Views on High from an Angular Unconformist
An Earth Manifesto publication by Dr. Tiffany
Pope Francis articulated some timely, farsighted and eminently
responsible perspectives during his visit to Cuba and the United States in late
September 2015. In many of the great issues
of our time, Pope Francis has become a powerful voice for moral right
action and sanity in human affairs.
In Cuba, where the pontiff has been instrumental in facilitating a
reconciliation between Cuba and its neighbor to the north, Pope Francis
encouraged the Cuban people to try to overcome ideological preconceptions and be open to
change. We the People of the U.S. should also take this advice to heart!
After all, our government imposed harsh economic sanctions against Cuba
in 1960 and has kept them in force without relenting ever since then, and 10
U.S. Presidents have wanted to overthrow the Castro regime. Diehard
conservatives and executives in corporate America are apparently still mad
about the assets that Fidel Castro nationalized during his revolution in Cuba,
and they want to get even. Doggone it,
if it doesn’t seem like we still have the Cold War attitude that we need to
prove that communist economic systems and societies are evil, and to do so by
going to extreme measures to undermine them, no matter how harmful to the
An incalculable amount of hardships have been caused in the lives of
hundreds of millions of people around the world in connection with our foreign
policies, trade embargoes, exported economic crises, political intrigues, wars,
military occupations, aerial bombings and growing opposition to immigrants and
Muslims and refugees. Politics has
become intensely partisan and excessively rancorous in the United States, and
it seems to be more about ego and ambition and power and uncompromising stances
than the common good. Our politics has
become truly perverse in pandering to wealthy people with the help of the
Supreme Court’s Citizens United and McCutcheon rulings. These decisions are
corrupting our national decision-making, and proving the wrongheadedness of the
conservative Justices on the Supreme Court in their narrowly ideological and critically
unethical positions on important issues like money in politics and voting
rights and environmental protections.
These stances contrast dramatically with those of Pope Francis and his
much more honorable and wise counsel.
During the Pope’s historic address to Congress, he primarily talked
about social justice, economic inequality, peaceful coexistence, environmental
protections, and criticisms of the weapons industry and the death penalty. The Church’s intransigence on issues of
contraception, abortion and homosexuality were the only false notes in his
speeches in the United States. Even
here, Pope Francis once said “Who am I to judge?” when asked about
homosexuality, and he indicated early in his tenure that the Church should
shift its emphasis from hot button social issues like contraception, abortion
and gay marriage to more important global issues concerning climate change and
The excessive demands, in aggregate, of more than 7 billion needy and
greedy human beings is having transformationally damaging impacts on the global
environmental commons, and they are a principal contributing cause to the
emissions of greenhouse gases, so religious opposition to contraceptives and
fair-minded family planning policies is destined to eventually change, and the
sooner the better. It may be in the
selfish interest of established religions to want to spawn a maximum number of
new believers, but at some point the common good dictates that overly pro-natal
and anti-choice policies must change. Population growth, after all, is the driving force behind nearly
every other challenge on Earth.
It is a supreme injustice to legislate blanket prohibitions of
abortions even in cases of pregnancies that will kill the mother, or that have
been a result of rape or incest. As to
human rights for gay people, codified condemnations and discrimination are not
lovely aspects of any religion, and religious opposition to basic human rights
for gay people must give way to more accepting attitudes and laws.
claim they support and defend liberty and freedom from government interference
in people’s lives, and yet they obsess over private morality and generally
oppose the freedom for a woman to control her own destiny by choosing to use
contraceptives, or to terminate an unwanted pregnancy when circumstances make
that choice the best one. Conservatives
claim they do not want women to get abortions, and yet they oppose providing
contraception services to women that could prevent millions of unwanted pregnancies
and abortions every year around the world.
confirmation of this fact was found in a recent program in Colorado where health officials offered free long-acting
intra-uterine birth control services and hormonal implants to teenage females. The result was that the number of
pregnancies among teenage women plunged 40%, and teen abortions went down by
35%. Colorado Republican state
representative Don Coram observed: “If
you’re anti-abortion and also a fiscal conservative, I think this is a win-win
situation for you.” And it is a big win
for teenage females who can control their lives better and avoid dealing with
the tragic outcomes for them and their potential offspring that are often
associated with children being unwanted. And since governments have been
slashing spending that would otherwise give poor women and their children
healthier and more secure lives, it is a good time to give women more control
over their destinies and allow them to not have a child they cannot afford.
This is a
win/win/win solution, and it should prosper on its own merits and stand out
from opposing viewpoints that claim abortion is absolutely wrong due to zealous
and rigid beliefs that it is the unerring will of God for people to “be
fruitful and multiply”, no matter how negative the consequences.
family planning programs worldwide to give easier access to contraceptives,
surprisingly positive benefits would materialize. "Some 225 million women want to avoid pregnancy but don't
use reliable contraception", according to the Guttmacher Institute. Providing these women with effective
contraception would prevent an estimated 50 million unintended pregnancies each
year, and 14 million unsafe abortions and 70,000 maternal deaths. What a great idea in these modern times, and
even better when the far-reaching threats and risks posed by population
overshoot are taken into account.
A close examination of the strong
opposition by conservatives to Planned Parenthood reveals that it is not really
just about abortion, but instead it is a puritanical crusade against women's
sexual choices and behaviors and mores and social standing. The bottom line is that it is wrong for conservatives to so adamantly
undermine Planned Parenthood and health services for poor women and
contraceptive services for females around the world who do not want to get
looked decisive and combative in the second Republican primary debate in
September 2015. She gained significant
traction in the competition for support of the conservative Republican base
after the debate, but part of the approval she received was gained by lying to
the audience about Planned Parenthood.
She also basically denies the extensive good done through research with
fetal stem cells. Millions
of lives have been saved or dramatically improved through fetal tissue
research that has been made possible by work done at Planned Parenthood and
other organizations. “Fetal cells were used to develop the original polio
vaccine and are still used to make vaccines for rubella, shingles, chickenpox
and an experimental Ebola vaccine. The tissue is critical for studying
conditions that affect the health of fetuses and newborn infants, brain
injuries in the womb that lead to cerebral palsy, and eye conditions that lead
to macular degeneration. Researchers
also use it to develop treatments for H.I.V. and breast cancer, diabetes and
Parkinson’s, among other conditions. Last year the National Institutes of
Health, a federal agency that spends money only on the research that experts
consider most promising, awarded $76 million in grants for fetal tissue
The late Yogi
Berra famously declared, “You can observe a lot by watching", and if you
watch the rude grandstanding activities by extreme conservatives in connection
with a bizarre Planned Parenthood brouhaha in September 2015, a lot can be
learned. A sign carried by an
anti-choice protestor advises, "Pray to End Abortion", though the
odds are that if simple steps were taken to reduce the number of abortions
worldwide by 10 million each year by sponsoring free contraception for women
who want it, these hypocritical protestors would howl with puritanical
objections. Even Ronald Reagan did not
malign the motives of people who help women in Planned Parenthood clinics, and
he did not grossly distort the basic facts of the many ways that the
organization improves the lives of millions of women.
concocted a strange story that women are being given an incentive to have an
abortion “so that those fetal tissues can be harvested and sold for a
profit.” This is an outright lie, for
Planned Parenthood does not try to make profits on the sale of stem cell
tissues, and it is also an outrageous mischaracterization of the motives for
any woman to make the emotionally difficult decision to terminate a
pregnancy. If males were the ones to
get pregnant, choosing to make a challenging decision to end a pregnancy would
no doubt be regarded with much greater respect, acceptance and even
congratulations, and religious authorities would probably even make it a
Pope Francis has
laudably been stressing Church doctrines focused on serving the poor while
de-emphasizing those opposed to open-mindedness on hot button social
issues. This attitude reflects his
insistence on the primacy of being compassionate rather than being judgmental. He has
commendably called for a Jubilee of Mercy to forgive sinners. In a letter published September 1, 2015, Pope Francis stated, in
part, "I have decided ... to concede to all priests for the Jubilee Year
the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and
who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it."
the Pope acknowledges the aspect of mercy that goes beyond the confines of the
Church and relates Christianity to Judaism and Islam, “both of which consider
mercy to be one of God’s most important attributes.” With regard to mercy as a theme that is also shared by Jews and
Muslims, Pope Francis said: “I trust
that this Jubilee year celebrating the mercy of God will foster an encounter
with these religions and with other noble religious traditions; may it open us to even more fervent dialogue
so that we might know and understand one another better; may it eliminate every form of closed-mindedness
and disrespect, and drive out every form of violence and discrimination”. Good call, Pope Francis!
Jubilee of forgiveness and reconciliation took place more than 700 years ago in
the year 1300, and it was not only a compassionate allowance but also a very
profitable enterprise in Rome, so many Jubilees have taken place since
then. The last Jubilee was the “Great
Jubilee of 2000”, but it was really not all that great. At least, not nearly as great as it should
have been because there was much talk of mercy and reconciliation but very
little action regarding the original Old Testament purpose of holding jubilee
years -- to forgive debts, free slaves and rest the land.
