerations.
We see that serious social, economic, political and
environmental challenges face us. This makes it important for us to
choose long-term strategies that are wise and sensible as guides for our
decision-making. Three principal objectives should be treated as
indispensable in all of our society’s public policy considerations: (1) fairness;
(2) sustainability; and (3)
FAIRNESS is the cornerstone of decency and
democracy. Because powerful forces of greed and special privilege are
dealing significant setbacks today to fairness doctrines in the United
States. our economic and political systems need to be redesigned to
ensure they are FAIRER. This should include fairness to people alive
today, as well as to those to be born in the future.
It seems to me that each and every person
should assent to -- yea, even demand -- a social establishment that offers
fairer opportunities to everyone, and that guarantees a basic minimum of
healthcare security to all citizens.
Everyone is, after all, ultimately in the same boat together; and we are all potentially only a moment away
from some tragic accident or catastrophic health adversity.
"Of all the forms of inequality,"
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "injustice in health care is the
most shocking and inhumane." Good
fortune is a fortuitous thing for which everyone who enjoys it should give thanks,
and as a consequence, fortunate people should be willing to give a bit more to
society to ensure that others will live in fairer conditions, and on a
All of our laws and institutions should incorporate
elements that emphasize goals that are, in the long run, SUSTAINABLE. We
must take longer-term considerations into account. Common sense tells us
that the ultimate moral good consists of actions that do not hurt human
well-being, prosperity and the potentials for healthy survival. It is a
moral imperative for us to leave a fairer legacy to our children, and theirs,
and theirs, and theirs, and theirs, and theirs, and theirs, not just to the
fabled Seventh Generation, but indefinitely.
We should also strive to make certain that PEACEFUL
solutions are found to the growing conflicts in the world over diminishing
resources and differing ideas. We simply must find better ways to insure
that conflicts are resolved without resorting to military aggression and
war. Instead of trying to “fix the
intelligence and facts around the policy”, as the Bush Administration did in
selling the invasion of Iraq to the American people (according to the head of
British intelligence, as reported in the notorious Downing Street Memo), we
should seek consensus and be pragmatic and realistic, and adhere to principles
of just war and proportional responses.
Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense during the
Vietnam War, stated in the film The Fog
of War when he was 85 years old that, if we cannot persuade other nations
that share similar interests and values of the merits of proposed uses of
military power, we should not proceed unilaterally, for we are certainly far
from infallible or omniscient.
In light of these ideas about fairness,
sustainability and peaceful coexistence, the following three principles are
proposed to serve as overriding considerations in all public
policy-making. These principles should
always be taken into account in our decision-making, instead of pandering to
special privileges for the few, or short-term advantages for elite segments of
society, or the maximization of profits by big corporations and investors. These principles are:
(1) The Golden Rule Fairness Principle. This principle holds that there should be a
maximum of fairness to all people in our society. A cornerstone of decency in our democracy is
a reasonable modicum of egalitarian initiatives and fair dealings.
Precautionary Principle of Ecological Propriety. This principle should be designed to pay
forward actions that are propitious to our heirs. To the extent that our actions cause damage
to the environment and are unsustainable, new methods should be developed to
guarantee the vitality of natural ecosystems and to protect the future
prospects of life on Earth. We cannot continue to plunder the planet
without regard for the harmful consequences of our actions.
Nuremberg Principles of International Law.
These principles were designed in the wake of the atrocities of World
War II. They identify crimes against
peace and crimes against humanity.
Peaceful coexistence measures should include stronger international
prohibitions against military aggression by any nation. It is crucially important that the superpower
U.S. alter its foreign policies to be more responsible, more affordable, more humble,
more peaceable, and more just than they have been in recent decades.
Chapter #17 – A Big
Jared Diamond is a professor who wrote Collapse, How Societies Choose to Fail or
Succeed. In this thought-provoking book, Diamond reveals findings
made from his study of many civilizations throughout the long course of
history. He confirms that the human race must, to survive and prosper,
pay particular attention to long-term thinking, and that we should try to successfully
embrace anticipatory long-term planning. Diamond further indicates that we
must be willing to reconsider core values that once served society well when
those values are becoming outmoded and detrimental due to changing
circumstances or deteriorating environmental conditions.
moment is a juncture in which we can choose to progress or to regress. We
should not cling to outmoded worldviews, or continue to persist in errors of
perspective related to essential issues.
When people promote anti-environmental dogmas or refuse to examine
larger perspectives, or deny the gathering dangers of population overshoot, they
are choosing to ignore the vital and viable course of our species’ prosperity
Whether or not one believes that life on Earth has
evolved over many millions of years, our social evolution favors the ability of
individuals and societies to be flexible in adapting to change. The
long-term survival of our species depends on our adaptability -- NOT on our
being obstinately inflexible or clinging to rigid conservatism, customary
traditions, narrow doctrines or failing policies. Knowledge and a progressive ability to cope
successfully are the mainstream of human evolution; ignorance and denial and intractability are
ideas tend to entrench themselves in social and political systems long past the
point that they are useful, and well into a new era where they become unacceptably costly and
harmful. As Mark Twain succinctly noted: "Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet
broke a chain or freed a human soul."
is a poor plan to hunker down and stick with the old, the fearful, the
short-term-oriented, the unfair, the regressive, the vested-interest-dominated,
the unsustainable, the deceptive, the bullying, the manipulative, the doctrinaire,
and the authoritarian. A better plan would
be to wisely choose the honest, the intelligent, the fair, the sustainable, the
free-thinking, the hopeful, the compassionate, and the visionary.
ideas should be given greater sway, ones that are more consistent with greater
good goals. The late progressive Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota believed that
politics should be about much more than power, money and winning at any
cost. He stated, “Politics is about the
improvement of people’s lives. It’s about advancing the cause of peace
and justice in our country and in the world.”
and religion, our main traditional institutions, are struggling to keep up with
the rapid rate of change in technology, communications, economic developments,
cultural mores, medical advances, environmental affairs, and geopolitical
realities. What we need now is a public
figure who can rise to this historic occasion and communicate the need more
honestly and effectively for fair, bold and constructive actions. People need to be inspired and unified in
this goal. By using our reason, intelligence and the guidance of
compassionate caring, we could act more wisely and plan ahead better.
When we give greater respect to nobler intuitions, truer spirituality, and a
clearer sense of our interconnectedness and interdependencies, we can gain greater
confidence in comprehensive and
progressive ideas. This would help us
overcome the obstacles we face, and perhaps diminish the influence of politicians who adhere to shortsighted doctrines,
spendthrift actions, and the staunch tenets of political domination.
the twenty-first century our global society will flourish or perish according
to our ability to find common ground across the world on a set of shared
objectives, and on the practical means to achieve them. The pressures of scarce energy resources,
growing environmental stresses, a rising global population, legal and illegal
mass migration, shifting economic power, and vast inequalities of income are
too great to be left to naked market forces and untrammeled geopolitical
competition among nations.”
--- Jeffrey Sachs, Common Wealth: Economics for a Small Planet
of visionary leaders, dedicated civil servants and honorable statesmen, our
ships of state are too often influenced by people who are power hungry and
greedy, and by those who seem to be con artists and deceitful swindlers who
masquerade as upright citizens. Scheming
‘robber baron’ kingpins of industry and shills for manipulative reactionaries
and faithful sycophantic political operatives and “us-good-them-evil” religious
ideologues complicate this scenario. How
can we change this?
Chapter #18 – The Decline
and Fall of Civilizations.
Profound forces are at play in the world, forces of
cause and effect, action and reaction, progress and regress, development and
decay. Civilizations have
historically survived by dealing successfully with big challenges that
arise. Civilizations grow when they
respond appropriately to such challenges
and they enter a period of decline when they fail to cope.
Many instances in history have shown that the energies of
a small minority of passionately creative people can contribute to finding
revolutionary solutions to existential problems. These solutions re-orient entire societies in
the direction of positive adaptation to change, and enhance their abilities to
Throughout history, civilizations have been seen to
grow, climax, and decay. Studies of many civilizations reveal that
DECLINE generally occurs because of a similar combination of causes:
have been excessively exploited and squandered and depleted;
corruption, bureaucracy and mismanagement have become widespread;
unfair plutocracy becomes established that is characterized by an ever-growing
disparity between the influence and fortunes of rich people and everyone else;
4. The populace grows complacent and is diverted by
materialistic indulgences, lavish forms of entertainment, sports spectacles,
5. The military, because of a dangerous arrogance of
power, becomes bloated, overextended and involved in costly and debilitating
6. The public is divided by inegalitarian domestic policies
and becomes effectively disempowered and disenfranchised, so the populace
becomes increasingly cynical and apathetic;
7. There is a massive influx of people and their customs
from abroad that creates divisive tension and disruption.
Think about this. Seven characteristics of the
decay of civilization, and people in nations worldwide are channeling them all
as if they were some virtuous Holy Grail!
Especially in the United States! The
historian Arnold J. Toynbee argued
that "Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder."
say that the rise and fall of cultures is cyclical. Even Arnold Toynbee, who did not believe in
fatalistic determinism, observed: "The historical cycle seems to be: from bondage to spiritual faith; from
spiritual faith to courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance;
from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to apathy; from apathy to
dependency; and from dependency back to bondage once more." Nineteen civilizations are said to have
followed this pattern, each one rising and falling over a span of about 200
time need not be up; but we should not
let selfishness and complacency drive us toward inaction, apathy, or
despair. History shows that as empires climax and decay, the ruling
elites become increasingly corrupt, anti-democratic and authoritarian in their
drives to maintain power. This dynamic
certainly seems to be playing out in the U.S. today as many of our wealthiest
citizens become ever more staunchly opposed to paying taxes. We should resist trends
that drive us in regressive directions, and remain vigilant against all moves
that could lead to increased domination by authoritarian leaders.
is not inevitable that our country will be devastated by class warfare,
corruption, religious strife, cultural clashes, the radicalization of religious
fundamentalists, despotism, or disastrous population overshoot and ecological
collapse. But the proverbial bull must
be seized by the horns, and open-minded people are needed to step forward to
valiantly help solve daunting dilemmas.
We cannot allow business leaders and politicians and right wing
conservatives and religious extremists to advance their selfish interests and
goals of empire and domination while the planet slowly orbits toward a
combustive calamity of resource depletion and heightened conflict.
Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has dominated
international politics with its superpower influence. Imperial empires are generally built by using
domineering tactics of economic exploitation and coercive power and
control. In the last 100 years, the
types of government that have pursued imperialistic foreign policies have
included right-wing fascist ones, authoritarian communist ones, harsh
dictatorships and reactionary theocracies, as well as inadequately-controlled
capitalistic democracies. None of these
are desirable forms of government from the standpoint of the best interests of citizens
All these types of government tend to treat their
citizens with a disregard for the best interests of the people. They utilize ruthless tactics to achieve
narrow goals and to centralize power in authoritarian
structures. They encourage blind
patriotism and belligerent nationalism.
They favor state corporatism and expanded privileges for elites. They use deceptive propaganda and cultivated ‘Big
Lies’, and often promote pseudoscience, practice secrecy and use mass media to
manipulate the populace. They disdain
human rights, espouse unjust doctrines, and restrict personal freedoms. They suppress dissent and divide people
instead of trying to unite them for the common good. They neglect important domestic priorities
and stint on valued social goals. They
harshly punish crime and they intimidate and scapegoat people who oppose
them. They enact laws that oppress
workers. They manipulate the judicial
system. They often cultivate fear, prejudice and hate. They encourage role rigidity, male
domination, sexism, racism, homophobia and the pillorying of gay people. They oppose abortion and intertwine
government and religion, and repress artists and intellectuals.
My eyes roll; my thoughts wander. So much suffering and harm has been wreaked
on people around the globe in the pursuit of power, control, glory and
greed. Ideals of freedom, equality and
democracy are rent asunder in the process.
Authoritarian centralization of control, under either communism or
capitalism, has often been gravely detrimental to the majority of the people.
In bygone centuries, European imperialism
involved a system of economic mercantilism and colonial occupations. Naval power and strong-arm tactics were used to
establish exploitive regimes over peoples in Third World countries. England, Spain, Portugal, Germany, France,
the Netherlands and Italy all built far-flung colonial empires. The injustice of colonialism eventually led
to revolutionary movements for independence in dozens of countries around the
A new form of empire building has replaced
the colonial imperialism of the 16th to 20th centuries. This new kind of international abuse of power
involves economic imperialism that is more subtle and insidious. International banks, multinational
corporations and governments use a rigged international banking system and
predatory development schemes to enrich giant corporations and investors and
elite in-groups. Their goal is to
increase profits, and to exploit resources and cheap labor, no matter what the
cost to the people in developing countries.
The old forms of colonialism may seem
downright vulgar compared to these sophisticated new forms of imperialism. Free enterprise is running amok by advancing schemes
of privatization, corporate globalization, increased inequality, excessively speculative
development, various forms of institutional bribery and fraud, radical social
engineering, surges of militarism, and other forms of exploitive ‘economic
Economic inequality is one of the most
significant sources of friction in world politics. The industrial revolution has heightened
inequalities of wealth and power between developed nations and developing ones. The earliest countries to industrialize
colonized and exploited non-industrialized countries. Peripheral societies that have been left
behind basically have two strategies to break out of economic and political
dependency: (1) by means of revolutionary independence movements, or (2) by
imitating the methods of industrialization and using technological innovations
and market mechanisms such as currency controls, tariffs and other import
barriers. Opposition to the latter
methods by nations in the developed world makes intense conflicts more
likely. It is clear, however, that
fairer and more peaceable strategies are preferable to violent revolutions, so
we should make greater efforts to create fairer outcomes for people in less
development abroad these days generally relies on those who preach the gospel
of progress. Such people unfortunately
often ally themselves with forces of austerity, domination and repression in
order to advance the interests of investors and those in ruling classes. Powerful people almost invariably abuse their
prerogatives, and the world’s poor become ever more hapless pawns of the
percent of the people in the world own almost half of all wealth and
assets. Hunger, meanwhile, subversively
festers in the slums of the world, posing a serious threat to the future safety
of all. One of the primary roots of conflict
in human societies is instability that results from the systemic abuse of the
poor by economic and political elites.
Chalmers Johnson in his Nemesis trilogy provided provocative perspective concerning America
and the consequences of efforts to build an imperialistic empire. Gray Brechin writes about similar themes in
his book, Imperial San Francisco,
where he investigates the California Gold Rush and its aftermath, with a focus
on the growth of urban power, empire, ‘robber barons’, ambition and greed, and
their correlation with earthly ruin.
civilizations seem to pass through various stages of genesis, growth,
disintegration, breakdown and dissolution, these stages are NOT
predestined. We need not be fatalistic,
and in fact, one of the best things we could do would be to confidently and
courageously join the struggle to transform our societies into fairer and more
sustainable ones. By championing
resource conservation, recognizing limits, striving together to achieve
peaceable coexistence and making reasonable, intelligent, fair and intrepid
changes for a saner future, we would have a better chance of avoiding violent
conflicts, disintegration and chaos.
Chapter #19 –
Machiavellian Machinations and Their Shortcomings.
The father figures in our society should
begin acting in ways that are more reasonable, responsible, responsive and
humanitarian, and less authoritarian and unfair. I challenge everyone to read Al Gore’s
insightful book, The Assault on Reason,
and come to any other conclusion than that we would be much better off, if we
want a safer, fairer and more sane world, with a leadership role model similar
to Barack Obama rather than one like George W. Bush or Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan
or any of the leaders of the Tea Party.
I am personally a strong proponent of
giving greater respect and more political power to intelligent and empathetic
‘mother figures’ in our societies.
Today’s retrogressive patriarchal politicians are creating too many
problems in the world by contributing to increases in economic and environmental
injustices, inequality, ruthless competition, gender discrimination, arrogant
hubris and militarism.
An acquaintance of mine who lives in the
Big Sky Country of Montana is an old man who has been a lifelong
Republican. He aptly expressed the
feeling of many Americans during the 2008 elections when he said, “I have not
left the Republican Party, it has left me!”
What a disgrace to our country it was, and what a fiasco, for George W.
Bush and Dick Cheney to have abandoned important traditional principles of
balanced budgets, limited government, honesty, fairness, integrity, honorable
concern for the common good, multilateralism in international affairs, and the
right of Americans to protected civil liberties and privacy rights.
of mine, a woman who had always supported the Republican Party, wrote to me
just after the 2008 elections: “I broke
with my Republican tradition and have voted Democratic. With the rest of
the world looking at us as bullies, the best I figured we could do was to
change the face of the country internationally and see if we can rejoin the cool
kids in the cafeteria rather than eating alone under the bleachers.”
Karl Rove’s obsession with power and
political victory at-any-cost typified a curious creed which holds that
unethical and anti-democratic means are justified to accomplish triumphal
ends. The best interests of the American
people are being trumped by partisan favoritism, and a “culture of corruption”
has been running rampant in Washington D.C. for many years Many initiatives that pander to rich people,
giant corporations, or male prerogatives have been advanced, while outcomes
more favorable to the common good have been undermined. Objectionable outcomes have also come about
from widespread pay discrimination against women, the denigration of gay
people, and the exploitation of religious people for unchristian purposes.
Karl Rove was ostensibly emulating Lee
Atwater, the so-called “boogeyman” of Republican politics, a man who was widely
regarded as the first modern political operative to use scandals, dirty tricks
and fear to gain power. Atwater had a
win-at-any-cost approach and he was a “slime slinger” who tried to fool black
people into thinking the Republican Party really cares about their
interests. Atwater developed a brain
tumor at age 40 and made introspective deathbed confessions of the
wrongheadedness of his actions. For
illumination, watch the documentary film Boogie
Man: The Lee Atwater Story.
In any case, many millions of people
worldwide felt a great sense of relief to see the helicopter lift off on
January 20, 2009 to take George W. Bush out of Washington D.C., and out of
power. Despite bone-chilling weather,
there was reportedly a remarkable sense of excitement and anticipation in the
air, and a growing hope that new leadership in the United States would restore
a healthier balance to our American values and our communities, our domestic
economy, our foreign policies, and planetary ecosystems.
The Bush Administration had demonstrated with
startling clarity the truth in P.J. O’Rourke’s cynical observation that
“Republicans are the party that says that government doesn’t work -- and then
gets elected and proves it.” Our great
experiment in democracy has shown that vigilant commitments to freedom and
democratic fairness principles must be coupled with a free press and strong
judicial oversight and progressive policies in order to ensure a vibrant
society that works best for the majority of people.
In November 2008, I thought, Good riddance to
Republican expectations of permanent political dominance! Curiously, discredited conservative ideas
have made a partial comeback since then, especially among the Tea Party
faithful. They have done so by using a
“hard-times swindle”, according to Thomas Frank, author of Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback
of the Right. Super PAC money and
Republican efforts to disenfranchise millions of poor people and minorities are
giving conservative politicians a level of power that their unfair ideas do not
Corrupting influences always confront
government. The struggle for fairness is
a continuous process because greed and Machiavellian obsessions with power and
control persist, and seem to forever spring anew. International competition is intensifying
over control of land, energy resources, minerals and fresh water supplies. These developments guarantee that struggles
to maintain democratic forms of government will be difficult. It is -- and will remain -- a big challenge
for our nation to preserve an adequate semblance of fairness for our own
people, and for other people around the planet.
I find it to be an ironic twist that the
political left seems to demonstrate a greater concern for the whole of society,
and for future generations, and for overall biological well-being than the
political right, whose natural traditionalism, conservatism and professed
concerns for family values might seem to be a natural platform for fairer
protections of families and the environment.
But right-wing ideologues and scheming politicians have hijacked the
integrity of social conservatives to advance policies that turn out to be damaging
to communities and the environment. They
defend inegalitarian social inequities, ignorance and the raw authoritarian
pursuit of power. They seem to be
obsessed principally with personal gain and self-aggrandizement. As the American economist John Kenneth
Galbraith once observed:
“The modern conservative is engaged in one of
man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy;
that is, the search for a superior moral
justification for selfishness.”
Chapter #20 – Historical
Human history has been profoundly affected by two
principal revolutions. The first of these was the Agricultural Revolution
that began about 10,000 years ago. Before human beings began to cultivate
crops and domesticate animals, they lived semi-nomadic lives and hunted wild
animals and gathered plants, herbs and fruits for sustenance. When crop cultivation and animal husbandry
were found to be preferable means, it allowed human beings to generate
surpluses and settle down in villages and towns that eventually grew into
cities and civilizations, and helped human numbers proliferate.
The second great change in human societies was the
Industrial Revolution. This was a
transformation that kicked into high gear just over 200 years ago with advances
in mechanical power that began with steam engines. This revolution was
facilitated by great strides in science, technology, mechanization, innovation,
mining methods, electrification, the more efficient exploitation of resources,
the utilization of fossil fuels, urban infrastructure improvements, advances in
hygiene and medicine, and the stimulus of democratic governance.
Perspective on the nature and impacts that this transformative change had on
human societies are discussed at length in later chapters of this epistle.
We are now in the incipient stages of a new and
equally far-reaching revolution that mandates that we plant the propitious
seeds of sustainable activities. The era
is ending in which we can make advances simply by more efficiently harvesting
the bounty of nature, or by wantonly depleting the cornucopia of resources so
providentially available to us.
civilization is becoming increasingly vulnerable. We are creating a house of
cards, adding bells and whistles and technological innovations, but simultaneously
letting the foundations rot and the superstructure crumble. We are creating a sea of troubles by
increasing our national debt and liabilities, encouraging speculative excesses,
and extravagantly wasting resources. We are
doing this partially because we embrace false values of materialism,
undisciplined consumerism and lavish conspicuous consumption. Our government has foolishly involved us in
wars to meddle in the affairs of other nations with the main goal of increasing
the domineering influence of our imperialistic empire and facilitating
profiteering and feeding our addiction to fossil fuels.
Economic policies worldwide need to be redesigned to
limit emissions of greenhouse gases and to reduce air pollution like that
associated with China’s rapid growth and its widespread use of coal. The smog in Chinese cities is pervasive, gray
and suffocating on an epic scale.
very premises of the dominant paradigms of human thought and action threaten
our future well-being. The findings of the Millennium Ecosystem
Assessment make it clear that we need to begin to question these premises, and
to wholeheartedly respect the basic tenets of an ecologically-sound
transformation in our economic system and our business and government
Chapter #21 – Better
Plans for Global Security.
Oxford Research Group published a report in 2006 that had a stark conclusion
that sustainable security can be achieved only by addressing the root causes
of four main threats to global security:
(1) the ruthlessness and unfairness of competition over resources; (2) the trends toward global
militarization; (3) the impacts of
greenhouse gas emissions on climate change; and (4) the marginalization of the
majority of people in the world through disparities of wealth, power, and
economic inequities. The report cited as
unwise our unilateral attempt to control threats through the use of force
without honestly dealing with these root causes. Heavy-handed policies often attack only the
symptoms of problems, rather than effectively and cooperatively attempting to
resolve problems by addressing their true causes.
Dr. John Sloboda
of the Oxford Research Group wrote: “Preserving the planet for our children and
grandchildren speaks to our deepest aspirations, no matter what culture,
religion, or ideology we belong to or espouse.
The entire global political system has been fruitlessly distracted for
nearly half a decade by 9/11 and its consequences. It is not just that the United States-led
‘war on terror’ fails to address the real threats facing humanity; the very conduct of that ‘war’ is
exacerbating these threats, and bringing closer the likelihood of their
devastating impacts on human and environmental security. If these growing threats
are not halted within the next few years, the world could pass a tipping-point
which would catapult it into a period of intense and unprecedented conflict.”
We should develop a bigger-picture
understanding of the “war on terror”.
This extremely costly conflict has damaged international hopes for peace
and justice, and it is distracting us from far more vitally important domestic
and international initiatives. The
foreign policy of the U.S. has been a major contributing factor in inciting instability
and support for terrorist tactics. The
9/11 airplane hijackings and assaults on the World Trade Center and Pentagon
are just the most horrible example of retaliatory blowback. This CIA term
refers to the unintended consequences of our foreign policies and the dangers
of the resentments they engender.
The emphasis in our policies on economic
domination, ruthless covert operations, aggressive militarism and drone
bombings create strong opposition to our hard-line actions. Since terrorism is one of the few weapons
available to those who are desperately alienated, terrorist attacks become more
likely in response to our hubristic actions.
Author Chalmers Johnson actually predicted in the year 2000 that we
would suffer retaliatory payback for our policies and actions. In his book Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, he basically
predicted an outcome like the 9/11 attacks.
None of the real security challenges we
face can be solved through military power;
not stateless terror, not nuclear proliferation, not failed states, not mass
desperation, not Peak Oil, not resource depletion, not global pandemics, and
not climate change. We need new approaches
in foreign policy!
Islamic extremists have been terribly
effective in spreading fear among Western nations, spiking the cycle of violence
and repression. For years, our leaders
hyped up this threat to help them exploit the opportunity to advance their
short term-oriented agendas. They eroded
protections for citizens’ rights and reduced the transparency of government
activities. While our attention was
distracted, politicians and corporate profiteers have distorted our society’s
priorities to reap enormous benefits at the expense of people and of peaceful
Plato philosophized that societies should be led by
their wisest members. It is contradictory to this understanding to allow
people to control our government who are ideologically rigid, shortsighted, and
narrowly selfish. Good quality public education and fairer opportunities
should be courageously supported, and grave injustices should be rejected. Repression, authoritarianism, and religious
extremism should be marginalized. Good
statesmanship, greater fairness and more far-sighted sustainable initiatives
should be championed.
We are indeed in need of new paradigms --
of ethics, of ecologically-sound initiatives, of stewardship rather than
dominion, of conservation, of moderation in consumption, and of
peace-building. We would be wise to
develop ways to increase responsible behaviors and Golden Rule fairness. We need to find better methods of cultivating
a respectful tolerance of differences.
We should demand greater honesty from our leaders. We should implement initiatives that would
ensure that we achieve a better quality of life and make voluntary simplicity
more respectable. We should encourage
family planning and responsible parenthood, and give priority to the true
quality of life. We should empower women
instead of depriving them of their personal reproductive rights. And we should not pander so slavishly to
entities focused on resource exploitation, opportunism, global racketeering,
profiteering, narrow-minded doctrines, religious ideologies, deceptive
marketing, and aggressive warfare.
“Honesty is the first chapter in the book
--- Thomas Jefferson
Philosophers are literally people who love
wisdom. The most famous early Western
philosophers were Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Socrates was enigmatic and impious, teaching
mankind to ask questions in order to elicit truths that he felt were implicit
in all rational beings. He courageously
challenged the powerful, as Jesus of Nazareth did 400 years later, by
criticizing all forms of injustice and corruption. We could benefit from deeply understanding a
belief that Socrates articulated that right insight is necessary for right
Plato was one of Socrates’ pupils. He believed in lively discourse, so he
established the original school of philosophy, the Academy in Athens, to explore understandings of the true nature of
ideas. Plato’s most famous student was
Aristotle, one of history’s most original and perceptive Big Thinkers. Aristotle was a meticulous organizer of
thought and knowledge who wrote extensively on philosophy, logic, natural
science, ethics, politics and poetics.
He believed in the concept of the “Golden Mean”: a good balance between excess and
deficiency. He maintained that
moderation and balance are necessary for a harmonious and virtuous life. He rationally believed that eudemonia (human flourishing, or living
well) is the highest good. That is a
This way of seeing is valuable. Aristotle did, however, have some antiquated
and erroneous ideas and serious biases in his points of view. He believed, for example, that slavery was
just, and that women were inferior to men.
Slavery is not just. And women
are not inferior to men, and certainly should not be treated so!
The ideas espoused herein plumb philosophy, science,
economics, politics, psychology, history, morality and the nature of human
motivation, with the purpose of advancing understandings and actions by which
our societies can better flourish. By
invoking our faith, imagination, reason and creativity, we can discover insights
that will lead us to improve our economic and political systems and help us
plan for contingencies more wisely, and thus provide for a saner future.
Chapter #22 – The Gaia Understanding.
valuable shift in perspective can be gained by understanding the modern holistic
concept of Gaia.
is the physical totality of the Earth and all its life forms together, intricately
interconnected and interdependent. The
entire planet and its biotic communities function together as a dynamic and
thoroughly interdependent, self-regulating organism. Gaia seems to operate with a property similar to “homeostasis”. This term homeostasis describes the process
by which the body of a living organism regulates and maintains a delicate
internal equilibrium of temperature, water content, blood alkalinity, oxygen
supply, nutritional needs and other factors essential to health and
Gaia manifests über-mechanisms that regulate,
maintain and tend to restore a delicate equilibrium in the habitats, ranges and
ecosystems of all life forms. A good parallel
can be drawn to the social complexity of a hive of bees. No hive of bees can be fully understood in a
context of individual bees alone, since there is a complex interdependence
between the hive’s queen and its drones and workers. Similarly, the biotic community of life on
Earth cannot be truly understood without at the same time knowing about
interconnections and interrelationships between life forms and with natural
processes like photosynthesis and the hydrologic cycle of evaporation and
Gaia has marvelous capacities for
resilience and spontaneous healing, especially when in a healthy state. All species are essentially actors in a
co-evolutionary dance of survival that rely on mutualism for continued
existence. Gaia is balanced,
provisioning and beautiful, with oceans, rivers, wetlands, rainforests, coral
reefs, the atmosphere and millions of species of life interacting together in
miraculously wondrous ways.
Feedback loops can contribute to a healthy
equilibrium in natural systems. When
human activities disrupt such natural balance, feedback loops can also have
decidedly negative impacts and they can adversely affect the fabric of
biological existence. One example of
this can be found in activities that cause deforestation and make global warming worse,
thereby contributing to a faster melting of snow cover, glaciers and ice
sheets. Since snow and ice reflect the
sun’s heat into space, the global warming process speeds up when they disappear.
Hotter temperatures serve to increase
the number of catastrophic wildfires, and these events spew enormous amounts of
smoke and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year. A collateral effect of such fires is the combustion
of living trees whose photosynthesis would otherwise remove carbon dioxide from
Global warming also tends to release more methane
into the atmosphere from peat bogs and thawing tundra. According to scientists, methane is many
times more potent than carbon dioxide in its effect on atmospheric
warming. Once we understand how feedback
loops can compound the effects of adverse changes, we gain vital perspective
that will theoretically help inform our actions and facilitate our choosing
wiser ways of ensuring our own species’ flourishing, safety and survival.
Let’s forgive ourselves, and forgive others. And let’s acknowledge that the resources of
the Earth are like our natural capital, and that it is radically unwise to
mindlessly squander them. No business
can exist for long if it continuously spends its capital resources; yet we are exploiting the resources of the
Earth with little regard for inexorable depletion. In addition to being the source of a bounty
of natural resources, our home planets ecosystems provide extremely valuable
services that are crucial to all aspects of human well-being.
Some of these ecosystems services are provided by
(1) wetlands, which mitigate flooding, purify water, and provide rich aquatic
nursery habitats; (2) forests, which
regulate stream flows, protect topsoil and river fisheries, and provide wood,
fiber and “sinks” for carbon dioxide;
(3) wild areas that provide vital sustenance to wildlife and support
biological diversity; (4) birds and bees
and various other insects that provide seed dispersal and crop
pollination; (5) natural systems that
keep pests and diseases in check; (6)
the natural symbiosis and resilience found in the diversity of ecosystems, which
helps maintain Gaia’s balance; and (7)
public lands that offer recreational, aesthetic, and spiritual values.
Scientists estimate that ecosystem services
contribute about twice as much value, in total, in the international economy
every year as the sum of the gross national products of all countries. This understanding makes it clear that we
should not mindlessly mess with Mother Nature by harming her ability to
continue providing these services!
The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment estimated that
60% of these ecosystem services are being degraded or used unsustainably. SIXTY PERCENT!
Human activities are both intentionally and
inadvertently altering and damaging habitats all around the world. This impoverishing of the planet is taking
place at our own distinct peril. “It is
an unnerving thought,” writes Bill Bryson in A Short History of Nearly Everything, “that we may be the living
universe’s supreme achievement and its worst nightmare simultaneously.”
Paul Hawken observed in Blessed Unrest that social justice and
environmental movements might well be “humanity’s immune response to toxins
like political corruption, economic disease, and ecological degradation.” Consider the nature of our immune
systems. When an individual is
inoculated with small doses of pathogens, this exposure gives our bodies
immunity to larger-scale attacks by the same pathogens. This is practically a miracle! It is a form of inoculated ‘memory’ in the
immune system. In a similar way, we can
consider committed ecological concerns by individuals as immunological
protections of Gaia against pathological threats in the form of ecosystem
damages, habitat degradation, and other unwise forms of exploitation. We should collectively heed such concerns,
rather than allowing our representatives to expend so much effort undermining
The concept of Gaia is named after the
Greek Earth goddess Gaea. It is instructive to go back to ancient Greek
mythology and ponder the genesis of its Creation story. Gaea was feminine-gendered Earth. She emerged from Chaos and gave birth to a
son, Uranus, who was the primal Greek god that personified the Sky and the
heavens. Gaea then mated with Uranus to
create, among others, the 12 first-generation Titans who were primeval nature
powers worshipped in historical Greece.
The Titans were an early ruling dynasty of powerful deities during a
Golden Age. They were the parents of
second-generation Titans like Atlas and Prometheus and the sun god Helios and
the moon goddess Selene, and they in turn were the parents and grandparents of
the Olympian gods and goddesses.
