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               Comprehensive Global Perspective: An Illuminating Worldview

                                  Book Seven of the Earth Manifesto


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)


This Earth Manifesto manuscript contains understandings that have been evolving for many years.

    Feedback is currently welcomed and encouraged at:    savetruffulatrees@hotmail.com

*  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. Twain      

                          ISBN:  978-1-300-85023-6

         Comprehensive Global 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 #2)

    Understandings of a Big Picture Nature (Chapters #3-36)

    Primary Principles and the ‘Bet Situation’ (Chapters #37-38)

    Insight, Ideas, Opinions and the Search for Wisdom in America (Chapters #39-43)

    Economics, Capitalism and Politics (Chapters #44-66)

    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 (Chapters #95-114).

    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:

“In 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 day.”

And to 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.”

Detailed 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.

                    Table of Contents                                           

   1.   A Declaration of Interdependence

  2.   The Astonishing Parable of Nauru

  3.   The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment

  4.   Overarching Theme

  5.   Profound Perspective  

  6.   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 Principle

 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 Shortcomings

          20.   Historical Developments

 21.   Better Plans for Global Security

 22.   The Gaia Understanding

 23.   Carrying Capacity and Far-Sighted Ecological Perspective

 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 Democracy

 50.   Waste Not, Want Not!

 51.   Clarifying Rational Ends

 52.   So Many Choices, and So Hard to Make the Right Ones!

 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 Revolutionary Change!

 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

100.   Personal Universal Point of View

101.   The Evolution of Life

102.   Ecological Revolution

103.   Only Reason Can Save Us

104.   The Importance of a Positive Attitude

105.   Women of the World, Unite!

106.   A Call for the Education and Empowerment of Women

107.   Proactive Initiatives for Women

108.   Preventative Medicine

109.   Sex is Natural

110.    Perspective on Abortion

111.    Absurdities of Inflexible Religious Dogma

112.   The Need for a New Feminism

113.   More Noble Motivations

114.   Striving Not to Be Nobody

115.   Insights on Religion and Culture

116.   The Dangers of Fundamentalism

117.   The Importance of the Separation of Church and State

118.   Spiritual Understandings

119.   Religion and Drugs

120.   We Need a New Religion!

121.   Literate Ideas


Chapter #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 context.” 

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 conservatives.

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

    is 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. 

“It 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 priorities. 

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 option.” 

 “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 shrink,

      We don’t need another theory of evolution.

        What we need is a better practice of evolution.”

                                                                             --- 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!

Thanks 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 there. 

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.

Nauru’s history 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 irony, indeed! 

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. 

   “A healthy and wholesome cheerfulness is not necessarily impossible to any occupation.”                                                      

                                                                                                                                      --- Mark Twain

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 more clearly!

Auspicious Live 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 planet. 

    “Rebel against something, because everything ain’t right!”

                                                                       --- A message seen on o green T-shirt at a Blues concert

Chapter #3 – The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.

    Humans’ 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 madness.”

               --- 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.” 

According 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, perhaps?)

About 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.

The 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 ecosystems. 

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.

Widespread 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.  more stories like this

With 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!

More 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 disruption. 

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 greener solutions..

  Patience, n.  A minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue.

                                                                                          --- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

Chapter #4 – Overarching Themes.

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!

Unfortunately, the 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 occupation forces.

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.

The 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.

Mark 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 dishonorable war.”

                                                                                             --- 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 Perspective.

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 rainfall.  

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.

The 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. 

A 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 resources.  It 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 future.

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.

The 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!

“It 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.

  “Let us 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.”                                        

                                                                                                                   --- Jacques-Yves Cousteau

In 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 leadership. 

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.

Know 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!”

Bertrand 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 Earth.

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 responsibly.

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!

Wars, 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” therapies. 

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 coup. 

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 Dangerous Opportunity.

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 them!

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, at www.rmi.org.

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?”

British 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 self-expression. 

It 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.

Universal voices 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 interdependent!

Chapter #10 – The Embrace of New Ideas.