In one of his
homilies, Pope Francis said "many question in their hearts: why a Jubilee of Mercy today? Simply
because the Church, in this time of great historical change, is called to offer
more evident signs of God’s presence and closeness. This is not the time to
be distracted; on the contrary, we need to be vigilant and to reawaken in
ourselves the capacity to see what is essential.”
“In this Holy
Year, we look forward to the experience of opening our hearts to those living
on the outermost fringes of society:
fringes modern society itself creates.
How many uncertain and painful situations there are in the world
today! How many are the wounds borne by
the flesh of those who have no voice because their cry is muffled and drowned
out by the indifference of the rich!
During this Jubilee, the Church will be called even more to heal these
wounds, to assuage them with the oil of consolation, to bind them with mercy
and cure them with solidarity and vigilant care.”
Insights Sparked by an Angular Unconformity
An enlightening and revealing diatribe began materializing in my mind
in the presence of the billion-year-old black slate rock that forms the
vertically uplifted sedimentary rock base of an impressive “angular
unconformity“ formation of perpendicular rock layers in Box Canyon (Ouray,
Colorado, “the Switzerland of America”).
Since keeping people relatively safe is surely one of the most important
responsibilities of any government, national safety should be for the maximum
number of people over the longest duration of time, and not merely a false
safety of the wealthiest and most influential few at the expense of everyone
measures of social justice and less extreme disparities of wealth and privilege
are definitely much more desirable for society as a whole than excessively
inegalitarian extremes like those that characterize affairs in countries around
the world today. It is simply too
costly to let rich people rig the system to gain an ever-bigger monopoly on a
nation’s wealth, mainly because they hoard wealth rather than investing it in
the greater social good, and they are eager to incarcerate those who object or
violate rigged laws and institutions.
As the 21st
century unfolds, crucial issues confront Americans-- and people
everywhere. It is becoming increasingly
important for us to cope effectively with these challenges, and to give a top
priority to these public morality issues, and to not ignore them or deny their
existence or expend huge amounts of effort to distract attention and public
funding from the problems.
wrote an incisive article in September 2015 about how an economy depends
fundamentally on public morality -- “shared standards about what sorts of
activities are impermissible because they so fundamentally violate trust that
they threaten to undermine the social fabric.”
Curiously, many Republican presidential candidates and state legislators
are furiously focusing on private morality -- contraception, abortion, same-sex
marriage, what people do in the privacy of their bedrooms, and legislation concerning voting rights and basic
rights for women and gay people and minorities -- while our country is experiencing a far more significant crisis in
CEOs of large corporations now earn more than 300 times the average wages of
all workers, and insider trading is endemic on Wall Street, where hedge-fund
and private-equity moguls are taking home hundreds of millions. A few extraordinarily wealthy people are
investing huge and unprecedented sums in the upcoming elections, seeking to rig
the economy for their own selfish benefit even more than it’s already
rigged. Meanwhile, the average wages of working people continue to languish as
jobs are off-shored or off-loaded onto “independent contractors.”
One of Robert
Reich’s main issues of interest is the sadly exaggerated level of inequality in
the world today. One wonders whether it
is possible in the current corrupted American political system for democracy to
tame plutocracy. As the great attorney and Supreme Court Justice Louis
Brandeis sensationally warned, “We can
have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the
hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”
Let’s all be stronger supporters of democracy and greater equality!
The most important thing
we could do to improve the prospects of democracy in the world “is to fix our
democracy at home,” says Professor Larry Diamond, a democracy specialist who
was once named “Teacher of the Year” for his teaching by the Associated
Students of Stanford University. Larry
Diamond’s perspectives were judged to admirably transcend political and
ideological barriers, and he has been honored for his “passion for
democratization, peaceful transitions, and the idea that each of us can
contribute to making the world a better place.” Hallelujah for that passion!
Hear these observations from Robert Reich:
“All this is
in sharp contrast to the first three decades after World War II. Then, the
typical CEO earned no more than 40 times what the typical worker earned, and
Wall Street was boring. Then, the
wealthy didn’t try to control elections.
And in that era, the wages of most Americans rose. Profitable firms didn’t lay off their
workers. They didn’t replace full-time
employees with independent contractors, or bust unions. They gave their workers a significant share
of the gains. Consumers, workers, and
the community were considered stakeholders of almost equal entitlement.
We invested in
education and highways and social services.
We financed all of this with our taxes.
income tax on the highest income earners never fell below 70 percent. Even the effective rate, after all
deductions and tax credits, was still well above 50%.
We had a
shared sense of public morality because we knew we were all in it
together. We had been through a Great
Depression and a terrible war, and we understood our interdependence.
But over time,
began when Wall Street convinced the Reagan administration and subsequent
administrations to repeal regulations put in place after the crash of 1929 to
prevent a repeat of the excesses that had led to the Great Depression.
This, in turn,
moved the American economy from stakeholder capitalism to shareholder
capitalism, whose sole objective is to maximize shareholder returns.
capitalism ushered in an era of excess.
In the 1980s it brought junk bond scandals and insider trading. In the 1990s it brought a speculative binge
culminating in the bursting of the dotcom bubble. At the urging of Wall Street, Bill Clinton repealed the Glass-Steagall
Act, which had separated investment from commercial banking.
In 2001 and
2002 it produced Enron and the corporate looting scandals, revealing not only
the dark side of some of the most admired companies in America but also the
complicity of Wall Street, many of whose traders were actively involved.
subsequent gambling in derivatives and risky mortgages resulted in the crash of
2008, and a massive taxpayer-financed bailout.
Act attempted to rein in the Street but Wall Street lobbyists have done
everything possible to eviscerate it.
Republicans haven’t even appropriated sufficient money to enforce it.
The final blow
to public morality came when a majority of the Supreme Court decided
corporations and wealthy individuals have a right under the First Amendment to
spend whatever they wish on elections.
morality can’t be legislated but it can be encouraged.
must be resurrected. Big banks have to
be broken up.
CEO pay must
be bridled. Pay in excess of $1 million
shouldn’t be deductible from corporate income taxes. Corporations with high ratios of executive pay to typical workers
should face higher tax rates than those with lower ratios.
tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars a year should pay the same 70
percent tax rate top earners paid before 1981.
And we must
get big money out of politics -- reversing those Supreme Court rulings,
providing public financing of elections, and getting full disclosure of the
sources of all campaign contributions.
None of this
is possible without a broadly based citizen movement to rescue our democracy,
take back our economy, and restore a minimal standard of public morality.
problems have nothing to do with what happens bedrooms, or whether women are
allowed to end their pregnancies. Our
problems have everything to do with what occurs in boardrooms, and whether
corporations and wealthy individuals are allowed to undermine our democracy.”
Reich's new book, Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few, the
insightful professor indicates that
he wants this new book "to serve as a blueprint for how we as progressives
can expose the false ‘truths’ about the economy being peddled to the public by
Wall Street and corrupt politicians who are invested in the status quo." The fact is that the wealthiest Americans have
created a culture in which the "free market" -- an economy that
primarily benefits the highly privileged at everyone else's expense -- cannot
“Few things are harder
to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.”
--- Mark Twain
The United States today is reaching new levels of extreme inequality. We know
that ever since the times of our Founders, the wisest leaders cautioned that
extreme and entrenched economic inequality would lead to political inequality,
as the wealthy use their resources and influence to defend and expand their
According to Carl Sagan in The
Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, “Thomas Jefferson
believed that the habit of skepticism is an essential prerequisite for
responsible citizenship. He argued that
the cost of education is trivial compared to the cost of ignorance, of leaving
government to the wolves. He taught
that the country is safe only when the people rule.”
We know that really rich people and big corporations dominate the
political process to an extreme degree, making our system a plutocracy and an
oligarchy -- rule by the wealthy few. A
recent exhaustive study by Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page found that
elites got their way not just often, but virtually all the time. “When a majority of citizens disagrees with
economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo
bias built into the US political system, even when fairly large majorities of
Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.”
As Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has stated, the American
people understand that the rules are rigged, and the game is fixed to favor the
few. A strong progressive populist
movement is needed to clean out Washington and make the government an
instrument of the common good, rather than a tool of narrowly focused
corporations and private interest groups.
And legislation must be enacted to curtail the unlimited amounts of
money being spent by rich people to influence elections and policy making, and
to defend free speech for individual Americans against the mercilessly loud
bullhorn being wielded by moneyed interests.
“A blight has fallen upon us. And the monarchy of the rich and the powerful are the author of
it. I had not expected the monarchy to
come so soon, but it is here, and it is sitting on the throne.”