Uranus was the first patriarchal father
figure in Greek mythology. In a classic
story, Uranus grew resentful of the children he had parented with Gaea, so he
kept some of them trapped within her womb. This caused Gaea great pain, anguish and
anger. Cronus, the youngest Titan, came
to help his mother, and he did so by lopping off his father’s genitals with a
sickle and throwing them into the sea.
By such means, he became the most powerful god. He and the Titans then ruled over the
universe and gave birth to new deities that represented natural elements like
the sun, the moon, rivers, winds, and the rainbow. Others were monsters that personified evil or
Cronus mated with Rhea, one of his sister
Titans, and from their union was born the first-generation Olympians -- Zeus,
Poseidon, Hades, Hera, Hestia and Demeter.
These deities ruled the sky, the sea, the underworld and the affairs of
mankind. Zeus was regarded not only as
the supreme ruler of the gods, but also as the personification of the laws of
Imagine yourself alive 2,500 years ago in the
island nation of Greece. This Creation
myth was the dominant cosmological, spiritual and religious explanation of
existence at that time in this most advanced civilization in the Western world. A rich and well-developed mythology
surrounded these deities, enveloping the Greeks in a mythical connection to
The Creation story of Uranus and Cronus has
a patriarchal slant to it, eh? Lots of
testosterone! The father’s genitals were
lopped off by his son!! It makes one
yearn for the good old days when the Great Goddess ruled humankind’s beliefs --
and when much greater appreciation was given to the health and beneficence of
the natural world. In those times, more
respect was accorded to Mother Earth, since people held a more personalized
vision of the impersonal powers of cause and effect.
The Great Goddess Mother Earth had been
revered in ancient Europe and Asia for thousands of years before barbarian
invasions led to the subjugation of these early civilizations by peoples whose
deities were dominated by male warrior gods.
These invasions fractured and suppressed the prior mother-based
religions, and then father-based theologies became dominant. Patriarchal religions not only consigned feminine
goddesses to inferior positions in the pantheon of deities, but they profoundly
affected the cultures of the peoples in which they germinated and found
expression. Women were increasingly
oppressed in those societies, and harsh laws like the eye-for-an-eye
Hammurabi’s Code gained force. The new
myths demoted the value of the female life force, with its deep connections to
fertility and birth and nature. And the
males, like modern-day born–again Texan evangelicals, made sure to relegate
females to an inferior status. In Texas,
they are going one step further and trying to mandate giving birth by strictly
limiting access to abortion and even opposing birth control measures, and the
influence of the powerful oil industry is causing rash oil-well-pumping
assaults and polluting effects on nature.
Our societies are still paying the price
for the sometimes subtle and sometimes ruthless subjugation of the divine
feminine. Our patriarchal cultures oddly
tend to stunt the basic needs of both females and males. It inhibits personal growth and the
fulfillment of our human potentials. It
compels men to repress their inner anima selves and their emotions and
vulnerabilities, and this contributes to a variety of morbid symptoms. And it represses women, and makes sure they
earn less pay for equal work, and restricts their freedoms and
In larger ecological terms, domineering
masculine god conceptions facilitate the rash exploitation of Mother
Earth. We should instead give greater
appreciation and respect to our home planet by being willing to boldly protect
it with commitments that are far-reaching and loyally pursued. Protections of wildlife and habitats should
be strengthened! We need to recognize
and honor the intrinsic values of Earth’s ecosystems to us in a healthy
condition, and we should stop pretending with mindless myopia that we will be
able to continue exploiting and abusing them indefinitely, or with impunity.
I highly recommend Dr. Leonard Shlain’s
book The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: the
Conflict between Word and Image for its provocative perspective on the
transition of early civilizations from Mother Goddess worship to the worship of
male Gods. Dr. Shlain makes a compelling
case for deeper causes for this rude transformation. His brilliant insights involve the
neurological workings of our brains and a physical shift to the dominance of
the left hemisphere of the brain that occurred when analytical literacy became
widespread. He asserts that there is a
strong correlation between this change and a diminishing of the status and
prerogatives of women in ancient societies, and a reduction in levels of
respect for them, and widespread restrictions on their freedoms and
A study of mythology can provide
enlightening insights. Powerful images
within us are expressed in story-telling, myths, legends, rituals and the tales
in holy books. These stories resemble
Rorschach revelations of our inner selves and the drives that affect us. We are all acted upon from within by these universal
archetypes that reside in our collective unconscious, such as those richly
embodied in the characteristics attributed to the gods and goddesses of ancient
At the same time that archetypes strongly
influence our behaviors, we are deeply affected by forces from without, in the
form of cultural stereotypes and expectations and acculturated biases. A better understanding of the forces that
influence us gives us the power to re-shape our lives in ways that could be
more meaningful and fulfilling. Read the
intriguing book, Goddesses in Everywoman:
A New Psychology of Women by Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen, for a deeper and more
personal framework of this topic, and of important ramifications.
and belief systems help us define ourselves. They create identity and a sense of meaning
and belonging in our lives. Every
culture throughout history has had its own unique creation myth. This surely confirms the strength of human
needs for trying to explain existence and feel more secure in the belief that
we are important in the world. How could
it be otherwise that we are at the center of the universe? Could it be?
Isn’t it? Surely every child
thinks, in any case, “It’s all about me!”
we seem to have a basic need for a creation myth, there could scarcely be a
more solid, fact-supported, adaptive and unifying one than the narrative
unfolding through science and understandings of deep ecology. These perspectives reveal a grand saga of an
eons-long physical evolution of the universe and our solar system, and of life
on our home planet. Within this
backdrop, science presents a magnificent conception of the genetic evolution of
all life on Earth, including every species of life in a billions-of-years-long
epic of continuous change along a multifaceted branching of the tree of life. Check
out Revelations of a Modern Prophet
for a more elaborate explanation.
would be salubrious for us all if a reconciling balance could be established
between masculine and feminine cosmologies, theologies, worldviews and
politics. By yielding some of the drive
to dominate, the masculine divine could allow the vital feminine divine and its
corollary positive attributes to gain healthier influence in our lives. Women could be empowered and given fairer
treatment and greater equality of opportunity.
Our societies could even commit to a universal healthcare system that
includes medical care for women without sexist double standards or purity
pledges, or meddlesome vaginal probes or other such things.
the heroine character in Jean Auel’s novel The
Clan of the Cave Bear provokes our imagination with images of a world long
ago. The story entertains us with a
marvelous Ice Age saga, and it simultaneously gives us provocative insights
into how different the relationships and cultures of prehistoric peoples may
have been. Imagine facing the primordial
world that Ayla lived in, with its pre-literate social ties and communication
hurdles and cave bears and saber-toothed tigers and woolly mammoths. Try to place yourself in those times and
contexts and the worldviews that might have accompanied those times. As descendents of such people, this flight of
imagination provides us with a compelling way of looking at our selves, our
ancestry, and our relationship with the Earth.
populations of animals exist in dynamic natural balances. Each species’ population is controlled by
limiting factors such as the available food supply, predation, disease, and
competitive pressures. Humanity is not
independent or exempt from these influences.
For this reason it is foolhardy for the human race
to continue acting in ways that upset natural balances and the current
equilibrium of ecological systems.
This understanding should encourage us to
refrain from the wholesale destruction of habitats by means of the
clear-cutting of forests, the depletion of fisheries, the wasteful usages of
fossil fuels, and the degradation of the quality of water resources and
agricultural lands and wild areas.
Recall this date: April 15, 1912. On this date, just over a century ago, the RMS
Titanic passenger liner struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage and sank in the
North Atlantic Ocean. We should begin to
seriously limit emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere instead of
emulating the Captain of the Titanic, who said “Damn the icebergs, full speed
ahead!” in treacherous waters. The ship
and its passengers and crew suffered the terrible consequences.
Our actions today are creating a dangerous
and unsettled situation that will probably be restored to balance only after
our human equilibrium-disturbing impacts are ancient history, hundreds or
thousands -- or millions, to real optimists -- of years from now.
Life has survived some epic calamities on
Earth, such as the Cretaceous Extinction that took place 65 million years
ago. This biotic catastrophe has been
traced to a meteor impact in the vicinity of the northern part of the Yucatan
Peninsula. The fossil record shows that
more than half of all species of life on Earth became extinct at that time,
including all the numerous species of reptilian dinosaurs.
Other mass extinctions have taken place
over the eons-long unfolding of geologic history, but today’s increase in the
rate of extinctions represents the first time that extinctions have been caused
by one species of life (us!), rather than by a geophysical phenomenon. Biologists and other researchers generally
agree, according to Edward O. Wilson in The
Future of Life, that the extinction rate of species today is somewhere
between 100 and 10,000 times the average rate that has pertained for tens of
millions of years, long before human beings began to impact biological
diversity on Earth.
An alarming die-off of honeybees is taking
place in the U.S. today. This
development can be seen as a proverbial “canary in the coal mine” warning,
cautioning us that the dismissive attitude of our culture toward pollution,
waste, habitat damages and greenhouse gas emissions is creating risks too big
to accept. Similarly, the decline in
both the diversity and abundance of mammals, birds, amphibians and other
species should serve as a warning against obtusely and obstinately staying our
Change in human societies tends to take
place in a kind of punctuated equilibrium, one of gathering energies and
tipping points. It is clear that, for
our own good, we need to make difficult decisions and define a new epoch in
which we choose to act more intelligently to prevent the widespread extinction
of other species of life. We should seek
better ways to collaborate together to find common ground between economic
activities and conservation in order to protect future generations, and to
prevent a forecast extinction of roughly 50% of all species of life on Earth in
the next 100 years. “Now is the
An Ode to Gaia
Crystal clear water splashes down a verdant canyon
tune of satisfying elemental simplicity.
Water-loving plants crowd the contours of the riparian watershed,
Reflecting a state of balanced natural
existence and seeming felicity.
above, on mountain ridges and peaks,
Awe-inspiring vistas can be seen that give a person a feeling of
Connected, integral, visionary, and susceptible to revelation and
Yet miniscule and ephemeral in the face of
infinity and eternity.
Drifting along on a stream,
pools in the meadows,
Eddies around every bend.
has its own influences,
all events contain
amounts of pleasure,
And of sorrow.
In this stage of its existence,
with random energy,
Active and infinitely changing.
occasionally the water flows into lakes
against the beautiful shore
deep in calm repose,
unconcerned that, eventually,
It again will become rain.
Chapter #23 – Carrying
Capacity and Far-Sighted Ecological Perspective.
The concept of a carrying capacity of natural
habitats is useful and important. Nature provides a limited carrying
capacity for every species of animal, depending on food and water supply and
population density. The versatility of human ingenuity has allowed the
human race to extensively expand the range of places where we can live, so we
have been able to temporarily mask natural limits on our population growth and
our consumption activities. Our
collective abilities to make shelter, clothing and tools, and to cultivate and
utilize a wide variety of sources of food and energy, have made this expansion
But we are already using up an estimated 40% of the
total annual biological productivity of our beautiful water planet. This
means that between agriculture, timber harvesting, wildlife hunting, animal
husbandry, foraging and fishing, we are taking 40% of the total annual
productive bounty of the planet for ourselves.
Imagine the impact we will have as human numbers
grow from 7 billion today to 9 billion by the year 2040!
In effect, we are simultaneously doing three things:
(1) Depleting the non-renewable resources upon which we depend;
(2) Damaging ecosystems through over-utilization, unsustainable
development, topsoil erosion, suburban sprawl, habitat destruction and resource
(3) Increasing our demands on nature with increasingly effective
extractive technologies and dramatic increases in our human numbers.
In other words, we are steadily diminishing the
carrying capacity of the Earth to support us. This is practically
insane. We are assaulting the foundations of healthy existence while
simultaneously failing to take meaningful steps to conserve resources, reduce
our consumer demands, or stem the tide of our human population growth.
The ecological underpinnings of everything we depend on cannot be continuously
and unsustainably degraded.
Ecologists note that on an island, where it is
easiest to quantify the approximate carrying capacity of a single species like reindeer,
there have been instances where reindeer have been introduced and have increased
in population beyond the expected level that can be naturally supported. When the number of reindeer exceeds the
carrying capacity by a large enough margin, the animals eat all the available
food, and a population crash results.
Instead of the number of animals declining to a balance in the range
predicted as being the actual carrying capacity, devastating starvation occurs
and very few survive. This is like the
proverbial interplay between populations of rabbits and foxes. Being intelligent creatures, can’t we choose
to control our population and consumption, rather than waiting until impersonal
certainties of cause and effect wreak terrible havoc on our species?
attentions have been dominated, particularly in the past 100 years, by economic
competition, security anxieties, ideological struggles and wars. We
should not let such concerns prevent us from developing healthier ecological
perspectives. All these issues are inextricably interconnected. It
is becoming critical for us to be able to integrate progressive ideas and
wholesome understandings into a set of visionary and beneficial plans that will
help us better cope with the enormous challenges facing us.
There is a “call of the wild” within us
all, but it is subsumed by our increasingly urban upbringing and the economic
needs to which we feel subjected. Our
strong desires to belong, and our compliant conformity to seductive consumer
and cultural indoctrination, are factors that serve to prevent us from a more
primordial connectedness to nature. I
feel that Henry David Thoreau had a good point when he sagely counseled, “In
wildness is the preservation of the world.”
"Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people
are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is necessity; that mountain parks and reservations are
useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains
--- John Muir
exalted not because we are so far above all living creatures, but because
elevates the very concept of life.”
--- Edward O.
Chapter #24 – Rueful
In 1910, President Theodore Roosevelt declared:
behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn
next generation increased, and not impaired, in value.”
By this standard, humanity is behaving remarkably poorly,
especially in light of the fact that we are driving many species of life to
extinction. The actions that are
contributing to this outcome are undermining the very foundations of our
long-term prosperity and well-being.
Some say that we are treating Mother Earth like a
prostitute. We are pimping her services at every opportunity. We
are objectifying her, selling her virtues, exploiting her wilds, making her gaudy
with development, and showing a lack of concern for her well-being. We
are desecrating her charms, violating her pristine qualities, and taking
advantage of her passivity and vulnerabilities. We are, in summary,
figuratively screwing our Mother Earth.
Our motto seems to be “EARTH FIRST! --- We can screw
the other planets later!” I hope that readers can at least chuckle
ruefully at this bumper sticker sentiment, because there is value in humor and
light-heartedness, no matter how serious and consequential the topic!
Consider the extent to which our activities today
are similar to a Ponzi scheme. This is a
type of fraudulent investment scam in which speculators receive abnormally high
short-term returns that are paid from funds received from new investors. Such Ponzi scams inevitably collapse because
they are unsustainable: there are no
earnings to pay investors, so the suckers who come late to the scene are duped
by promises of high returns, and they eventually lose their money. The strategies involved in dominant economic
ideologies today are predicated on unsustainable growth, so they have distinct
parallels to Ponzi schemes. They create
big profits in the short run at the expense of activities being sustainable in
the long term. We are essentially
rewarding investors and speculators and profiteers in the short term by
borrowing resources from people in the future, and externalizing costs onto them,
so the ‘suckers’ in this scheme are our children and theirs and theirs, far
into the distant future.
‘spectre’ is haunting planet Earth, a spectre of human overconsumption,
overpopulation, and the overproduction of wastes, pollutants, toxins and
climate-altering greenhouse gases. It is
high time that a prophet of sober assessment and hope-inspiring ideals begins
to advance comprehensive perspectives, good ideas, and optimum solutions whose
implementation will create saner societies.
This manuscript is my earnest attempt to provide such propitious
“It is wiser to find out than to
--- Mark Twain
Chapter #25 – In Defense
Intensely partisan, power-abusing
politicians play a big role in our human destiny. Recognizing this, it would be a good idea for
us to proactively seek ways to advance far-sighted initiatives that will help
remedy this situation. Many of the
chapters of these writings are regrettably, but of necessity, involved with
POLITICS. The most direct of these are
Chapters #78-79; they call cogently for
dramatic changes in the priorities of our nation’s leaders.
The right-wing political machine portrays
conservatism as representing reasonableness and rectitude. It continuously attacks liberals, portraying
them as being wishy-washy, clueless, bleeding hearts, or lacking in good
ideas. But I challenge readers to review
the compendium of progressive ideas in the Earth Manifesto and to come to any
other conclusion than this: it is
actually status-quo conservatism that is the failing political philosophy,
and the one that is truly shortsighted, unfair, misleading, progress-stymieing,
unsustainable and wrong-headed.
It seemed like our political leaders in the
U.S. during the eight years of the Bush Administration were striving to control
the American people by dividing them.
They preached democracy but at the same time shrewdly sowed seeds of
fear, insecurity, inequality, nationalistic fervor, dogmatic certitude,
patriotic zealotry, divisive religious intolerance, and cultivated doubt about
the consensus findings of scientists.
Instead of championing better plans, they diverted public funds to wars,
cut taxes to primarily benefits top earners, and resorted to the ruse of
distracting people from domestic problems by engaging in aggression abroad. Such tactics are unconscionably
Radical right ‘conservatives’ demonstrate
hard-line attitudes that are similar to those of religious fundamentalists and
zealous extremists, both Islamic and Christian.
They are often enemies of honesty, respectful tolerance, and expansive
freedoms because of their rigidly controlling patriarchal stances on women’s
issues, sexuality, family issues, secularism and modernity.
The main legitimate source of power in a
democracy is the consent of the governed.
Yet when consent is manufactured by means of the control and distortion
of information, then the legitimacy of this consent can be undermined. When rational understanding is obscured by
means of tactics that distract people and scare them, the quality of decision-making
is diminished. When the federal
government ignores and suppresses vital information, and sanitizes reports, and
distorts facts, and uses misinformation and secrecy about key issues and
government operations, it is unjust and anti-democratic. Many attempts were made by the Bush
Administration to control information, use misleading statistics, and remove
important information concerning health, safety and environmental matters from
government websites and the public domain.
The manufacture of consent by means of mass persuasion and deceptive
spin has essentially made us puppets to propaganda.
British philosopher and statesman Francis
Bacon long ago declared: “Knowledge is
power.” Attempts by governments and
think tanks to control, misrepresent, and slant information are forms of power
abuse. We need to be aware that our
convictions can be illusions. To know
something, it is best to be open-minded to contrary information and opinions,
and to test convictions against a close scrutiny of the real world, and to
strive to correct misapprehensions. “Don’t believe everything you think!”
The “God, guns and gays” strategy of using
hot button social issues to divide people and sway elections has been used
effectively by conservatives to advance their causes. But our energies should be focused on much
more serious issues. Instead of being
distracted by narrow-mindedness and red herrings, we should find ways to limit
the high cost of wars abroad, and mitigate problems of homelessness, poverty
and social injustice. And we should
strive to staunch the rapid depletion of resources, and restructure our economies
to mitigate the damaging impacts of environmental harms.
Conservative politicians in Congress have
unfortunately led the way in distracting the public’s attention from these
important issues. They have repeatedly proposed
oppressive legislation to limit women’s reproductive rights, deny civil rights
to gay people, oppose gender equity, interfere with family planning programs, overturn
affordable healthcare legislation, stoke anti-immigrant sentiments, prevent the
establishment of reasonable gun controls, and intimidate people from expressing
the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and the third President
of the United States, believed strongly that the powers of the federal
government should be vigilantly constrained.
He expressed the opinion that we should protect and expand
representative democracy and human liberties.
He would probably have figuratively turned over in his grave to see the
extent to which the Executive Branch usurped power under the Bush
Administration, and how it bullied Congress and manipulated public opinion and
stacked the federal courts.
speaks to us today, in fact, from beyond the grave, about the essential ideals
and principles of our Government:
“Should we wander from these principles in moments
of error or of alarm, let us hasten to
retrace our steps and to regain the road
which alone leads to peace, liberty and safety.”
The U.S. Senate spent a lot of time
debating a Flag Desecration Amendment in June 2006. This was an electioneering ploy that just
barely failed to pass. Republicans used
this gambit to gain patriotic support in the national elections of November
2006, just as they have done in previous elections. Americans should, parenthetically, thank the
Senate for defeating this Constitutional amendment, and we should congratulate
ourselves for having once again rejected attempts to curtail Free Speech rights
that have been guaranteed for over 225 years by the brilliant Bill of
Rights. Our democratic freedom to speak
out in dissent from government policies is eroded when people are intimidated
by government harassment, retributive actions, and coercion.
In truth, we really should honor our core
values and Constitutional principles. We
should not just be worshipping the flag as a symbol of an America that the
radical right debases with their disdain for rules of domestic and
international law and fair principles of justice. Attempts by the right-wing to erode the
checks and balances in our federal government are distinctly wrong-headed, as
are efforts to minimize national commitments to the general welfare and peaceful
coexistence among nations.
“I want my students to consider in a historical context the idea that
social inequities are neither inevitable nor accidental but reflect the
assumptions, beliefs, and policies of certain people who command enormous
power; that there are limits to our power as a nation, that no country is
exempt from history; that the indispensable strength of America remains the
right of dissent, and that few people have cared more deeply about this nation
than some of its severest critics; and
that we need to be wary of those who in the name of protecting our freedoms
would diminish them. History teaches,
after all, that it is not the rebels, the iconoclasts, the curious, or the
dissidents who endanger a democratic society, but rather the accepting, the
unthinking, the unquestioning, the docile, the obedient, the silent, and the
--- Eminently Popular Professor Leon Litwack
Strategies devised to polarize Americans
have been used to advance a retrogressive and partisan agenda that benefits a
small segment of society at the expense of the greater good. These strategies reduce citizen liberties and
individual privacy rights, and they subvert the wisdom of our national
planning, damage our democracy, and threaten our fiscal well-being. They also harm the beneficial support systems
of a healthy environment and biological diversity. And they hurt our hopes for peaceful
coexistence and better prospects for people in future generations.
Chapter #26 – Political Madness.
I encourage readers to peruse Reflections on War – and Peace! because
it contains valuable insight into the historical motivations for war and the
demagogic methods that have been used many times in history to achieve the goals
of leaders who involve their countries in war.
The bottom line is that domineering militarism and hawkish U.S.
military-apologist dogmas are being discredited in many ways.
Historian Howard Zinn observed during the
tenure of the Bush Administration that the wrong people were in power, people
who had faith in imperial empire, guns, bombs, indoctrination, war propaganda,
strict authority, profiteering, and special privilege. Professor Zinn delivered a challenge to the American people when he said, “To be
neutral and to be passive is to collaborate with whatever is going on.” He defined democracy as “not just a
counting-up of votes” but a “counting-up of actions.” Having thus proverbially thrown down the
gauntlet, the late Professor Zinn encouraged each of us to get involved in some
form of constructive social activism.
Charles Schultz’ character Snoopy shows us
that exasperated existential exclamations of AARGH! are often followed by an
aftermath of embarrassed contrition. In
light of this funny fact, many people avoid controversy, protest and social
action. We lay low. The ruts of tradition and conformity to
custom run deep. Politicians often take
advantage of the natural fears people feel and their embarrassment at taking a
stand. They encourage complacency and
strive to subdue the outrage of citizens at unfair or excessively punitive
actions of their governments. This might
logically motivate us to submerge ourselves into our own personal worlds, and
to merely intone quiet private mantras of “AH … AH … AH … UH … UH … UH”. Huh?
In any case, I believe that more is demanded of us!
“The wisest men follow their own
--- Euripides, fifth century BCE
Chapter #27 – The Tragedy
of the Commons.
How can humanity earn a living and simultaneously
protect the Earth and its waters and atmosphere? Let’s explore this question.
People fail to act in socially and environmentally
responsible ways for a variety of reasons. Some of these reasons are rational;
and some of these reasons are irrational.
Irrational reasons for disastrous behavior include
clashes of values, cultivated denial, unreasonable fears, emotional hijacking,
ideological inflexibility, closed-mindedness, confusion, ignorance and stubborn
persistence in error. As societal needs change, rigid resistance to
progressive adaptation tends to prevent policies from being implemented that
would be the most consistent with the greater good. Shared delusions,
psychological denial, misunderstanding, “groupthink”, and the madness of crowd
psychology can also contribute to socially irrational public policy-making.
Abbey once astutely and sarcastically observed, “One man alone can be pretty
dumb sometimes, but for real bona fide stupidity, there ain't nothin' can beat
teamwork.” Ha! There are countervailing perspectives like
those explored in the book by James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds, which reveal that the aggregation of
information from groups of people can result in better decisions. Herein lies the hope in a democracy that the
crowd can weigh in on the side of better decision-making. To avoid the failures of crowd intelligence
like those in mobs or irrational stock market bubbles, a diversity of opinion
should be encouraged, and people should be empowered to think independently and
draw on localized knowledge.
The primary rational reasons for disastrous
behavior include obtuse self-centeredness, a failure to properly anticipate
logical consequences, ruthlessness in the competition for ascendancy, excessive
avarice, and poorly informed decision-making. Small elites who lust for
wealth and power often collaborate in rational activities to dominate policy
and decision-making. Corporate interests, for example, clash with more
broadminded civic interests in their efforts to gain the privilege of being
allowed to externalize costs onto society. And in the case of speculative
bubbles, it may be eminently rational to participate as long as there are
‘greater fools’ to perpetuate the scheme a while longer.
Rational behaviors contribute to the phenomenon
known as a ‘Tragedy of the Commons’. The rational self-interest of people
who are competing for benefits from a shared resource often results in collectively
irrational damage to that resource. This occurs for a rather simple
reason: individuals who are motivated by greedy self-interest want to get
immediate benefits from an activity, while the unintended consequences and
negative impacts of the exploitation of a common resource are insidious and
less immediately apparent, and they are borne by the less-focused entire
The Tragedy of the Commons describes what is taking
place in many different arenas of resource exploitation. The decimating impact, for instance, on
formerly rich fisheries by fishing fleets from many competing nations occurs
because unregulated competition results in the over-harvesting of fish
stocks. Actions by rational individuals can
thus result in outcomes that are utterly insane for the entire group. Such outcomes are tragic when they
extensively harm the ecological commons.
It turns out that better cooperation, not
less-regulated competition, is necessary to improve the prospects of
sustainable resource usages. The only sane way for the whole of society
to benefit is to create a system of far-sighted rules that are designed to
protect common resources from rapid depletion, damage or destruction.
This requires the agreement and honest compliance to such rules of all
participants. It also requires oversight
and effective enforcement.
The parable of the
Tragedy of the Commons also applies to the issue of pollution. In this
case, rather than the consequences of exploitation being a depleted commons, it
is a polluted commons. Rational companies make bigger profits by dumping
wastes into the commons, because then the costs are foisted onto
Widespread resistance to international efforts to limit greenhouse gas
emissions can be clearly understood as an instance of this accumulating
tragedy. Some 191 nations ratified the Kyoto Protocol to help mitigate
the ecological damages that are being caused by global warming and related
climate change. But the United States refused to comply! Our leaders shortsightedly opposed these
accords. China and India have also been unwilling to take effective steps
to control greenhouse gas emissions, because they see that the process of
industrialization without heed to the global commons has allowed developed
countries to benefit economically, and they regard it as an injustice for them
to now be required to follow a different, more expensive path that involves
stricter emissions controls.
The nations of the world are thus failing to boldly act to solve the
ominous problems associated with the pouring of billions of tons of carbon
dioxide into the atmosphere every year. Making
this bad situation worse, we have failed to take sufficient actions to prevent
deforestation. Our inaction represents a presumptuous disregard for the well-being
of all life on the planet, and it ignores the plight of people living on
low-lying islands in the world’s oceans and along coastal areas worldwide. It also represents a refusal to act to
mitigate the severity of future droughts, heat waves and other weather-extreme
calamities that are being made worse by our inaction.
The United States insists on acting in the myopic self-interest of big
corporations instead of making reasonable commitments to cooperate to achieve
common good goals. This is done because we have the power to ignore
rational and intelligent cooperation, NOT because it is the right thing to do.
Chapter #28 – On Climate
Recent years have been among the warmest in all of recorded weather
history. Glaciers worldwide are receding,
and the Arctic ice caps and Antarctic ice sheets are melting at an alarming
rate. Hurricanes, tornados, floods, and drought are intensifying. With the concentration of carbon dioxide in
the atmosphere having increased by more than 25% in the last 50 years, it is
shocking to find that the rate of its accumulation is accelerating. It is becoming increasingly likely that climate changes caused by global
warming will contribute in coming years to more destructive storms like
Superstorm Sandy that devastated parts of the Northeastern U.S. and the
powerful typhoon that struck the Philippines in November 2013. These shifts in weather patterns will also
cause agricultural disruptions, worsening desertification trends in some areas,
more intense and frequent wildfires, the spread of diseases, mass migrations of
refugees, biological extinctions and other environmental and social
One principal mechanism of climate pattern
disruptions is the alternate warming and cooling of the world’s oceans, which can
contribute to El Niño and La Niña weather patterns that shift the jet stream
and cause more extreme wet and dry periods in different locales.
Carbon-dioxide emissions were about 40% higher in 2009 than in 1990,
despite efforts made in the Kyoto Protocol to diminish them. Scientists have
actually been surprised by the rate of global warming, but one theory holds
that, as ocean surfaces warm in general, this causes the natural process of
carbon dioxide absorption by oceans to be reduced. The higher rate of increase of carbon dioxide
concentrations in the atmosphere implies an earlier and more severe onset of
the problems mentioned above. Perhaps
the correlated global warming is partially a result of hot air emanations from
climate change deniers --- who knows?
One would have to ask Senator Inhofe of Oklahoma about that. I personally can’t imagine opposing sensible
precautionary principles, to the detriment of billions of people now and in
future generations, just to increase the profitability of the oil, coal and
natural gas industries!
Scientists have been warning for years about the huge quantities of
carbon dioxide that are being spewed into the atmosphere. Almost all scientists agree that the current
excess of 30 billion tons of such emissions every year is unequivocally
contributing to global warming and climate change. They say that this significantly heightens
the risk that trillions of dollars in costs will be incurred during this
century alone for climate-change-related disruptions.
Revealingly, the federal government
declared a record high number of 99 weather-related major disasters in
2011. This total was up from an average
of 56 in the first decade of this century -- and up from only 18 per year in
Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, indicated in a May 2007 interview
that action against global warming could be successfully undertaken at a modest
cost. “Climate change is not something
in the future. It's already here,” he
said. “The cost of inaction is going to be far higher than the cost of
Once again H.G. Wells’ observation in 1920 strikes
me: "Human history becomes more and
more a race between education and catastrophe." These words are resoundingly
Al Gore made it seem that necessary changes are achievable in his compelling
film, An Inconvenient Truth, and that
there is good hope that people will realize how serious the stakes are for
failing to act soon. We may be reaching
a Tipping Point in awareness and public opinion on climate change. This will hopefully help worldwide efforts to
mitigate the effects of global warming.
Unfortunately, the UN Climate Change Conference in Cancun in 2010, and
the one in South Africa in 2011, and the one in Qatar in 2012, and the one in
Poland in 2013, and the one in Lima, Peru in 2014, were all unable to develop
agreements on strong protections, so the years continue to pass by without our
leaders effectively coping with this overarching environmental challenge.
Our Tipping Point in global awareness of threats posed by greenhouse gas
emissions is matched against an even more far-reaching Tipping Point -- an
ecological one. We are reaching a point
where our industry, agriculture, animal husbandry and population growth are
irreversibly damaging ecosystems and driving many species of life to
extinction. This undermines the
biological support systems upon which we depend. No one can predict whether our Tipping Point
of awareness will arrive soon enough, and with enough force, to ensure that we
will win the race between education and catastrophe.
The national midterm elections in 2010 and 2014 gave climate change
deniers increased influence in the House of Representatives and the Senate, so
the near term outlook for meaningfully addressing this issue has been
deteriorating. The surprising power of
climate change deniers in the Tea Party has made the Republican Party even more
obstinate in its opposition to sensible action.
These are strange days indeed.
Here again we seem to be emulating the notorious Captain of the Titanic
who threw caution to the wind and ordered full speed ahead in treacherous
waters. While progressives envision
critically needed changes, they struggle against relentless forces that
advocate freedoms to operate without any cost being assigned to carbon
emissions, and with a minimum of regulations, limitations or social
responsibilities. Too many politicians
oppose sensible measures that would strengthen our democracy by restricting
lobbying, making smart reforms in the financing of political campaigns, and
enacting fair-minded restrictions on Super PAC funding.
Senator Mitch McConnell embodies this obstinate opposition to a fairer
democratic republic. It is sad for the
American people that his pragmatic success in advancing the cause of wealthy
people, giant corporations, and social conservatives has taken precedence over
all other considerations. His role in
brokering a compromise on extending the Bush tax breaks in December 2010 is
chilling. After all, future generations
will be required to pay interest costs on trillions of dollars we are borrowing
to finance some of the lowest tax rates on rich people since the 1920s. In this regard, the 2010 Obama/McConnell
compromise was chiefly one that will adversely affect the prospects of our
children and their descendents to lead secure lives in a sound economy with
adequate resources and unpolluted environs.
Powerful forces stubbornly strive to stay the course even when the course
becomes untenable. Reckless right-leaning leaders have advocated for
years that we merely make more studies of problems related to global warming
and climate change. They vaguely assert
that voluntary limitations on emissions will be adequate, despite extensive
evidence to the contrary. It is becoming
urgent that we boldly and innovatively deal with the irreversible nature of our
predicaments related to climate change
and overpopulation and ecosystem destabilization. The Eleventh Hour is upon us!