The American poet Walt Whitman once wrote these evocative words:

    “Sail forth --- Steer for the deep water only,

 Reckless O 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 Victor Hugo. 

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 popular enlightenment!

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 regard, our 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 are unsustainable;

(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.)

Our industrial 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!

We 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 Sustainability Revolution.

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 our societies. 

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 international economy. 

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 wrote: 

“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!

A 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

Consolation for the Heart

   And 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 respect?!

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.

Unfortunately, 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 judicial systems.

Chapter #12 – Redefining Progress.

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 Intelligence.

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 RedefiningProgress.org.

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!

Imagine 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 undesirable things?

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 Redesign.

When 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? 

 “We cannot live for ourselves alone.  Our lives are connected by a thousand individual threads,

   and along these sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as results.”   

                                                                                                                             --- Herman Melville

Chapter #14 – The Importance of the Precautionary Principle.

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 degradation.”

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 consequences!

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, to boot.

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 distorted. 

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.

Morality 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 today.

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.

Consider again 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 various “enemies”.

Deep 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 activities. 

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 it.

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. 

In Matthew 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 8:36

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

     as ethical creatures.”                  

                                    --- The Ascent of Man, J. Bronowski

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) peaceful coexistence.

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 habitable planet. 

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.   

(2)  The 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. 

(3)  The 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 Perspective.

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.

Each 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 and survival. 

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 not. 

Orthodox 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."

It 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. 

Fresh 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.”

Government 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. 

“In 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

Instead 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 survive. 

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:

1.   Resources have been excessively exploited and squandered and depleted;

2.   Political corruption, bureaucracy and mismanagement have become widespread;

3.   An 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, and wars;

5.   The military, because of a dangerous arrogance of power, becomes bloated, overextended and involved in costly and debilitating foreign wars;

6.   The public is divided by inegalitarian domestic policies and becomes effectively disempowered and disenfranchised, so the populace becomes increasingly cynical and apathetic;  and,

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." 

Some 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 years.

America’s 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. 

It 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 and humanity.

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.

D’oh!  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 world. 

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 shock therapy’. 

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 developed nations.

Economic 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 rich. 

One 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.

While 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.

Another friend 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 merit.

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 Developments.

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. 

Our human 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.

The 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 institutions. 

Chapter #21 – Better Plans for Global Security.

The 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 coexistence.

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 of wisdom.” 

                                                           --- 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 action. 

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 commendable perspective!

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.

A valuable shift in perspective can be gained by understanding the modern holistic concept of Gaia. 

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 vitality. 

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 precipitation.

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 the air. 

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 them!

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 dangerous entities.

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 nature.

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 their world. 

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 prerogatives. 

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 rights. 

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 Greece.  Zeus! 

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.

Myths 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!”

Since 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.

It 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. 

Ayla, 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.

All 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 current course. 

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 time!” 

An Ode to Gaia

Crystal clear water splashes down a verdant canyon

 Laughing a 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.

 High up above, on mountain ridges and peaks,

  Awe-inspiring vistas can be seen that give a person a feeling of salubrious sanity,

   Connected, integral, visionary, and susceptible to revelation and epiphany

    Yet miniscule and ephemeral in the face of infinity and eternity.

Drifting along on a stream,

 Narrows and rapids, waterfalls;

  Meandering pools in the meadows,

   Eddies around every bend.

 The water has its own influences,

   Its own involvements.

    To it, all events contain

     Equal amounts of pleasure,

      And of sorrow.

 The water runs swiftly

   In this stage of its existence,

    Runs with random energy,

     Active and infinitely changing.

 And occasionally the water flows into lakes

  Splashing against the beautiful shore

   Or lays deep in calm repose,

    Quite 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 possible.

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 depletion;  and,

(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?

Human 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 of life."

                                                                                                                                     --- John Muir

 “Humanity is exalted not because we are so far above all living creatures, but because knowing

    them well elevates the very concept of life.”

                                                                          --- Edward O. Wilson

Chapter #24 – Rueful Reflections.