--- Mark Twain
Most Americans wants us to break out of the political morass in which
our nation currently finds itself and to redress extreme levels of inequality
and revitalize democratic institutions.
hold on our politics has reached perverse levels today, even with an arguably
growing center-left majority in the country.
Inequality has reached record heights, but Republicans in Congress
reject even “low-hanging fruit” like the repeal of the obscene “carried
interest” tax provision that lets hedge fund billionaires pay low taxes on
their huge earnings, or enacting sensible limitations on offshore tax havens
for global corporations. Bipartisan
efforts to finance the rebuilding of our increasingly decrepit and dangerous
infrastructure are being torpedoed, even when supported by the Chamber of
Commerce and big unions like the AFL-CIO.
Twenty-five states scorn the federal government’s offer to pay for
expanding Medicaid for low-wage workers, even though the cost to the states
would be very low. Conservative
ideology, it seems, trumps fair-mindedness in states run by Republican
“Go to Heaven for the climate,
Hell for the company>
--- Mark Twain
Big banks were
bailed out during the economic chaos of late 2008, and they emerged bigger and
more concentrated than ever. The bank
lobby has been striving tirelessly to impede and weaken reforms that were
designed to prevent the next economic crisis.
Fossil fuel interests continue to obstruct the ability of the U.S. to
take the lead in the global green industrial revolution that will inevitably
sweep the world. And even a modest
increase in the minimum wage can’t be passed in the House of Representatives.
The battle of ideas is intensifying, and the new progressive populism
needs to be nurtured, developed and spread.
Hopefully, we won’t need to experience another calamity or extreme
rightward lurch to rouse Americans to take their democracy back. One knowledgeable pundit argues: “Democracy is never given. It must be taken.” Or, as Franklin D. Roosevelt put it, “Democracy is not a static
thing. It is an everlasting
march.” This echoes Thomas
Jefferson: “It is time for the country
to become fairly radical for a generation.”
As April 2016 approaches its end, the presumptive nominees for president
appear to be Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
Bernie Sanders represented more radical ideas, and his candidacy
beneficially pushed Hillary toward fairer national plans, particularly on key
issues of income inequality, campaign finance reform and international trade
policy. Sanders gained great traction
among young voters, and this fact has long-term positive implications for
impetus toward the greater good, even though he did not get enough traction to
win the Democratic nomination. In
contrast, Donald Trump has succeeded by appealing to a similar disaffection
with the status quo, but his rude brand of politics is dangerously
unpredictable, and is thus not in my opinion likely to represent the
providential change that is needed.
The Canard of “Class Warfare”
Karl Marx was a German philosopher, economist, sociologist and political
revolutionary (1818 – 1883). He argued
in Capital (Das
Kapital), a famous tome on economics, that people are
alienated from vital aspects of their human nature as a consequence of living
in a society stratified into social classes and directed by capitalist goals of
extracting value from the efforts of working people. Marx theorized that escape from this alienation requires
revolutionary change. Marx's theories
should be understood in the context of the hardships suffered by 19th century
workers in England, France and Germany.
The Industrial Revolution has created a seemingly permanent underclass
of workers, many of whom lived in dire poverty under terrible working
conditions during the times Karl Marx lived, and they had little political
representation. Capital was
based on thirty years of studying capitalism and social conditions in England,
which was the most advanced industrial society in Karl Marx's days. Based on these observations, Marx developed
a complex theory about the structure and function of capitalism.
One can just imagine being intimately familiar with the concepts in this
weighty tome by Karl Marx, and then picking up a handsome copy of the modern
bestselling economics blockbuster, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, by the French economist Thomas Piketty.
The new 21st century understandings are notably germane to the
increasingly inegalitarian nature of our modern economies and societies.
Thomas Piketty‘s new insights into the age-old struggle
between Capital and Labor make it clear that the return on Capital generally
exceeds the growth rate of economic activity, while labor wages do not, so
inequality will continue to become ever more exacerbated as time passes. A new social contract is needed to make our
economic system fairer, and to prevent it from becoming too dangerously
unfair. For indeed, the U.S. is, as Thomas Piketty describes it, “a land of extremely
brutal inequality, especially in relation to race, whose effects are still
preposterous to contend that wealth in present-day capitalist systems is based
mainly on merit. Piketty characterizes
this as “meritocratic extremism,” of which he says: “This kind of argument could well lay the groundwork for greater
and more violent inequality in the future.
The world to come may well combine the worst of two past worlds: both very large inequality of inherited
wealth and very high wage inequalities justified in terms of merit and
productivity (claims with very little factual basis …).”
Policymakers are wrong to conclude that extremely wealthy people are
“deserving”, particularly those who are wealthy because they have inherited
huge amounts of money.
Oxfam, an international
confederation of 17 organizations that is working in about 100 countries to
find solutions to the problems of poverty and injustice around the world, released a report in early 2014 that detailed the
shocking economic inequality in America and around the world. The most surprising statistic is that the
richest 85 people in the world own as much wealth as the poorest 50% of the
world’s population combined.
Eighty-five people together have more wealth that the poorest 3.6
billion people! OxFam concludes that
rigged rules mean that economic growth is increasing “winner-takes-all” for
rich elites all over the world.
concludes: “Meritocratic extremism can
thus lead to a race between super managers and rentiers, to the detriment of
those who are neither.” And “detriment”
is putting it mildly.
Piketty not only
analyzes the problems associated with global capitalism, he also prescribes
fair-minded solutions, “and he does so with a scrupulous aversion toward
ideological assumptions of any kind.”
The creative proposal for the inequality problem that I find most
convincing is his radical recommendation that nations of the world impose a
one-time “global wealth tax.” As
Piketty states, this proposed wealth tax should be imposed only on the very
wealthy, and it should be used to reduce the highly risky problem of huge
public debt worldwide. Jubilee! As an example, he writes that “a flat tax of
15 percent on private wealth would yield nearly a year’s worth of national
income and thus allow for immediate reimbursement of all outstanding public
states: “According to our estimates,
the optimal top tax rate in the developed countries is probably above 80
percent.” Currently, it is less than
40% in the U.S., and much lower on income earned from capital gains. And presidential candidates like Donald
Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich want to slash this top rate to much lower
As one might well imagine, the very well-compensated spin
doctors for wealthy people are practically apoplectic at Thomas Piketty’s provocative
blockbuster book because it provides a scholarly expose of the Achilles heel of
capitalist economic systems, which is a societally unacceptable degree of
extreme inequality that is coupled with an overarching propensity to discount
or ignore the vital realizations of deep ecology.
economist Dean Baker has written an important reaction to Piketty’s book
entitled “Economic Policy in a Post-Piketty
World.” Baker, no doubt skeptical of the possibility
of requiring rich people to ever pay any global wealth tax, describes a “full
bag of policy tools” that could be enacted today. These good ideas include a robust financial transactions tax, a
carbon tax, higher minimum wages, an end to government-sanctioned monopolies in
drug patents, and an end to monopoly rents in a variety of industries.
In its annual
Executive Paywatch report released in May 2015, the AFL-CIO said that the
already astronomical ratio between the pay of CEOs and their workers has been
climbing ever higher, jumping to 374-to-one in 2014, up from 331-to-one in
2013. Back in 1980, this ratio was
42-to-one, and in
1965 it was only 24 times the earnings of a typical worker. One wise pundit declares, “What we need as much as higher minimum
wages are lower maximum wages!” Ha!
An argument is
often heard from courtiers of the rich that inequality doesn’t matter. “Of course it matters. Inequality is
what has turned Washington D.C. into a protection racket for the one
percent. It buys all those goodies from government: Tax breaks.
Tax havens (which allow corporations and the rich to park their money in
no-tax zones). Loopholes. Favors
like carried interest. And so on.”
As Paul Krugman
wrote in an essay on Thomas Piketty’s Capital
in the Twenty-First Century, “We
now know both that the United States has a much more unequal distribution of
income than other advanced countries and that much of this difference in
outcomes can be attributed directly to government action.”
Extremely well-funded lobbyists have a laser-like focus on
achieving the narrow objectives of powerful special interest groups. Meanwhile, broader interests are poorly
organized and much less focused, so a tragedy
of the common good phenomenon results, and public policies are sadly skewed
against the greater good. Scandalous
strategies are utilized by giant corporations to juice up profits, avoid taxes,
and socialize losses. Banks, hedge
funds and the Wall Street financial sector indulge in one of the worst cost
externalizing schemes of all when they use speculative leverage, remarkable
opacity, confusing complexity, Big Money influence, and manipulation of
government and regulatory agencies to gain special advantages. In doing so, they create systemic risks and
heightened potentials for economic hard times, and eventually bailouts are
required and significant harm is caused to billions of people.