A Supreme Court decision in April 2007 confirmed that the Environmental
Protection Agency has the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. This was an important step toward getting our
laggard federal government and giant corporations to give climate change
disruptions a higher priority. After the
passage of more than a year, the EPA continued to drag its feet rather than
acting to mitigate the impending impacts of climate disrupting emissions. The EPA Chief during the Bush Administration
sided with the White House in opposing the rights of States to set more
stringent emissions policies. This
thwarted forward-thinking efforts in California and a dozen other states. It was an exceedingly odd
federal-trumps-state strategy that bizarrely turned traditional Republican anti-federalism
on its head.
Green taxes and sensible regulations are needed. The first step in dealing with this climate
dilemma would be to establish a system of emissions caps for companies and an
‘emissions trading system’. This plan is
a more complex and less effective way to regulate carbon emissions than direct
carbon taxes, and its effects are delayed because it does not address a key
issue: our risky dependence on fossil
fuels and their inexorable depletion.
But at least a cap-and-trade emissions system would be a start in
dealing with the problem. If that is the
route we finally choose as a first step toward reducing carbon emissions, the
cap-and-trade system should be designed to discourage complacency, bureaucracy,
fraud and mere greenwashing. And some of
the proceeds of the assessed cost should be devoted to making a more robust
transition to renewable energy alternatives.
The disruptive impacts of climate changes caused by
global warming are not unstoppable; we
just haven’t yet made determined efforts to slow them. The federal government is partly at
fault. The Bush Administration
had an extensive record of denying and suppressing scientific understandings in
order to support the doctrines of the status quo, particularly with regard to
energy policy and the auto and oil industries. A New York Times article
in January 2006 reported a revealing instance of this, when a young Republican
political appointee in the NASA public affairs office tried to censor top NASA
scientist Dr. James Hansen to suppress scientific findings on global
warming. Thereafter, hundreds of documented
instances were noted in which Bush Administration officials interfered with
government scientists’ global warming work and findings.
Too often our leaders are far more concerned with good press than good
results. They have created a culture
that discourages people from telling the truth. Shame on our
leaders! They should be held more
accountable. Inaction on greenhouse gas emissions is becoming a serious
liability. Republicans often seem to be of the same mind-set as Donald Rumsfeld, who in a
“snowflake memo” to himself once noted that “bumper sticker statements” should
be used to rally public support for unpopular wars. I assert that we need deeper and wiser
understandings of issues, not merely shallow bumper sticker sentiments!
The Bush Administration heavily edited testimony to the Senate by Dr.
Julie Gerberding, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
when she addressed the Environment and Public Works Committee in October
2007. Her testimony was related to human
impacts on global warming. A former
EPA official, Jason Burnett, revealed in July 2008 that Vice
President Dick Cheney's office and the Council on Environmental Quality pushed
to "remove from the testimony any discussion of the human health consequences of
climate change." The Bush
Administration’s efforts to muzzle officials to prevent them from
providing valuable information to the American people were a serious disservice
to the functioning of our democracy, and to our well-being and national
2006, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin actually ordered NASA’s Mission
Statement to be changed to delete from its stated mission the purpose of
helping “to understand and protect our home planet”. Really?!
TV satirist Stephen Colbert got into the spirit of this action by
suggesting that, to be consistent with NASA’s semantic political-operative
strategy, the Environmental Protection Agency should remove from its name the words
“environmental” and “protection”!
Ha!! (Woe to us!)
in 2006, NASA eliminated funding for some new satellites that would have
monitored the Earth’s changing climate.
Perhaps NASA officials theorized that what we don’t know can’t hurt us? Michael Griffin created a brouhaha in May
2007 when he suggested in a National Public Radio interview that global warming
might be a good thing! He was parroting
the propaganda of the Greening Earth Society, a coal industry ‘think tank’ that
tries to spin perceptions to facilitate the building of more polluting plants
and to continue to allow coal companies to make bigger profits by externalizing
The shrewd but essentially malicious cultivation of doubt about
science by Big Oil and its friends in Congress is another example of
unconscionable influence peddling in our political system. This gambit allows business to avoid costs
that would be incurred by taking precautionary measures to limit greenhouse gas
emissions. Big Businesses have been
allowed too much influence in taking advantage of uncertainties to thwart
changes to the sweet system that allows corporations to profit by externalizing
costs of pollution, waste disposal, resource depletion, worker health care, and
climate disruption risks onto society.
Never before had the White House been so closely tied to the oil industry
as it was when George W. Bush was nominally in charge. In 2001, President Bush and Dick Cheney and
Condoleezza Rice and 8 cabinet secretaries and 32 other high-level political
appointees in the federal government had previously been intimately associated
with Big Oil, according to Richard Behan in an AlterNet article. Government officials in charge of many
agencies, as a consequence, often subverted the missions of their agencies and
gave priority to the narrowly focused interests of fossil fuel industries. The people are far too often given lower
priority than obsessions for making bigger profits.
Ignorance, denial, opposition to change, and profiteering by entrenched
interests are potent forces in our economic and political landscape. The Supreme Court decision referred to above
concerning the EPA was made by a vote of 5 to 4, with doctrinal conservatives
dissenting. This demonstrated their
adamant opposition, once again, to sensible regulation and intelligent
adaptation to change, even in the face of some of the most far-reaching threats
to the environment ever known by humankind.
But we must not despair. There are many individual
and collective actions that could be taken to reduce global warming and
mitigate the impacts of climate change.
A sustained common endeavor is necessary. More sophisticated and meaningful public
communications and bold initiatives are needed to encourage such things as
‘green building’, conservation, technological cooperation, the protections of
forests and threatened species, risk mitigation, and other “climate-friendly”
behaviors. We need to avoid paralysis
and find tangible and compelling ways to motivate people to reduce their
ecological footprint impacts.
Economic incentives and disincentives are the most
effective means of encouraging innovation, fossil fuel alternatives,
conservation, energy efficiency, behavioral changes, and structural
modifications to our economy. Subsidies
to fossil fuel industries should be reduced.
A worldwide moratorium on new coal-fired power plants should be
implemented until ‘carbon-dioxide sequestration’ technologies or other
effective mitigation measures are developed.
Sensible alternatives to the burning of fossil fuels should be
The global economy must
somehow be effectively ‘decarbonized”.
The rapid destruction of tropical rainforests and temperate forests
worldwide should be significantly slowed because they act as a sort of reverse
‘lungs of the planet’ by using up carbon-dioxide and producing oxygen through
the process of photosynthesis. Rainforests
contain about half of all species of life on Earth, so they are a great
repository of biological diversity. Our
best opportunity for immediate and cost-effective reductions of the buildup of
greenhouse gases in the atmosphere would be through reversing current trends
toward rapid tropical deforestation.
One of the best
ways to accomplish the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions would be to
increase carbon taxes and use the funds for new initiatives aimed at stopping
deforestation. Tax increases could be
made progressive by partially offsetting them with reductions in payroll taxes. Politically, gas taxes
may not yet be feasible, but they are a better plan than cap-and-trade
‘population connection’ between deforestation and increasing greenhouse gas
emissions should be emphasized. Global
population stabilization should be achieved by means of education and voluntary family planning programs.
Individuals and couples should be enabled to decide freely and
responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children. All women should have the information and
means to do this without interference, discrimination or coercion. The ability to make these decisions about
family size is essential to realizing larger goals, including those of having
healthy families and a healthier environment.
planning programs in nations worldwide give people the tools needed to save
lives, eradicate illiteracy, reduce poverty, prevent HIV/AIDS, empower women,
conserve resources, protect biodiversity and reduce deforestation and
Also, an inclusive green movement could create important
changes through targeted investments and the politics of hope, optimism and
opportunity. The bright promise of a
‘green economy’ could include, inspire and energize people of all races and
classes. A historic coalition could be
formed that would make a ‘green wave’ that would lift all boats and unite the
best of business and civic leaders, labor unions, environmentalists, social and
racial justice activists, students, artists and intellectuals.
The book, HEAT, by Monbiot has a compelling conclusion: "The campaign against climate change is
an odd one. Unlike almost all the public protests which have preceded it, it is
a campaign not for abundance but for austerity.
It is a campaign not for more freedom but for less. Strangest of all, it is a campaign not just
against other people, but also against ourselves." Hmmm … It seems apparent that no one wants to
choose any degree of austerity or sacrifice, or to be required to be
disciplined -- even if the resulting impact on our lives were to create greater
simplicity, less stress, more meaning, greater national security, and more
positive prospects for our heirs.
The National Resources Defense Council is one of
many organizations committed to trying to establish greater sanity in human
affairs. They work with businesses and governments to offset negative
impacts of business activities on the environment, and in effect to combat
abuses of corporate power and the dysfunction of our economic system and
political processes. Like the Environmental Defense Fund, another notably
effective nonprofit organization, NRDC promotes initiatives that are designed
to improve prospects for beneficial outcomes rather than environmentally
damaging ones. The NRDC’s Partnership
for the Earth campaign had six vitally important big picture
objectives. They are: to curb global warming, save wildlife and
wild places, revive the world’s oceans, create a cleaner-energy future, stem
the tide of toxic chemicals, and accelerate the greening of China.
A sadly funny article on the Internet
disclosed that China has discovered an ingenious way to deal with the terrible
air pollution it suffers as a result of burning huge amounts of coal and other
activities. Even though 250,000 people
die from air pollution afflictions every year, and the breathing of
particulates in smog causes a horrible amount of asthma and sick days and
hospital visits, Chinese officials decided to merely adjust
air pollution standards to reduce the number of pesky health alerts. The Environmental Protection Bureau in
Shanghai changed its air pollution standards to reduce the number of health
alerts it issues. It decided to issue an
alert when the concentration of particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns in
diameter, which is known for being able to penetrate deep into human lungs,
falls below 115 micrograms per cubic meter.
Previously, the Bureau lifted alerts after this concentration dropped
below 75 micrograms per cubic meter. In
contrast, the more strict and healthier limit established by the EPA in the
U.S. is 35 micrograms per cubic meter.
So, Chinese officials “are
still planning to build more coal fired power plants, because, after all, you
can't stop progress.” They found this
new approach that could be regarded from a business point-of-view as a common
sense solution -- and one that the billionaire Koch brothers would love to
bring to America, if we let them.
“Smog levels in Shanghai this December (2013) have been
the worst in China's long history. Many
residents avoid going outside and many of those who do are wearing masks to try
to filter out the dangerous small particulates in the air that came from coal
fired power plants.” I personally
advocate solutions that are more consistent with people’s health! Big cities in India, according to the news in
May 2014, have even worse air pollution than China, so these challenges are
The Environmental Defense Fund and the NRDC should
be applauded for their goals, and for their efforts to get companies to commit
to important environmental goals like limiting greenhouse gas emissions. I urge every person to support the efforts of
these organizations, and to strive to do your own part to conserve fossil fuels
and water and electricity, and to strongly support sensible and far-sighted
initiatives both at home and abroad.
Chapter #29 – Earth Advocacy.
Extensive and awe-inspiring natural beauty abounds on our lovely Planet
and valleys and meadows and streams existing in dynamic grace
home planet provides us with nourishment and spiritual sustenance,
Earning appreciative blessings
-- but not the adequate respect -- of the human race.
profound understanding of ecology is that everything is interconnected
attempt to comprehend our healthy relationship to our sustaining environment
involves economics, sociology, philosophy, and alas, political controversy
But, so be it -- Let us explore
important issues fairly, reasonably, and without lament.
The Earth is a beautiful place, as everyone can
appreciate who spends time outdoors, away from the often-degrading influences
of human activities. Open spaces, public parks and protected lands are
inspirational and revitalizing to our spirit. Public movements to
preserve such areas for ourselves and future generations are eminently laudable
Protected public lands are crucial to the quality of
our lives. A willingness to protect open spaces is an early sign of the
type of wisdom that may prove to be crucial in ensuring our long-term
survival. I feel strongly that we should continue to value and defend
public lands against the powerful forces of development, resource exploitation,
Windswept ridges and peaks that project
above glaciers and ice fields are called ‘nunataks’. During past ice ages, alpine trees like
Lodgepole Pines, Whitebark Pines, and other types of plant life survived in
nunataks, and were therefore able to re-colonize the lands that had been
scraped barren by the ice, once global temperatures warmed and the ice had
melted. Nunataks served as genetic
storehouses that were able to colonize the land once glaciers had
retreated. After the glaciers melted,
lichens built soil bit by bit, using sunlight and water and the process of
photosynthesis to dissolve the raw materials of rock. Lichens also left organic compost when they
died that proves to be beneficial to succeeding generations of plants.
Lodgepole Pines have winged seeds that
allow them to float on the wind to new habitats like those created when
glaciers retreat. In contrast, Whitebark
Pines have wingless seeds, and their cones do not even open on their own. They rely, instead, on a symbiotic
relationship with a species of birds known as Clark’s Nutcrackers. These birds collect and bury large quantities
of seeds that they intend to retrieve in
the winter for food. Studies have shown
that these birds do not find about a third of the seeds they bury, and these
lost seeds often turn out to be propitiously planted for the germination of
trees in new locations. This symbiotic
adaptation is one of the many marvels in the processes of biological evolution.
Today’s wild lands and wilderness areas are
like modern nunataks: they are
biological islands in a sea of altered and developed lands. As in the past, these modern nunataks provide
irreplaceable genetic storehouses that are capable of replenishing disturbed lands. Today’s National Parks and Wilderness Areas
and roadless areas in National Forests, and public lands administered by the
Bureau of Land Management, are thus vital islands of hope for the future. We simply must make much more serious
commitments to their protection!
Many young people today seem to be
increasingly suffering from ‘nature deficit disorder’. They plug in to television, computers, cell
phones and the Internet instead of developing creativity in outdoors
exploration and play. This trend does
not bode well for their own personal well-being, now or in the future, or for
the cultivation of that spirit in us all that is willing to protect the
vitality and beauty of creation. Go for
a walk in nature, and find a lovely place to free your feet; “your mind will follow!”
The global pressure to figuratively pave everything
over is mounting as our human numbers increase. This makes it imperative
for us to strengthen our will to protect parks, open spaces, wilderness areas,
and the integrity and balance of the natural world.
Bigger commitments are specifically needed to
preserving the health of our National Parks because they are beset by serious
problems. They are being damaged by
heavy vehicular traffic, wildlife poaching and air pollution, and they are
suffering stresses associated with decades of inadequate funding. This shortfall of financial support becomes
more visible when facilities are closed, public access is reduced, compromises
to visitor safety are made, law enforcement is diminished, or fewer
interpretive programs are available.
Natural Parks also have extensive maintenance backlogs and are reeling
from pressures of development and poor management practices.
A fascinating world of extraordinary understandings
is available to us if we remain sensitive to the healthy aspects of
relationships. By cultivating expansive
outlooks and maintaining open minds, we can more effectively respect and
appreciate the beauty and wonderful bounty of Mother Nature. These ideas
are written as a form of Earth advocacy and human sanity campaign. Join in!
“There is just one hope of repulsing the tyrannical
ambition of civilization to conquer every niche
on the whole
Earth. That hope is the organization of
spirited people who will fight for the
freedom of the wilderness.”
--- Robert Marshall, a founder of the
Chapter #30 – Reflections on Feminine
Consider what could be called the “Tragedy of the
Common Good”. This not uncommon
phenomenon has been growing like a malignant cancer in our societies. This tragedy is characterized by a natural
self-centeredness that is metastasizing into a high-stakes, winner-takes-all
game. Private plunder and public graft
have no doubt occurred in all nations throughout history, but nonetheless it is
high time for us to find more effective methods to limit such activities.
Private motivations operating in the public domain
have the effect of perverting our priorities and subverting the democratic
principles of fairness and equal representation. They do so by creating policies that are
inegalitarian, manipulative, foolishly irresponsible, and short-term
oriented. They also tend to contribute
to a ‘tragedy of the ecological commons’ in which top executives, wealthy
investors and lobbyists utilize capitalist entities like private banks and
large corporations to gain outsized privileges and benefits.
Too many governments
around the world are controlled by ‘conservative’ men whose deepest convictions
are driven by a strong bias for “strict father” male authority. More than a third of the people in the world
belong to Christian or Islamic religions that are distinctly dogmatic,
patriarchal, and dominion oriented.
These attributes hinder progressive change and contribute to human
rights abuses, culture clashes, discrimination against females, and conflicts
that undermine mutual security and threaten world peace.
Are there good ways that
we could inspire more cooperation, justice, civility, kindness, loving concern,
safety and reasonable commitments to the greater good? Yes! I feel strongly that humanity could better achieve
these goals by cultivating ‘feminine’ virtues of empathetic understanding,
constructive communication, peaceful conflict resolution, moderate
self-restraint, an earnest willingness to work together for the common good,
and a more nurturing caring for other people and for Mother Earth. It would be propitious for humankind to cultivate and empower
these more ethical, honorable and compassionate perspectives in our
societies. Worldviews that reflect these
feminine qualities are needed today more than ever.
“You can't depend on your judgment when your
imagination is out of focus.”
--- Mark Twain
We should all salute a well-developed anima in every man. The anima is the Jungian archetype of the
feminine in a man’s psyche, which is generally repressed. This unconscious feminine aspect of a male
allows him to connect with his inner gentleness, emotionality, sentiment,
sensibilities and broader spiritual awareness.
Hey, macho dudes, get over the strutting, and let’s get on with trying to
co-exist in peaceful ways. Let’s all cooperate better with others, and
strive to be more aware and open-minded.
Let’s try to grow personally, and heal wounds, and live in accordance
with Golden Rule ethics.
Women of the world, unite!
A united front
can accomplish great things. Patriarchal
leaders in modern societies strive staunchly to divide people, intimidate them,
and prevent them from uniting to assert their civil rights and gain greater
control. I’m not trying to
out-Marx Karl Marx when I write this, but someone has got to make more
committed efforts to get the majority of people to unite for the greater good
someday soon. Karl Marx advocated that
workers unite against capitalists to change the world. I figure that, though we have certainly not
transcended the need for greater fairness to workers, it is incumbent upon us
to unite in larger ways by supporting greater equality and fairer treatment of
females. By seeking unity and win-win
solutions, we will improve our chances for peaceful coexistence, expanded human
rights, and the overarching goal of ecological sanity.
worth its salt has a goal, at least tangentially, of “saving the world”. My earnest intention in these writings is to
help facilitate positive social change and remake the world along more
auspicious lines. ‘God knows’ that there
is much to be done to achieve a more sane existence for you, me, and the most
vulnerable among us, as well as for our children and grandchildren. Making a positive
difference in the world seems like such a noble, practical and meaningful purpose; and it’s one that is much more desirable than
selfish, ignoble, and socially detrimental motives.
Note that I am
just a normal gal, and this manuscript is not about me. These ideas are an honest portrait of our
human societies, and only incidentally a kind of reflective self-portrait. The concepts contained herein resonate well
with enlightened versions of the truth.
They provide understandings that hopefully correspond more accurately
than most to reality, and thus offer a counterbalance to the rigidly
reactionary points-of-view that dominate and repress human societies.
are channeled here. They demand the
expression of evolutionary wisdom from an awareness beyond our ephemeral
individual lives, a voice that calls out insistently for deeper perspective and
clearer understandings and smarter collective behaviors. My hope is that readers
will consider these ideas carefully and objectively, and maybe even discover
some “Aha! moments”. I hope readers will
care about these ideas and consider them carefully, or at least allow them to
stimulate thinking and questioning, and perhaps promote greater insights.
These points of view differ distinctly from
orthodox and doctrinaire ones. My
purpose in setting them forth is to advance ideas and understandings that are
honorable, visionary, democratically fair, far-sighted, noble and consistent
with America’s founding ideals. Among
these purposes is to make sure our government is responsive to the rights of
citizens, and to greater concerns for the common good. In contrast, the Establishment seems to be
primarily concerned with protecting and expanding lopsided privileges for
elites and narrow commercial interests.
These concerns are ironically similar to those of King George III and
the British Empire in 1776. It took a
Revolutionary War for Americans to overthrow that particular domineering
rule. History shows that bloodshed can
be avoided, and positive change can be achieved, by enacting initiatives that
are eminently fairer. So wise Solon
would have said!
Politicians and others who act as
mouthpieces and cheerleaders for special interest groups are often dishonest
and disingenuous with regard to their true motivations and intentions. They generally
distort the truth and advance policies that are detrimental to their societies
as a whole. In contrast, the ideas
herein are proffered with no other interest than to promote plans that are most
likely to make our societies healthier and more sustainable.
Readers of these words will certainly
notice my strong affiliation with progressive thoughts and ideas, and even with
some radical ones. These understandings
seem much more valid to me than narrowly self-interested points of view because
they are not driven by ulterior motives.
They are based on years of experience, observation, rational judgment, engaging
conversations, extensive reading, fair-minded analysis, extrapolated trends, and wide-ranging philosophical thinking. Their
motivation is not found in self-interest, and is not grounded in unwarranted
pessimism or superstition or ideology or paranoia.
I feel confident that a
greater appreciation of the life-supporting aspects of healthy ecosystems could
enable us to move boldly toward the goal of leaving a legacy that is more
salubrious for future generations. It
could also help assure us and our descendents of a better overall quality of
life. Clearer perspectives and more
caring values could help unite people in support of common goals and more
If, somehow, a
million people read this manuscript, it is my strong conviction that the course
of history would be beneficially affected.
Please help achieve this goal by reading on, and by recommending it to
your politically and philosophically inclined friends. (THANKS!)
paraphrase Walt Whitman, from his poem So
From behind the screen where I hid I
advance personally solely to you.
Camerado, this is no book, Who touches this, touches a woman …
As Huck Finn remarked,
this ought to “give the bullfrogs something to croak about for days, I bet.”
Chapter #31 – Youthful
High schools, colleges and universities are great
laboratories for the ferment of ideas. Young people have a much bigger
stake in fairer societies and sustainable activities and a healthy planet than
older people, who are relative short-timers.
Unfortunately, the interests of young people are being given extremely
short shrift in our societies today. Our
materialistic culture is inimical to the future well-being of young people due
to its emphasis on mindless shopping, profligate consuming, and wasteful uses
of resources. Adding insult to injury,
we harm the young by polluting, running up the national debt, and allowing
narrow special interests to control our politics, priorities and
Alert! Reading can sometimes become a kind of rote
activity. Our eyes often run
inattentively along the page as we dutifully intone the words we see while
our attention is distracted by a cascade of peripheral thoughts. Our minds can become preoccupied instead of
mindfully comprehending the ideas conveyed.
Our thoughts may wander while reading to a review of events, emotions,
fantasies and other distractions that percolate subversively through the interstices of our
Right now, please pay attention! Read these words alertly and with an open
mind. Evaluate the logic and sensibility of these observations, and feel
free to disagree -- but only after giving them fair consideration. Think
clearly and be skeptical. Critical
thinking can help reveal logical fallacies and misrepresentations in words and
actions. Remember the motto of the
aude!’ -- Dare to know! --
Have the courage to use your own understanding!
These ideas are the culmination of many years of
evolving thought. The urgency of their motivation was stoked in the
aftermath of the traumatic terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Those attacks helped allow neoconservative ideologues
to hijack our country, and additional authoritarian impetuses will likely arise
as the twenty-first century unfolds.
Bold steps consequently need to be taken to strengthen our Constitution
and rules of law and courts against attacks on our rights, freedoms and the
All the sociopolitical observations in
these writings have two primary concerns:
(1) that economic and political initiatives too
often adversely affect workers, young people, poor people and the natural
world, and are therefore harmful to the future well-being of the human
(2) that it is ethically wrong for our government
to side primarily with the interests of a small group of privileged people at
the expense of the vast majority of Americans.
Reckless and relentless efforts are being
made by those on the radical right and their minions in government to shift tax
obligations from rich people and corporations to everyone below the upper
classes, and to everyone in the future.
These efforts are misguided, unfair and foolishly myopic. These gambits constitute a grave risk,
because they intensify social status conflicts and increase political
instability and environmental calamities.
Give us a break!
During my college years, one of my closest
friends and I enthusiastically saluted and embraced moments of “Instantaneous
Lucidification”. We recognized that enlightenment is elusive, but we also
saw value in cultivating consensus understandings and questioning authority --
and also in doubting “certainties”. We
liked this concept, which we had invented in a moment of clarity, spontaneity
and inspiration. We realized that there
are bigger picture perspectives and more accurate and insightful ways of seeing
the world. This gave us hope that some
sort of grand unified theory was somewhere out there awaiting to be
elucidated. Perhaps it is now coming
I attended one of America’s great
universities in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Intellectual ferment was brewing back in those days, along with
idealistic peace movements and anti-war protests and social activism. Peace advocacy actually became a dangerous
position, and the FBI kept dossiers on peace activists. Perhaps this is why John Lennon was hounded
by authorities who wanted to deport him, as revealed in the excellent
documentary film, The U.S. vs. John
imagined all the people living life in peace.
He recognized the danger in advocating peace, so he wrote these lyrics in The Ballad of John and Yoko:
The way things are going
When I was in my twenties, I spent a year
traveling around Europe, North Africa and Across
Asia on the Cheap, and then several years later I did another year-long
excursion around the South Pacific, Southeast Asia and the North Pacific. I hiked more than a thousand miles and read
hundreds of books during those days, and was exposed to many different
cultures, characters, attitudes, and broadening perspectives and
experiences. Having spent so much time
traveling, I imagined myself to emulate Plato, who had spent twelve years
traveling the world, “imbibing wisdom from every source”.
Plato had embarked on his extensive travels
at a propitious time. He had been
affiliated with the Athenian aristocracy and therefore represented a threat to
the democratic establishment at that time in his native Greece. Athens was ruled in that era alternately by
elite oligarchs or democratic factions, and neither form of rule was
ideal. The oligarchs had their own
selfish interests in mind, so when they were in power they went to great lengths
to defend the advantages of the few against the majority of ordinary
people. Plato regarded democracy as no
better, because the people were easily swayed by the emotional and deceptive
rhetoric of ambitious politicians, and they sometimes killed the wealthy in
violent revolutions. Disastrous wars, numerous atrocities and
terrible injustices often resulted from both types of rule.
Things aren’t all
that different today, despite revolutionary changes in communications, technology,
industrialization and demographics,. Things are not all that different because
human nature basically doesn’t change, so we are still mired in politics that
give us forms of governance that are far from ideal. Plato advocated that ‘philosopher kings’ should
rule, but benevolent philosopher kings happen to be exceedingly hard to
find! And they would probably never get
elected to office, lost in the miasma of election politics, fund-raising and
uncompromising self-interested partisanship.
There is an
interesting angle here in regard to Christian prophecy. Many faithful religious believers just can’t
wait for Jesus to come back, but ‘by God’ Jesus would be ignored or laughed out
of town for his simplistic moral teachings about the poor and the dispossessed. He would probably be homeless, and rather
than being recognized for his honorable humanistic values, he would as likely
as not be thrown in prison or crucified for his challenges to authority.
The need for transformation in our
societies is growing greater every day as our materialistic focus and myopic
willingness to plunder and destroy the natural world is causing increasingly
adverse circumstances. Young people,
unite! Remember the words of Thomas
Jefferson, who opined: “I believe that
the people, when properly armed with the facts, will come to the right
I propose that college
courses be designed around the Earth Manifesto and dedicated to studying the
ideas it contains.
Chapter #32 – Arguments
Against Maintaining the Status Quo.
The European Renaissance of the 14th to 17th
centuries CE achieved greatness by embracing freedom of thought and by
rejecting the inherently puritan and tyrannical aspects of the Dark Ages and
monotheistic religions. Fluid concepts
of divinity helped spark great triumphs of science and logic. This state of affairs was accompanied by
advances in technological innovation and artistic creativity, and a greater
measure of democratic government was achieved.
Similar influences occurred in ancient Greek civilization, and have
pertained in the last 200 years in Western civilization.
In modern times, the challenges facing humanity are
urgent and more globally consequential than ever before, yet die-hard religious
evangelists and recklessly reactionary ideologies are trying to turn back the
clock by asserting stronger control over people’s thoughts, actions and
options. A new renaissance can be achieved only by rebuking and rejecting this
trend. We instead should promote more
progressive thinking, broad-mindedness, far-sighted perspective, and a
continuity of fair-minded resolve.
Intelligent action is needed. We should reject myopic and regressive
thinking that perversely accepts growing inequalities and injustices, unfair
special privileges, dogmatic denials, discriminatory bigotry, closed-mindedness,
authoritarianism, excessively harsh punishments, and fiscally irresponsible
governance. We should seek
enlightenment, or at least more visionary common sense, and we should reject a
Dark-Ages-like domination of ideas by demagogues and manipulative Strict Father
These are some of the many truths that are quite
inconvenient to authority figures and the powers-that-be in our societies. Adaptive changes are needed, and we really
should refuse to allow our social institutions to become ossified. We should not allow decisions to be made by
entrenched corporate interest groups, or by corrupt politicians and government
bureaucrats. We cannot allow the greater
good to be inexorably harmed by social conservatism, traditionalism,
reactionary leaders, or religious fundamentalists who are obsessed with obedience
and power and control and domination.
“Family values” is a slogan that has been used by
conservatives as a catchphrase to gain support and control. But true family values are being hurt by the
self-serving agenda of right wing conservatives who voice this slogan. Women and children are important parts of
families, yet their interests are being harmed by conservative influence on economic,
social, fiscal and environmental policies.
John Fowles succinctly expressed this idea in his
1970 book, The Aristos:
“In a world in which many societies and racial blocs are on the verge of
growing so large that they will have to exterminate one another in order to
survive, and in which the means rapidly to effect such an extermination are at
hand, conservatism, the philosophy of unrestricted free enterprise, of self, of
preserving the status quo, is obviously the wrong and dangerous one.”
When we see the human race wasting,
damaging, depleting and polluting rivers, oceans, wetlands, wild lands and
forests, we should be motivated to take steps to mitigate the harmful impacts
of these activities. At the same time we
understand that the world’s resources are being wantonly converted to cash, and
enormous sums of money are being borrowed to help stimulate the achievement of
this dubious goal, we must demand policies that discourage this ridiculously unwise
Business-as-usual practices and ideological
doctrines that support them are the most powerful determinants of our national
policies. Dogmatic adherence to these forces puts us at an ever larger
risk of failing to adapt to rapid changes in our societies and in global human
Human affairs are strongly influenced by moral
concepts, cultural norms, social mores and urges to belong and conform. Powerful counter-urges, on the other hand,
motivate many people to conflict with the status quo in individualistic
self-expression. Whether traditionalist
or bohemian, reactionary or radically liberal, no matter what, it is time for
all of us to come together and boldly speak out against all forms of
shortsightedness and oppression.
Chapter #33 – Endangering
the Tree of Life.
On a clear day, you can easily see the Farallon
Islands from Mount Tamalpais in Northern California’s Marin County, and from
the hills of Point Reyes National Seashore. Wildlife enthusiasts on a
whale-watching expedition in 1997 witnessed an attack by a killer whale just
south of the Farallons in which a great white shark was lifted right out of the
water. It was an awesome display of the living world’s mysterious,
beautiful, and daunting natural order. This episode makes me think of the emotionally
moving documentary Blackfish, which
portrays how highly intelligent killer whales are, and the nature of their
psychosis-inducing captivity for use in sea life entertainment shows.
This is one example of the wondrous and dynamic
balance that exists in the living systems of our extraordinary home
planet. All forms of life exist in a fragile dance of survival, and “everything
eats everything else” with a seemingly pitiless enthusiasm. But life is quite resilient. Human beings are upsetting this marvelous
balance of nature with our mindless consumption and correlated propensities to
hunt wildlife, clear-cut forests, over-harvest biotic resources, destroy
habitats, introduce invasive species, pollute and degrade the land and rivers
and seas, and emit huge quantities of greenhouse gases into the
atmosphere. We do these things both
intentionally and inadvertently, almost as a matter of habit and compulsion.
Many kinds of large terrestrial mammals lived in
North America 12,000 years ago. There
were woolly mammoths, elephant-like mastodons, giant camels, dire wolves,
American cheetahs, saber-toothed tigers, a stately deer called the stag-moose, and five species of ground sloths, some as big as modern
elephants. There were beavers the size of today's black bears. Human beings
arrived around that time, from Siberia, and their hunting was a significant
factor in driving these large mammals to extinction. Some scientists argue that early settlers
introduced diseases that may have played a bigger role, as they did in the
decimation of natives when European conquerors arrived in previously isolated
places like Mexico, North America, South America, Australia, and the islands of
In more modern times, millions of American bison
were slaughtered in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, driving the
species to the verge of extinction. Huge
flocks of passenger pigeons and many other species were completely wiped
out. The provocative book, The World Without Us contains
interesting insights into this topic in Chapter 5, ‘The Lost Menagerie’.
Imagine, along with John Josselyn, a flock of pigeons that “had neither beginning or
ending, length or breadth, and so thick I could see no sun.” Sometimes it would take more than an entire
day for a flock to fly past. And imagine
our having driven them all to extinction!
Humanity did not understand the role we have played
in causing extinctions until the late 1600s, when the large flightless Dodo
bird was wiped out on its native island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, as
lucidly described in David Quammen’s book, The
Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions. Are
we ourselves acting like real “dodos”?
Human activities that damage habitats are crowding
out more and more species, ominously diminishing biological diversity. We
are in a figurative sense sawing off the limbs of the tree of life upon which
we are ever-more precariously perched. We should take steps to alter this
trend with the greatest possible sustained concern. To do this we need to
protect public lands and entire ecosystems.
We should work constructively with farmers, ranchers and other private
property owners to enforce the provisions of the Endangered Species Act. Our own well-being, as well as that of our
descendents, may well depend upon this.