In 1910, President Theodore Roosevelt declared:

   “The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over

        to the 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.

A ‘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 understandings.

         “It is wiser to find out than to suppose.”

                                                                   --- Mark Twain

Chapter #25 – In Defense of Reason.

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 wrong-headed. 

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 dissent. 

Thomas Jefferson, 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. 

Thomas Jefferson 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 indifferent.”

                                                                                    --- 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 direction.”

                                                                       --- 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.

Author Edward 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 community. 

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 everyone. 

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 Change.

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 catastrophes.

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 the 1960s.

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 action."

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 relevant today!

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 security.

In 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!)

Also 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 costs. 

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 fast-tracked.

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 laws. 

Meanwhile, the ‘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.  Family 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 desertification.

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 far-reaching.

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 Earth;

  Mountains and valleys and meadows and streams existing in dynamic grace

   And our home planet provides us with nourishment and spiritual sustenance,

    Earning appreciative blessings -- but not the adequate respect -- of the human race.

 The most profound understanding of ecology is that everything is interconnected

  So every attempt to comprehend our healthy relationship to our sustaining environment

   Naturally 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 undertakings. 

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, and pollution. 

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 Wilderness Society

Chapter #30 – Reflections on Feminine Perspective.

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.

Any manifesto 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. 

Powerful forces 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 sensible policies. 

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!)

I paraphrase Walt Whitman, from his poem So Long:

        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 Insights.

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 decision-making.

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 minds.

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 Enlightenment Era:

   ‘Sapere 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 greater good.

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 race;  and,

(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 together!

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 Lennon.

John Lennon 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

             They’re gonna crucify me.

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 conclusion.”                                                     

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 conservatives.

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 situation.

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 numbers. 

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 the Pacific. 

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 act.”

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 biodiversity."

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. 

Comprehensive 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. 

Likewise, when 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 foreign policies.  

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.

Think 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.

The 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. 

A 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.”

Conservatives 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. 

It 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 status quo.  

Preventative health care is not only auspicious in individual people’s lives, but the best investment for minimizing healthcare costs, in total.

It 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. 

What 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.

Michael 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 causes?

A 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 narrow-minded.

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 healthcare adversities.

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 biases”.

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 reasoned analyses.

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 sensibility.

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 Peace!

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. 

The 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 worse. 

Readers might 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 change.

Chapter #36 – A Cautionary Tale.   

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 activities.    

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. 

We 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 Representation!  

Living 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 tale concludes:

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 day
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.
It's not."

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 work,
    Their duties as citizens so casually did shirk.

    They 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 corporate needs.

    (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 dissent,
    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 and feast,
    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.

    One 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 Principles.

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 outcomes. 

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 environment.

(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 generations.

(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 Situation.   

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 forests.

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 emissions.

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 excesses. 

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 social justice. 

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 progressive principles.

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 riches. 

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!

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 fortuitous. 

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 tactics. 

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 well-being. 

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, or Ignominy?  

The 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 1980s

Candidates 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 center. 

That’s 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” agenda.

Presidential 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!”

The 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.

The 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. 

“The 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. 

I 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.

Our 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 Barack Obama.

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.

The 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.

Years 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 occupation.

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. 

John Ashcroft’s 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:

Friends, readers, countrymen, lend me your ears. 

I come to bury Empire, not to praise it.

The evil that men do lives after them; 

The good is oft interred with their bones. 

We citizens are being crudely and shrewdly manipulated,

In deference to plutocratic rule by the few and the wealthy.

And true democratic and republican principles are being abandoned,

Giving the fortunate few more power and coin.

O woeful day!  O traitors, villains!

This is the most unkindest cut of all.

Ambition and tyranny allied together is a grievous fault,

And ingratitude and treasonous acts afflict us all.

O judgment!  Thou art fled to brutish beasts,

And men have lost their heart and reason. 

What private griefs they have, alas, I know not,

That have made them do this:  they are wise and honorable,

And will, no doubt, with reasons answer you.