It would be eminently sensible to use public policy to align
private ambitions more closely with broad economic goals like financial
stability and greater fairness and expanded social mobility. In general, private ambitions create more
volatility in our economic system, and this generates big gains for vested
interest groups on the upside, and then costs are socialized when bailouts and
emergency measures are required to prevent severe economic downturns.
in other advanced countries aren’t just closing the income gap with Americans,
as an article Tuesday on The Upshot
reported. They are doing so while
working fewer hours. The French work, on average, 491 fewer hours per year than
in 1970. The Dutch work 425 fewer
hours, and Canadians 215. Americans, by
contrast, have reduced their yearly workload by only 112 hours over the last 40
years. Today, Americans work more than employees in most, if not all, rich
countries. The extra toil is buying
less and less.”
While still in
the presidential contest, Jeb Bush declared that Americans should work longer
hours to earn more money. He
egregiously ignored the fact that the average American worker already works
more hours per year than workers in almost every other country. He ignored the fact that a main reason more
Americans do not make more money is because all the benefits of productivity
gains made in the last 35 years have gone to the top 1% of Americans. He ignored the fact that wages have almost
stagnated for the majority of workers, and that only 11 percent of salaried
workers earn overtime pay today, compared to more than 65 percent of salaried
workers in 1975. The reason for this
change in overtime compensation is that the federal government has allowed the
overtime threshold to erode to less than the poverty line for a family
four. This change in those eligible to
earn overtime has come about mainly because of the abuse of power by
corporations and wealthy conservatives.
reminds me of the biblical story in Exodus, where the Pharaoh in Egypt some
3,500 years ago ordered slave drivers and overseers in charge of the people to
make workers work harder, charging:
“They are lazy; that is why they
are crying out … Make the work harder for the people so that they keep working
and pay no attention to lies.”
One of the great hallmarks of a democratic
capitalist economic system is a free market designed to assure fairness of
competition. Monopoly abuses of power
are the antithesis of such a system.
The railroad monopolies of a century ago were prime examples of large
corporate entities that often used illicit tactics to quash competition, and
then took advantage of people and the system to make outlandish profits. When corporations get too big, they almost
always abuse their power in ways that prove to be contrary to the best
interests of the people. This is why
giant corporate “trusts” had to be busted up into less powerful entities a
century ago during the Progressive Era.
And this is why similarly good plans really should be implemented today.
The bottom line of monopoly power is
revealed in an increasing monopoly on wealth that rich people have seized in
the past 35 years. Outrageously, these
people have accomplished this feat by using the power of their excessive
influence to get the federal government to borrow money from people in the
future to finance historically low tax rates in the past three decades. And today, Republicans are trying to gain
traction to win the White House in 2016, and to use that power to give rich
people bigger tax breaks.
Voters would be wise to understand the facts in the book
They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic
Records, 1910-2010. The findings are stunning: “The Democratic and Republican Parties are
virtual opposites of each other in their economic records, going back to the
earliest period for which economic data were available, around 1910. More than a dozen studies have been done
comparing economic growth, unemployment, average length of unemployment, stock
market performance, inflation, federal debt and other economic indicators
during Democratic and Republican presidencies and Congresses, and they all show
stunningly better performance when Democrats are in power than when Republicans
perspectives provide an angular springboard into a better understanding of
human motives and impulses.
The Nature of Human Motivations and Compulsions
The eminently respect-worthy philosophers Doc Ricketts and John
Steinbeck were naturalists who gained some fascinating insights into the nature
and character of many different species of marine animals -- and of humankind
by inference! -- when they spent six weeks in March and April 1940 aboard the
75-foot vessel the Western Flyer on the Sea of Cortez. At the time of this voyage, World War II was
raging in Europe, so these two naturalists were particularly interested in the
profound implications of their observations for deeper motives revealed in
human nature. Listen in:
“We have looked
into the tide pools and seen the little animals feeding and reproducing and
killing for food. We name them and describe
them and, out of long watching, arrive at some conclusion about their habits,
so that we say, ‘This species typically does thus and so.’ But we do not objectively observe our own
species as a species, although we know the individuals fairly well. When it seems that men may be kinder to men,
that wars may not come again, we completely ignore the record of our
species. If we used the same smug
observation on ourselves that we do on hermit crabs, we would be forced to say,
with the information at hand, ‘It is one diagnostic trait of Homo sapiens that groups of individuals
are periodically infected with a feverish nervousness which causes the
individuals to turn on and destroy, not only his own kind, but the works of his
own kind. It is not known whether this
be caused by a virus, some airborne spore, or whether it be a species reaction
to some meteorological stimulus as yet undetermined.’ Hope, which is another species diagnostic trait -- the hope that
this may not always be -- does not in the least change the observable past and
present. When two crayfish meet, they
usually fight. One would say that
perhaps they might not at a future time, but without some mutation it is not
likely that they will lose this trait.
And perhaps our species is not likely to forego war without some psychic
mutation which at present, at least, does not seem imminent. And if one places the blame for killing and
destroying on economic insecurity, on inequality, on injustice, he is simply
stating the proposition in another way.
We have what we are. Perhaps the
crayfish feels the itch of jealousy, or perhaps he is sexually insecure. The effect is that he fights. When in the world there shall come twenty,
thirty, fifty years without evidence of our murder trait, under whatever system
of justice or economic security, then we may have a contrasting habit pattern
to examine. So far there is no such
situation. So far the murder trait of
our species is as regular and observable as our various sexual habits.”
interesting, Doc and John! When we
clearly see that every specific species of marine animal in the sea has its own
relatively unique animal nature and behaviors and habits, it is natural to turn
the spotlight of this objective understanding onto the most interesting animal
subject of all -- ourselves! Human
beings have evolved over ten thousand generations of our ancestors into beings
with distinct instinctual traits and socially and culturally adapted
characteristics. Many species of social mammals exhibit strong drives
of alpha males to achieve dominance in their social hierarchies, and to achieve
sexual dominance and reproductive success to pass on their genes to the next
Natural selection honed human males and females in clan groups into
beings that filled advantageous gender roles in order to cope with the
exigencies of existence as hunters and gatherers, and this adaptive evolution
made cooperative endeavors crucially important. Then, as the Agricultural Revolution allowed nomadic people to
settle down and grow crops and raise domesticated animals, civilizing
influences toned down aggression and sculpted human beings and their cultures
into new directions and behavioral patterns.
Male fights for physical supremacy and reproductive success gave way to
different gender and family roles and morals on the farm, and then with the
advent of the Industrial Revolution and increasing urbanization and changing
parental economics and morphing sexual mores and new contraceptive methods,
modern struggles between the sexes have come into being. Politicians profitably, though unethically,
mine this strife with crafty intention.
Revealingly, the patriotic fighting men's song The Battle Hymn of
the Republic contains lyrics that
glorify war and righteousness in the name of God:
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes
of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His
terrible swift sword:
His truth is
His truth is marching on.
This war song
provided John Steinbeck with the title of his great novel The Grapes of Wrath, which told the story of profound travails
suffered by tenant farmers during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.
I myself prefer truer truths, like the story of those tenant farmers
forced to flee the crushing conditions in the Midwest, to other wildly
contrasting stories about supernatural deities and their supposed enthusiasms
for glory and judgment and battle and supremacy. The entire story of the advent of monotheism is a fascinating
one, involving King Tutankhamun’s father Akhenaten in ancient Egypt, and the sun god Aten that had been merely
one among many deities that populated the most imaginative of all pantheons of
deities in the history of civilization.
important point here is that the monotheistic idea of One and Only One True God
has become one of the most conflict-engendering ideologies in human history,
and one that threatens peaceful coexistence as the planet gets ever more
crowded with human beings. So the
assertion that monotheistic religions are more true and sophisticated than
earlier polytheistic religions pales in the face of the fact that polytheism
had one great and overarching advantage:
no one was ever inspired to wage a holy war to attain glorious conquest
over other people who believe in a different God. Today, conflicts between
Christians and Muslims pose an existential threat to peaceful coexistence in
many countries, and we need to find better ways to defuse violent conflicts
over religious beliefs. Official Golden
Rule acceptance of every person regardless of their particular religious
beliefs is the best idea and national stance.
Too much dangerous strife and too many costly wars have been, and are
being, caused by religious zealotry.
And this form of extremism is an unnecessary source of divisiveness,
conflict, fear, suspicion and hate.
The whole concept of an imageless male God
humanized in a form of mortal manifestation of a divine Son and a Holy Spirit
was rudely and harshly cut off from earlier concepts of deities that were more
holistic because they included a female Mother Goddess and a divine Daughter
and a Holy Soul. Humanity has undergone
more than 150 millennia of evolution as Homo
sapiens, and our evolving genetic and cultural human nature has been honed
by natural selection to have a propensity for beliefs in supernatural beings.