Richard Leakey, one of the world’s foremost
paleoanthropologists, said in a speech in February 2006:
“There is an inevitability to extinction -- but there is no inevitability
to the cause of extinction
being our own stupidity and failure to
In a declaration published in Nature, an international weekly journal
of science, a group of scientists stated that the Earth is on the verge of a
biodiversity catastrophe. The scientists
indicated that only a global political initiative would be able to stem the
losses. They declared: "There is
growing recognition that the diversity of life on earth, including the variety
of genes, species and ecosystems, is an irreplaceable natural heritage crucial
to human well-being and sustainable development. There is also clear scientific evidence that
we are on the verge of a major biodiversity crisis. Virtually all aspects of biodiversity are in
steep decline, and a large number of populations and species are likely to become
extinct this century.”
These scientists further noted:
"Despite this evidence, biodiversity is still consistently undervalued and
given inadequate weight in both private and public decisions. There is an urgent need to bridge the gap
between science and policy by creating an international body of experts on
More than 50% of the populations of
mammals, birds, fishes, amphibians and reptiles have been wiped out in the past
40 years alone, according to the startling findings of the Living Planet Report
2014. And scientists estimate that 12 per
cent of all bird species, 22 per cent of mammals, a quarter of conifers, a
third of amphibians, and more than half of all palm trees are threatened with
extinction within a century. Climate
change alone could lead to somewhere between 15 and 36 percent of all species
being driven out of existence by the year 2100, the scientists say. “Because biodiversity loss is essentially
irreversible, it poses serious threats to sustainable development and the
quality of life of future generations."
Studies of “island biogeography” have
revealed that a key variable in the number of species on any given island is
the territorial size of the island. It
turns out that the number of species on an island tends to be strongly
correlated to the size of the island. It
is almost as if this fact conforms to a consistent mathematical formula. A rough estimate is that the number of
species doubles for every tenfold increase in area. The formula also works in reverse, so
that if an island’s area containing wild habitats is reduced by 90%, the number
of species it can support drops by half.
The implications of this abstruse
information are daunting. When we
contribute to the fragmentation of ecosystems, it leads directly to a drop in
the number of species that can survive in them.
This is one reason that the average rate of extinction of species today
exceeds the average over the long term by a big factor, and it could increase
in the next century by a much larger factor.
About 540 million years have elapsed since
the end of the Precambrian Era. The
subsequent Eras of the Paleozoic and Mesozoic and Cenozoic are demarcated by
mass extinction events. Some say that
the Cenozoic is now giving way to a new Anthropozoic Era because of the
decimation of species by human activities.
This is not something about which to be proud!
Almost all species of life are nearly perfectly
adapted to the dynamic balance of conditions in the niches and ranges they
occupy. The recognition that the human race is causing extinctions could
be considered to be the beginning of a necessary evolution in awareness that
could contribute to our making revolutionary changes and turning the tide on
the damages we are causing. Let us acknowledge
this understanding, and give higher priority to mitigating the adverse impacts
we are having on biological systems!
New commitments must be made to finding ways to
reduce the destructiveness of our activities. Positive potential
solutions abound, as summarized in detail in the “Environmental Priorities” section
of the Progressive Agenda for a More Sane
Humanity. We would be well-advised
to free ourselves to pursue these better ideas by marginalizing the powerful
forces that are arrayed against such understandings and commitments. Can this be done?
Chapter #34 – A Focus on
What Is Really Important.
Another of the insights that professor Jared Diamond
shares with readers is that social risk is heightened when decision-making
elites are insulated from the consequences of their actions. In other
words, in societies where elites are insulated from suffering the consequences
of their decisions, they are more likely to pursue socially risky and
irresponsibly selfish short-term activities. This is highly negative for
the best long-term interests of society.
In the United States today, rich people are
insulated in many ways from the impacts they have. They live in gated
communities, drink bottled water, have good access to health care, send their
children to private schools, and are better able than the poor to avoid crime
and many types of health risks. Money allows them to be able to afford
more security and opportunity and variety. Their children have better
opportunities in education and employment, and are far less likely to be forced
to risk their lives in dangerous military service. Most of their children
will never be forced to try to make ends meet on minimum wages below the
poverty level for full-time work.
When Dante Alighieri wrote his sensational masterpiece
The Divine Comedy just over 700 years
ago, he expressed the provocative opinion that “the hottest places in Hell are
reserved for those who, in times of great moral crises, maintain their
neutrality.” That’s a provocative conjecture! To tell the truth, I don’t know a thing about
Hell. But there is little question that humanity is facing great moral
crises today. And these are NOT merely the gaudy sideshow of
controversial hot-button social issues like contraception, abortion,
abstinence-only sex education, gay rights, the role of religion in politics,
capital punishment, or the unfortunate nature of harsh and punitive
prohibitions like that against the use of marijuana.
Much more serious problems exist. These challenges encompass global risks that
are more significant than ever before in the history of civilization.
Poverty and malnutrition persist on a massive scale. Conflicts caused by
religious extremists are becoming more dangerous and costly. Military
violence against civilians is widespread. Vulnerabilities to both natural
and man-made disasters are increasing, and the environment is being
unnecessarily damaged. Grave social
injustices are being perpetrated against the powerless. And wealthy
people are acting with hubris at their triumphant status.
These challenges make it crucial for us to re-focus
our priorities and energies. We should be boldly assertive in adopting
strategic objectives so that resources will be used in more sustainable ways.
Renewable sources of energy like wind power, concentrated solar thermal power,
solar photovoltaics, and energy from geothermal generating plants should be
rapidly developed. Resource conservation measures and stronger
environmental protections should be put into place, and they should be fairly enforced.
And initiatives and institutions that stress peaceful conflict resolution
should be empowered to settle all conflicts related to the control of
territory, markets and natural resources.
understandings are needed that have an expansive framework. For example, “comprehensive national energy
policy” should actually be comprehensive;
it should be sensible, smart and long-term oriented. Today’s energy policies are not
comprehensive; instead, they are
basically -- surprise! -- oriented toward wastefulness, vested interests, entrenched
corporations, and profiteers.
legislators talk about “comprehensive immigration reform”, they often ignore
broader issues. Immigration policies
should take into account business needs as well as sensible urban planning,
economic globalization problems, international trade challenges, labor and
humanitarian issues, human rights, environmental protections, and fairness in
Illegal immigrants represent a huge labor
‘black market’ that operates openly in the U.S.
This large pool of low-cost laborers provides big benefits to many
industries, including agriculture, construction, retail, hotels and restaurants. If the U.S. were to deport all of the
estimated 12 million “illegal aliens” within its borders, the agricultural
sector and many other businesses would suffer incalculably. Wages would skyrocket, housing prices would
tumble, our economy would falter, and calamitous social instability would
afflict Mexico and other countries. This
is NOT a good plan! Truly comprehensive
solutions to national and global problems are obviously needed.
also about our health care system. It is
beset by catastrophic unfairness.
Michael Moore’s 2007 film ‘Sicko’ made
it maddeningly clear that the unjust and unwieldy healthcare system at the time
was failing not only the more than 45 million Americans who had no health
insurance, but also many of the 250 million Americans who did have insurance. The companies that sell health insurance make
bigger profits by raising premiums, reducing benefits and denying claims, but
profit surely shouldn’t be the main determinant in health care. The health security of all the people should
be given higher priority. We need to
tackle this sticky predicament and make good medical care more affordable to
all citizens of our nation.
U.S. has been slipping in international rankings of life expectancy. Despite the fact that we spend more money on
health care than any other country, the World Health Organization ranks the
U.S. 36th in the world in life expectancy.
Many of the contributing factors are controllable, so we should make
greater efforts to improve them. We have
one of the highest obesity rates in the world due to over-eating, fast-food
eating habits, and inadequate exercise.
And child mortality is high in the U.S. compared to other industrialized
nations. The lack of a good system of
universal healthcare is a big contributing factor to these sad statistics.
letter to the editor some years ago stated:
“We saw Sicko by Michael Moore
and are completely incensed that our country, the wealthiest, mightiest
superpower in the world, has plenty of money for bombs and the war machine but
can’t provide free superior health care for its citizens, veterans, and Ground
Zero firefighters and volunteers. This
should be the time that we stand together as Democrats, Republicans,
Independents and Green Party members, et al, to solve the healthcare problem by
putting our immense resources to use in taking care of all people regardless of
income, age or ethnicity.”
attacked Michael Moore’s film Sicko
when it was released. They alleged that
the film promotes “socialized medicine”.
Such people do not call police and fire departments socialized, or
public schools and libraries, or the military, or public utilities, or
government agencies, but they are now striving to confuse the debate about
healthcare injustices with the red herring of socialism.
personally astonishes me that the current system basically forces tens of
millions of people who have no health insurance to rely on the most expensive
care there is -- emergency room medical services. The cost of this care must be covered by
everyone else through artificially high costs for hospital services. This isn’t socialism; it is stubborn
stupidity in the service of opposition to any changes in the sickly sweet capitalist
health care is not only auspicious in individual people’s lives, but the best
investment for minimizing healthcare costs, in total.
is time for us to do something smart and fair-minded about the serious
inequities in the arena of medical insurance and health care. We should act to better control escalating
costs, and deal more honestly with the problems caused by inadequate coverage,
treatment denials, preexisting conditions exclusions, and outlandish
profiteering. Dignity in dying and the
exorbitant costs of hospitalization in the final months of most people’s lives
should be given more compassionate consideration.
we really should have is universal healthcare like every other advanced
country. A single-payer system is
probably the best idea to insure everyone, for it helps finance care for all
who need it, when they need it, at affordable rates.
Moore may be a bit over-the-top in his advocacy, but Bravo! for his attempts to
alter the pathetic state of affairs that characterizes the status quo. Doesn’t it seem true that the advocacy of
fair, humane and noble causes is much more sensible and necessary than the
advocacy of unfair, unhealthy, unjust, narrowly self-serving, myopic or elitist
clever political cartoon in the Hannibal Courier-Post in 2007 showed Michael
Moore hanging by his wrists in a jail cell, with Fidel Castro beside him
explaining, “This is Cuba, Senor Moore, not America. You can’t criticize the government here. But the good news is that you get free health
care!” Ha! The truth of this sardonic humor counsels us
to use our freedoms to make the world a truly better place, and not just a better
one for rich people, regime insiders, profiteers, war hawks, control-freaks or
others that are unduly privileged, outlandishly greedy or ruthlessly
When we cultivate empathy for others, and
admit there are varying extents of economic insecurity in people’s lives, we
realize a greater degree of sympathy is justified. The more fortunate among us should be
generous-hearted enough to support social policies that are designed to
mitigate the most glaring inequities in educational and job opportunities, and
in healthcare. One of our
responsibilities as citizens and human beings should be to support measures
that mitigate the worst facets of economic insecurity. Among these are excessively high costs of
healthcare coupled with inadequate coverage, a lousy system for dealing with
indigent people, and the risks of crippling personal bankruptcy caused by
Many people spin facts in ways that are
antagonistic to the straight truth.
Politicians, for example, often talk about war, or immigration, or
taxes, or jobs, or health care, or the environment, in words couched in a
linguistic framework that is simplistic, partisan and deceptive. Knowledgeable linguists tell us that issues
are generally framed in ways that are prejudicial to the speaker’s point of
view. The use of an established frame of
reference often distorts the way we perceive things in subtle but significant
ways. Studies show that our perceptions
of the world are deeply colored by our belief systems and our “confirmation
Linguist George Lakoff wrote a compelling book
titled Don’t Think of an Elephant. Try it!
The book contains insightful ideas and comprehensive perspectives into
the nature of strategic objectives and the word-framed linguistics of political
spin. Study anything written by Ann
Coulter, the rash, unreasonable and rude darling of extreme conservatives, and
see the contrast of how absurd her ranting and raving falls short of Lakoff’s
Intellectual honesty is severely lacking in
politics. Yet honesty and integrity are
required today more than ever.
Desperately serious consequences lie ahead if we fail to comprehend
this. It would be beneficial if someone
like the character Warren Beatty played in the film “Bulworth” would step forward to convey truths that are more
radically honest. Many people have
gotten their news perspective for years from the incisive humor of Jon Stewart
on The Daily Show, where a comedic approach to the truth highlights some of
the absurdities inherent in our politics and public activities.
Every story can be told in a variety of ways. Consider this idea objectively. The 9/11 attacks, for instance, can be looked
at from the point of view of Americans attacked; or from the point of view of the people who
planned the attacks; or from the
standpoint of demagogues who recognized the great opportunity for partisan
advantage that the calamity represented, along with radically improved
prospects in the short term for profiting from the stimulus of Keynesian
military spending. Or the attacks could
be seen from the perspective of objective observers who seek to honestly
understand deeper causes, consequences and implications.
The way a story is framed, and how it is told, affects the way we respond
to it. For these reasons, it is
incumbent upon us to try to see the Big Picture in all considerations, and to
take alternate points of view into consideration. Then we need to respond appropriately in
light of this illumination.
To make our
societies better within an acceptable time frame, courageous efforts to understand the truth are needed. So is a willingness to go along with the
implications of the fairest understandings, and to act in accordance with them.
“Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way.”
Chapter #35 – Conflict
and Its Undesirable Consequences.
Breathing in, I empty my mind; breathing out, I calm my body. Our purpose should be to live our lives more
fully, with appreciation and thanks giving.
Let’s count our blessings, and act to make a positive difference in the
world. No despair should be required.
Conflicts in the world over resources and ideas will
inevitably intensify as human numbers continue to grow. Since human numbers have more than tripled
from 2 billion to over 7 billion people in the last 75 years, and is on track
to increase to 9 billion before the year 2045, it is becoming ever more
apparent that we are on a collision course with natural limits of Earth’s
ecosystems to support us. Fossil fuels and other non-renewable natural resources
are being steadily depleted, and fresh water resources, fertile soils,
fisheries, wetlands, dry lands, temperate forests and rain forests are being
exploited and degraded in ways that can not be long sustained.
And we are pushing the carbon sink capacity of the
atmosphere and oceans beyond any reasonable degree of precautionary
Our top priority, given inevitably increasing
conflicts over limited resources, should be to take actions that transcend old
ways of thinking and acting. Stronger protections against damages to
providential ecosystems must be put in place.
Bold conservation initiatives and measures to reduce the profligate
wastefulness of resource usages need to be put into effect. Greater respect should be given to
international agreements and peace-building efforts. The U.S. should make new commitments to
fairly and peaceably resolving economic and political conflicts. Instead of undertaking expensive,
destabilizing and devastating wars and military occupations, we must find ways
to reduce tensions, mitigate conflicts, minimize antagonisms, and marginalize
extremism. Economic fairness and Golden
Rule religious tolerance for all are two of the top issues in accomplishing
greater mutual security, both at home and in global affairs.
Is it just coincidence that the current state of
affairs in the world today happens to hyper-stimulate gun sales at home? Could it possibly have anything to do with
heightened levels of insecurities and fears?
I see strong correlations, and reckon that reduced economic inequalities
and a more just world would make us all proportionately safer.
The reason that the French economist Thomas Piketty
writes that increasing extremes of inequality are “terrifying” is because
increased injustices in a society make everyone less secure.
One overlooked reason that wars are becoming so
inimical to future well-being is that warfare has horrible environmental
impacts. Lavish armaments spending and
huge standing military forces create a dangerous and destabilizing mutual
insecurity. A more thorough
investigation into comprehensive understandings related to militarism is
contained in Reflections on War – and
Suffice it to say here, in words borrowed from John
Lennon, that we gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta,
gotta, gotta, gotta Give Peace a
Chance. All I am saying is,
empire-building militarism involves giant risks and extremely high costs. It may stimulate the economy, create lots of
jobs in “defense” and war services industries, and facilitate big opportunities
for profiteering and cronyism, but it is a bad plan. It crowds out domestic spending and allows
the U.S. to unethically intervene in the affairs of others for the sake of
controlling and dominating them and gaining unfair access to markets and raw
materials, but it is unwise and unfair policy.
old guns versus butter argument once again arises, and John Steinbeck once more
beckons with his incisive perspective:
“There is a war now
which no one wants to fight, in which no one can see a gain: a zombie war of sleep-walkers which
nevertheless goes on out of all control of intelligence. Some time ago a
Congress of honest men refused an appropriation of several hundreds of millions
of dollars to feed our people. They said,
and meant it, that the economic structure of the country would collapse under
the pressure of such expenditure. And
now the same men, just as honestly, are devoting many billions to the
manufacture, transportation, and detonation of explosives to protect the people
they would not feed.”
To improve our human fates, we need to create more
effective forms of cooperation, and always keep greater good goals in mind. The degree of mercilessness and corruption in
militaristic competition should be reduced.
Instead of fanning flames of religious radicalism, aggressive
nationalism and ethnocentric self-righteousness in a world supercharged with
tensions over disparities of income, wealth, power and privilege, we need to
strive to make international trade fairer and our societies more mutually
secure. To best reduce conflicts,
inequities and injustices in the world must be reduced, NOT made more
extreme. Unfairness naturally makes conflicts
think that some of these ideas are naïve and unrealistic, but I believe that
the really insane beliefs are those that are driving us in the wrong
directions. We would be wise to be open
to understandings that are more enlightened.
Just because some activities have become routine, it does not mean they
are right, desirable, maintainable, or wise.
Propitious changes need to be made to deal with serious problems. We can no longer afford to allow people with
goals of obstructing reasonable solutions to be so richly rewarded. The common-sense social good requires such
changes, as does the well-being of all people in future generations.
Let’s be open to
finding enlightenment, and then act in accordance with enlightened understandings. What the heck! -- let’s embark together into
the Era of Enlightenment II.
Intuitions related to adverse trajectories inherent
in Tragedy of the Commons phenomena reveal why our current system is so
difficult to reform. Conflicts of
interest abound. Civilized behaviors
require big picture fair-minded compromise.
We need to begin to make revolutionary changes to improve the general
welfare. Comprehensive understandings
are our best hope for leading to the implementation of affirmative ideas and
initiatives such as those summarized in One Dozen Big Initiatives to Positively Transform
Our Societies, and in the Progressive Agenda for a More Sane Humanity.
We live in exceptionally interesting times. The pendulum of social change has swung from
progressive to regressive in the past four decades, and now it must begin a
powerful swing back toward greater reason and more expansive responsibility and
stewardship. Progress has always been convoluted
and complex, with lots of back eddies, side currents and periods of
stagnation. Despite controversy and
ambiguity and fervently sown doubt, it is growing increasingly apparent that
the Tea Party backsliding of recent years must now give way to truer progress.
Much more than minor tuning and feeble adjustments
are called for. Epochal changes are
required. We can cope with rapid change
best through new ways of seeing and bold action. The future calls for wisdom, courage and
sustained commitment -- perhaps even a generous modicum of evangelical
enthusiasm! -- all of it focused on optimizing our adaptation to accelerating
Chapter #36 – A
Many species of life have made an evolutionary
bargain with the devil. Examples are flightless birds on islands that had
no predators for eons, or tuna fish that swim faster than any other fish in the
oceans but can never stop swimming because they would die from lack of oxygen
without continuous movement through the water.
We humans are making our own bargain with the devil by building up
civilizations that are wholly dependent on basic foundations that we are
depleting and damaging by the very nature of our busy aggregate daily
Goethe implies in Faust that we are always in the process of becoming, and that we
should rely on our intuition, our resources of character, and the heroic
aspects of our true inner being to make the right choices in life. Almost every spiritual tradition honors the
proverbial journey of the hero or heroine.
Athena, the patron goddess of heroes, was known for whispering advice to
her heroes and counseling restraint. The
hero symbolizes our ability to control the irrational savage within us, and to
use reason to overcome our compulsions and dark passions.
The ultimate aim of a true hero’s journey
is not merely to achieve conquest of others, or to achieve self-affirmation,
but to serve greater causes. Many
Faustian bargains with the devil are a kind of giving in to seductively
appealing temptations, but when we cultivate emotional intelligence we find
that it is valuable to control our gluttony, intemperance, hubris, pride and
vanity, and to avoid making choices that are likely to turn out to be ill
fated. One choice likely to be
particularly ill fated is to trade in our souls with a single-minded intention
of gaining power or getting things that are ultimately unimportant, like great
quantities of material possessions.
live in a world where millions of people eat themselves into obesity,
thoughtlessly harming their own health, while millions of others starve to
death. This is obscene. I love the concept of living large -- but NOT
through gluttony and conspicuous consumption.
How fabulous it would be if we could develop healthier ways of achieving
self-worth by means other than shopping, owning enormous homes, driving ‘sexy’
cars or fuel wasting SUVs, getting plastic surgery, squandering resources, or
being triumphant through ruthlessly aggressive competition. Miss
well is arguably the best revenge. And a persuasive case can be made that many of the best qualities in life are enjoyed most
fully when the crowd is the least. An
absence of crowds can often be most conducive to introspection, equanimity,
creativity, visionary understanding, true spirituality, simplicity, peace,
solitude, and the solace of open spaces,
Dr. Seuss, who wrote and illustrated more than 50
children's books during his life, published a book in 1971 titled The Lorax. It is a cautionary tale
of environmental destruction and greed.
The character named the Lorax tries to save the Truffula Tree forest and
its inhabitants from the Once-ler, who is a cantankerous exploiter. The
The Lorax said
nothing. Just gave me a glance ...
just gave me a very sad, sad backward glance ...
as he lifted himself by the seat of his pants.
And I'll never forget the grim look on his face
when he heisted himself up, and took leave of this place,
through a hole in the smog, without leaving a trace.
And all that the Lorax left here in this mess
was a small pile of rocks, with the one word ... "UNLESS." …
Whatever that meant, well, I just couldn't guess.
That was long, long ago.
But each day since that
I've sat here and worried, and worried away.
Through the years, while my buildings have fallen apart,
I've worried about it, with all of my heart.
"But now," says the Once-ler,
"Now that you're here,
the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear.
UNLESS someone like you
cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better.
Someone like us must begin to care “a whole
awful lot”! We should revolutionarily
restructure our economic and political systems to be in greater harmony with
the long-term viability of our species’ survival, and create societies that are
more egalitarian and more truly just. We should strive to protect our
sustaining environment, conserve resources, enact balanced budgets, encourage
social tolerance, give women’s rights greater respect, root out political
corruption, and create greater security for all.
During the George W. Bush years, a guy named Doug
Goodkin composed The Grinch Revisited (with
thanks to Dr. Seuss):
The Whos down in Whoville liked
this country a lot,
But the Grinch in the White House most certainly did not.
He didn't arrive there by the will of the Whos,
But stole the election that he really did lose.
Vowed to "rule from the
middle," then installed his regime.
Did this really happen or is it just a bad dream?
He didn't listen to voters, just his friends he was pleasin'
Now, please don't ask why, no one quite knows the reason.
It could be his heart wasn't
working just right.
It could be, perhaps, that he wasn't too bright.
But I think that the most likely reason of all,
Is that both brain and heart were two sizes too small.
In times of great turmoil, this
was bad news,
To have a government that ignores its Whos.
But the Whos shrugged their shoulders, went on with their
Their duties as citizens so casually did shirk.
shopped at the mall and watched their TVs.
Oblivious to what was going on in D.C.
And ignoring the threats to democracy.
They read the same papers that ran the same leads,
Reporting what only served
(For the policies affecting the
lives of all nations
Were made by the giant U. S. Corporations.)
Big business grew fatter, fed by its own greed,
And by people who shopped for the things they didn't need.
But amidst all the apathy came
signs of unrest,
The Whos came to see we were fouling our nest.
And the people who cared for the ideals of this nation
Began to discuss and exchange information.
The things they couldn't read in
the corporate-owned news
Of FTAA meetings and CIA coups.
They published some books, created Websites
Began to write letters and use their e-mail
(Though Homeland Security might send them to jail!)
What began as a whisper soon
grew to a roar,
These things going on they could no longer ignore.
They started to rise up and fight City Hall
Let their voices be heard, they rose to the call,
To vote, to petition, to gather,
To question the policies of the President.
As greed gained in power and power knew no shame
The Whos came together, sang "Not in our name!"
One by one from their sleep and
their slumber they woke
The old and the young, all kinds of folk,
The black, brown and white, the gay, bi- and straight,
All united to sing, "Feed our hope, not our hate!
Stop stockpiling weapons and
aiming for war!
Stop feeding the rich, start feeding the poor!
Stop storming the deserts to fuel SUVs!
Stop telling us lies on the mainstream TVs!
Stop treating our children as a
market to sack!
Stop feeding them Barney, Barbie and Big Mac!
Stop trying to addict them to lifelong consuming,
In a time when severe global warming is looming!
Stop sanctions that are killing
the kids in Iraq!
Start dealing with ours that are strung out on crack!
A mighty sound started to rise and to grow,
"The old way of thinking simply must go!”
Enough of God versus Allah,
Muslim vs. Jew
With what lies ahead, it simply won't do.
No American dream cares only for wealth
Ignoring the need for community health.
The rivers and forests are
demanding their pay,
If we're to survive, we must walk a new way.
No more excessive and mindless consumption
Let's sharpen our minds and garner our gumption.
For the ideas are simple, but
the practice is hard,
And not to be won by a poem on a card.
It needs the ideas and the acts of each Who,
So let's get together and plan what to do!
And so they all gathered from
all 'round the Earth
And from it all came a miraculous birth.
The hearts and the minds of the Whos they did grow,
Three sizes to fit what they felt and they know.
While the Grinches they shrank
from their hate and their greed,
Bearing the weight of their every foul deed.
From that day onward the standard of wealth,
Was whatever fed the Whos spiritual health.
They gathered together to revel
For although our story pits Grinches 'gainst Whos,
The true battle lies in what we daily choose.
For inside each Grinch is a tiny small Who,
And inside each Who is a tiny Grinch too.
thrives on love and one thrives on greed.
Who will win out? It depends who you feed!
--- Composed in the year 2002, www.douggoodkin.com
Chapter #37 – Primary
Whether liberal or conservative in political
worldviews, most people would agree with certain basic principles. A focus on these principles would help ensure
that our societies find a better way to plan ahead and use clearer foresight
that is more broad-minded, fairer, and more strategically poised for positive
Here is a summary of principles that would help
establish better policies and political initiatives:
(1) We should work together to leave America a better country, and
the world a better place.
(2) NOW is the time to confront the most serious of our national
problems. We cannot continue rear guard
actions of delay that pass a burning baton to runners in generations to
come. We should not wait until a
sufficiently calamitous crisis occurs before acting to cope intelligently with
the challenges we face. The longer we delay in dealing with a problem,
the more intractable it will in all probability become, and the more expensive,
painful and insidiously difficult it will be to solve.
(3) We should embrace a positive, hopeful, and affirmative vision of the
future, and strive to act consistently with noble values of fairness and the
common good to achieve this vision.
(4) Abuses of power by corporations or governments should be restricted.
More privileges and bigger profits for entrenched vested interests should not
be allowed at the expense of people’s health or irreversible damages to the
(5) Pervasive ‘special interest’ influences should be balanced to make our
government function better and ensure that our democracy is fairer. Lobbying should be made more ethical. Clean Money initiatives and Clean Elections
could help accomplish this, as detailed in Chapter #49.
(6) Our problems should be addressed in ways that do not harm the
prospects of people in the future.
(7) Our business and government institutions should be intelligently
redesigned to be sustainable for the long term in all aspects, including
fiscal, economic, and environmental ones.
(8) Precautionary principles should be heeded that reflect strong
concerns for the effects that human activities are having on the
environment. Each person should strive a bit more to become a better
steward of the Earth.
(9) Our legislative focus and federal spending should be better
prioritized to protect people and biological diversity. The real impacts of public policy decisions
on future well-being should be evaluated in all decision-making.
(10) The most crucial problems should receive the most attention and
funding. We cannot allow our political leaders to eagerly spend many hundreds
of billions of dollars on the military each year while we are being relatively stingy
with domestic priorities and vital infrastructure needs, and humanitarian aid
and sustainable development assistance around the world.
(11) Better spending discipline should be instituted, and greater fiscal
responsibility should be required. Our leaders cannot be allowed to
fleece future generations by borrowing enormous sums of money and creating
heavy burdens of debt and interest expenses, because such strategies are highly
unfair, irresponsible and shortsighted.
(12) Our federal and state governments should be held to strict standards
of accountability, transparency and oversight. Our leaders should be
required to do what is in the best interests of the public and of humanity, and
to reduce the extent to which they pander to the narrow interests of the rich,
of giant corporations, of speculators, of war profiteers and of other
entrenched interest groups. Politicians should be held to higher
standards of honesty.
(13) A cleaner energy regime should be hastened by implementing powerful
incentives for energy conservation, increased efficiency, and the stimulus of
innovative alternatives for fossil fuel usages.
Large subsidies to Big Oil should be eliminated, and new incentives
should be created to help make the transition to greater efficiency, more
conservation and a sustainable alternate energy regime. We can no longer afford to adhere to policies
that encourage wasteful uses of energy and a continued dependence on
non-renewable fossil fuels. The full cost of military interventions in
Middle Eastern nations should be pro-rated as a tax on every barrel of oil
burned, so that we pay as we go and stop foisting these costs onto future
(14) We should strive to be flexible and open-minded to better ideas, and
willing to support progressive change.
We should encourage respectful debate, and take dissenting views into
account according to an honest assessment of their merits.
(15) We should insist that our democracy be made fairer and more
participatory by supporting good public education and emphasizing people’s
abilities to think critically and farsightedly.
(16) We should make broad collaborative commitments to long-term solutions
to problems. Our leaders should work together to build the public’s
trust, and not stubbornly stick to dogmatic doctrines, simplistic deceptions,
unexamined assumptions, cherry-picked information, or growing disparities in
political representation of the interests of the rich compared to the poor.
(17) We should make our systems of justice fairer for all.
(18) We should take actions to strengthen and expand the middle class and
improve opportunities for social mobility.
(19) We should rein in the power, wastefulness and intrusiveness of the
federal government, which has increased its size in the last 50 years from 25%
of the national income to 45%. The purpose of government should NOT be to
create jobs by expanding bureaucracy and the military.
(20) We should transform our economic and foreign policies into ones that
are more mutually fair and secure, and limit our ambitions on the international
stage to ones that are ethical and legal.
And, (21) We should make sweeping changes in our social investments and
environmental policies to make sure that drinking water is safe, ecosystems
remain healthy, and that there are adequate protections of public lands, the
world’s oceans, the atmosphere, and biological diversity.
These are compelling issues that require bold,
visionary, honorable, courageous and fair national responses. Almost
everyone would agree that the most important purposes of government should
be to help establish safe, fair and sustainable societies while allowing a
maximum of individual freedoms to all. Our prosperity and our fulfillment
of deeper purposes depend on this.
Chapter #38 – The Bet
A 17th century French scientist named Blaise Pascal formulated an idea
that came to be famously known as the “Bet Situation”. The Bet Situation
is concerned with philosophical debates that have profound practical
implications regarding probabilities and the future. We are all
confronted with Bet Situations in our lives because (1) there are
uncertainties, (2) we are inextricably involved in the game, and (3) it is important to us in our own lives, and in the
lives of our fellow human beings, that we make decisions that are more
conscious, conscientious, and socially responsible with regard to a variety of
important categories of bets we are collectively making.
Both actions and inactions are choices. We make choices whether or not we are
consciously aware of them. It is crucial for us, as well as for our
descendents, that we begin to make decisions that are more consistent with the
wisest courses of action. We essentially gamble every time we choose one
course of action over another, and we obviously should put our wagers on the
best outcomes. Those who are smart use common sense, and they bet with
the best odds and probabilities.
Here are some of the choices that we are
collectively making -- the ones that have the biggest impacts -- because a fair
evaluation of them can highlight valuable insights.
For one thing, we can gamble that natural resources
on Earth are inexhaustible. Or we can bet that it would be smarter to use
them less wastefully, and spare some for future generations.
We can gamble that resource limitations do not
matter because technology will find replacements for resources as we use them
up. Or we can bet that it is safer to take a “no-regrets” approach by
moderating our demands, and commit to conserving and protecting resources like
arable lands, wetlands, ocean fisheries, free-flowing rivers, fresh water
aquifers, tropical rainforests and what remains of old-growth temperate
We can gamble that we are not assaulting biological
diversity in ways that are so injudicious that they threaten our own eventual
well-being. Or we can bet that we really are taking great risks by
failing to protect biological diversity in the course of our aggregate
activities, and consequently commit our societies to policies that protect
wildlife habitats and endangered species, and ensure that most other forms of
life on Earth will survive this century.
We can gamble that spewing billions of tons of
carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually will not contribute to global
warming, climate change, and severe disruptions of natural
ecosystems. Or we can bet that it would be wiser to aggressively
adopt more efficient and conservation-oriented energy policies designed to
prevent irreversible ecological damages, and that we should seek alternatives
to fossil fuels as well as innovative ways to sequester man-made carbon dioxide
We can gamble that laissez-faire capitalism, stoked economic
growth, and ever increasing consumption are best for the robustness and health
of the economy. Or we can bet that the best way to achieve a fair and
sustainable future would be by redesigning our economies to use smarter
policies, incentives, and sensible regulations to safeguard our economy while
reducing waste, profligate consumption, and destabilizing speculative
We can continue to gamble that the distorted market
mechanisms that currently characterize our sink-or-swim Crony Capitalist system
are the best plan for our country, and staunchly defend and protect this system,
allowing Big Business to prosper at the expense of small businesses and the
environment and society as a whole. Or we can bet that a transformation
to Green Capitalism should be facilitated, and begin to enact bold, intelligent
initiatives that channel our collective activities into more wholesome
directions that help create better societies and a more secure world for
ourselves and our children.