I have neither wit, nor words, nor worth,

To stir men’s blood:  I only speak right on;

And if I were disposed to stir your hearts and minds to mutiny and rage

Should I do wrong to these presumed honorable men?

Mischief, thou art afoot;  take thou what course thou wilt!

Chapter #41 – Ideas and Beliefs.

  Realism is a doctrine asserting that the external world really exists

  Independent of perception, and that it exists substantially as we perceive

   Yet life 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

  So free, 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.

J. 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.

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!

Skepticism 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 clearer understandings.

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 them."   (Ha!)

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 inviolate.”                                                                 

                                                                                            --- Francis Bacon, Novum Organum, 1620

I love Mark Twain’s similar sagacious sentiments that he expressed in his famous Corn-pone Opinions:

“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. 

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

“We 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.”    

                  --- Mark Twain's Autobiography

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?  Spiritual enlightenment?   

There 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.

Parody 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.

Albert 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 responsibility. 

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. 

Evangelical 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. 

Martin 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. 

Another 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. 

Or 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 one.”

                                                                          --- 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.

“A banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining, but wants it back the

   minute it begins to rain.”

                                        --- Mark Twain

More 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 and Democracy.

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 onto society.

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 harm. 

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. 

There are 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 patterns worldwide. 

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 narrowly-focused priorities.

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 society. 

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 uneven.

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 low-diversity monocultures. 

Giant factory 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 create. 

Another important 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 countries.

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 others. 

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 wars. 

Trends toward 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 regulations. 

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 Political Philosophy.

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 communities.

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 international marketplaces.

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 priorities. 

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 needed.

     Obstacles are daunting, with powerful forces arrayed against intelligent reform

      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 vogue

     Yet the need for more far-sighted vision grows greater and greater, day by day

      And 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 self-government.”

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 representing. 

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, Want 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 Rational Ends.

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 reflective Ode:

  Let us clarify the rational ends that humanity should be pursuing

   And the ethical and moral principles that should govern our choices

    Let us strive to make our societies sustainable, and better places for us all

     Recognizing what is truly important, and boldly lending these priorities our voices.

  Please join me in this exploration of provocative thoughts and Big Picture ideas

   And grapple with me in seeking truth and larger perspective in all our concerns.

    Let us understand our societies, our motivations, and our responsibilities in a broad context

     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 warfare. 

“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:

      “Nothing 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.” 

Wow!  Our 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 …

The 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 fortuitous fate.

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;  and,

(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 homelessness. 

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 national security.

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. 

A 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 idea!

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 Revolution!

Chapter #54 – The Failings of Congress.

      “We have the best government that money can buy.

                                                                          --- 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 livable pay!

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 good. 

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 witticism:

"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:

“Life 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 Dream.

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

  Though, admittedly, optimism is presumptuous in our current challenging day

   And the 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 Reality.

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 changes. 

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 Strategies.

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-Better-Than-Your-God!“  Or, “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 unwarranted privileges.. 

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 Sirens.

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 Dictionary.)

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 lands.” 

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 generations. 

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.

Unfortunately, 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.”

In 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.

In 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 class.

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 imagination.

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 greed.  

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. 

The 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.

Billionaire 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. 

"Dynastic 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 plutocracy."  "Tax-law 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.”

In 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.

What 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 born? 

Make 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 must come!

Consider the implications of this observation from Mark Twain: 

 “If you beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a

     neighbor at the same time.” 

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 future. 

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 continuously.

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 laws.

Mark 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 Soliloquy:

“To be, or not to be:  that is the question:
  Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer

   The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune

    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

     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 Economics.

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 taxpayers.

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?  Scurrilous!

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 unwise development. 

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 defeat."

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 ASAP.

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 cases.

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 emissions.

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 energy strategies.

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 fossil fuels.

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 replace petroleum. 

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 unimaginably severe.

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 and conservation.  Our economies will shift toward SMART and sustainable activities, and away from shortsighted and unsustainable ones.  The “endgame” of cheap oil will be expensive oil, and possibly a return to more local an