Nonetheless, let us admit that the Christian God is
no more likely to exist as imagined or proclaimed than the God of Islam or the
God of Judaism, or for that matter the God of Zoroastrians or any other
monotheistic religious faith. The true
truth is that an aspect of human nature makes us susceptible to clinging to
indoctrinated beliefs that there is One and Only One True God, but this
certainly does not mean that any such proclaimed God really truly exists as
Mark Twain wrote his own satirical version of
The Battle Hymn of the Republic, titled simply The Battle Hymn of the
Republic, Updated. He did so as a
parody of American imperialism in the wake of the Philippine-American War. It is written with the same tune and sung
with the same cadence as the original Battle
Hymn of the Republic, which had been created in 1861 by Julia Ward Howe, a social reform activist and outspoken advocate for the abolition of
slavery. Here are Mark Twain's scathing and sardonic
Mine eyes have seen the orgy of the launching of the Sword;
He is searching out the hoardings where the stranger's wealth is stored;
He hath loosed his fateful lightnings, and with woe and death has scored;
His lust is marching on.
I have seen him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps;
They have builded him an altar in the Eastern dews and damps;
I have read his doomful mission by the dim and flaring lamps --
His night is marching on.
I have read his bandit gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
"As ye deal with my pretensions, so with you my wrath shall deal;
Let the faithless son of Freedom crush the patriot with his heel;
Lo, Greed is marching on!"
We have legalized the strumpet and are guarding her retreat;
Greed is seeking out commercial souls before his judgment seat;
O, be swift, ye clods, to answer him!
Be jubilant my feet!
Our god is marching on!
In a sordid slime harmonious Greed was born in yonder ditch,
With a longing in his bosom -- and for others' goods an itch.
As Christ died to make men holy, let men die to make us rich –
Our God is marching on.
noteworthy that Sigmund Freud developed revolutionary understandings of the
unconscious mind beginning in the 1890s and the early decades of the 20th
century. Remember that the subconscious part of our brains is where
modern scientists have determined 97% of all thinking takes place. While
Sigmund Freud used his psychoanalysis techniques for "talking cures"
and other healing treatments, his nephew Edward Bernays turned his attentions
to more lucrative and nefarious uses of understandings of crowd psychology and
the subconscious mind. He helped create a hyper consumer culture through
sneaky subliminal advertising, and he invented public relations to use shrewdly
targeted spin and propaganda to "engineer consent" and achieve
tighter control over the masses. These new forms of propaganda advanced
the agendas of political leaders and wealthy elite groups that have always
sought to impose authoritarian control and oligarchic goals on the people in
Western democracies. This unfortunately often involved deceit and
The most extreme political propaganda activities achieved by Edward
Bernays were conducted on behalf of the U.S. government and the multinational
corporation United Fruit Company (which is Chiquita Brands International
today). These clandestine activities
helped facilitate the overthrow of the democratically elected president of
Guatemala in 1954, Colonel Jacobo Arbenz Guzman. Surely, public relations and advertising should be more
consistently used for positive purposes, and appeal to more virtuous and
socially just motives in empathetic human character rather than to materialism
and greed and domineering supremacism and the basest human drives and desires.
The 20th century was remarkably individualistic and self-centered, but
it seems obvious that we need to make a greater emphasis in the 21st century on
the overall well-being of our kind. I
believe strongly that a maximum of individual freedoms should be assured to
peoples everywhere, within the greater context of striving to achieve common
good goals for society as a whole. This
should include broader considerations for the prospects of our children and all
their descendants far in the future.
Adam Curtis is a British documentary filmmaker with a convincing
narrative voice who provides brilliantly incisive Big History narratives in his
films and a valuable big picture way of understanding the forces that influence
human fate. For instance, he gives provocative perspective in The
Century of the Self about the story of Sigmund Freud and his daughter
Anna and nephew Edward Bernays. He explains clearly how Sigmund Freud had
revolutionized understandings of the human unconscious mind for purposes of
helping heal mental afflictions, and how Edward Bernays later used
understandings of human motives to manipulate people for commercial promotion
and rather nefarious political purposes.
Adam Curtis has
produced a new film titled Bitter Lake that traces the history
of Afghanistan from the period of the British Taj through an agreement by
President Franklin Roosevelt and the Wahhabi king of Saudi Arabia regarding
American and Saudi influence in the Middle East, and on through the Russian
occupation of Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden's and the mujahedeen’s role in
driving the Russians out, and then the U.S. invasion and protracted and
ruthless military actions there. This
is the enlightening story of the U.S. military occupations of the region that
have destabilized the Arab world and led to incursions by the barbaric Islamic
This tale is
built on Curtis’ earlier film The Power of Nightmares, which pointed out the striking parallel between the rise in recent decades of Islamism in
the Arab world and neoconservatism in the U.S. This film provocatively
explores the zealotry by factions in both regions to inflate a myth of a
dangerous enemy in order to give support to hawkish partisans. Adam Curtis’ interesting contention is
corroborated by author John Fowles in The
Fowles states that strong opposition countersupports what it
opposes. For instance, after the Shah
of Iran was installed with the help of the CIA, which helped overthrow Iran’s
democratically elected government in 1953, he ruled with an iron-fisted SAVAK
secret police suppressing dissent for 25 years, and then was deposed by
religious ayatollahs who vituperatively charged the United States as being “the
Great Satan” for sponsoring imperialism, political intrigue and corruption
throughout the world. Political
propaganda has been used effectively in nations worldwide, and surely peoples
everywhere would be better off with less ideology and more honesty from their
Big History on
story, morning glory?
What's the word, hummingbird?
passionately appreciative of Big History explanations of important ideas and
incisive understandings of the nature of human beings and their affairs.
In the beginning, says the Bible, there was nothing, nothing at all,
nothing other than an omnipotent and omniscient male God who was very lonely
and in need of people to worship Him, so He created the first man and woman,
and was filled with love and concern for the fates of faithful believers, and
He had a powerful desire for obedience and an infinite potential for
jealousy. Apparently anyone who might
choose to worship some other god or goddess who would lay claim to the credit
for Creation was a sort of threat to God’s ego (and to the Promotions
Department of the religious establishments that strive to gain and retain the
obedience of the faithful.) After all,
for thousands of years before the Bible sprung into human consciousness,
literally thousands of deities were imagined and worshipped in human cultures
around the globe.
faith in a monotheistic God has been the source of violent struggles around the
world ever since King Tut's father concocted this idea in Egypt some 1,400
years before the Three Wise Men supposedly found Baby Jesus in a crib in
Jerusalem. Jonathan Kirsch gives readers a very
thought-provoking story in God
Against the Gods - The History
of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism.
He tells this
fascinating tale of how the idea of One and Only One True God came into being
in ancient Egypt at a time that people still worshipped the richest
polytheistic pleonasm of deities ever conceived in any civilization.
One of the most glaring disadvantages of religions that postulate One
and Only One True God is that because of their absolute convictions they
condemn "pagan" deities and everyone who holds differing
beliefs. They absurdly consider earlier
believers to be, in retroactive condemnation, heretical infidels and inferior
and probably evil to boot!
I myself feel that the value of religious tolerance in societies today
is much greater than the value of any honorable obedience to strict doctrines,
dogmas and commandments of any one faith or any particular God. The belated arrival of a spiffy new and
oh!-so-much-more sophisticated thought system seems facile and disingenuous to
me, and the fact that it is so effective in manipulating people by promulgating
commandments and imposing moralistic, judgmental and guilt-inducing feelings in
believers makes it less than honorable or socially acceptable.
after the ill-fated Egyptian experiment in monotheism, the spark of that idea
was fanned into a new religious story of the Almighty God Yahweh and his people
led by Moses and Abraham, and that story in the Old Testament was
transmogrified a thousand years later with a New Testament. Faith in the God of the Talmud and the Old
Testament slowly spread across the Middle East and Europe during the early
centuries after Jesus Christ was proclaimed the Messiah.
competing Islamic story sprang into being in the head of Mohammad, a seventh
century visionary who dreamed a revelatory religious tale of a different One
and Only True God. Mohammad proclaimed the absolute and eternal truth of
Allah, and against improbable odds managed to spread this Word with the Sword
across the deserts of Arabia. Medina, located near the Red Sea coast of
the Arabian Peninsula, was the first Muslim city. It was a trading center on a caravan route that prospered when
war between the Persian and Byzantine Empires interrupted sea trade between
India and the Mediterranean Sea. Travel
along this route was controlled by the Quraysh, an extended family that had
both nomadic and sedentary members.