We can gamble that the valiant race to produce more
and more food to feed inexorably increasing human numbers can be won by
continuing to advance industrial agricultural practices that employ crop
monocultures, massive mechanization, fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and
the use of antibiotics and hormones in meat and milk production. Or we
can bet that Thomas Malthus will inevitably be proved right, and consequently
begin to support family planning programs, make contraceptives readily
available to women worldwide, better educate and empower women, and
simultaneously support crop diversity, local agriculture, organic farming, the
conservation of farm lands, and the principles of the Slow Food Movement.
We can gamble that opposition to family planning
programs worldwide is a God-prescribed moral imperative and a good idea.
Or we can bet that giving generous support to family planning programs is wise,
compassionate and quite necessary, and take actions to stabilize population,
beginning with sensible sex education programs and a permanent injunction
against the imposition of the U.S. Global Gag Rule, and make a substantial
increase in funding to the UN Population Fund, and encourage the use of contraceptives
to prevent unwanted pregnancies and sexually-transmitted diseases.
We can gamble that our individual actions are so
insignificant that it makes no difference what we do, or whether we vote, and
thus that we do not need to devote any attention and energy to the social
good. Or we can bet that dramatic change is possible through the
aggregation of caring individual choices, and act to make a difference by
supporting smart and positive progressive change.
We can gamble that unmitigated social injustices and
policies that facilitate the concentration of wealth in the hands of the
wealthiest 1% are not a threat to social stability and well-being. Or we
can bet that the safest and wisest investments of all are in universal public
education, social justice, equality of opportunity, resource conservation and
peaceful coexistence, and act accordingly.
We can gamble that helping the rich to become richer
by cutting taxes to the lowest level in generations, while imposing further
austerity on the poor and the middle class, will not result in more intense
social tensions, heightened insecurity, worse levels of crime, or an increased
impetus toward terrorism or violent revolution. Or we can bet that enacting
policies that encourage inequalities and injustices and disparities of wealth
might have such consequences, and therefore enact fairer and more humanitarian
policies that are most likely to generate a broader overall well-being.
We can continue to gamble that aggressive militarism
is the best way to achieve our economic goals and national security. Or
we can bet that aggression and preemptive war policies are prohibitively
costly, and that it would be wiser to recognize that justice and peace are
vitally important in the world, and thus take bold steps toward dedicating more
resources to improving our own society and to achieving greater mutual security
by means of diplomatic conflict resolution and commitments to wide-ranging
We can gamble that the Strict Father constellation
of beliefs are best, and defend the status quo by following the regressive,
power-abusing doctrines of radical conservatism and patriarchal dominion.
Or we can bet that a renewed respect for the constellation of Nurturing Parent
values would create better balanced public policies, and consequently commit to
electing leaders whose philosophies and policies honor more sensible and
We can gamble that there is a life hereafter --
after our personal death -- and fail to maximize our happiness, our potentials
in this life, our authenticity and our appreciation of existence, of deeper
purposes and of truer causes. Or we can bet that the Here and Now
mandates our acknowledgment that this life alone can be known, that no body
survives death, and that we should wholeheartedly seek to achieve a more noble
connectedness to the wholesome and the worthwhile in the Present.
Oh, say can you see, by the dawn’s early light, how
so foolish the gambles of our entrenched decision-making are proving to
be? As readers might easily surmise, my
perspective is that the best bets we can make are oriented around supporting
far-sighted ideas that take into account the comprehensive breadth and depth of
human knowledge and spiritual understandings. Scientific insights and
expert understandings should be honored.
And broad-minded initiatives should be undertaken to ensure that the
gambles we make are fairer, more reasonable and more sustainable.
As an ironic aside, the gaudy city of Las Vegas,
Nevada was until the Great Recession one of the fastest growing cities in the
U.S. Yet Las Vegas is pathetically
oriented around gambling, alcohol consumption, sexual titillation, non-stop
entertainment, lavish shopping, indoors cigarette smoking, insensate hedonism,
overeating, and the insidiously harmful idea that people can get unearned
Gambling is a compulsive and maladaptive behavior
that has many negative impacts on society.
A National Gambling Impact Study Commission has revealed that millions
of Americans are detrimentally affected by serious social and economic
consequences of “problem gambling”.
Gambling addictions can lead to bankruptcy, crime, divorce, domestic
violence, child neglect, child abuse, homelessness and even murder or
suicide. The ‘gaming’ industry and the
politicians who advance its goals are too often afflicted by corruption, fraud
or racketeering. Perversely, lotteries
principally prey on poor people and minorities.
Let’s find ways to discourage gambling!
with extremely high stakes, like with the well-being of our children and
theirs, is a vice that strikes me as particularly ill advised!
Chapter #39 – Insight
into Pyrrhic Victories.
Sustainable existence in
the long run calls for actions that reduce injustice and calm tensions in the
world. This would allow cuts to military
spending worldwide. There is a tendency
toward mutually-assured destruction that is implicit in the overkill potential
of nuclear-armed nations, which possess thousands of nuclear warheads in
total. More subtly, there is a degree of
insanity in the waste, resource misallocation, habitat ravaging, and
inadvertent injustice caused by huge levels of debt-financed military
spending. While war may be the ultimate
expression of competition, it is an expression that is increasingly unacceptable
as the world population grows and competition intensifies for control of
territory, fertile soil, mineral resources, fossil fuels, and fresh water.
Might does NOT make
right. Calamitous developments loom, and
NOW is the time to put in place mechanisms that will be more effective in
preventing international conflicts. The
“war on terror” is already one of the world’s most costly conflicts ever, and the
priorities it represents are quite clearly distorted. Much better ways of spending trillions of
dollars exist -- ways of building peace, ensuring mutual security, creating
friends rather than enemies, reducing extreme poverty, implementing sustainable
development, conserving resources, making concerted efforts to create greener
policies, and protecting the health of the environment. In other words, we should choose to invest in
making the destiny of all life on Earth a little more likely to be
The “war on terror” is a
slogan, not a sensible strategy for making America safer. Sure, the U.S. has had some ‘successes’ in
this war since 9/11/2001. Hundreds of Al
Qaeda operatives, including Osama bin Laden, have been killed or
imprisoned. Intelligence activities have
significantly disrupted terrorist network communications and financing operations. Terrorist attacks on markets, mosques, and
innocent civilians have had the effect of eroding some support for terrorist
Yet, by simplistically
treating terrorism as a broad and somewhat indiscriminate war, our strategies
have led to serious harm. We have been
baited, and with a reactive cowboy mentality we have reacted in extremely
costly ways. We have hurt our country
and the world by reacting to the 9/11 attacks with grave injustices of our own.
Our somewhat indiscriminate war on
terror has ratcheted up federal debt burdens and created increased
probabilities of dangerous retaliatory blowback and destabilizing extremism.
We have inflicted damage
on ourselves with our mistakes. We
unwisely attacked and occupied Iraq under false pretexts, convulsing that
country with terrible social turmoil. We
have squandered huge sums of money on warfare, and on pork barrel spending for
a variety of “homeland security” programs.
We have wasted worldwide sympathy in the wake of 9/11, and significantly
damaged the moral authority America once had.
This perspective makes any successes we have had resemble “Pyrrhic
victories”. The Greeks who won the
original Pyrrhic victory, with staggering losses, over Romans in 279 BCE would
attest to the veracity of this contention.
In another regard,
mankind can ironically be seen to be ‘winning’ a string of Pyrrhic victories
over the natural world. We deny to
ourselves the fact that these are NOT real victories. They are actually insidious losses that are
acceptable outcomes only in the delusion of an absurdly hubris-swollen point of
view, and of a myopic failure to clearly comprehend ecological truths.
The very premise of our
civilization is that human beings have the right to do as we like, and to
assert dominion over all living things no matter how harmful this may prove to
be. We have foolishly ignored the
extents to which our actions are unsustainable and jeopardous to future
Our modern industrial
mode of consciousness fails to recognize and respect the primary basis for well-being
that is found in undepleted topsoil and uncontaminated fresh water and a stable
climate. It is downright stupid to give
inadequate value to the health and integral community of planetary biological
systems, and to congratulate ourselves with pride on our dominion, as if we are
the only beings in the world that matter, as if anointed by the gods. Christ!
We are beginning to find
out that this way of seeing the world is fatefully inaccurate, and that it is
insane for us to allow the impoverishment of natural ecosystems. For our own larger self-interest, we should avoid making
societal choices that either fail to address the biggest problems we face, or
actually make them worse. It is as
though we are engraving our names on the tender bark of a young oak tree, not
understanding that these wounds will enlarge with time and reveal to posterity
the full-grown folly of our detrimental activities.
Chapter #40 – Greatness,
United States is a great country. It has
been made great by its Constitutional principles, its promise of equal justice
and opportunity, its democratic institutions, and the fairness doctrines
included in the Bill of Rights. Our
greatness is reinforced by open-mindedness in embracing creativity and
innovation, and by our theoretical commitment to the general welfare and
individual liberties. Our rough
adherence to fair rules of law, together with the progressive advances made
since the Civil War in the realm of human rights, have also contributed to the
positive character of our country. Due
process, equal treatment under the law, respect for individual dignity, freedom
from unreasonable search and seizure, and theoretical guarantees against
unwarranted government surveillance of citizens have been included among these
characteristics that have made our country great in an era that is one of the
most remarkable in all of world history.
“Capitalist assets not all that bad, comrade.”
Appreciative appraisal of a slender mini-skirted female by a clever dude in the
that want to become President of the U.S. compete for the nomination of their
party by striving to strike a balance between the political center and the
extremes, so Democrats are center-left and Republicans are center-right. Once a candidate wins the nomination, he or
she must compete in national elections, so they both scramble a bit toward the
the theory of it, anyway. Fueled by
Super PAC money, which is a rather blatant form of institutionalized bribery,
the Republican Party is managing to brainwash a sizable proportion of the
American people into provisionally supporting candidates who compete to be the
farthest right they can get. This is due
to the influence of Tea Party candidates who demand an extremely “conservative”
candidate Mitt Romney “flip-flopped” toward extreme conservative orthodoxy in
2012 on such issues as contraception, abortion, discrimination against gays,
stem cell research, immigration and gun rights.
Back in April 2007, a series of Doonesbury comic strips had mocked
Romney for such socially retrogressive and hypocritical shifts from principle
to doctrine. “Sir, No Sir!”
worst outcome in Presidential elections, for reasons cited extensively herein,
is that citizens elect a center-right politician who gets into power and then
advances causes of the extreme right.
George W. Bush had made election promises to be honest, trustworthy and
compassionate in the year 2000. He
boasted of an intention not to involve our country in nation-building by the
military. He claimed he would be “a
uniter, not a divider”. But then he
chose to rule in obedience to the harsh, extreme right views of Dick Cheney and
the discredited ideas of neoconservatives and economic fundamentalists.
true principles of both democracy and republicanism support liberty and rule by
the people, as well as civic virtue practiced by citizens in
accordance with a constitution and rules of law. The American people
should demand that their representatives respect the Constitution as well as
the progressive evolution of established law since 1789. This means that our representatives should
better represent the interests of all Americans, not just insiders and the
wealthy few. Ethics reform is needed to
stop the federal government from acting principally in the best interests of
big corporations, rich people, war enthusiasts and religious fundamentalists.
The age-old games will always persist; people and companies will eagerly try to grab
a bigger share of the loose public treasury.
Not only do we have a political system that facilitates this, we have
lots of corruption on top of it. Here is
an excellent reason why we need to restructure our economic and political
institutions, and regulate them better, and manage them more fairly.
worst thing about corruption as a system of governance is that it works so
well.” That thought-provoking thought
was expressed by a character in the epic novel Shantaram. Various forms of
corruption do seem to work well in many countries of the world -- in the short
run. The worst thing about our system of
growth-addicted Disaster Capitalist system is that it works well for the
wealthy, at the expense of everyone else, but exploitive technologies and
political corruption and short-term-oriented national policies are too often
negative and contrary to the common good.
call on both the Democratic and Republican Parties to revise their national
platforms to be more consistent with wise understandings of social justice, and
of environmental sanity.
national image and well-being were terribly tarnished by the politicians in the
Bush administration and its appointees in the Justice Department. They facilitated injustice and
shortsightedness by pandering to partisanship and the wealthy. They opposed family planning programs. They tried to dominate and control working
people, and other nations, and nature itself.
They imposed a pathetic tyranny on our communities -- a tyranny of
social regression, fiscal irresponsibility, invasions of privacy, occasional
bureaucratic nonsensicality, costly and reprehensible militarism, and
ecological myopia. Conservative leaders
seem to be staunchly committed to narrow interests, so they aggressively abuse
power and promote oligarchic plutocracy (rule by the few, for the wealthy),
instead of fairer democratic governance.
Congress has continuously acted with disregard for
the common good by increasing the size of the federal government bureaucracy,
which is already bloated and too intrusive.
It indulges in cronyism, dishonesty, corrupt practices, pork barrel spending, and
the encouraging of public land
exploitation. It borrows and spends huge
amounts of taxpayer money in fiscally foolish ways. Conservatives are especially eager to
eviscerate environmental protection laws.
Congress has failed to enforce the polluters-pay principle that
obligates companies to reduce the pollution they cause, and to pay for damages
that such pollution causes to people’s health and the environment.
Though George W. Bush claimed during his first
presidential campaign to be “a uniter, not a divider”, once he was elected his
administration cynically pursued highly divisive actions. It mercilessly exploited hot-button social
issues and stoked fears of terrorism to increase its power. It abused this power by striving to
manufacture consent and manipulate Americans into supporting wrong-headed
military policies and poorly-prioritized domestic policies. It created more inequality in education and
job opportunities, and a bigger disparity in fortunes between rich people and everyone
in the working and middle classes.
The Bush Administration worked to subvert our
democracy in many ways. It evaded
oversight by Congress. It demanded
loyalty to doctrines that were shrewd, exploitive and shortsighted. It used Karl Rovian dirty politics, political
machine politics, and character assassination instead of honest debate. It used smear campaigns, voter suppression
and intimidation, and election fraud to deprive minorities and poor people of
fair representation. It
overstepped its executive authority with Patriot Act prosecutions, and violated
the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, and secretly spied on citizens. And, as it turns out, the NSA surveillance
schemes were only just beginning, and have been amplified during the tenure of
George W. Bush
aggressively used “signing statements” to avoid complying with more than 1,100
provisions of laws enacted by Congress.
An American Bar Association Task Force declared some uses of signing
statements to be “contrary to the rule of law and our constitutional system of
separation of powers.”
By using signing
statements, President Bush asserted a poorly founded right to ignore the will
of Congress and the American people. One
of the most egregious examples of the use of this ploy took place in January
2008, when Congress passed the annual National Defense Authorization
Act. This law included a statute that
instructed the Bush administration not to spend taxpayer money “to establish
any military installation or base for the purpose of providing for the
permanent stationing of United States Armed Forces in Iraq.” But the President attached a signing statement
to the law that asserted a right of the President to disregard the ban on
permanent bases. Another provision of
this Act was an accountability measure that would have established an
independent and bipartisan ‘Commission on Wartime Contracting’ to eliminate
waste and fraud and law violations by private security companies. President Bush used a signing statement to
oppose this, in essence supporting waste, fraud and law violations. This constituted a sad and dishonorable
usurpation of power.
Bush Administration sought to amend the
Constitution to make society more discriminatory against gay people. It sought to limit the reproductive rights of
women and their privacy and the freedom to choose the course of their own
lives. It attempted to dominate
society and engineer America into molds of prudish, puritanical, misogynistic,
intolerant and self-righteous evangelism.
These ends were not by any stretch of the imagination consistent with
the general welfare.
after that paragraph was written, Todd Akins made a big splash in the
news. A member of the House Committee on
Science no less, he uttered some truly bizarre statements about how women can
magically shut down getting pregnant, as if they have some sort of effective
emotional prophylactic morning-after power.
Apparently Todd Akins believes that a woman can be so traumatized by
being “legitimately raped”, and so alarmed by the sudden influx of a rapist’s
sperm, that her ovum would resist impregnation.
Introduce yourself to the statistics, Todd: 5% of women who are forcibly raped become
pregnant. And, reprehensibly,
conservative Republicans want to overturn the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision by the
Supreme Court and force raped women to bear the children of rapists.
One of the most egregious initiatives of
the U.S. when George W. Bush was in power was the risky and dangerous precedent
of preemptive warfare. The U.S. invaded
Iraq using a variety of changing rationalizations; threats were hyped, costs were ridiculously
underestimated and reasonable warnings were ignored. Unrealistic scenarios were advanced and dissenters
were intimidated. Many terrible collateral
injustices were intensified, and the occupation of Iraq was characterized by
corruption, missing weapons, poor governance, squandered money, and very ineffective
reconstruction efforts. According to the
Iraqi Cabinet member Ali Allawi, the U.S. manifested “rank amateurism and
swaggering arrogance” and “monumental ignorance” during the military
These actions created much resentment,
anger, suspicion and instability. They
strengthened the resolve of those opposing the U.S. and augmented the numbers
of recruits to terrorist causes, insurgencies and religious extremism, as
evidenced by increasing influence of terrorist organizations in the world in
the past decade. We have exacerbated
stresses and hostilities, unleashed heightened religious and ethnic conflicts,
and contributed to an impetus for civil strife in Islamic countries.
The top ‘legal
beagle’ job in the U.S. is the Attorney General, a position that presides over
the Department of Justice. The Mission
of this agency is to “ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for
all Americans”. It is revealing that the
first two men to hold this position in the Bush Administration were both
loyalists to ideology and partisan politics and the President, but NOT to
independent and fair enforcement of the law on behalf of the American
people. John Ashcroft tried to impose
his Christian religious beliefs on the nation, even taking the bizarre step of
ordering an $8,000 drape to cover the exposed breasts of a Lady Justice
statue. Oh, yes, I suppose bare breasts
are shocking to some (Janet Jackson found this out on national TV when her
“wardrobe malfunctioned” during a Super Bowl halftime performance in
2004); but a classic statue?! Prudes, please decamp!
Irony is an entertainingly incongruous trickster. Consider
the circumstance that John Ashcroft actually echoed the actions of a character
named Biago da Cessena, an apologist for Pope Paul III in the year 1540. Biago expressed deep offense at naked
Biblical figures that Michelangelo portrayed in his magnificent frescoes. So when Michelangelo was commissioned to
paint his vision of the biblical Last
Judgment on a wall of the Sistine Chapel, some 20 years after he had
finished his famous work on the ceiling, he responded to Biago’s prudish
criticisms of his art by depicting Biago in a corner of The Last Judgment sporting the ears of an ass.
replacement was Alberto Gonzales, who suffered the ignominy of debate on a
no-confidence vote in the U.S. Senate in June 2007 and was subsequently forced
to resign. The main issue that led to
that outcome was the determined effort by Gonzales and members of his staff to
politicize the Department of Justice by firing federal prosecutors and
replacing them with less qualified but more ideologically loyal Republican
lawyers. Partisan considerations were
also used to fill lower level non-partisan career legal jobs at the Justice
Department. Gonzales had been
instrumental in efforts to facilitate methods of harsh prisoner interrogations
and torture tactics in violation of the Geneva Conventions, and to diminish the
civil liberties of American citizens by the implementation of a warrantless
wiretapping program. He and other White
House officials stonewalled Congress, claimed memory lapses, gave contradictory
testimony, failed to deliver subpoenaed documents, and apparently lied under
oath. These shrewd evasions were deeply
dishonorable. They are reminiscent of some
of the devious activities of Richard Nixon;
maybe history does repeat itself!
The third Bush Attorney General, Michael
Mukasey, was chosen in November 2007. He
received close attention from the Senate for indications of whether he would
truly represent the people, or if he would be likely to follow his predecessors
in marching lockstep with the Administration’s abuses of power. One principal issue was whether Mukasey
considered the cruel practice of “waterboarding” to be torture.
The Bush White House’s serious and
aggressive efforts to grab greater power for the Executive Branch was
informatively analyzed in a video segment “Power of the Presidency” on Bill Moyers Journal (google it!). Bill Moyers, thank you for your intelligence,
vision, objectivity and honorable commitment to important causes!
Visionary intelligence is needed to guide
us toward fairer and more progressive understandings and actions. We should reject ruthless, unjust,
controlling, money-obsessed, special-privilege-defending forces of corporatism,
neoconservatism and aggressive militarism.
A vigorous and independent civil society is needed, not increased
government power or authoritarian abuses of power or expanding corporate
prerogatives or war profiteering. An
echo of Shakespeare’s version of Julius Caesar’s words reverberates around us:
readers, countrymen, lend me your ears.
come to bury Empire, not to praise it.
evil that men do lives after them;
good is oft interred with their bones.
citizens are being crudely and shrewdly manipulated,
deference to plutocratic rule by the few and the wealthy.
true democratic and republican principles are being abandoned,
the fortunate few more power and coin.
woeful day! O traitors, villains!
is the most unkindest cut of all.
and tyranny allied together is a grievous fault,
ingratitude and treasonous acts afflict us all.
judgment! Thou art fled to brutish
men have lost their heart and reason.
private griefs they have, alas, I know not,
have made them do this: they are wise
will, no doubt, with reasons answer you.
have neither wit, nor words, nor worth,
stir men’s blood: I only speak right on;
if I were disposed to stir your hearts and minds to mutiny and rage
I do wrong to these presumed honorable men?
Mischief, thou art afoot; take thou what course thou wilt!
Chapter #41 – Ideas and
Realism is a doctrine asserting that the external
world really exists
of perception, and that it exists substantially as we perceive
and knowledge today are seen to be so complex and bewildering
That it is often quite
difficult for us to know exactly what to actually believe.
Truth generally lies in the coordination of
differing and conflicting opinions
sensible and open-minded discussion is needed to allow us all
To pick our
way through biases, spin, propaganda, and shortsightedness
To achieve a good understanding
of Nature’s increasingly cogent call.
The philosophical ideas of the late British author
John Fowles are illuminating. In his 1970 book, The Aristos, he expressed the belief that, in the face of powerful
social pressures to conform, we are “one of the most sheep-like ages that has
ever existed”. Our abilities to think
clearly, to consider objectively, and to express opinions freely are important
for healthy self-understanding, and they are vital requisites for the proper
functioning of democracy. In the
Introduction to The Aristos, John
Fowles stated meaningfully:
“Yet another purpose of this book is to
suggest that the main reason dissatisfaction haunts our century (the
twentieth), as optimism haunted the eighteenth and complacency the nineteenth,
is precisely because we are losing sight of our most fundamental human
birthright: to have a self-made opinion on all that concerns us.”
Forty-five years have passed since the first edition
of The Aristos. Influences that
confuse and mislead people have significantly multiplied during this
interregnum. One pervasive means of this manipulation is found in
consumer marketing, which strongly affects our consumer behaviors and makes
people feel that they have ever-expanding “needs”. Similar kinds of advertising can make us powerless
pawns of slickly manufactured demand.
When people’s desires are exploited, this can
adversely affect thoughts and emotions.
Likewise, when people’s fears or drives for status are taken advantage
of, adverse effects can result.
Right-wing worldviews and economic doctrines are increasingly being used
to manipulate our ways of seeing things.
So are religious dogmas. Deceptive
political spin, along with other influences of mass media and prevailing social
prejudices, tend to make us more biased.
Only by fostering better education, clearer thinking, and more
independent understandings can we overcome these influences.
Krishnamurti, a philosopher from India who died in 1986, once gave public talks
in such places as an oak grove in Ojai, California. There, he urged people to pay careful and
scrupulous attention to their thoughts and feelings. He regarded this as a precondition for self-transformation,
and thus needed for positive social change.
He denounced authority, dogma, creeds and indeed all organized belief
systems, and he urged people to think
independently and clearly, and to empty their minds of conditioned
thoughts. He advocated heightened
awareness and holistic outlooks free from prejudice.
Our perceptions, thoughts and emotions are also
strongly influenced by hereditary and conditioned predispositions to adhere to
certain beliefs. When we examine our
beliefs and compare them for validity with alternate ideas, we sometimes see
broader contexts, deeper perspectives and truer relationships. Better understandings can be gained by
embracing an existential clarity of honest assessment of our behaviors and
motives and biases.
Like all bold new ideas, the basic ideas of
sustainable living will pass through three stages: First, the ideas are
ridiculed and violently opposed; Second,
they are grudgingly acknowledged, but disparaged as being obvious and insignificant;
and third, they are accepted as important and self-evident. As Mark Twain once wrote: “A person with a new idea is a crank, until
the idea succeeds.”
Similarly, according to the famous Swiss naturalist,
Louis Agassiz (1807-1873):
“Every great scientific truth goes through three stages. First, people say it conflicts with the
Bible. Next they say it had been
discovered before. Lastly, they say they always believed it.”
It isn’t really a bold new idea that we should
seriously tackle the daunting problems that face us. Obviously it would be smart to find ways to
change the systems and behaviors that are undermining the potential for
movement in fairer and more likely sustainable directions. Entrenched forces can be forced to compromise
more fairly in our democracy, and we can achieve a transcendent commitment to
positive change. Vigilance, clarity of
convictions, and insightful understandings can help us in this endeavor.
We are being taken for a ride, folks, and it is not
just a vast conspiracy or a small subset of rogue business leaders, crooked
politicians, greedy people or conniving liars that are responsible. It is the SYSTEM itself that is to blame for
allowing dog-eat-dog opportunism to have such overwhelmingly dominant
influence. The federal government
sometimes operates like a gullible and helpless giant, incapable of frugality
or discipline. It is too susceptible to
shrewd manipulation, lobbyist influence, profiteering, the propagation of Big
Lies, manipulative deception, and a wide variety of chicanery. It has trouble advancing good citizenship
goals because it is so busy stumbling all over itself to pander to demands of
corporations and investors for bigger profits.
Think of the power of a few million people working
together to widen our frames of reference and foster progressive causes and
ideas. Please join these people, and lend your voice to positive
economic, social, fiscal, political and environmental changes such as those
detailed in the ‘Overarching Considerations’
compendiums found in Common Sense
Revival, and in Part Four of the online Earth Manifesto.
Chapter #42 – A
Thoughtful Digression on Opinion.
Important ideas are contained in the
following chapters, and I don’t want to distract readers from getting to them, but
I digress here to explore some of the profound yet subtle influences that
affect our thinking. Innovative research
on the structures and functioning of our brains has revealed fascinating insights
into human propensities. A procedure
known as ‘functional magnetic resonance imaging’ (FMRI) is used to map neural
activity in the brain.
A study done at Emory University used FMRI
to show that our political predilections are a product of an unconscious
phenomenon called ‘confirmation bias’.
Even when faced with contradictory evidence, people find ways to
rationalize agreement with predisposed opinions. In other words, there is a kind of emotive
conformity that has its foundations in the actual basic operations of the
Brain imaging has revealed that, rather
than using parts of the brain most associated with reasoning to arrive at
our convictions, the parts of the brain most associated with the processing of emotions
are the ones that light up when confronted with such things as political
spin and religious opinions. No matter
what conclusion an independent reading of evidence might support, our brains
find ways to interpret perceived evidence in ways that reinforce pre-existing
biases. Then, after rationalizing our
views, other parts of the brain light up in FMRI imaging that reveal an
activation of the reward-and-pleasure centers of the brain. So we basically adopt beliefs and emotionally
comfortable conclusions, and then cling to them because the conformity makes us
feel good. This is wired into the nature
of our brains!
is perhaps the best antidote to these undesirable ‘confirmation biases’. The scientific method is essentially based on
skepticism, for it requires the verification of observations and premises, and repeatable
confirmation of experiments, to ensure their validity. Science thereby provides more trustworthy
understandings than blind beliefs. To be
able to correct and integrate previous knowledge is invaluable for giving us
Scientists using brain imaging have
identified the “medial ventral pre-frontal cortex” as the part of the brain
where the “laughter zone” is centered.
This region of the brain lights up when humor is detected, and leads to
the quite delightful outburst we call laughter.
For readers’ amusement, here is a column from the satirically funny publication, The Onion:
CHICAGO — In a surprising refutation of conventional wisdom on ‘opinion
entitlement’, a study conducted by the University of Chicago's School for
Behavioral Science concluded that 38 percent of the U.S. population is neither
entitled to, nor qualified, to have opinions.
"On topics from evolution to the environment to gay marriage to
immigration reform, we found that many of the opinions expressed were so
off-base and ill-informed that they actually hurt society by being
voiced," said chief researcher Professor Mark Fultz, who based the
findings on hundreds of telephone, office, and dinner-party conversations
compiled over a three-year period.
"While people have long asserted that it takes all kinds, our
research shows that American society currently has a drastic oversupply of the
kinds who don't have any good or worthwhile thoughts whatsoever. We could actually do just fine without
A funny aspect of this story is that almost everyone would probably agree
with the story’s cynical conclusions;
but of course, almost everyone regards the 38% who should not be
entitled to have opinions as those OTHERS who disagree with them!
Think of the following quote in this
context of modern understandings of the brain, for it gives surprising and
enlightening insights into the nature of thought, opinion, and beliefs.
“The human understanding when it has
once adopted an opinion ... draws all things else to support and agree with
it. And though there be a greater number
and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either
neglects or despises -- in order that, by this great and pernicious
predetermination, the authority of its former conclusions may remain
Bacon, Novum Organum, 1620
I love Mark Twain’s similar sagacious
sentiments that he expressed in his famous Corn-pone
“Morals, religions, and
politics get their following from surrounding influences and atmospheres,
almost entirely; not from study, not
from thinking. A man must and will have
his own approval first of all, in each and every moment and circumstance of his
life … but, speaking in general terms, a man's self-approval in the large
concerns of life has its source in the approval of the people about him, and
not in a searching personal examination of the matter.
Mohammedans are Mohammedans
because they are born and reared among that sect, not because they have thought
it out and can furnish sound reasons for being Mohammedans; we know why Catholics are Catholics; why Baptists are Baptists, why Mormons are
Mormons; why Presbyterians are
Presbyterians; why thieves are
thieves; why monarchists are monarchists; why Republicans are Republicans and
Democrats, Democrats. We know it is a
matter of association and sympathy, not reasoning and examination; that hardly a man in the world has an opinion
upon morals, politics or religion which he got otherwise than through his
associations and sympathies. Broadly
speaking, there are none but ‘corn-pone opinions’. And broadly speaking, corn-pone stands for
Self-approval is acquired
mainly from the approval of other people.
The result is conformity.
Sometimes conformity has a sordid business interest -- the
bread-and-butter interest -- but not in most cases, I think. In the majority of cases it is unconscious
and not calculated; it is born of the
human being's natural yearning to stand well with his fellows and have their
inspiring approval and praise -- a yearning which is commonly so strong and so
insistent that it cannot be effectually resisted, and must have its way.”
“A political emergency brings
out the corn-pone opinion in fine force in its two chief varieties -- the
pocketbook variety, which has its origin in self-interest, and the bigger
variety, the sentimental variety -- the one that can't bear to be outside the
pale; can't bear to be in disfavor; can't endure the averted face and the cold
shoulder; wants to stand well with his
friends, wants to be smiled upon, wants to be welcome, wants to hear the
precious words, "He's on the right track!" Uttered, perhaps by an ass, but still an ass
of high degree, an ass whose approval is gold and diamonds to a smaller ass,
and confers glory and honor and happiness, and membership in the herd. For these gauds, many a man will dump his
life-long principles into the street, and his conscience along with them. We have seen it happen. In some millions of instances.”
“Men think they think upon
great political questions, and they do;
but they think with their party, not independently; they read its
literature, but not that of the other side; they arrive at convictions, but
they are drawn from a partial view of the matter in hand and are of no
particular value. They swarm with their
party, they feel with their party, they are happy in their party's
approval; and where the party leads they
will follow, whether for right and honor, or through blood and dirt and a mush
of mutilated morals.”
“In our late canvass, half of the nation passionately believed
that in silver lay salvation, the other half as passionately believed that that
way lay destruction. Do you believe that
a tenth part of the people, on either side, had any rational excuse for having
an opinion about the matter at all? I
studied that mighty question to the bottom -- came out empty. Half of our people passionately believe in
high tariff, the other half believe otherwise.
Does this mean study and examination, or only feeling? The latter, I think. I have deeply studied that question, too --
and didn't arrive. We all do no end of
feeling, and we mistake it for thinking.
And out of it we get an aggregation which we consider a boon. Its name is Public Opinion. It is held in reverence. It settles everything. Some think it the Voice of God.”
--- Mark Twain, Corn-Pone Opinions
are discreet sheep; we wait to see how the drove is going, and then go with the
drove. We have two opinions: one private, which we are afraid to express;
and another one -- the one we use -- which we force ourselves to wear ... until
habit makes us comfortable in it, and the custom of defending it presently
makes us love it, adore it, and forget how pitifully we came by it. Look at it in politics.”
Chapter #43 – Searching
for Wisdom in America.
A thought-provoking book asks, What Really Matters? The
book represents a search for wisdom in America through the consideration of
many modes of thought and exploration that have been pursued in the past
century. Does happiness matter most? Personal connectedness in friendships and
love? Physical and psychological
health? Authenticity? Integrity?
are many different approaches and modalities of potential understanding in the
world. Each and every one has its strengths and weaknesses, its
validities and its shortcomings. To hold that any one belief system is
absolutely right is, essentially, to be demonstrably quite wrong! Reality is much more nuanced than
black-and-white interpretations that most disciplines and fundamentalisms try
to impose upon it. We seek simplicity, and certainty, in our lives; yet, as Voltaire observed in the 18th
century, “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is an absurd
one.” The seductive allure of certainties,
and of beliefs in some form of immortality of the soul, are such strong
compulsions that our emoting brains embrace religious doctrines that the
reasoning brain can only chuckle at with astonishment and bemusement -- and a healthy
dose of skepticism.
can be healthy for our perspective. By
poking fun at a topic, parodies draw attention to both pathetic weaknesses and
appreciative strengths of the things they lampoon. Parody and satire, as used in TV shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, have given us humorous looks at serious issues
of the day. They provide not only
entertainment but also a basis for evaluating ideas, and maybe even eventually
in helping to actualize positive change.
Einstein made one of the greatest discoveries in the history of human thought
when he developed his Theory of Relativity. Energy, matter and time are
relative, he found, and they depend on the viewer’s frame of reference.
In a curious similarity, right and wrong can be seen to be relative, depending
on context and circumstances. “Thou
shalt not kill” does not fully apply to actions taken in self defense, for
instance. Clint Eastwood’s provocative film, Letters
from Iwo Jima, contains a scene in which an American soldier’s letter from
his mother urges him to “always do what is right because it is right”. A Japanese soldier, just as much a pawn in
the conflict as the American soldier, observes ruefully that his mother told him exactly the same thing.
The truth sometimes transcends what appears to be
palpably obvious. Things often are
different than they seem. Perceptions
that the Sun makes a daily revolution around the Earth seemed obvious in
ancient times, yet they were mistaken.
The movement of the Sun across the sky from sunrise in the east to
sunset in the west is merely an illusion.
In fact, the Earth is a spherical planet that majestically rotates
around its axis once every 24 hours, making it only appear as if the Sun revolves around us.
I once stood regarding the reflection of
some stately villas in an artificial lake.
As a gentle breeze ruffled the lake surface, the reflection shimmered
and appeared to be like a beautiful Impressionist painting. The reflection was just as real as the direct
visual appearance of the villas, yet a curious epistemological realization
struck me: sometimes things appear to be
real, and sometimes they appear to be illusion, and sometimes the way we
interpret our perceptions does not particularly accord with the true situation
or the actual nature of reality.
Certainty is illusive.
Neuroscientist Richard Burton wrote a book
titled On Being Certain: Believing You
Are Right Even When You’re Not. This
book contains valuable understandings of brain phenomena like the ‘delusional
misidentification syndrome’. The
biochemical reward centers in our brains make us feel good about ‘knowing’, but
that doesn’t particularly make our knowledge correct. I wonder if perhaps our reward centers could
shed some light on the certitude, revisionist spin and evangelical tragedy of
the Bush Years! LOL.
The world is vastly more complex and diverse than
anyone can fully comprehend. There are a
wide variety of points of view, and a deep subjectivity in all experience,
perception and interpretation. Many
different belief systems and worldviews result.
All great issues are inextricably intertwined, and subjective
uncertainty and misunderstanding and confusion are widespread.
Personalities and ideological points of view battle for ascendancy. The nature of free will is debated by
philosophers, and so is the character of virtue, civic duty, and ultimate moral
I am personally attracted to the humanistic
philosophy of ‘Positivism’, which regards scientific knowledge and observed
facts as more accurate and important than mysticism and blind faith. Read the Wikipedia entry for Positivism, and see if it doesn’t make
your head spin a bit! Unfortunately,
under the cover of so many uncertainties, self-interested entities find
marvelous opportunities to take advantage of people, and they often deceive
them and trump Big Picture understandings.
Partially as a consequence, policy-making is generally held hostage by
those who want to profit from the public treasury at the expense of the
taxpayer and the common good.
Christians are one particular subset of self-interested entities that tend to
be opposed to progressive understandings.
Their leaders exhort people to be faithful and BELIEVE! -- but they seem
suspiciously more interested in promoting comforting certainties and
manipulating faithful folks than they are interested in having accurate
knowledge or clear, logical, fair-minded understandings. An
honest frame of reference is hard to achieve without open-minded observation,
critical thinking, and insightful perception.
Imagine a leader who advocates fairness, inclusiveness,
the common good and peaceful coexistence rather than self-interested ideologies
or tax breaks for the rich or increased benefits for corporations, or
conservatism on social issues. Sounds
good to me!
Attention! I want to emphasize something important. Words can be pregnant with meaning and
implication, yet they often fail to clearly communicate the comprehensive depth
of the ideas they are intended to convey.
Consider the word, “policy.” This is a dry kind of word that represents a
wonk-ish and somewhat innocuous-sounding concept. But POLICY can radically affect people’s
lives. Our foreign policy, for instance,
has unnecessarily killed thousands of people.
Policies can be extremely unjust when they destroy infrastructure,
undermine democratic rule, cause “collateral damage”, or engender frustration,
anger and retaliatory blowback. Policies
can make everyone less safe.
Luther King, Jr. once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Our foreign policy is generally about selfish
advantage, economic imperialism, access to resources, unjust profiteering, and
military intimidation. It is NOT
generally about bold efforts to make the world economy greener, or to enhance
more socially desirable attitudes like good-neighborliness, diplomatic
cooperation, fair compromise, or peaceable coexistence.
POLICY that harshly and repressively harms millions of people is the drug war
and the prohibition of medical marijuana.
These punitive approaches contribute to unnecessary hardships and the
incarceration of hundreds of thousands of people every year, negatively
impacting many lives.
consider the word “regressive”. It is
fraught with sociopolitical flavor, like frothy foam spreading out from
effluent pipes that discharge toxic wastes into a previously clean river. REGRESSIVE can be a horrid thing. It can have deeply detrimental impacts that
are beyond our comprehension to envision.
Regressive policies are a lurch away from liberty and
justice-for-all. They are a throwback to
antediluvian sensibilities and mean-spirited repression of a nation’s
citizens. Regressive changes in policy
usually represent an abandonment of principles of fairness, and they often
perpetrate and perpetuate unjustifiable, unwarranted, unconscionable and
unnecessary miscarriages of justice upon millions of people.
“All generalizations are false, including this
--- Mark Twain
It would be wise to open the doors of our perception
and enlarge our visions. We should
cultivate a conscious awareness that is balanced between greater rationality
and more empathetic feeling. We should
seek to be more coherent in our reasoning, and more holistic and honest in our
spiritual understandings. How can we create more respect for ethical,
aesthetic and ecological considerations in our societies?
Chapter #44 – The Nature
of the Wealth of Nations.
Adam Smith, a Scottish economist, wrote a veritable
manifesto of capitalism, An Inquiry into
the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, in the year 1776. This was the same year that the American
Declaration of Independence was proclaimed.
Both documents emphasized freedom.
Adam Smith strongly advocated free enterprise and unrestrained free
trade. He noted that the wealth of a
nation is measured by the productivity and living standards of ALL of its
people, not just by its accumulated wealth.
His essential argument was that private interests and self-interested
behaviors contribute to the good of the whole of society, as if all economic
activities are guided by a beneficent “invisible hand”.
One of the most significant ironies in the history
of ideas is that Adam Smith’s book, which became known simply as The Wealth of Nations, was basically dedicated
to improving the welfare of the common man, not just that of the merchants or
the nobility. This book has
unfortunately been used by laissez-faire capitalists and the industrialist
class as a justification for NOT seeking to remedy the scandalous social ills
that have been caused by industrialization and globalization. A
figurative ‘raspberry’ for such perverse attitudes and efforts!
The Industrial Revolution contributed to a rise of
Big Business and the expansion of power of large corporations in the nineteenth
century. Then in the twentieth century,
the growth of marketing and advertising and a consumer economy became
paramount. And in the twenty-first
century, an export of Western business civilization and privatization to the
rest of the world is taking place.
Neoliberalism and globalization are tremendously
complex economic forces, with organizational players like the International
Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization. These powerful institutions have been
striving to stimulate free capital flows and international development for
decades. Their actions unfortunately
have been irresponsible with regard to environmental protections and the
genuine needs of the majority of people in developing countries.
Rich developed countries use the international
banking system to make money and gain advantages and control resources. Usurious returns are earned from poor
countries by the clever expediency of making loans whose proceeds often end up
in the pockets of giant multinational companies involved in engineering and
construction, and in the accounts of rich people in poor countries. Then when debtor countries fail to make
principal and interest payments on loans, austerity measures are imposed by the
banks. Loan obligations of poor
countries require them to aggressively exploit resources to export them to
developed countries. This system allows
developed countries to take harsh advantage of poor countries. In the process, social justice and
environmental sanity are often sacrificed to perpetuate unfair advantages at
the expense of the common good.
banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining, but
wants it back the
it begins to rain.”
--- Mark Twain
than 20 percent of the World Bank's total lending went to "post-conflict
countries” in 2003, up from 16 percent in 1998.
This amount is up 800 percent since 1980, according to a study by the
Congressional Research Service. Rapid response to wars and natural disasters
has traditionally been the domain of United Nations agencies, which work with
Non-Governmental Organizations to provide emergency aid and build temporary
housing and satisfy other basic needs.
But now reconstruction work has become a very lucrative industry, so it
is way too important and profitable to be left to ‘do-gooders’ at the United
Nations. As a result, the World Bank
today, already devoted to the principle of poverty-alleviation through
profit-making, leads the charge.
Economic fundamentalism may be more dangerous than
religious fundamentalism in its potential to harm the best interests of
humanity’s future. Economic
fundamentalist doctrines advocate the imposition of an economic system on the
rest of the world that promotes private property ownership rights,
privatization, increasing concentrations of wealth, and the shock doctrines of
‘disaster capitalism’. In the process,
they facilitate the unjust exploitation of workers and the unsustainable use of
resources, and generally neglect the best interests of the majority of
people. Economic fundamentalists strive
to do this with shrewd intent -- and when legitimate strategies fail, military
actions to protect powerful entrenched interests often follow.
One of the tenets of economic fundamentalism is that
robust consumerism should be exported to developing countries. In doing this, natural human needs and
desires are stoked, and this increases the demand for goods. This strategy contains a strong bias against
moderation, discipline, greater good goals for communities, sensible planning,
sustainability, and conservation efforts.
It is an ideology that works together with religious fundamentalists to
oppose any limitations on human population growth, even often opposing safe and
sensible contraception. Seen from the
frame of reference of a wise path to sustainable existence, economic
fundamentalism is shortsighted, retrogressive and wrong-headed.
Facts and truth are inconvenient to those who strive
to ruthlessly exploit natural resources or centralize power or gain outlandish
wealth by scurrilous means. This is why
there is so much spin by vested interest groups, and so much misinformation,
misrepresentation, and specious logic in economic and environmental debates. It would be smart to consult Thomas Piketty’s
blockbuster CAPITAL in the Twenty-First
Century for better understandings of powerful economic and social dynamics
in the world today.
Since poverty afflicts billions of people in the
world and the disparity in wealth between rich people and poor people is
growing, social ills are threatening to overwhelm nations as capitalism ignores
or denies the urgent need for fairer and more enlightened policies. Salubrious change must come!
Chapter #45 – Capitalism
Incisive insight into the nature of our economic
system is valuable. Capitalism is an effective system for utilizing
natural human motivations. It satisfies people’s needs by utilizing the
free-market forces of supply and demand. Yet because it facilitates narrowly
channeled selfish greed, it is susceptible to abuses of power such as
unscrupulous monopoly business practices and the perpetuation of unsafe
conditions for workers.
Capitalism can be irresponsibly wasteful in the
profligate phenomenon known as ‘planned obsolescence’. This is one way the capitalist system fails
to make reasonable allowances to help achieve common good goals. Other prominent ways include the shirking by
businesses of healthcare for their employees and the externalizing of costs
I highly recommend Annie Leonard’s online film, The Story of Stuff. In it, Ms. Leonard neatly summarizes the
crisis in our economic system that is being caused by the destructive
extraction of resources, the wasteful production and consumption of goods, the
unjust system of the distribution of goods, and the disposal of huge quantities
of toxic wastes, pollutants and garbage.
The Story of Stuff calls for
economic justice and ecological sustainability.
Tapping the public treasury for private
gain has long been a hallmark of the strategies of many business entities. Encouraging the government to borrow huge
sums of money from people in the future to benefit wealthy people today is a
sophisticated approach that facilitates this same goal of exploiting government
largess. Because unusual opportunities arise to make big profits
during times of war and reconstruction and natural disasters, powerful forces
militate for war and the exploitation of adversities. This works against peaceful coexistence and
fair-minded and prudent programs.
Corporations are organized for two primary
legal purposes: (1) to allow business owners and the shareholders of corporate
entities to evade as much liability as possible, and (2) to allow these stakeholders
and top management to maximize profits and minimize expenditures for workers
and product safety and environmental protections. Make no mistake about this. Workers are paid well only to the extent that
it is necessary to retain their services.
In the hierarchy of the workplace, only CEOs and executives and key
employees are highly valued. The
inequalities in the workplace have increased dramatically in the past three
decades since the Reagan Revolution began to place an outlandish emphasis on
special privileges for the wealthy.
Confirming this assertion, the average CEO in 1980 made about 40 times
as much as the average worker, and today they make, on average, more than 300
times as much as the average worker!
These characteristics make our capitalist economic
system essentially AMORAL. The purpose of business is almost
single-mindedly synonymous with earning bigger profits. This motivates
business people to evade taxes and costs related to environmental protections.
Companies are, after all, competing against others who are also trying to evade
the same costs. The ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ operates in this innate
capitalist drive to minimize costs. The result is that workers,
consumers, communities, and the environment generally suffer significant
A legal case in 1919 reinforced the legal
obligation of corporate entities to put profit making for shareholders over
other motives that benefit employees or communities. In the famous legal case, Dodge vs. Ford Motor Company, the
Michigan Supreme Court ruled that a business corporation is organized primarily
for the benefit of its shareholders, and therefore it must give overriding
consideration to shareholders’ interests and dividends. Any
other motive, like supporting corporate social responsibility, is constrained
by this obligation. In the early
years of the automobile industry, Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor
Company, believed in paying relatively high wages to his workers so that they
would be able to afford to buy the cars they were producing. His attempt to pay generous wages to
employees was thwarted by this lawsuit.
One result of this mandate to maximize
profits for shareholders is that corporations are not only driven to improve
their products and operations, but to cut corners, indulge in unfair
competitive practices, circumvent socially responsible regulations, invest
heavily in lobbying efforts to gain more tax breaks and subsidies, indulge in
schemes to avoid taxes, work to externalize environmental costs onto society,
and even to cheat customers and support pork barrel spending and argue for expanded
opportunities to profit from wars These
are not good things!
We too often trust that our elected
officials will do the right thing. But
instead of doing the right thing, they generally do the bidding of inadequately
regulated and profit-obsessed corporations that dominate the law-making and
decision-making functions of government.
This is the basic nature of our political and economic systems, as
currently constituted. But it is often
wrong for the people! Public service
has, to too large a degree, become an entrenched bureaucratic obedience to
political operatives who pander to corporate agendas.
Capitalism often encourages political corruption,
price gouging, wasteful spending, speculation in real estate, disaster
opportunism, and damages to public lands. Almost invariably, these things
are detrimental to the common good.
Corporations are generally staunchly opposed to
efforts to regulate them. They resist efforts to make their operations
fairer, more socially responsible, and more ecologically sound. They in
effect disdain social justice, environmental sanity and democracy itself, due
to their obsessive focus on profits over all other values. Simply put, sensible rules and regulations
are required to protect people from the growing power of big businesses.
The world is definitely becoming more “flat”, in the
sense Thomas Friedman discusses in his book, The World Is Flat, A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. In short, Friedman contends that the world
has been figuratively shrinking and ‘flattening’ due to the rapid convergence
of a range of global developments that include technological innovations, the
revolutionizing of communications, extensive competitive collaboration, the
connectivity of the Internet, the outsourcing of jobs to lower-wage countries,
and the productive redesign of evolving businesses.
positive aspects of these developments.
They are enhancing the prosperity of millions of people in China and
India, and enriching the rich in America.
But this trend involves the export of capitalist consumerism to billions
of people, and where will this lead? Since
it feeds into the natural aspirations and stimulated desires of so many people,
it accelerates the trend toward planetary resource depletion, mounting
ecological damages, and exacerbated climate disruptions and changes in weather
Since China and India are experiencing such
rapid economic growth, global environmental challenges are becoming
significantly more daunting. China is building new coal-fired power
plants at an average of one per week, and air pollution in China
is already horrible. Chinese cities are crowded, dirty and
noisy, and both rural and urban areas have an extreme dichotomy of wealth and
poverty. The human race
must come to grips with the full implications of these developments.
Thomas Friedman has written about such
issues in Hot, Flat, and Crowded. This book emphasizes insights into the need
for a ‘Code Green’ greening of our capitalist system and greater respect for
biological diversity. The chances for achieving
theses commendable goals suffered a significant setback when the Supreme Court
ruled in early 2010 to overturn
established precedents and give corporations and unions the green light
to spend unlimited amounts of money to drown out citizen voices in favor of
Chapter #46 –
Pathological Aspects of Capitalism.
Capitalism and democracy are, in actual fact,
fundamentally opposed to each other, just as the impulses for FREEDOM and
EQUALITY are essentially opposites. The greater the freedom a society
allows, and the fewer the regulations, the more that inequalities naturally
multiply. And the rich get richer.
In theory, democracy essentially stands for
fairness, equal representation, and government of the people, by the people,
and for the people. Inadequately regulated capitalism, in contrast,
strives to undermine fairness principles. It seeks profits at the expense
of workers and the environment, and it is obsessed with special
privileges and maximized profits and power.
Human beings are completely dependent upon the
natural world, and yet big corporations exploit nature as though it is
unlimited and expendable. They show
little concern for the consequences of resource depletion or environmental
damages, and they generally do not demonstrate an adequate concern for
employees, communities, or a sustainable future. They work almost
single-mindedly for profits, short-term advantages and bigger opportunities to
get special treatment and subsidies, and they spend large sums of money to
influence our representatives to allow them to externalize costs onto
Corporations are ironically acting almost
exclusively in ways that, in an individual, would be regarded as pathologically
insane. This point is powerfully portrayed in the insightful book, The Corporation - The Pathological Pursuit
of Profit and Power, and also in the fascinating Canadian film, The Corporation, which is based on the
book. Check them out for valuable perspective!
This is an excellent reason why legislation should
be enacted that strictly limits the interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment
to give rights of “personhood” to corporations.
Instead of moving in this sensible direction, Supreme Court
conservatives made the landmark ruling in the Citizens United case to give corporations the unlimited right to
“free speech”. This narrow decision,
made by a 5-to-4 vote, is adversely affecting our democracy!
The Fourteenth Amendment includes important Due
Process and Equal Protection clauses. It
was enacted after the Civil War to secure rights for former slaves. This Amendment was subsequently interpreted
by the Supreme Court to hold that the law provides a guarantee to
corporations of the same rights as individuals. This has expanded the power and immunity of
large corporations, and incidentally enabled them to increase their ability to
abuse the power they hold over people and the environment.
How ironic this is!
Here was a Constitutional Amendment designed to help black people after
slavery was outlawed, yet it has primarily been used to rationalize initiatives
that have the effect of disenfranchising minorities and encroaching on their
hopes for fairer treatment.
A new cynical and insidious method of making bigger
profits has arisen in recent years. Monsanto
and other biotechnology companies are securing patents on genetically-modified
seeds in an effort to create a monopoly on plant and animal life-forms
themselves. They have invented and
propagated sterile ‘Terminator seeds’ in a strategy that is right up there with
corporate efforts to privatize water as among the most insidious and
potentially nefarious of corporate ambitions.
Aggressive efforts to create seeds that produce no fertile seed, so that
farmers are forced to buy new seeds every year, is morally wrong.
Another vital issue concerns genetically modified
crops. The American public is suspicious of genetically modified (GM) foods for
several good reasons. There is “Uncertain Peril” in this arena. Corporations like Monsanto and others in the
biotechnology industry are on the forefront of creating genetically modified
products for which no safety testing or labeling is required by the Food and
Drug Administration. The FDA seems to be
ideologically committed to a “Don’t Look, Don’t Find” strategy. Our government does not adequately test for
potential environmental or consumer risks of such products. This contrasts distinctly
with laws and attitudes in Europe, where consumers in many countries are
provided with much more information about GM foods. GM corn, soybeans and wheat pose serious
potential threats of crop contamination, and might even cause consequences that
alter evolutionary biology, so they could threaten the entire community of life
on Earth. We would be wise to remember
precautionary principles in our dealings with GM crops!
Monsanto harasses family farmers with law suits to
defend their corporate patents on GM crops.
By doing so, they enforce absurd provisions of patent law and exploit
their rights as “persons”. They use the
legal system to abuse power, and in the process unethically harm farmers. The documentary film The Future of Food reveals this dastardly aspect of Monsanto’s
operations. You can watch it on
Netflix. The “FOOD” tab at
ConsumersUnion.org, the publishers of Consumer
Reports, contains many articles and extensive information that confirm
these insights about GM foods.
A curious legal case worked its way through the
American justice system beginning in May 2004.
Steve Kurtz, a professor of art at a state university in Buffalo, New
York, was a member of an ‘avant-garde’ group called the Critical Art
Ensemble. Members of this group were
exploring the role played by art, technology, corporations and government in
modern life. When Steve’s wife suddenly
died, he was arrested and charged with an evolving variety of trumped-up
charges. He was doggedly prosecuted by
the federal government for four years.
At the time of his arrest he was doing work that explored the nature of
genetically modified seeds.
The prosecution of Steve Kurtz represented a threat
to artistic and scientific freedom for two reasons: (1) the government sought
to expand questionable civil charges into much more serious criminal ones, and
(2) it tried to intimidate artists, scientists and researchers to prevent them
from fulfilling important roles in seeking truth and counterpoints to industry
claims, as technologies evolve. All
charges against Steve Kurtz were finally dismissed in April 2008 after he had
suffered a lot of grief. This outcome
was facilitated by a creative documentary, Strange
Culture, which focused public attention on the case. No apology was made by the government for
having caused such detrimental impacts to Steve Kurtz. Such a determined prosecution highlights one
of many threats to artists, intellectuals and writers in societies worldwide.
Our legal justice system guarantees people
accused of a crime that they will be judged by a jury of their peers. This jury system works by empowering a group
of painstakingly-selected citizens to hear a case and reach a verdict. The purpose of a jury is to render the common
sense judgment of the community. Jurors
hear and evaluate all evidence, and then they deliberate using the parameters
of relevant laws to come to an agreement on whether a defendant is guilty or
innocent. Defendants generally claim
they are “not guilty, your honor”, and true justice turns out to be rather
Our leaders, faced with even more complex
issues and more extensively-conflicting evidence and special interest
pressures, have in recent years tended to decide on a verdict first, based on
ideology and entrenched interests and partisan jockeying for power, and then
they use clever tricks and mass deception to persuade people to give their
consent and taxpayer support to resulting plans. That, in any case, seems to have
characterized the Bush Administration’s approach to the invasion of Iraq, as
well as the prosecution of Steve Kurtz.
There is often substantial wrong-headedness and even
malfeasance in corporate and government policies relating to industrial crop
monoculture practices and animal feedlots, crop subsidies, and copious uses of
synthesized nitrogen fertilizers. The
nefarious underbelly of corporate self-interest is revealed in its sometimes
mindlessly malicious motives, as typified by the Monsanto legal department’s
efforts to crush family farmers. Big
Businesses sometimes act like giant Goliaths pursuing hapless Davids in the
pathological pursuit of power and profit.
Corporate public relations departments, like politicians, are far more concerned with good press than the honest truth, and they
sometimes work overtime to create misinformation and deceptive spin.
The 2008 Farm Bill was typical of poorly
prioritized and misguided government policies.
Remember that the first Farm Bill was enacted during the Depression in
the 1930s to protect farmers against low crop prices and the environmental
disaster of the drought-devastating ‘Dust Bowl’. The Farm Bill has evolved into a massive
subsidy program that extensively benefits big agribusiness companies, even at a
time of inflating food prices and high profits.
It is curious how life preservers thrown to the most vulnerable people in
our society often end up as entitlements for the most affluent and the best
connected. There is ostensibly no
‘women-and-children-first’ chivalry here!
The Farm Bill should be seriously reformed so that
it represents sensible investments in improved childhood nutrition, better
public health, and mitigation measures that reduce pollution and harms to the
environment. It should emphasize
conservation programs and more stable incomes for small farmers. Local sustainable farming and the production
of organic fruits and vegetables should be encouraged. The overproduction of corn, cotton and soy
beans should be reduced. The absurdly
generous subsidies given to giant agribusiness companies should be eliminated. Watch the good documentary film Food Fight for illuminating perspective!
As with all legislation, Congress generally
will not approve a new law unless it offers enough sundry provisions for
special interest groups to give their support.
Unsurprisingly, the 2008 renewal of the federal Farm Bill was seriously
flawed, so it was criticized by people on both sides of the political
spectrum. It was estimated to eventually
cost a whopping $290 billion over a 5-year period. “Just because you’ve rolled horse manure in
powdered sugar doesn’t mean you have a doughnut”, said one observer, because of
some of the law’s perverse provisions.
In the election year of 2008, our representatives were even less capable
than usual of creating fiscally prudent legislation. “Can’t we find a way to change this?”, I
wondered at the time. “Clean Money
legislation? Better media coverage of
the shortcomings of our debt-addled decision-making?”
Little did I suspect at that time how the
financial crisis would roil the world, or how the Supreme Court would chime in
with its wrong-headed rulings on Big Money in politics, or how the Republican
Party would be taken over by fervently “conservative” Tea Party intransigence.
Farm Policy ironically fuels America’s
obesity problem by promoting the overproduction of crops that are the building
blocks of calorie-dense but nutrient-poor processed fast foods and junk
food. Mindless fast-food consumption results in poor health because fast foods
often contain excessive amounts of saturated fat, salt, refined sugars,
carbohydrates and preservatives. Fast
food also represents an attitude towards eating that ignores the positive
values associated with taking the time to enjoy preparing and sharing meals,
and the relaxation and socializing associated with such endeavors in our manic
world. The laudable Slow Food Movement
has vital virtues that include goals of preserving family farms, encouraging
organic farming, and educating people about the risks of factory farming and
farms for cattle, pigs and chickens generate three times as much waste as our
human population produces -- over 500 million tons per year. This waste contaminates fresh water in
streams and lakes, and it causes other serious environmental problems. But agribusiness lobbyists, nonetheless,
often succeed in sticking taxpayers with costs related to the pollution they
issue is the preservation of crop diversity.
It seems as if we should have learned a cautionary lesson concerning the
risks associated with reductions in crop diversity and the over-reliance on
crop monocultures from incidents like the potato blight that took place in
Ireland in the late 1840s. A million
people starved to death during this agricultural and social calamity, and
countless others were forced to emigrate to the United States and other
All is certainly NOT well with brutish capitalism
and sycophantic governance and the incestuous relationship between them. I call for reforms of our systems of
institutionalized bribery, lobbying, and unwise spending on pork barrel
projects and earmarks. I also call for
the end of the egregious Free Lunch
that is given to hedge fund managers when they are allowed to make hundreds of
millions of dollars a year without paying a fair share of taxes on them. Mitt Romney was curiously incapable of
setting aside his self-interest and endorsing this ultimately fair-minded idea!
Chapter #47 – Particular
Problems Associated with Corporatism.
The best policies require a principled balance
between freedom and equality, and between public protections and unregulated
capitalism. Freedom is the “magnetic true north” of humankind --- Yay for
political freedom! But freedom is
necessarily accompanied by responsibilities. This is the social compact
upon which civilization depends.
The social contract that empowers democratic
governance requires that government be subject to reasonable limits, just as
individuals must be. Good government
should provide a maximum of human rights that are consistent with adequate
order, legal justice and true national security. Personal liberties should be balanced with
common sense responsibilities of citizens to ensure golden-rule fairness toward
Freedom should not be merely hollow rhetoric that
leaders use with ulterior motives and a penchant for abuses of power,
authoritarian repression or self-serving priorities. We should not allow our leaders to deprive us
of the “unalienable rights” asserted in our Declaration of Independence. We should not allow politicians to make us
less secure with unjust policies, or socially detrimental profiteering, or
fiscally irresponsible initiatives, or military aggression. Freedoms should not be sacrificed to exaggerated
fears, police state tactics, illegal intrusions on privacy, hard-line religious
fundamentalism or other forms of tyranny, either overt or concealed.
The principal purposes of governments should be to
establish order, protect individuals from external dangers, provide needed
infrastructure, minimize abuses of power and privilege, and strive to provide
fairness of education, opportunity, and legal justice. Vision, courage, and civic fair-mindedness
are needed to create policies that are consistent with these principles.
The common good should be the most important thing, not just what is good for
those with money and power.
To be acceptable to human society, capitalism has
required sensible rules, regulations and oversight ever since its
beginnings. The power of capital is so far-reaching that monumental
struggles have been required to mitigate the extent to which it harms workers,
children, communities, poor people at home and in other countries, and the
fundamental ecological underpinnings of all life.
Natural inequities in capitalist systems sparked
labor movements that sprang up after the start of the Industrial Age to secure
rights and protections for workers. These movements were historically
necessary due to anti-competitive monopoly business practices, unsafe working
conditions, harsh child labor, long work hours, gender and racial
discrimination, sexual harassment, corrupt management, and the growth of
overwhelming power exerted by corporate conglomerates. Other reform
movements sprang up at various points in history, such as the muckraking and
populist rebellions of the early 20th century and the great initiatives of the
New Deal and the expanded civil rights, women’s rights and environmental
protection movements of the 1960s.
Rich and powerful people, however, love their power
and privileges, so they invest heavily to fight such progress. Their bid
to gain ascendancy achieved powerful impetus in 1980 when Ronald Reagan was
elected President. Since then, laissez-faire crony capitalism has steadily
increased its control. Sensible regulations and fairness doctrines have
faced intense opposition. Workers have fallen behind as the power of
capital has become increasingly domineering.
Fraud, political corruption, and practices that allow the externalizing
of costs onto society have inflicted harm on workers, families and communities.
The federal government has increased in size, and grown in bureaucratic and
privacy-invading intrusiveness. Budget
deficits have grown outlandishly, causing the U.S. to go from being the world’s
biggest creditor country to the biggest debtor.
Principled convictions that are concerned
with the public good are needed, and should gain greater force. Ideological initiatives that are merely
self-serving are not acceptable. Ronald
Reagan and the Bush family both found “supply side” economics to be
conveniently convincing. Professor
Arthur Laffer posited this ideology, maintaining that tax breaks given to rich
people will “trickle down” to the middle class and poor people. Since 1980, the fortunes of the rich have
spiked dramatically upwards as a result of regressive tax breaks implemented in
accordance with this Laffer dogma. But
the vast majority of people have had stagnant, if any, real growth in their
incomes and net worth. To have pushed
through such tax policies, and to have coupled them with fiscally irresponsible
deficit financing, is social madness.
Should we not try “trickle up” policies for a change?
When Barack Obama was elected President,
John R. Talbott wrote a book titled
Obamanomics: How Bottom-Up Economic Prosperity Will Replace Trickle-Down
Economics. He expressed the conviction that a healthier economic paradigm should
be instituted. Someone must stand up for
the little guy, as the astute but disgraced Presidential candidate John Edwards
liked to say, citing his own Horatio Alger success story and the opportunities
that allowed him to earn a substantial fortune.
We should stop voting for politicians who are eager to take risks to
enable themselves and their friends to get money and power, when they do so by
cheating, lying, abusing the system, harming our societies, and getting us into
greater inequality are reaching inauspicious extremes. One contributing factor is that corporations
have abused their power over the past several decades by getting the government
to reduce their share of America’s tax burden. The Congressional Budget
Office reported some years ago that corporations are paying 60% less than the
share of federal revenues they paid in 1960. Big businesses have managed
to achieve this goal by using the influence of a phalanx of well-paid lobbyists
who help enable them to grab a variety of special privileges for themselves and
their shareholders. These include tax
loopholes, direct subsidies, accelerated depreciation perks, the ability to
exploit offshore tax shelters, and the relaxation of common good
Since the Citizen’s
United ruling by the Supreme Court that allowed corporations to spend
unlimited amounts of money on elections, these entities have been exerting
greater power to choose our elected representatives, so the pressure for
unaffordable corporate goals like lower taxes will be difficult to resist in
future national decision-making. How will
we run our society when the only segments of society that can afford to pay
more taxes -- rich people and big corporations -- have so much power to decide
who gets elected, and so much influence on determining national policies?
It is clear to me that we should reduce deficit
spending driven by such wrong-headed goals.
One of the best ways to achieve this would be to make our tax system
more steeply graduated for both individuals and businesses. This would shift the burden of taxation from
people who can ill-afford taxes, and people in future generations, to those who
can easily afford it. This plan would
ensure that those who prosper most under the current system would help maintain
it and assure the greater good of our nation.
It seems to me that this would be a smarter and fairer way to finance
our civilization than relying so much on property taxes, or on income and
payroll taxes paid by working people, or on borrowing heavily.
In a very real sense, Reaganomics has
benefited investors but distorted supply/demand equations by reducing the
amount of corporate taxes. I call for bold tax reform to help remedy the current
deficit-financing expediencies. We need
good leaders who have the political will to undertake such reforms. They must become statesmen who effectively communicate
the need for policy initiatives designed to be fairer, more honest and more
likely to be propitious to the greater good, now and in future generations.