Mohammed was born in the Hashim clan of the Quraysh about
571. The Hashim were sedentary
residents of Mecca, another town on the overland caravan route. Mohammed married well and prospered as a merchant
and became a leading citizen of Mecca by the early 7th century. In 611, while resting in a cave, Mohammed
heard a voice that he believed came from an all-powerful deity. The voice offered instructions on how to
purify religion. In the town of Mecca,
there was a pre-Islamic religious site called Kabaa, a large granite
masonry structure roughly the shape of a cube covered by a black silk cloth
decorated with gold-embroidered calligraphy and having as its eastern
cornerstone a Black Stone that is generally thought to be a meteorite
remnant. And there were many other religions throughout the region, including Judaism,
Byzantine Christianity, and Persian Zoroastrianism. Various forms of
Zoroastrianism had been the world's most powerful religion from around 600 BCE
to 650 CE, and Zoroastrianism served as the state religion of pre-Islamic
empires in the region. Zoroastrianism
was suppressed or otherwise integrated into Islam from the 7th century
onwards following the Muslim conquest of Persia.
began to speak about his religious revelations in Mecca, which aggravated the
priests of the Kabaa, so he was expelled in 622 from that city. Mohammed left Mecca and followed the caravan
route to Medina, whose economy was booming thanks to the thriving caravan
trade, and its population included various ethnic groups who resided in their
own neighborhoods. There does not seem
to have been a town government in 622, because while the leaders of each ethnic
group could settle disputes among its own members, there was no peaceful way to
settle disputes between members of different ethnic groups.
Mohammed arrived, he showed himself to be a fair judge of disputes and during
the next eight years, he became an influential citizen of Medina. As the residents accepted Mohammed's rules
about justice and his teachings concerning the nature of the all-powerful
Allah, the population of the town became the first Muslims. In 630, they followed Mohammed's call to
conquer Mecca, and succeeded.
did not leave behind a written version of his teachings, but he spoke to a lot
of people and many of his listeners recorded his words. Over time, their contributions were
assembled into a book of scripture called the Quran. The main reforms introduced by Islam included the monotheistic
idea of submission to a single universal deity and the possibility of a direct
personal relationship between each human and the deity.
practice, Islam created a greatly simplified religion. For instance, there were no saints, no
sacraments, no official clergy and no religious buildings. Instead, people who learned the most about
Islam taught other people, and religious rituals could take place almost
anywhere. A practicing Muslim was
required to do only five things:
-- profess faith in Allah as the only god
-- pray to Mecca five times a day
-- practice charity (payment of the Zakat or
-- make a pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj)
-- fast during the month of Ramadan to
commemorate the conquest of Mecca in 630.
Muslim followed the rules, he or she could expect to reach paradise, which was
described using metaphors like flowing rivers, gardens, fountains, fruit, and
no work. If not, then hell was divided
into boiling water and the abyss of fire, populated by angels whose job was to
torture sinners who were condemned there.
has been interpreted as being the last of a series of prophets that included
Abraham, Moses and Jesus. All three of
these prophets were sent by the same all-powerful deity, and each one's
teachings led to the creation of a new form of monotheism
two years after his followers conquered Mecca, Mohammed died in 632. He left no instructions about who would take
his place, and in the following dispute over the succession of leadership, Abu
Bakr (father-in-law of Mohammed's second wife) defeated Mohammed's son-in-law
Omar. Here was the beginning of the
violent schism between Sunni and Shia sects of Islam, which is causing so much
injustice and turmoil in the world today.
Bakr defended and expanded his authority by unleashing jihad holy war against
the Byzantine and Persian empires to the north, and was aided when peasants in
the provinces revolted and joined the Muslim invasion. After Abu Bakr died in 634, Omar took over
the jihad and it continued, conquering Damascus in 636, Jerusalem in 638, Cairo
(a Byzantine fortress) in 639, Alexandria in 640, and the entire Persian Empire
by 651. However, challengers to Omar's
rule were many, and he was assassinated in 644. Members of the powerful Umayyid family of Mecca took over in 660
and founded a dynasty that lasted until 750.
Followers of Islam continued to spread the religion westward along the
Mediterranean coast of North Africa, which exposed them to the Byzantine
navy. They reached Tunisia by 670 and
constructed their main base inland at Kairawan (south of Tunis), where it was
safe from both water-born Christian Byzantines and inland Berbers of the
mountains and desert.
of Carthaginian, Greek and Roman rule along the coast of North Africa had led
to increasingly efficient levels of taxation and exploitive rule, so Muslim
rule may have seemed much less demanding and strict to the coastal Berbers than
earlier Roman rule. In contrast, to the
inland Berbers, the Muslims were just another group of outsiders who wanted to
impose their rule on the local people.
711, Ummayyid armies campaigned in the Magrib, but couldn't totally subdue
it. Coastal Berbers who resented centralized
Christianity converted readily to Islam, but interior Berbers resisted Islam as
strongly as they resisted Christianity.
Coastal Berbers joined the Muslim invasion and launched an attack into
Spain, followed later by Ummayyid Arab forces after the success of the invasion
was certain. By 720, Muslim forces
controlled everything south of the Pyrenees mountains, the modern border
between France and Spain. In 732, an
expedition across the mountains was turned back from Poitiers after it suffered
defeat at the hands of a Frankish army led by Charles Martel, the grandfather
of Charlemagne. This made Charles
Martel a hero and increased the prestige of the Franks, setting the stage for
Pope Stephen II to designate Martel's son Pepin the Short as the king of the
Franks. By stalling the advance of
Muslim forces, it also bought time for European Christians to organize
themselves to defend against the Ummayyids.
Less than a generation later, after the Abbassids overthrew the
Ummayyids, the new leaders redirected efforts at expansion away from Europe
early 8th century was the time when Muslim strength and unity were at their
greatest. As a result of their efforts,
Muslims cut off Africa from Mediterranean Europe and cut off Coptic Christians
in Nubia and Ethiopia from Christians in Europe. The North African coastal territories provided points of
departure for Muslim expansion southward across the Sahara Desert. However, the Muslim world was stretched out
over an enormous distance, making it difficult to maintain a centralized
strains of constant expansion finally resulted in a revolt against the Umayyids
in 750. The new ruling dynasty, the
Abbassids, was more interested in eastern expansion, so the spread of Islam in
Africa slowed. The new dynasty moved
the capital from Damascus (located near the Mediterranean coast) to Baghdad
(located on the Tigris River).
and cultural success of the spread of Islam threatened Christianity, so a long
series of Crusades were launched from European countries beginning in 1096, and
they persisted for about two hundred
years, at great personal and financial expense to many people. The crusades began with a holy war to take
Jerusalem back from Muslim rule, to which it had been subjected in the
centuries after the Muslim conquest of the Levant in the 7th century CE.
The only King
of France ever to be made a bona fide saint by the Catholic Church was King
Louis IX, who was canonized Saint Louis in the year 1297. He was accorded that honor 27 years after he
died in Tunisia of dysentery while on chivalrous crusade against Islamic
peoples who had conquered all of North Africa back in the 7th century. Many of the accomplishments of King Louis lived after him, serving as
beacons of light and revealing the best of the Middle Ages. Even his failures mark him as a man of his
time, most notably his two ill-fated crusades.
Louis wrote out his ideas of government in a set of precepts that he
gave to his son, Philip. They say, in
essence: "Love God, do justice, and serve the poor."
so-called "golden century of Saint Louis", the kingdom of France was
at its height in Europe, both politically and economically. Saint Louis was
regarded as “the first among equals” among the kings and rulers of the
continent. He commanded the biggest
army and ruled the largest and wealthiest kingdom, which was the European
center of arts and intellectual thought at the time. He laid the foundations for the famous college of theology later
known as the Sorbonne in Paris in the year 1257.
The prestige and respect felt in Europe for King Louis IX were due to
the attraction that his benevolent personality created, more than to military
domination. For his contemporaries, he
was the quintessential example of a Christian prince and he embodied the whole
of Christendom in his person. His reputation for saintliness and fairness was already well established
while he was alive, and on many occasions he was chosen as an arbiter in
quarrels among the rulers of Europe.
perception of Louis IX as the exemplary Christian prince was reinforced by his
religious zeal. Louis was a devout
Catholic, and he built the Sainte-Chapelle ("Holy Chapel"), located within the royal palace complex on the Île de la Cité in the center of Paris.
a barbaric Islamic State struggles to gain permanent influence in the Middle
East in Syria and Iraq and other nations, and it is gaining success due to the
destabilizing effect that the U.S. invasions and occupation of Afghanistan and
Iraq had on the region. This strikes an
ironic parallel to the early expansion of Islamic influence in the Arab world,
when Muslim conquests were facilitated by conflicts between the Persian and
Byzantine empires that exhausted them both, militarily and economically, as a
consequence of the decades they spent fighting one another.
here in the 21st century the conflict between Islam and Christianity continues
to be extremely costly and pose great threats to many people. A nuclear deal between Iran and six Western
nations has created much rancor from hard-right conservatives in the U.S., and
many of the most extreme partisans in this group disparage Muslims as
threats to world peace of these developments and attitudes are so significant
that we need to honor John Lennon’s words, and Give Peace a Chance!