Chapter #48 – The Best
The best political philosophy would be moderate fiscal
conservatism coupled with socially progressive stances. In
contrast, it seems almost irrefutable that one of the worst political outcomes
would be to have leaders who are fiscally irresponsible and socially
regressive. Yet Republicans bizarrely channel the latter propensities, as
if these ways of acting represent some sort of God-approved rectitude.
Backward-looking policies are being discredited, and
must be rejected. We are engaged in an evolutionary dance of survival in
which our rights and capabilities are increasing, and so are our
responsibilities and culpabilities. We can -- and we should --
restructure our economic and political systems to deal more effectively with
the challenges facing us.
Free markets are widely assumed to be the best means
of fairly and efficiently satisfying the needs of producers and consumers. Some say that free markets are the best way
to further prosperity and the common good.
But this would be true only if markets are fair and tempered in the
public interest. Free market advocates
treat laissez-faire capitalism as if it is perfect and infallible, almost like
a religion, yet they tend to look the other way when special interests distort
or corrupt free markets.
I say, let’s try markets that are truly free!
Let’s make markets free from monopoly abuses, free from deceptive practices,
free from powerful manipulators who oppose reform and progress, free from
unfair domination by vested interest groups, free from grotesquely misleading
advertising, free from fraud and bribery, and free from excessive abuses of
power. Let’s free markets from greed-driven profiteering on wars, and
from extravagant earmarks and other overly wasteful appropriations.
Let’s free markets from harms caused by giant corporations
that cheat the public to make bigger profits instead of improving their
products or production methods. Let’s free them from corporate welfare
and subsidies that perpetuate inefficient, exploitive and polluting
industries. Let’s free them from tax avoidance schemes like offshore
incorporation and tax evasion scams.
The global economic marketplace, as constituted
today, allows freedom to the wealthiest people to make as much money as they
can, regardless of the impact they have on the underlying health of our
communities and supporting ecosystems. Capital is triumphing with obscene
one-sidedness in its long-fought struggle with labor, but neither capital nor
labor has intrinsic nobility, and a better balance and greater respect for
working people should be assured, so that we can achieve greater fairness,
justice, broadened prosperity, stability, sanity and wholesomeness in our
Longer work hours allow workers to produce more, but
long hours have not proved to be wonderful for workers, who have been squeezed
instead of rewarded in the last 30 years while CEOs and investors have made
significant gains. A paper published by the Center for Economic and Policy
Research indicated that shorter work hours could significantly reduce energy consumption
and enrich people’s life experiences with greater potential fulfillment. The average American already works about 30%
more hours than the average German -- an estimated 500 hours more each year. Overwork can contribute not only to increased
stress and frustration, but also to over-consumption and increases in
pollution. We could devise ways “to kill
several birds with one stone” here, methinks!
The profit motive is a powerful motive in capitalist
economies, yet it is simultaneously one of its greatest weaknesses. Profit-making is swell as a driving
motivation, but without proper guidance and regulation it can also be
unacceptably irresponsible in social and environmental terms. Profiteering
can be ruthlessly undisciplined and amoral, and it often encourages selfish
shortsightedness in exploiting resources and workers.
Capitalism can also be a powerful creative force
that can prove to be outstanding at sparking innovations. But it can also
be a dangerous and destructive force. Since the real bottom line of
global economic activity is that it must become fairer and more sustainable,
fair trade is a better idea than currently constituted “free trade” in
Capitalism contains the seeds of its own
transformation -- and the time has come for us to nurture these seeds. Instead of investing in the ‘manure’ of
oligarchic partisanship and domination, we should be ‘composting’ our ideas in
a powerful ferment of sensible and far-sighted initiatives. Just as a rocket must jettison its booster
stages as they run out of fuel, capitalism must jettison the worst of its
shortcomings, and begin to move forward to a future cognizant of overarching
Chapter #49 – Clean Money
Campaigns and a Healthier Democracy.
Myriad are the difficulties of effecting positive
change and social transformation
And inadequate is our awareness of the urgency with which they are
Obstacles are daunting, with powerful forces arrayed against intelligent
But the risks to fairness, justice and civilization will mount until
they are heeded.
Special Interests and
self-centered motivations drive our society’s demands
And our perspective is rather myopic, with short-term thinking dominatingly in
the need for more far-sighted vision grows greater and greater, day by day
business-as-usual for vested interests becomes ever more irresponsibly rogue.
Our political system encourages extreme partisanship
in policy-making by giving lobbyists easy access to the inner sanctums of power
and allowing them to exert overweening influence once inside these supposed
bastions of democracy. As a result, our federal government is not
adequately accountable to the people. Government regulation of banks and
big businesses has grown pathetically lax in recent years. Our American democracy is being damaged by
the proliferation of ethical conflicts, influence peddling, institutional
bribery, favoritism for the rich, and outright fraud and corruption. The
interests of workers, small businesses, women, children, minorities, and people
in future generations are particularly poorly represented.
We should demand that our representatives and
leaders act in the best interests of the general well-being, and not so
exclusively in the interests of rich people, giant corporations, right-wing
extremists and religious fundamentalists.
As Bill Moyers once 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
There is no doubt that wealthy campaign donors have
much more influence in determining public policy than regular citizens.
The influence of Big Money harms the integrity and any honorable intentions of
our representatives and leaders, and it sidetracks optimal planning and
fairness. It forces politicians to spend too much time and energy raising
money instead of really listening to all the people they are supposed to be
NOTE THIS: A
positive political remedy is available. Politicians can be made to be
more responsible to their constituents, and our representatives can be made to
better represent government for the people. This can be achieved by
providing public financing of election campaigns and implementing FAIR
ELECTION legislation and ‘clean money initiatives’.
Publicly-financed campaigns increase competitiveness
and minority participation, and they create greater fairness in contests for
state legislatures and governorships.
The experience of Clean Money initiatives in Arizona and Maine reveal
these positive outcomes. As activist Peter Coyote once pointed out,
“There is nothing more important … to a fully functioning democracy than having
the people fund the electoral process.”
Public campaign financing would be ultimately far
less expensive than our current system of corrupt influence peddling. It is clear why this is so: lobbyists currently gain hundreds of
billions of taxpayer dollars in subsidies, tax breaks, relaxed regulations
and no-bid contracts in return for mere millions of dollars “invested”
in campaign contributions. This is a
huge bonanza for billionaires and corporations and their shareholders, but an
extremely poor deal for the general public.
The organization Americans for Campaign Reform once
estimated it would cost about $2 billion in public financing for federal
campaigns, compared to the estimated $100 billion in costs annually that
taxpayers incur for subsidies and perks given to contributing corporations and
other large donors. These are some of
the compellingly good reasons that Clean Money initiatives should be
implemented in all election contests.
We have spent trillions of dollars to allegedly help
create democracies in far-off countries like Iraq and Afghanistan. It would make much more sense to invest this
money in nation-building at home. As
David Sirota says in Hostile
Takeover: How Big Money and Corruption Conquered Our Government – and How We
Take It Back: “we should at least be willing to invest a fraction
of that at home to make sure our own democracy starts working properly.”
Chapter #50 – Waste Not,
We currently live in a culture of waste. Even
more dramatically than we are consumers of goods, we are producers of
waste. The average American produces more than 1,600 pounds of garbage
each year, and increasing amounts of electronic devices trash, and we produce
emissions of carbon dioxide exceeding 20 tons annually per person. We use
natural resources, fresh water, electricity and fossil fuels in unnecessarily
profligate ways. Cities worldwide shine
brightly all night long, steadily using up non-renewable energy resources
stored for eons in the form of fossil fuels.
It is a false prosperity that relies on wasteful
consumption and the production of large quantities of wastes and toxins.
This is why a rapid greening of business is necessary worldwide. Our
actions should become earnest and honest, not just gimmicky pretenses of being
a bit greener. A study of “green” products in big box stores has found that almost every single one
was marketed with false or misleading claims.
Researchers from an organization named TerraChoice Environmental
Marketing called out products for committing the "Six Sins of
Greenwashing": (1) a hidden tradeoff
(i.e., toxin-loaded electronics touting their energy efficiency); (2) no certifiable verification of green
claims; (3) flat-out lying about
certification; (4) vagueness (i.e.,
products that are claimed to be "all natural", but contain hazardous
substances that occur naturally); (5)
irrelevance (i.e., products claiming to be CFC-free even though CFCs have been
banned for years; or (6) a
lesser-of-two-evils situation (i.e., organic cigarettes). Let’s start the rapid greening soon, and make
sure its true!
Better ways to operate organizations are numerous --
ways that are more salubrious for society as a whole in the long run. NOW is the time to begin to advance ideas and
means of making businesses and government more environmentally sound, and --
duh! – more sustainable!
Real prosperity is not just some narrow,
materialistic, profit-producing activity.
It is, instead, a wholesome condition that includes physical well-being,
healthy connectedness, the common good, positive human relations, personal
fulfillment, and deeper spiritual connectedness. Practical and far-sighted initiatives are
needed to create a better quality in our lives.
To make our societies fairer, safer and saner, creative
individuals are needed who are capable of broadminded and effective responses
to new situations -- which is the most authentic kind of adaptive intelligence. And people are needed who have a clarity of
mind and energy of will -- which are good characteristics that often typify
people who are regarded as geniuses.
The generations of people alive today are likely to
be the last ones to able to ignore the constraints of resource
scarcities. Food, fresh water, fossil fuels and other vital minerals will
become scarcer as the twenty-first century progresses, making it ever more
urgently clear that the paradigm of endless growth in consumption and population
is not maintainable. Why, even “light
pollution” is proliferating, diminishing our experienced well-being by making
the night skies invisible to hundreds of millions of people, and “sound
pollution” bedevils many increasingly jittery folks.
Gifford Pinchot, who Theodore Roosevelt appointed to
be the first Director of the newly-created U.S. Forest Service in 1905,
referred to CONSERVATION as “the greatest good to the greatest number of people
for the longest period of time”. Supposedly conservative leaders in the
U.S. seem to have become power-obsessed fanatics who oppose conservation
because they are pandering to special interest groups that want short-term
benefits at the expense of the public good, so they are, in effect, opposed to a
fairer legacy for future generations.
This is surely a perversion of truly conservative ways of being.
“Koyaanisqatsi” is a word that means “life out of
balance” in the language of the Hopi tribes of Native Americans in the Southwest. This concept naturally implies that we are
called to new ways of living on Earth.
Let’s find these new ways of living!
Chapter #51 – Clarifying
Art should beneficially serve society. Artists
can sometimes be effective in helping change society, and they are consequently
sometimes repressed by those who oppose change.
Sad, but true. Poetry sometimes
evokes chords of deeper truth, so I will recite two more stanzas of a
Let us clarify the rational ends that
humanity should be pursuing
the ethical and moral principles that should govern our choices
us strive to make our societies sustainable, and better places for us all
Recognizing what is truly important, and boldly lending these priorities
Please join me in this exploration of
provocative thoughts and Big Picture ideas
grapple with me in seeking truth and larger perspective in all our concerns.
us understand our societies, our motivations, and our responsibilities in a
Acknowledging the actions that are best for our well-being and future,
as the world turns.
The human race would be much better off if we more
passionately promoted good ideas and smart planning, and resource conservation,
and fairer social priorities. To succeed
at this, it will be necessary to promote progressive social programs and
moderate consumerism, and to resist the hawks who militate for aggression in
“I think, therefore I am”, said Descartes
--- or at least so he thought. Who
cares?! Let us apply philosophical understandings
to important concerns rather than to absurd epistemological conundrums. Thanks for giving consideration to these
ideas. I find provocative merit in Mark
Twain’s curious and wryly amusing observation:
so needs reforming as other people's habits." Ha!
Chapter #52 – So Many
Choices, and So Hard to Make the Right Ones!
The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung once observed: “The
more one sees of human fate and the more one examines its secret springs of
action, the more one is impressed by the strength of unconscious motives, and
by the limitations of free choice.”
ability to freely make choices that are independent of our genetic drives, our
hormones, and the influences of our social conditioning is distinctly limited. Hmmm …
18th century Scottish philosopher David Hume called the question of whether we
have free will “the most contentious question of metaphysics.” A complex web of influences affects the
choices each of us makes every day.
These influences include our basic human drives and our upbringing, role
models, circumstances, social attitudes, personal experiences, peer pressures,
advertising-stimulated needs, moods, the enticement of incentives, and the
influences of television, talk radio, the Internet, and social media. For all practical purposes, however, it is
important for us to act as if each individual has free will. Of course we all crave the right to do as we
like --- Yay for freedom! We like to do
what we want, and to do so with a minimum of inconveniences, restrictions or
discipline. But there is one overarching
issue: our actions should take place in
a context of wider social responsibility.
The values of 1960s and 1970s bohemian
counterculture have been co-opted and merged with values of the bourgeois
mainstream. Cultural freedoms have
melded with economic and political freedoms in a fascinating hodgepodge,
so counterculture idealism seems to have been largely incorporated into
mainstream materialism. This has
happened without adequate respect for the true ideals of free-thinking
existentialism, non-conformity, loving kindness, alternate lifestyles, honest
communication, mutual respect, positive connectedness, live-and-let-live
tolerance, and spiritual understandings.
San Francisco celebrated the 45th anniversary of its
famed Summer of Love in 2012. The
utopian idealism of those days seems to belong to a bygone era, a time when
people honestly and fervently believed in love and accepting others and
live-and-let-live attitudes and the freedom to “do-your-own-thing”. Yet an unpopular war and deep disaffection
afflicted the American people profoundly in 1967, just as similar influences do
again today. A ‘Human Be-In’ took place
in January 1967 that was a coming together of thousands of folks looking for a
more meaningful way of life than materialism and anxious conformity. The music of 1967 was highlighted by the
Beatles’ Sargeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts
Club Band, and by albums by dozens of other rock-and-roll groups who sang
about innocence, idealism, urban unrest and the disenfranchisement of youth.
Today, within a context of remarkable philosophical
questioning, we are faced with global trends that are converging on potential
catastrophe. There is a strong
probability of a “long emergency” as we encounter the limits of resource
consumption and the restricting parameters of the carrying capacity of the
Earth for our proliferating kind. To
cope successfully with these challenges, it will be necessary for us to start
looking at issues from much more holistic and longer-term perspectives. Once again my prescription holds: we need to act boldly to change our national
policies so that they will ensure humanity a better chance of achieving a more
Do not suppose that these words about converging
catastrophe are some apocalyptic, Doomsday-oriented, Rapture-mad End Times
prophecy of tribulation and disaster.
They are not some revelation of anticipated Armageddon or pending
nuclear war, or terrorist holocaust, or exaggerated vision of impending
pestilence, dangerous zealotry, or the triumph of darkness and evil. And they are not the pessimistic view of a
cynic projected onto an optimism-justified world, like a surreal bad dream or
perverse revelation of some sort of Cubist art based on bizarre existential
Rorschach Inkblot tests.
No, these are cautionary words. We
are not ostriches, so we should not be figuratively burying our heads in the
sand. We must question our
assumptions. We should elect leaders
with integrity whose interests are not inimically aligned with the domination
of society, and with profit-making at the public expense, with ignoring the
best interests of citizens, or with abusing power in unjust and undemocratic ways. To the maximum extent we are able, we need to
create new conditions in our societies in which our collective choices result
in an aggregate of significantly more responsible and sustainable activities.
Chapter #53 – The Causes
of Problems, and Some Solutions.
The principal causes of the intractable problems we
face are these:
(1) businesses and governments work together to
compulsively stimulate growth in the consumption of goods without regard for
the need to conserve finite reserves of resources;
(2) vested interests and lobbyists detrimentally
dominate law-making and decision-making, advancing policies that are short-term
oriented and contrary to better plans;
(3) capitalism is engaged in extreme ruthlessness of
competition and its ultimate expression -- aggressive warfare -- to the exclusion
of an adequate amount of fair, intelligent and peaceable cooperation;
(4) our dominant institutions exacerbate these
problems by opposing family planning and birth control programs, and thus
ensure continued population growth that will increase demands on resources and
natural ecosystems, and inevitably intensify conflicts over them.
How can we significantly reduce waste and profligate
spending and deficit financing? How can
we eliminate political mismanagement, corruption, cronyism, short-term-oriented
policies, and abuses of power? New
legislation should be enacted to make our use of resources more efficient and
conservation oriented. Investments
should be made in American infrastructure, urban improvements, public
transportation, and SMART GROWTH. And one salubrious means of achieving
these goals would be by reducing the detrimental and unfair influence of vested
interests in our government by instituting Clean Money initiatives, as
discussed in Chapter #49.
Heavy ecological footprints should be made lighter. Suburban sprawl should be contained, and
limited. Progressively steeper “green
taxes” should be levied on large new homes -- for instance, ones that exceed
3,000 square feet in size. Conservation and efficiency of water and energy
use should be emphasized for all new and remodeled buildings. Huge
“McMansions” and “starter castles” should be subject to luxury taxes that would
be used to offset pollution and depletion costs associated with their
extravagant use of natural resources.
The proceeds of these taxes should be used to create more affordable
housing and robust urban renewal, and to help deal with problems of
We should also change water-use habits to address
the fresh water crisis that is growing in many nations. Bold water conservation measures should be
introduced. Supplies of clean water
should be protected by reducing contamination and waste. Aging water infrastructure systems should be
better maintained. Conservation of fresh
water in household and industrial processes should be strongly
incentivized. Water pricing plans should
be changed to make them more sensible and conservation oriented. Public water policies should be modified to
better manage water resources for urban, rural and agricultural uses. Fresh water for river habitats and other natural
ecosystems should be included in this equation.
And the unsustainable rate of depletion of aquifers should be reduced.
We should also strive to achieve energy independence
from our addiction to the use of fossil fuels.
To kick the oil habit we should adopt the Apollo Alliance’s “Ten-Point
Plan for Good Jobs and Energy Independence”.
This plan would be a vast improvement over the status quo of
shortsighted policies in our current energy regime. We would achieve collateral benefits by
gaining a greater degree of independence from fossil fuels as business
opportunities related to global energy modernization and greening would
increase. This would enhance our
Another way to champion greater prudence in
our collective activities would be to invest more wisely in the future by
creating better schools and more universally affordable public education. The curricula in our schools should be designed
to be more interesting and engaging, emphasizing critical thinking skills,
creative problem solving and flexible thinking.
Civics, ethical decision-making, and ecological values should be more
thoroughly studied. Children should not
be left behind by having results be oriented around short-term memorization
skills and testing.
Young people should be encouraged to get
involved in music, theatre, reading and athletic activities because these
pursuits have positive impacts on the confidence and development of
participating youth. Athletic competition can teach healthy
values that are propitious in the workplace and in personal life -- values like
teamwork, leadership, the ability to make decisions under pressure, and shared
commitment. Such competition also helps teach
discipline, balance, time management, mental toughness and focus.
bold effort should be made to improve public education by reforming the “No
Child Left Behind” law. Some say this
law was nothing more than a
cynical plan to damage public education, and to make it necessary for people to
choose private schools paid for by taxpayer vouchers rather than improved
public schools. In any case, investing
in better public education and facilities in all school districts is a good
Implementing affirmative actions to improve our
lives and our societies is a smart plan. A more extensive outline of such
ideas is included in the Progressive
Agenda for a More Sane Humanity. Let
these be the principal principles of the powerful new Sustainability
Chapter #54 – The Failings
“We have the best government that money
--- Mark Twain
Under our present system, over 90% of incumbent
politicians in the House of Representatives generally win re-election, and
almost as high a rate in the Senate, despite extremely low public approval
rates for Congress. This fact is assuredly NOT because Congress is doing
a good job. It is actually doing a lousy job for the majority of
Americans. In many ways, we really do have a “culture of corruption” in
our nation’s capitol. Our
representatives are perpetuating a deep-seated systemic failure to protect
people from those who seek unfair privileges, unsustainable benefits, and
expanded opportunities to profit from corporate shenanigans, militarism, disaster
reconstruction and the like.
Congress has basically been misleading and
defrauding citizens. New laws frequently benefit big corporations and
small elites at the expense of workers, women, children, students, blacks,
Latinos, gays, immigrants, poor people, and the vast majority of people abroad,
as well as everyone who breathes air, and all people in future
generations. A loud raspberry for this
-- frankly, I’m disgusted, Representatives and Senators!
Congress all too often advances misguided priorities
and retrogressive policies. It has performed badly, and spent money like
a drunken sailor, and failed to balance revenues with spending. It has been unable to move us in the
direction of independence from our addiction to fossil fuels. It has allowed dramatic increases in social
inequities. It has shown little concern
for future generations.
Congress gave its members 8 raises between 1997 and
2006, but it refused to increase the minimum wage during that period. In 2012, the average member of Congress
earned an average of $174,000. The
minimum wage until July 2007 was the equivalent of about $12,000 a year for
full time work. As Congress struggled
toward the first increase in the minimum wage in 10 years, the Senate defeated
a plan in August 2006 that would have raised it, because Republicans had outrageously
agreed to the action ONLY if it were coupled with a major reduction in estate
taxes. A raise in the minimum wage that
would have benefited more than 7 million low-income people, at no cost to
taxpayers, was thereby rejected on its own merits, and would have been enacted
only if the heirs of the richest 7,500 Americans were given a tax break that
would have cost an estimated $750 billion over the following decade.
This stance seems as cynical as hell, goodness knows! It is a sad reflection on Republican
political opportunism. The egregiousness
of this inegalitarianism was blatant, especially in light of the many tax
breaks given to rich people from the time George W. Bush took office. When enough Republicans facing reelection
realized the anti-populist import of this pandering to rich people, a modest
increase in the minimum wage was finally approved in 2007. Since inflation steadily erodes the
purchasing power of the minimum wage as the years pass, it should be increased
again, and should be indexed automatically to keep pace with inflation. Full-time work should be rewarded with
The litany of Congressional shortcomings in our
political duopoly is long. Congress has
failed to make broad reforms in the basic causes of inflation and unfairness in
our healthcare system. It has failed to
reform the Social Security system and Medicare to make them more fiscally
sound. It has failed to protect people
from natural disasters like the levee breaches caused by Hurricane
Katrina. And it has failed to invest adequate amounts in schools, roads,
bridges, public transportation, water systems, levees, sewage systems, and most
facets of the physical infrastructure in the United States. This is why the American Society of Engineers
2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure gave a “D+” grade. NOT GOOD ENOUGH!!!
Congress has also evaded its responsibility of
safeguarding public assets and spending taxpayer’s money wisely. It is making almost no efforts to reduce the
speed at which we are depleting non-renewable resources, and it is failing to
adequately protect natural wetlands, National Parks, National Forests, Bureau
of Land Management lands, wilderness areas, and wildlife refuges.
It might be recalled that our national
representatives also pathetically presided over one of the worst diplomatic
failures in history by parlaying worldwide sympathy in the wake of the 9/11
attacks into increased injustice, suspicion, fear, hate, anger, religious
conflict, warfare and foreign military occupations.
The reason Congress has failed us is largely because
-- surprise! -- it is so busy pandering to narrow constituencies. Little lobbying reform has been done and it
has generally been “sound and fury” rather than any real change in ethics or
pragmatic concern for the common good.
Not only is serious lobbying reform needed, but also real reform of
Congressional procedures and ethics. The
revolving door that launches politicians into extremely lucrative lobbying jobs
should be restricted. It is time to find
better ways to prevent our system from emphasizing wrong-headed priorities and
encouraging Big Money influence, unfair privileges, and an astonishing lack of
accountability, transparency, integrity, and commitment to the common
An Office of Public Integrity should be created to
help alter this aspect of the status quo.
Another good idea would be to establish federal Civil Grand Juries that
would be independent from Congress and the White House, and give them responsibility
for identifying good ideas to improve government. And, in addition to changing our political
system through initiatives like Clean Money public campaign financing, let’s
choose to elect more responsible leaders every time we vote!
Jonathan Swift, in Gulliver’s Travels, provides provocative cause for concern with his
"They (the Lilliputians) look upon
fraud as a greater crime than theft, and therefore seldom fail to punish it
with death (!); for they allege that care and vigilance, with a very common
understanding, may preserve a man's goods from thieves; but honesty has no fence against superior
cunning: and since it is necessary that there should be a perpetual intercourse
of buying and selling, and dealing upon credit, where fraud is permitted or
connived at, or hath no Law to punish it, the honest dealer is always undone
and the knave gets the advantage."
Chapter #55 – Advocating
a Better World.
Good ideas are needed. Perhaps all
breakthroughs in human thinking evolve because a necessity for them becomes so
forcefully apparent in society. Dynamic ideas tend to automatically
manifest themselves at the necessary time (or soon thereafter). This naturally emboldens action. Eventually, sensible leadership follows.
A positive larger vision is needed that is broad-minded
and widely appealing in order to create a sustainable movement. My hope
is that this Manifesto will help enlarge understanding and instigate action to
advance sustainable movements focused on fostering the greater good.
As entertaining author Tom Robbins once wrote, “A better world has gotta start
somewhere. Why not with you and me?”
Complacency and apathy play into the hands of those who assertively seek
power and control, so it’s up to us to act.
This document is partially a portrait in ideas. Serious issues are discussed in the remainder
of this epistle, so I should not dally here.
But let me quote the cover page of the original Earth Manifesto (my October 2004 on-line publication) as a kind of
gentle and expansive disclaimer:
can be a rich and miraculously wonderful adventure, and the natural world
outdoors can be experienced as a marvelously beautiful place. Note that Odes to this beauty and to the
potentially lovely mysteriousness and spiritual wonder of existence are in
short supply herein. So are verses
celebrating the extensive and extraordinary triumph of human understandings, of
exalted accomplishments, of the astonishingly diverse nature of creativity, and
of the ineffable heights of noble feelings.
And little is included of the great appreciation the author has for the
great good fortune that is enjoyed living in the United States, a country that
is still blessed with wide freedom of expression, with great opportunities,
with rich public lands, and with great amounts of natural resources. These things have largely been left out,
principally to provide a sharper focus to the critically important ideas
explored in these pages --- but please be well assured that they are hereby
emphatically acknowledged as being included in underlying intention.”
Chapter #56 – My Simple
Hope is a powerful force. It is
psychologically valuable to look at life from a perspective that the proverbial
glass is half-full, rather than being half-empty. Yet it is becoming
apparent that there are leaks in the glass, and many people are chipping away
at the vessel.
It is better
for us to err audaciously on the side of hope than in favor of despair
admittedly, optimism is presumptuous in our current challenging day
stakes of sticking with the Status Quo can be seen to be prohibitively high
So we should resolutely set our
sights on a sustainable future, and boldly enter the fray.
Psychologists tell us that hope and optimism are
good for our mental and physical health. A positive attitude is its own
reward, yet it is also a good idea to be realistic and pragmatic about
important issues at the same time. There is great value in having
positive enthusiasm in life, and a generosity of spirit, and a passionate
caring about crucial causes.
I have a Grand Vision. Martin Luther King
would have called it a dream. It is an achievable one, but it requires a
shift in dominant modes of thinking, an openness to alternate perceptions of
reality, and a dedication to positive action and courageous, even revolutionary
reform. In short, my vision is this: we should strive confidently
to make the world a better place for people in our communities, our societies,
and our species as a whole. We should act to mitigate the extent to which
we harm the hopes of people in future generations to lead healthy and
prosperous lives. In these purposes, we
could find a sense of positive meaning and more authentic self-gratification.
Let’s choose a bright world where we build strategic
alliances to cope effectively with the challenges that face us, and make
sweeping changes in policies that affect social justice, healthier economies,
the mitigation of poverty, and international peace. There is good cause for hope, and there are
achievable strategies that could be undertaken to dramatically improve the
world. Read on for further insight into these ideas.
We are at the pinnacle of
civilization, and we are protagonists on the stage, where:
“It's still the same old story, A fight for
love and glory” … as time goes by.
Chapter #57 – Ideals and
The United States represents marvelous ideals to the
rest of the world: ideals of freedom,
fairness, Constitutional democracy, expansive opportunities, self-determination
and the advocacy of protected human rights. But there are stunning
contradictions between these ideals and our actual deeds. As renowned
Berkeley history professor Leon Litwack once said, history is messy; many of our Founding Fathers, after all, were
slave-owning champions of liberty and equality!
The rhetoric of our political representatives is
often betrayed by their actions. Our
domestic and foreign policies are beset by distinct foibles in real world
practice: injustices are perpetrated, inequalities are stoked, private
enterprise is not regulated effectively enough, foreign countries are attacked
to achieve questionable goals, and the environment is not adequately protected. We act as a rogue nation when the “authority
juggernaut” of our federal government intervenes aggressively in the affairs of
other nations and drops bombs on people.
Too many of our national actions are oriented toward building an
American empire, even though this is the antithesis of our Founders’
ideals. We support harsh dictatorships
like the one in Saudi Arabia. We invest
heavily in covert spying activities, and sometimes punish prisoners harshly, as
when the CIA was allowed to use extrajudicial “extraordinary renditions” of
suspected criminals to other countries where they were tortured during the Bush
presidency. Upon occasion, we act as an ‘outlaw state’, little
constrained by international law.
Perhaps it is not so surprising that our national
policies are characterized by hypocrisy, deception, chicanery, and superpower
aggression. After all, greed, heartlessness
and selfishness are among the ideological foundations of unfettered
capitalism. We should, nonetheless, rightly
oppose such blatant contradictions, and begin to seriously reform our system.
Niccolo Machiavelli was an Italian
political theorist who advised that rulers should subordinate moral principles
to political goals. He famously gave
this advice in The Prince, a book he
wrote in the year 1513. He advised
rulers to gain and retain power by using cunning, deceit and ruthlessness. This is good advice for despots and brutal
control freaks, but it has resulted in detrimental outcomes for the common
people. The heart of the matter, the
bottom line as it were, is that today we need leaders who are committed to
far-sighted constructive goals and noble principles and the advancement of the
general good. Success through conniving
cleverness and manipulative power-mongering in the service of narrow interests
or self-aggrandizement is anti-democratic.
A “juggernaut” has the figurative sense of blind
devotion or merciless sacrifice to some force or power. The original meaning of a Juggernaut was to
describe the Hindu deity Krishna whose idol is carried on huge wagons during
annual processions in India. According
to legend, the wagon crushed worshippers who threw themselves under it. Knowing that religious fanatics sometimes flagellate
themselves with whips makes a legend like this seem quite plausible!
Be that as it may, it is human nature for a crisis
to be necessary before an individual opens up to alternative ways of looking at
things, a crisis like an injurious accident, a disease, a job loss, or a
calamitous ‘relationship conflict’. Such
a crisis can cause us to broaden and deepen our perspective, and force us to
reexamine our lives, beliefs, or actions.
A crisis can thus become a springboard to making significant behavioral
We are now collectively facing a “Catch-22” of our
own natures with regard to the way we confront change. Disasters like
9/11 or the impacts of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans, or of Superstorm Sandy
on the East Coast, are often needed to provide a catalyst to provoke us into
rethinking our ways of acting and behaving, and thus goad us into making
changes, for better or worse. The Catch-22 is that the best way to avoid
or mitigate such calamitous crises in the first place is to plan ahead with
better foresight, and to proactively make smart changes in our business and
government institutions and our societies to avoid calamities or mitigate the
severity of their potential impacts.
The best way to avoid negative outcomes is to plan
ahead, think critically and heed precautionary ideas. We would be wise to look with fresh eyes at
the causes of conflicts and dysfunctional behaviors and wrong-headed
priorities. We should try to gain bigger
picture perspectives in understanding what drives problems like poverty and
injustices that are at the root of terrorism and suicide bombings.
Above all, we should cultivate better understandings
of economic, social, psychological and religious elements that drive aggressive
militarism. We need better leadership
and more honorable foreign policy, not politicians obsessed with power,
authority, domineering control, religious fundamentalism, or Machiavellian
mercilessness in the pursuit of self-serving goals. The following chapters deal with these
issues, as does the essay Reflections on
War – and Peace.
Chapter #58 – Sensible
It is essential for us to find better ways to defuse
conflicts and reduce antagonisms between peoples. The so-called “war on
terror” has been a battle that pits a coalition of political leaders against a relatively
small number of extremists. This battle should not be allowed to escalate
into an unaffordably costly worldwide conflict between cultures and
religions. It also should not be allowed
to radically distort proper national priorities.
In the name of national security, the world’s
powerful nations are undermining human rights and draining resources and attention
from more crucial issues that afflict hundreds of millions of people around the
globe. A report released by Amnesty
International in 2006 indicated that “Governments collectively and individually
paralyzed international institutions and squandered public resources in pursuit
of narrow security interests, and sacrificed principles in the name of the ‘war
on terror’, and turned a blind eye to massive human rights abuses.”
The Amnesty International report added, “When the
powerful are too arrogant to review and reassess their strategies, the heaviest
price is paid by the poor and powerless.”
Fears, insecurities, and nationalistic impulses tend
to distract our attention from bigger picture perspectives. Peaceful
coexistence and religious tolerance are critically important goals and values,
so we should not allow our energies, money, and resources to be diverted
away from initiatives designed to prevent war, strife, poverty and humanitarian
crises. Strife between competing
Christian and Muslim fundamentalists, in particular, should not be allowed to
undermine the security, stability, and well-being of civilizations in either
the West or the Middle East. Geopolitics must not be allowed to devolve
into a win/lose or lose/lose battle between opposing sides who cry out,
“Our God is absolute truth, and yours is false and evil.”
“Wrong not, and you will not be wronged.”
--- The Quran
The tendency to claim God as an ally for partisan causes
is the source of much religious conflict.
Islamic extremism is a threat to international peace and security, and
so is far right-wing religious orthodoxy here at home. Both pose significant threats to freedom,
democracy, fairness and peace. A rigidly
intolerant ‘Taliban-wing’ exists in both Islam and Christianity, and people
everywhere should work together to marginalize these extremists.
Chapter #59 – The
Conjunction of Idealism and Pragmatism.
Some say it is abundantly clear that the dominant
economic and political powers in the world today are working overtime to
circumvent initiatives that would help solve world problems. The powers-that-be
do this primarily to gain and maintain power and control and supremacy, and to
give benefits to rich people and their cronies by doling out special favors and
We should reform our national and international
institutions. We CAN change the world. There is no doubt about
it. We DO change the world. We have impacts that cause change,
either for the better or for the worse. From my point of view, there is
no question that those in power in the United States too frequently act to
change things for the worse for the majority of people in the world.
We should curtail the power and greed of business
leaders and politicians. Aggressive
abuses of power are wrong because they violate fairness principles. Policies should be established that are more
independent from doctrinaire interests. Stubbornness is not good
judgment, and excessive rigidity is not reasonable. Old paradigms, closed-minded dogmas, abuses of
power, and bitter loyalty to failing doctrines should be abandoned in favor of
more reasonable and far-sighted choices.
Positive economic, social and political change must
be effected to make the world a safer, saner and more livable place. Let
us treat these ideas as a new gospel -- one that establishes a proper balance
between honorable statesmanship, idealism, pragmatism, humanism, rationality,
incisive understanding, and genuine spirituality.
Chapter #60 – Seductive
Siren, n. - Figuratively, any lady of splendid promise,
dissembled purpose and disappointing
performance. (Ha! -- This is Ambrose Bierce’s
satirical definition in The Devil’s
The Sirens of Homer’s Odyssey were enchantresses whose honeyed and haunting voices
bewitched mariners and lured them to destruction on their Mediterranean
island. My fellow Americans, and all inhabitants on Earth, I submit that
we must find ways to resist the alluring temptation of modern-day sirens whose
beguiling voices lure us with deceptive guile and encourage us to accept
wasteful, unfair, fiscally irresponsible, environmentally destructive, myopic,
and militaristic ways.
These voices are urging us to oppose progressive
change at a time when the most rational long-term understandings clearly
support bold actions to transform our societies into ones that are fairer, more
likely sustainable, and more conducive to peaceful coexistence. So-called
conservatives in our society foolishly support doctrines that promote,
rationalize, and defend the narrow status quo, and they oppose change, or even
worse, doggedly strive to roll back the progressive accomplishments achieved
since the Depression of the 1930s.
Far-sighted planning should be used to address
problems while good solutions are still manageable. It is dangerously
unwise to allow problems to become extremely bad by procrastinating, and to
fail to understand that delaying remedial actions can cause problems to become
critically intractable and exorbitantly costly to remedy. It is prudent
to cope with worsening conditions sooner rather than later.
I have a friend who calls himself “The Mole”. He
has a hysterical sense of humor, and sees the world through eyes with a
radically fresh and sometimes heretical perspective. He is a colorful
character who is so original that his underground ideas are inherently subversive
of established dogmas. He wrote in August 2006, referring to the reign of
Alfredo Strossner, the former dictator of Paraguay who had just died, “As in Paraguay, we always choose the
rascals that step on people in 4-year election cycle increments. It must be the $$$ that have us rise to every
fly that lands on the pond, regularly sending our bombers flying off on brazen
sorties, and our troops marching faithfully and valiantly off to foreign
All of us have a bit of the Mole in us. My
Mole says “keep on digging”! Coherent ideas and clearer understandings,
along with a good sense of humor, could help save us from shortsighted dogmas
that work contrary to the best interests of the majority, and of future
A politically aroused citizenry should arise and
demand policies that are best for our communities and the national good -- and
for the human race and the ecosystems that support us, as well. We must
decide, commit, and act. As Goethe said, “Boldness has genius, power, and
magic in it.” Let’s roll!
Chapter #61 – Inequality
and Its Implications.
Many observers decry the insidious increase in
UNFAIRNESS that has been taking place in the U.S. in the past 33 years. This state of affairs is contrary to the
defining principles of a democratic republic. In The
Aristos, John Fowles provided the insight that inequality in our personal
lives can be measured by the competing conceptual states of HAPPINESS and
ENVY. Happiness is essentially a desire to keep things just the way they
are. Envy is basically a desire to change them.
Almost all social and political conflicts take place
between the ‘party of happiness’ and the ‘party of envy’. Considered from
the perspective of evolutionary forces, envy is a powerful impetus toward
change, and happiness is a chief obstacle to progress.
The party of happiness rightly maintains that
society should allow individuals a maximum of freedom to pursue
happiness. The party of envy rightly maintains that society should allow
everyone equal access to opportunity and to the chief sources of
happiness. The continually shifting balance between these competing
interests helps define the course and character of human societies.
Big Money unfairly affects the political struggle between these two
forces. It rashly skews public policy in favor of special privileges, and
reinforces the power of the party of happiness to jealously protect their often
undeserved privileges. This is one
reason why John Kenneth Galbraith observed that conservatives are “engaged in
one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral
justification for selfishness.”
the Gilded Age era of the late nineteenth century, Mark Twain decried rapid
increases in economic inequality, which had been called the "great barbeque". The outrageous concentration of income and
wealth in those days eventually sparked a strong reaction and a vast reform
movement. But it was not until the onset
of the Great Depression, decades later, that economic collapse and massive
social unrest forced the country's political elite to take actions to reduce
the extreme disparities in income and wealth between the rich and the poor.
the past 33 years, economic inequality has again been rapidly increasing,
thanks in large part to the politics of Republican conservatives. Some experts have even blamed increases in
inequality and economic insecurity for the greater frequency of mass public
shootings like those at Columbine, Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook. Other factors are involved, of course, including
heightened stresses, the erosion of community in America, and the easy
availability of handguns and assault weapons.
Today we are embarked on a
neo-Gilded Age that does not appear, as yet, to have any forces powerful enough
to put the brakes on the current runaway process of rising inequality. It appears that the power elite is not ready
to accept any fairer social compact, despite negative impacts on society and the
hardships being borne by blue-collar workers and poor people and the middle
People who defend the status quo inevitably
become further separated from the average person as inequalities increase, so
rich people steer government to meet their own interests by whatever means
necessary. They buy elections and make
efforts to disenfranchise voters, especially poor people and minorities. They gain influence in mass media to try to expand
their control in ideological debates. They
also try to erect barriers to oversight and accountability, and to demand
tactics of suppression and intimidation.
To achieve far-reaching social progress, the state as we know it, with
its practically inextricable connections to the upper class, should be
resurrected to be more democratically fair.
Economic inequality is one of the most
significant sources of friction in world politics. The industrial revolution intensified this
inequality of wealth and power, and one result was the colonization and
exploitation of non-industrialized nations by those who were first to
industrialize. Experts now recognize two
basic strategies for marginalized nations to break out of economic and
political dependency: (1) through war or
revolution, or (2) by imitating the means that advanced countries have used,
including the adoption of market mechanisms, industrialization technologies,
innovations, tariffs, currency controls or import barriers. I believe we should help reduce economic
inequalities worldwide by treating people in other countries more fairly. This treatment would have the considerable
advantage of mitigating impulses toward trade conflicts or wars or violent revolutions.
Chapter #62 – The Wisdom
of the Golden Rule.
The Golden Rule represents the ethical essence of
morality and fairness. This wisdom holds
that we should treat others the way that we, ourselves, would like to be
treated. Golden Rule fairness should be taken into account in formulating
all laws. All people in our communities should be accorded more respect,
as well as those in future generations. Every piece of legislation that
Congress passes should incorporate greater fairness.
Human societies are always unjust, to greater or
lesser extents. But steps should be taken to reduce the growing extreme
degree of income inequality. History shows that peace and social
stability have been much better served when the disparity between rich people
and the majority is not too stark.
It can be the death knell of democracy to allow an
ever-increasing concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the
few. And yet the economic disparities between the rich and the poor keep
getting larger. This trend was kicked into high gear by the trickle-down
“voodoo economics” of Ronald Reagan, which has caused policy changes that contribute
to the gushing up of wealth to the richest Americans. Remember that Ronald
Reagan vastly enriched the wealthy by reducing the marginal tax rate on the
highest incomes from 70% in 1980 to 28% by 1988.
Tax reform under George W. Bush gave paltry benefits
to 98% of Americans while providing huge benefits to the top 2%. These
changes in taxation were most generous to the richest 1% of the American people
and to the top .1%,, who do not need the money by any stretch of the
Disparities of net worth between the rich and
the poor are even more pronounced than disparities of annual income. One percent of people in the United States
own about 40% of all wealth. Republican
policies are aimed at continuously increasing this concentration of wealth.
The primary Republican agenda of the Bush years was
to achieve the goal of increasing the assets of people who were already
exceedingly well-off. Conservatives have effectively sold their souls to
champion a doctrinal agenda that justifies this anti-social selfish
Wealthy people strive successfully to reduce their share
of taxes paid. The top 5% of Americans, for instance, received 75% of the
enormous 2003 tax breaks that exempted corporate dividends from individual
income taxes. The May 2006 passage of
another $70 billion tax cut gave only $20 to the average middle-income
household, but a whopping average of $42,000 to those making more than $1
million per year.
gradual elimination of Inheritance Taxes between 2003 and 2010 was a strategy
targeted to make wealth and special privilege a permanent status for the
privileged. Our government is supposed to be a “democracy”, so we should
be fighting to diminish such unfair disparities, not increase them.
Warren Buffett testified before the Senate Finance Committee in November 2007
in defense of the federal estate tax, the nation's only tax on inherited
wealth. Buffett invoked the historical
roots of the estate tax, which was established in 1916 to put a brake on
anti-democratic concentrations of wealth and power.
wealth, the enemy of meritocracy, is on the rise," Buffett told the
panel. "Equality of opportunity has
been on the decline. A progressive and
meaningful estate tax is needed to curb the movement of a democracy toward
changes,” he said “have benefited this super-rich group, including me, in a
huge way. During that time the average
American went exactly nowhere on the economic scale: he's been on a treadmill while the super-rich
have been on a spaceship.”
response, Republican Chairman Charles Grassley of Iowa, complained that the
"death tax" was "fundamentally wrong." Buffett responded that use of the term
"death tax" itself was "intellectually dishonest" and
"clever, Orwellian and dead wrong."
It is, after all, not a tax on dead people, but a tax on the inheritance
of rich kids.
do you think? Let’s venture beyond any
convenient convictions we may have, and explore what is truly right and
wrong. Is it fundamentally wrong to tax
a class of people whose incomes and net worth have skyrocketed since Ronald
Reagan took office? Or is it more
fundamentally wrong to take a bigger chunk out of the meager earnings of people
who work hard to get by? Is it the best
plan for our society to have the government shift the burden of taxation from
financially well-off people to struggling workers and those yet to be
no mistake about it -- forget anything you think you know about economics; it is virtual madness to allow politicians to
spend far beyond our national means and to be so fiscally imprudent as to
borrow enormous sums of money year after year, during good economic times and
bad, to let the highest income earners pay historically low rates of tax. It is especially crazy to use shortsighted
fiscal expediencies to facilitate the entry of our nation into preemptive wars,
and to use stimulated fears and odd rationalizations to achieve this goal. Understandings that are progressive in nature
must gain ascendance, and taxation that is more progressive is a particularly
good idea. Regressive policies that give
special privileges for small elites must yield to the greater good.
Taxpayers who earned less than $25,000 in income in 2005 were
6 times more likely to undergo IRS audits than those who reported earnings of
$200,000 or more, according to Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a
public-interest group affiliated with Syracuse University. In further defiance of fairness doctrines, the government planned
to eliminate almost half of the 345 lawyers who audited tax returns of those
subject to sharing a cut of their estates with the American public upon their
deaths, according to an article in the New York Times. Additionally, IRS audits of large
corporations have plummeted in recent years, and offshore tax scams that
benefit rich people cost the U.S. Treasury an estimated $70 billion per
year. This is absurd -- and outrageous!
Our economic system is not fair, and it is becoming increasingly
unfair. Prevailing policies that result in the borrowing of enormous sums
of money in order to give additional benefits to rich people are a form of
fiscal and social lunacy. Franklin D.
Roosevelt’s New Deal reforms enabled the rise of a substantial middle class in
the U.S. after World War II. Yet
favoritism for the rich has made a comeback in recent decades, and it has
diminished the prosperity of the middle class.
This trend has been made much worse by regressively-structured tax
cuts. The resultant increase in
inequality has increased economic insecurities and directly harmed the
well-being of many Americans.
Intense conflicts in economic equality and social
status are resulting from these policies.
One of the best aspects of our American democracy has been the fluidity
of opportunity and social mobility within our society’s social
stratification. This virtue is
diminished by having entrenched inequities.
Horatio Alger success stories of upward movements in socioeconomic
status are becoming increasingly difficult for most people to achieve.
It is contrary to democratic ideals for our leaders
to champion policies that ensure such dramatic increases in economic
inequalities and inherited privilege.
Specious arguments and regressive swindles constitute grounds, in and of
themselves, to reject right-wing conservatism.
Karl Marx saw all of history as a story of class struggles, and unless
we want to bring on a violent revolution, we are best advised NOT to continue
exacerbating class inequities. Change
Consider the implications of this observation from
beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a
curse upon a
neighbor at the same
The wealthy are grabbing financial blessings for
themselves, effectively putting a curse not only upon everybody else, but upon
all of our descendents, to boot! The
time to fairly reform our economic system is now!!
Chapter #63 – The
Selfishness of the Wealthy.
Here is an example of how disparities between the
fortunes of the rich and the poor in America are becoming increasingly
extreme. Each of the 28,000 American households that comprise the top
1/100 of one percent of all Americans earns an average of more than $8 million
per year. These 28,000 American families together earn more than the 100
million people who are at the bottom of the economic ladder.
The share of taxes that these super-rich people pay
has declined dramatically since 1981. This change effectively shifts the
tax burden to all other taxpayers -- and to people in the future by means of
the irresponsible expediency of deficit financing. It’s outrageous not to
require the super-rich to pay a percentage of their income in taxes that is at
least as high as everyone else. Instead, they generally pay lower
percentages. Mitt Romney, for instance,
paid less than 14% of his $21 million in income in taxes in 2010, so his
overall tax rate was lower than someone who made $40,000 in taxable income.
Economic inequality is leading to a more highly
stress-inducing economic insecurity for the vast majority of
Americans. It is also causing devastating healthcare inequities.
Thousands of people die every year because they lack health insurance and
access to care. Profiteering by private
insurance companies and HMOs contribute to this unconscionable situation. The
legal system and poorly regulated drug company policies have exacerbated these challenges. For better perspective on this and related
issues, check out David Sirota’s book Hostile
Takeover: How Big Money and Corruption Conquered Our Government --- and How We
Can Take It Back.
More than 45 million Americans live in poverty --
one in seven Americans! While the
productivity of workers has more than doubled in the last 40 years, the average
hourly worker’s wage has decreased by 5% when adjusted for inflation, and the
minimum wage has effectively decreased by more than 40%. The number of
people do not have health insurance has more than doubled since 1972.
Thirteen million children live in poverty.
Four million people experience homelessness in any given year. Housing
was made harder to afford for many under post-9/11 Federal Reserve actions to
stimulate real estate speculation and rapid increases in home prices. These policies created an economic bubble
whose collapse has been extremely hard on millions of Americans. In addition, higher education is becoming increasingly
difficult to afford. These facts prove that opportunity and freedom are not
equally available to all.
The fortunes of rich people have increased so much
in the past several decades because of the constant stream of new policies put
into place to primarily benefit the wealthy. Changes to our system of
taxation are unfair and regressive when they disproportionately benefit the
richest people and place heavy new burdens of debt on future generations.
The ever-widening gap between the fortunes and privileges of the “Haves” and
the “Have-Nots” is not acceptable in a democracy.
Our national debt increased from $845 billion in
January 1981 when Ronald Reagan took office to more than $18 trillion in early
2015, an increase of over 2,000%. We are
effectively mortgaging the future to transfer wealth from future
generations to rich people today through unwise tax breaks and deficit
spending. This hyper-partisan result has
arisen because we give big benefits to a small, privilege-abusing segment of
society, and we do so at a high cost to the common good. Shortsighted policies like this contribute
unnecessarily to bigger risks of national financial instability in the
Since rich people have been getting away with this practically
treasonous favoritism from politicians, they should now begin to accept and
support more egalitarian initiatives. Progressive tax changes, after all,
have negligible impacts on the quality of the lives of multi-millionaires,
while such changes can make dramatically positive differences in the lives of
millions of Americans who live hand-to-mouth. This perspective makes it
seem downright cruel and cold-hearted for rich people to press their advantages
so greedily, so intently, so arrogantly, so self-righteously, and so
Studies of philanthropic giving consistently show
that wealthy people are relatively stingier than others. This fact alone makes it ironic that our
economic and political systems are skewed so strongly to give ever-bigger benefits
to this class who exhibit such a relative deficiency in generosity. The rich are damned lucky, financially ---
and they should be thankful that the lagging middle class and the struggling
working class and the destitute poor are not fomenting a revolution to take
away their assets! Let’s not get mad;
let’s get even. Let’s take back our government from vested
interests and the wealthy, and begin enacting fairer, more progressive tax
Twain once remarked: “The offspring of
riches: Pride, vanity, ostentation,
arrogance and tyranny.” This is human
nature -- but we need not encourage and reward it so lavishly!
Chapter #64 – To Be or
Not To Be.
The sagacious lawmaker Solon has been called “the
father of democracy” because he reformed Greek laws in 594 BCE by implementing
reforms that made Athenian society fairer. The rich were not happy about
it, but eventually they recognized that his reforms were a fair price to pay
for them to be allowed to maintain most of their privileges. Solon’s initiatives
wisely included progressively higher tax rates on higher incomes, with a rate
on the highest incomes 12 times as much as the rate paid by the poor.
Here’s a good plan for making our nation
significantly fairer: Enact a “Social Justice Taxation Act” to make
taxation more steeply graduated. This
would involve the implementation of fair and Solon-wise Tax Code
revisions. Such an Act would assess
federal taxes on the highest individual income tax brackets at a rate 12 times
the rate of the lowest income tax brackets.
The most practical way to do this would be to revise the Tax Tables so
that all taxpayers pay 4% (vs. 10% currently) on the first $15,000 of Taxable
Income. Simultaneously, a new tax
bracket should be created that assesses a rate of 48% (vs. 39% currently) on
all Taxable Income in excess of $1,000,000.
A progressive sliding scale would determine tax rates for all earning
brackets in between $15,000 and $1,000,000.
Here is another good plan: Give every taxpayer an increase of $2,500 in
the standard deduction on his or her individual tax return. Such a fair
policy could be financed by the higher marginal tax rates assessed on higher
incomes, as well as by higher inheritance taxes on the wealthiest 1% of
Americans, upon their deaths.
The struggle between envious, underprivileged poor
people and jealous rich people who have the most assets and power is a
long-standing one. This conflict should
be reduced, not expanded continually in our democracy. The fact of the matter is that the conflict
between wealth and morality is practically as old as the hills. The
Bible, the Quran, and most of mankind’s holy books assail abuses of wealth and
power. Our governments should therefore refrain from rashly promoting the
growth of inequalities!
Fairer tax plans would help reduce social status
conflicts between people, and mitigate feelings of despair, disenfranchisement,
and antagonisms between rich and poor people, and between privileged and
underprivileged people. Fairness is the
ultimate requisite of decency. It is one of the most important aspects of
moral right action. Yet fairness has been increasingly under assault in
recent years, along with values like truth, honesty, and reason.
Progressive initiatives like the 1944 G.I. Bill
helped build a large middle class in the U.S. after the Depression of the
1930s. But regressive initiatives
implemented since 1980 have undermined the well-being of the middle class. Since current policies have eroded the
financial health of middle class people, new programs should be put into effect
that are similar to those that contributed to the strengthening of the middle
class after the Depression. These programs include expanded educational
opportunities, less expensive higher education, reasonable labor laws, increased
investments in the physical infrastructure of the U.S., fairer incentives for
home ownership, a more steeply-graduated tax system, and an affordable safety
net of national health care and basic retirement benefits.
A citizenry that is well informed makes a democracy
more robust. If we galvanize Americans
into supporting greater fairness and more intelligent planning, a radical
transformation in our activities and economies will take place, and a more sustainable
future will be created.
Let us heed Shakespeare’s Hamlet, in his famous
“To be, or not to be: that is the
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to
The slings and arrows of
Or to take arms against a sea
And by opposing end them.”
The best way for us to take arms against the surging
sea of troubles facing humankind today is to boldly demand reforms of our
economic and political systems. Foresight and fair-mindedness -- not
shortsightedness and stubborn inflexibility -- need to be cultivated to help
deal with the challenges of the future. We
require, in short, a new form of intelligent design!
Chapter #65 – Bubble
One might suppose that some of our society’s
policies are truly equitable. Let’s pick one of the biggest benefits, and
examine it. Let’s take the $70 billion-per-year deduction for mortgage
interest. Who gets that benefit? ... Oh -- I’ll be darned; the people with the top 5% of incomes get more
than 50% of that subsidy.
The U.S. would be better served by creating benefits
for a broader spectrum of Americans, and not mainly those who are already
rich. We should, as a pertinent example, establish programs that create
more affordable housing, rather than creating conditions favorable to real
estate speculators. We should provide incentives to first-time homeowners
rather than rewards for people to own multiple homes. Incentives for people to benefit from owning
multiple homes should be reduced.
A nonpartisan tax-reform panel concluded in 2005
that provisions like the tax-free exclusion of $250,000 in real estate capital
gains ($500,000 for married couples) are heavily skewed to benefit high-income
Tax incentives helped make real estate a hot
commodity, so they contributed to rapid appreciation in housing for years. As more and more speculative influences were
introduced into the market, like these big tax breaks for home ownership and
ever-more risky financing, real estate was finally ramped up until it became
distinctly overpriced in most areas of the country. Mortgage fraud and the collaboration of
ratings agencies also played a factor.
The boom in real estate was a powerful engine of growth in consumption,
because hundreds of billions of dollars were borrowed every year against
increasing home equity until 2007. Remember
the obnoxiously repetitive barrage of TV commercials that urged homeowners to
borrow money against their home equity?
When the bubble that burst, it caused global
financial turmoil and catastrophic hardships for millions of people. These incentives were great for homeowners
who benefited from the appreciation in their home equity, and they stimulated
consumer spending by allowing homeowners to mortgage their homes to the hilt,
but this increased risks of foreclosures and losses of down payments when the
inevitable bust took place. Thanks a lot
for the shrewd but ultimately irresponsible fiduciary failure, decision-makers!
This whole episode is proving to have been
shortsighted in many ways. Surely we could find a safer and fairer means
of creating healthier economic growth!
Not only did these policies cause significant
instability to domestic and international economies, but also unnecessary
damages to the natural environment. And
such influences in real estate have been bad news for first-time homebuyers who
want to own a reasonably-priced place to live.
They have also been negative for poor people who cannot afford homes,
and for people who have become homeless because of the high costs of housing. And they have contributed to inflating rents,
suburban sprawl, obscenely big houses for wealthy people, profligate usages of
lumber and other building materials, wasteful usages of water and energy, the
lavish ownership of multiple homes by rich people, undesirable speculation and
Policies are needed that are more far-sighted,
enlightened and sustainable!
Chapter #66 – The
Failings of Business and Government.
One ruinous error of the current approach of
businesses and government in the U.S. is that economic principles are given a
dominating influence while important social principles are ignored and even
denigrated. Even worse, vital ecological principles are neither widely
appreciated nor adequately respected.
Conservatives support policies that emphasize the
primary importance of protections for capital and private property, while
liberals tend to support contrasting policies that emphasize the importance of
equitable treatment for all people. Deep
ecologists inform us that more enlightened understandings are evolving in
recognition of the fact that the ecological well-being of our home planet is
essential to both property and people.
A pathetic deficiency of government has always been
found in its slavish willingness to sacrifice the public good to private
greed. "Strange as it may
seem," said Josiah Quincy in 1774, "what the many, through successive
ages, have desired and sought, the few have found means to baffle and
Consider this: a study by the federal Office of
Management and Budget in 2003 sought to evaluate the cost and impact of
environmental laws over the 10-year period from 1992 to 2002. The
extensive analysis found that the cost to business and government of health and
environmental regulations was 5 to 7 times less than the costs to
society of dealing with the clean-up of pollution and toxic wastes, and of
related healthcare expenses for workers and people in communities
nationwide. These findings prove that it is downright dumb for the
government to let corporate lobbyists rewrite laws to weaken environmental
protections like the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act.
Our econopolitical system is basically broken
because it allows rich people and corporations to gain and abuse power at the
expense of the health of the people and the environment. Big Oil, as a prime example, generally
opposes resource conservation. It does
this despite the fact that investments in energy conservation often have a
short payback period, and such investments would have collateral benefits such
as reduced waste, improved production processes, higher productivity, positive
public relations value, and healthy ecosystem benefits. Big Oil and Big Coal are industries that
promote obscenely profligate usages of non-renewable fossil fuels, and they
compound this sin by using the heavy weight of the influence of their profits
to corrupt national policies in their favor.
Experts predicted that the U.S. would soon be awash
in oil, thanks to rules that allow Big Oil to frack the hell out of America the
Beautiful. Not long thereafter, sure
enough, supply and demand caused a 50% decline in the price of oil
worldwide. But we cannot afford to
exploit this resource with such reckless abandon, and this is true for an
interesting and surprising reason.
Scientists say that the atmosphere effectively has a carbon budget that
can not be exceeded without causing catastrophic climate change. And at the current pace, the nations of the
world will exceed this carbon budget for the next 100 years in less than 25
years. It would be suicidally insane for
us not to change course and invest in conservation and cleaner alternatives
At the current rate of growth of carbon dioxide
emissions, this threshold will be alarmingly exceeded 75 years early, and by
the year 2100, we will be double glazing our home planet. The price of fossil fuels everywhere is already
artificially low, due to three factors: no cost is allocated for the depletion
of these resources; large costs are
being externalized onto society related to unfolding natural disasters related
to changing weather patterns worldwide;
and there are many health and ecological damages being caused by spewing
tens of billions of tons of greenhouse gases and noxious particulates into the
atmosphere year after year after year.
Oddly enough, fossil fuel industries receive more
subsidies annually than any other industries in the world, other than
agriculture. At least agricultural
subsidies make more sense, as they help people afford to buy food at what are
basically subsidized prices.
Americans should demand that fossil fuel industries
support more fuel-efficient vehicles, better gas mileage standards, and a more
rapid adoption of fossil fuel alternatives.
Protections of consumers and the environment should be given increased
weight in our policy considerations, and higher royalties should be assessed
for all resources extracted from public lands.
One smart idea is being promoted by environmental activist Tom Steyer,
who is calling for an increase in taxes for oil extracted in California. He asserts that Texas assesses charges to oil
producers that are “three times what California charges for the privilege of
removing its oil from the ground.” Texas
uses the taxes on the extraction of oil from huge pools that lie underground in
Texas to benefit public education and other services. Hey, Texas might actually have a few good
ideas, after all.
Anyway, business and government are failing us. Again, one big component of problems is a
lack of accountability that is being achieved on account of the excessive power
of Big Money and lobbyists.
I say, “Citizens, Unite!” As with
many things, a 3-part solution presents itself, and it is an excellent
one. First, the American people should
demand legislation to reverse the narrow Supreme Court Citizens United and McCutcheon
rulings by enacting real Campaign Finance Reform and Lobbyist Ethics
Reform. Second, we should pass and
ratify a Constitutional Amendment as soon as practicable to overturn the privilege
of wealthy interests to dictate our national policies in our corrupt political
duopoly. And third, we should demand
that the Supreme Court look at these issues from a bigger picture perspective
and make fairer rulings on issues related to political influence in all future
Chapter #67 – Our
American Achilles Heel.
Amory Lovins, the founder of the independent
non-profit and nonpartisan Rocky Mountain Institute, once asserted that we have
the technological ability to reduce overall energy use by 80%, and at the same
time create hundreds of thousands of new jobs in the process. In doing
so, we could also significantly reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas
The Rocky Mountain Institute has also estimated that
electricity use in the United States could be cut in half at a savings of $50
billion per year without any reduction in the average standard of living.
Such actions would slow the depletion of fossil fuels and the alteration of the
gaseous composition of the atmosphere. This should be a no-brainer!
Electricity generation is one of the largest factors
contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.
Coal-fired power plants produce more than half the electricity used in
the U.S., so they are responsible for a significant portion of all carbon-dioxide
emissions. They also produce large
quantities of poisonous mercury, sulfur dioxide and smog-producing nitrogen
oxide. Older coal-fired plants are
exceptionally polluting because they have been granted loopholes in the Clean
Air Act that allow them to avoid updating their plants with modern pollution
controls. Stricter regulations and the
conservation of electricity could beneficially reduce these pollutants.
Yet we continue to stick with policies that perpetuate
our dependence on oil and coal and natural gas. Some say that our
addiction to oil is our “Achilles heel” because it is a reckless dependency
that represents a dangerous vulnerability to depletion, supply disruptions and
wars. Instead of addressing this risk, the ‘Oil guys’ in the White House
under the Bush Administration gave only lip service to smarter courses of
action. They used misinformation and secrecy to help Big Oil make record
profits, and they refused to support bold actions to wean our country from our
addiction to oil.
National energy policy should include three
strategies: (1) to use fossil fuels much more efficiently and
conservatively; (2) to modernize
coal-fired plants to make them cleaner;
and (3) to create powerful incentives that encourage the use of fossil
fuel alternatives. We should prevent those in power from allowing
domestic oil drilling in areas that are extremely environmentally
sensitive. And “blood-for-oil”
aggression and deceitful pretexts for warfare should be rejected as national
We are being ridiculously complacent and injudicious
in our usages of energy. The world’s oil tank stands at half full, and it
is headed for empty. We deceive ourselves into thinking that we are not
critically compromising the future by allowing the continued profligate use of
Chapter #68 – The
Ramifications of Peak Oil.
Life from birth to death can be a drama, a
tragedy, a farce and a comedy. On
average, a human being has roughly 2,500 million heartbeats during his or her
lifetime, and each day another 100,000 beats of the heart tick away our time
alive. There is certainly uncertainty
about how many more heartbeats each of us might have, but in one thing there is
no doubt: there is no uncertainty that
the number is finite.
Similarly, there is no doubt that our daily
burning of fossil fuels inexorably moves us toward the day that oil reserves on
Earth will be exhausted. A total of
about 2.5 trillion barrels of oil have been discovered in the world since the
beginning of time, and the human race has already burned up almost half of
these oil reserves in the 150 years since we began to use it to replace whale
oil for many fuel needs. An estimated
total of about 1.5 trillion barrels of known oil recoverable reserves are left,
and we are currently burning more than 30 billion barrels per year. When one does the math, even with new
supplies recovered by using fracking, we see that only about 50 years supply
remains at current levels of use.
Between now and the time oil is gone, its price will begin to become
prohibitively costly, so it will inevitably be used more sparingly.
Our lives and businesses are structured
around artificially cheap oil and natural gas.
We are acting as if there is no cost of depletion, as if supplies are
infinite. But we are inexorably
approaching the point at which oil production will begin a long-term
decline. This condition, known as Peak Oil, is a dangerous tipping
point. Beyond it, we will face unprecedented energy crises, economic
shocks and social disruptions -- unless we can find a new energy regime to
But oil will not be easy to replace. This
fossilized energy from the Sun is a convenient and unique high-energy
resource. It has helped generate amazing revolutions in industry and agriculture,
and it has supported an increase in human numbers just since the year 1930 from
two billion to more than SEVEN billion today. It may well prove
impossible to sustain our human population once fossil fuels are effectively
gone later this century. The implications of this fact are likely to be
One thing is certain: it is foolhardy not to
be taking advantage of the last half of the world’s oil reserves to help
develop and implement a transition to cleaner and safer renewable energy
alternatives. E. F. Schumacher observed in his seminal book Small Is Beautiful in 1973 that we
should treat fossil fuels as capital resources, not as income, so that we would
logically conserve them. He recommended
that some of the money obtained by exploiting these irreplaceable assets be put
“into a special fund to be devoted exclusively to the evolution of production
methods and patterns of living which do not depend on fossil fuels …”.
Some of the smartest guys in the room have
ironically joined a conspiracy of fools in opposing such insights. These folks are representing narrowly focused
interests, not the greater good. Some of
the profits made from using up the remaining reserves of oil should be invested
in far-sighted energy initiatives that will help break our dangerous addiction.
The nearly 320 million people in the U.S. represent
less than 5% of the total world population, and we have less than 5% of the
world’s oil reserves, and yet we burn about 25% of the total amount of oil used
worldwide each year. WE AMERICANS ARE THE ONES who should seize the
initiative and make smarter changes in our national policies and consumer
habits. The percent of oil we imported
more than doubled between 1980 and 2010.
Fracking in the U.S. has reversed this trend temporarily, but we should
not become complacent. Let’s not make
the mistake of thinking we’ve solved the problems posed by our dangerous
addiction to oil through the unfolding fracking frenzy!
As we move past Peak Oil, and as the cost
of fossil fuels eventually begins a shocking increase as demand goes up and
supplies are depleted, this will force a far-reaching restructuring in
agricultural practices, transportation, efficiency a