Perspicacious Observations Conveyed by Angular Unconformists
An angular unconformist is a kind of philosopher with a melioristic
worldview who sees things with a penetrating penchant for timeless right
understanding. Let’s turn our attention
to the Vatican church
hierarchy, which is composed of a bunch of very old men. Few groups of people are less amenable to
change than powerful old men, so you can bet that Pope Francis' strong advocacy
for the social justice and the poor, and for strong action to mitigate climate
change, is making many of them damn uneasy, even if the Pope is honestly
channeling Jesus and some of the most honorable of the saints. And the
conservative fringe in the U.S. is even more apoplectic and outspoken.
Soon after the Pope declared in Cuba that the people need to be less
ideological and more open to change, Andrew P. Napolitano, a senior judicial analyst at Fox News Channel
expressed the most incongruous idea imaginable:
comes Pope Francis to use moral relativism to take the Church in two dangerous
directions. The first is an assault on
the family, and the second is an assault on the free market -- two favorite
political targets of the left.” …
referring to the Pope’s weakening
of “the sacrament of matrimony by making annulments easier to obtain,” and the
Pope’s alleged advocacy of the “government-mandated redistribution of
wealth.” Continues Andrew Napolitano in
his simplistic ideological diatribe:
“The pope has
seriously disappointed those who believe the Roman Catholic Church preserves
and teaches the Truth. The Truth is
Christ risen and unity with Him. It is
not a debate about the minimum wage or air conditioning.”
I guess Andrew Napolitano finds absolute Truth in his rancorous and distorted beliefs,
even though they seem to be not even relatively true to a more independent
observer. What is true is that the world will be a much better and safer
place if humankind respects precautionary principles instead of rashly
remaining in ideological lockstep with exploiters of resources and manipulators
of public opinion and desires. Andrew Napolitano continues:
Francis is popular on the world stage, and the crowds love him. But if he fails in his basic duties as the
pope, if his concern is more for secular than sacred, if he aids the political
agenda of the atheistic left, he is a false prophet leading his flock to a
dangerous place, where there is more central planning and less personal
The Pope is a
false prophet? Really? One conservative Republican was so upset at
the prospect that the Pope would say something he didn’t like that he declared
a boycott of the Pope’s historic speech to Congress. Representative Paul Gosar explained:
indicate His Holiness intends to focus the brunt of his speech on climate
change -- a climate that has been changing since first created in Genesis. More troubling is the fact that this climate
change talk has adopted all of the socialist talking points, wrapped false
science and ideology into ‘climate justice’ and is being presented to guilt
people into leftist policies. If the
Pope stuck to standard Christian theology, I would be the first in line. If the Pope spoke out with moral authority
against violent Islam, I would be there cheering him on. If the Pope urged the Western nations to
rescue persecuted Christians in the Middle East, I would back him
wholeheartedly. But when the Pope
chooses to act and talk like a leftist politician, then he can expect to be
treated like one. Artist and columnist
Maureen Mullarkey effectively communicated this fallacy stating, ‘When papal
preferences, masked in a Christian idiom, align themselves with ideological
agendas (e.g. radical environmentalism), they impinge on democratic freedoms
and the sanctity of the individual.’”
“So at this
pivotal moment in world history, His Holiness, Pope Francis, is intending to
spend the majority of his time on one of the world’s greatest stages focusing
on climate change. I have both a moral
obligation and leadership responsibility to call out leaders, regardless of
their titles, who ignore Christian persecution and fail to embrace
opportunities to advocate for religious freedom and the sanctity of human
life. If the Pope plans to spend the
majority of his time advocating for flawed climate change policies, then I will
not attend. It is my hope that Pope
Francis realizes his time is better spent focusing on matters like religious
tolerance and the sanctity of all life.
As the leader of the Catholic Church, and as a powerful voice for peace
throughout the world, His Holiness has a real opportunity to change the climate
of slaughter in the Middle East … not the fool’s errand of climate change.”
Wow! -- Here
one of Arizona's political representatives in the House was not open to even
hearing Pope Francis speak because he was afraid to hear views that differed
from his staunch ideological ones. The
perspective that humanity has a moral obligation to act to mitigate global
warming would just have been too offensive for him to hear, so he boycotted the
Pope's speech to our representatives in Congress. I imagine him figuratively sticking his fingers in his ears and
bleating like he was an outraged schoolyard bully having a temper tantrum. Surely climate change denial is growing increasingly
irresponsible as costs mount and the evidence of human impacts on the benign
stability of normal weather patterns grows increasingly apparent.
Listen to that
contention again: Congressman Paul
Gosar stated that "Pope Francis
has “adopted all of the socialist talking points, wrapped false science and
ideology into ‘climate justice’ and is being presented to guilt people into
leftist policies." Now, that is
fiercely and idiotically ideological spin!
Again, Pope Francis asked the Cuban people to try to overcome
ideological preconceptions and be open to change, and surely he means that
should apply to the people in the United States, who are subjected to such an
intense barrage of brainwashing as to be startling, especially during
“If we would learn what the human race
really is at bottom, we need only observe it at election time.”
--- Mark Twain
In his first
papal treatise, the Pope wrote in his encyclical on climate change about an
"economy of exclusion," where "human beings are themselves
considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded". This is a reality for tens of millions of
Americans, and not merely a leftist talking point! And the Pope wrote about the "new idolatry of money,"
which derives from "the denial of the primacy of the human
person". Money unquestionably
dictates much in our democracy. And he
expressed the opinion that we have “a financial system which rules rather than
serves". In the disastrous
aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008, this seems to be more often than not
true. Pope Francis also wrote about
rampant inequality that spawns violence.
These perspectives deserve closer and fairer consideration and a more
Francis published a broad 256-page proclamation on family life just
one week before Good Friday in 2016, calling again for the Roman Catholic
Church to be more welcoming and less judgmental. The document -- known as
an apostolic exhortation and titled “Amoris Laetitia,” Latin for “The Joy of
Love” -- calls for priests to welcome single parents, gay people and unmarried
straight couples who are living together.
if the leader of one of the biggest religious establishments in the world can
be more flexible in his attitudes towards people it has previously condemned,
maybe all religious folks can do the truly spiritual thing and act in a more
civilized manner by altering their judgmental biases against others and
supporting other institutional changes to overturn laws that discriminate
against classes of people like gays and unmarried men and women.
Pope makes it clear that no top-down rule changes or edicts will be made in the
Church, possibly because of the extent to which the Church embodies such a
markedly fractious global network of bishops and priests.
But he clarifies the vision he wants local bishops and priests
to follow: "as a church that greets families with empathy and comfort
rather than with unbending rules and rigid codes of conduct."
Francis called for governments to provide better support for families in
the form of health care, education and employment, and he described families as
under siege by the pressures of modern life. "In many cases,
parents come home exhausted, not wanting to talk, and many families no longer
even share a common meal,” Francis wrote. He described “severe stress” on
families “who often seem more caught up with securing their future than with
enjoying the present.”
was another hot-button issue. Francis’ exhortation says that “every person
regardless of sexual orientation” should be treated with respect and
consideration, while “every sign of unjust discrimination is to be carefully
avoided, particularly any form of aggression and violence.”
Pope also dedicated several passages to the importance of women’s rights, in a
pronounced contrast to his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who was criticized
for his accusations against women who “seek power.”
Pope's tone and adaptive populism is encouraging, but there is a long way to go
for the Church to evolve on other issues, like its ridiculous ban on
contraception and its opposition to fuller roles for women in the church.
Obviously the Pope "has to consider his church’s restive
conservative flank, which is already angry with him for daring to embrace a
wider variety of people and choosing to focus his ire on the failings of
capitalism. Francis has a fine needle to thread. His message may be
quiet, but it’s still progressive: The church must meet the people where
Pope Francis had earlier encouraged people to talk with each other and make communication more authentic and humane. He has written:
“In a world
where people often curse, use foul language, speak badly of others, sow discord
and poison our human environment by gossip, the family can teach us to
understand communication as a blessing.
In situations apparently dominated by hatred and violence, where
families are separated by stone walls or the no less impenetrable walls of
prejudice and resentment, where there seem to be good reasons for saying
“enough is enough”, it is only by blessing rather than cursing, by visiting
rather than repelling, and by accepting rather than fighting, that we can break
the spiral of evil, show that goodness is always possible, and educate our
children to fellowship.”
modern media, which are an essential part of life for young people in
particular, can be both a help and a hindrance to communication in and between
families. The media can be a hindrance
if they become a way to avoid listening to others, to evade physical contact,
to fill up every moment of silence and rest, so that we forget that “silence is
an integral element of communication; in its absence, words rich in content
cannot exist.” (Benedict XVI, Message
for the 2012 World Communications Day). The media
can help communication when they enable people to share their stories, to stay
in contact with distant friends, to thank others or to seek their forgiveness,
and to open the door to new encounters.
By growing daily in our awareness of the vital importance of
encountering others, these “new possibilities”, we will employ technology
wisely, rather than letting ourselves be dominated by it. Here too, parents are the primary educators,
but they cannot be left to their own devices.
The Christian community is called to help them in teaching children how
to live in a media environment in a way consonant with the dignity of the human
person and service of the common good.”
challenge facing us today is to learn once again how to talk to one another,
not simply how to generate and consume information. The latter is a tendency which our important and influential
modern communications media can encourage.
Information is important, but it is not enough. All too often things get simplified,
different positions and viewpoints are pitted against one another, and people
are invited to take sides, rather than to see things as a whole.”
An Egregious Example of Miscommunication
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has been a target
of sensational accusations inspired by ideology and money-fueled propaganda.
For instance, the Missouri Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer, a senior
member of the House Financial Services Committee, told a conference of the
American Bankers Association that Elizabeth Warren is the “Darth Vader of the
financial services world.” Elizabeth
Warren responded, "My first thought was: Really? I’ve
always seen myself more as a Princess Leia-type -- a senator and Resistance
general who, unlike the guys, is never even remotely tempted by the dark
Blaine Luetkemeyer also told bankers that they should
"find a way to neuter" Elizabeth Warren.
"Why would he go out of his way to say something so
sexist and offensive?”, Elizabeth Warren wondered. "Is he hostile to
all women? Clueless? Afraid? And then I had a second thought:
This is all about money."
Then she added:
"Congressman Luetkemeyer was on a panel about the
“changing political landscape” in a room full of Wall Street bankers --
powerful people who have been working for years to roll back financial reform.
Trying to land the best zinger with my name is just one more way to earn
chits and try to cash in big time with that audience."
"Luetkemeyer is a Wall Street yes-man, and the
financial industry has rewarded him handsomely for his reliability. Since
first running for Congress in 2008, he's received nearly a million dollars from
the big banks, hedge funds and credit card companies -- and he's taken $50,000
specifically from the American Bankers Association."
Yes, folks, this is sadly our money-corrupted political
system in wrongheaded action! After
declaring that Senator Warren needed to be "neutered" to prevent the
implementation of reforms on Wall Street, Congressman Luetkemeyer
disdainfully refused to admit how crude and condescending his comments were.
He not only refused to apologize, but was not even embarrassed at
his words. In fact, he tried to fool people into thinking he had said
something different by having his office double down on his offensive and
sexist remarks in a Missouri newspaper:
“It’s no secret that Congressman Luetkemeyer is a vocal
opponent of Dodd-Frank (banking reforms). The Congressman’s comments
earlier this week were in reference to the need to neutralize Elizabeth
Warren’s influence on these important issues. Any other characterizations
of the Congressman’s comments are inaccurate.”
Elizabeth Warren responded:
"So let me get this straight: Congressman
Luetkemeyer doesn’t know the difference between removing my reproductive organs
like an animal or making me shut my mouth -- but he doesn’t really care because
he believes Wall Street should be able to cheat American families and break our
economy again and I need to be pushed out of his way?"
This embarrassing Missouri congressman is absolutely not
representing real people on Main Street with his arrogant stances, for it is
blatantly obvious that he is representing Wall Street vested interests.
Earlier in his career, he supported de-regulation of the lending
industry that, at some point, charged veterans 300% interest rates.
"Studies have shown that these unethical lending practices have cost
veterans a third of their income, which often times they are unable to pay back
and so they are caught in a cycle of poverty where they seek other loans from
similar lenders." Real nice resume, Congressman!
The Source of Ideas about an
This rush of ideas cascaded into my mind like an incoming tide at the
Bay of Fundy, which arrives at the speed of a galloping horse, and I thought
again of the angular unconformity found in Box Canyon in Ouray, Colorado. The Ute Chief Ouray was the most prominent Native American
leader in western Colorado in the 19th century. He became famous, and notorious, for his efforts to avoid violent
strife between the natives and the miners and pioneers who came to Colorado
seeking their fortunes or new lives on the frontier. It was apparently the manifest destiny of Native American peoples
to be wiped out by ruthless miners and settlers, and to have their cultures
largely destroyed, and to experience the wrenching deprivation of having their
ancestral lands taken away from them and then being shipped to live in
undesirable locales on pathetic Indian reservations.
Ouray’s life (circa 1833 to 1880), prospectors found gold and silver and other
minerals on traditional Ute lands. This
inevitably led to violent conflicts between encroaching miners and the Utes,
and Chief Ouray was instrumental in helping the U.S. government acquire
the mineral-rich land in the San Juan Mountains that miners wanted. Chief Ouray sought reconciliation between
peoples, with the belief that Indian wars against white men would likely mean
the demise of the Ute tribe, but other Utes were understandably more militant
and considered him a coward, derogatorily calling him The White Man's
Friend. An article in 2012
indicates, "He sought peace among tribes and whites, and a fair shake for
his people, though Ouray was dealt a sad task of liquidating a once-mighty
force that ruled nearly 23 million acres of the Rocky Mountains.” As an article written in 1928 about Chief
Ouray in the Denver Post read, "He saw the shadow of doom
on his people".
of Native Americans, Pope Francis
canonized Father Junipero Serra as a saint while visiting the U.S. in September
2015. Junipero Serra was a Franciscan friar who founded many of the missions
in California, and it is extremely
dubious to some people to characterize Father Serra as a “saint”. After all, in his capacity as the primary
authority of the Spanish government and the Catholic Church in early
California, he was responsible for expanding the Mission system where Native
American Indians were more or less forcibly confined and spoon fed new religion
and practically made slaves, and many were treated harshly and violently, and
millions died of diseases. Zealous
missionaries spread much more than the good word of the Lord in their evangelizing
activities in the New World, and inadvertently spread devastating diseases
among the natives in California as they did in many places in the world.
Ideologies Collide Across a Crucial Continental Divide
Imagine Lady Justice holding her magnificent scales
aloft, judging the fair balance between opposing interests. Lady Justice is the personification of the
moral force in judicial systems. She
balances the scales of truth
and fairness, and is thus the honorable embodiment of divine order and law and
custom. She is generally seen as
carrying not only the scales of justice, but also a double-edged sword that
symbolizes the power of Reason and Justice, and she wears a blindfold
representing her impartiality in judging the merits of any case. Lady Justice is envisioned as meting out
justice in an objective manner, without regard for the identity of competing
interests or the amount of money, lack of money, power or lack of power of the
people and interest groups being judged.
Lady Justice not only judges cases before her with
fairness, but she also prioritizes them according to reasonable sensibilities,
unlike the Supreme Court with its odd prioritizing of its docket and
ideological biases that are baked into the composition of the Court’s Justices,
who have been chosen for their lifelong terms by highly partisan Presidents and
Senators in our somewhat unjust political and judicial system.
Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor appropriately
criticizes "nakedly partisan reasoning" and
political retaliation when senators or congresspersons dislike the result
of certain cases, and she sensibly urges that a system for "merit
selection for judges" be created.
Let’s try it!
Many cases come before Lady Justice in the heavenly
firmament. Perhaps the greatest one
weighs environmental justice.
Exploiters of working people and natural resources are arrayed on one
side, along with the corporations, CEOs, ideologues and shareholders who
champion their cause. On the other side
are those who advocate the conservation of resources and the fair treatment of
workers and their health and well-being and the long-term sustainability of
Lady Justice must adjudicate other significant
conflicts of interest, including Intergenerational ones concerning short-term
expediencies vs. long-term sanity and fairness, and conflicts between Capital
vs. Labor that pit the freedom of corporations and rich people and
laissez-faire capitalists and states’ rights and limited federal government
power against workers’ rights, living wages, fairly shared prosperity, balanced
priorities and ecological sanity. Lady
Justice must also evaluate the claims of self-styled heroic individual
industrialists against those embarked on a commendable hero’s journey
championing the greater good. I also
see Lady Justice pondering the complexity of issues related to the prerogatives
of males relative to those of females, and of “pro-life” proponents against
”pro-choice” decisions that pit government primacy against women in deciding
what limits to place on the personal healthcare rights of females and their
reproductive rights and freedoms to determine the course of their lives.
These big picture considerations, in all their
infinite complexity, brought my thoughts to a close on an autumn evening in the
year 2015, and are affirmed on a sunny afternoon the following Spring, and I
commend these considerations to readers for their beneficial ponderation and
Dr. Tiffany B. Twain May 21, 2016
Note that Nikos
Kazantzakis, the renowned writer of Zorba
the Greek, is said to have enlarged the scope of his worldviews throughout
his life to encompass the widest possible expression of his experiences and
understandings. Think about this. You and me and everyone all together could
benefit from striving to adopt similarly expansive, open-minded and farsighted
This manifesto has been undergoing a process of wholesale revisionism in
the past year, in harmony with more comprehensive perspectives materializing in
the interstices of our collective imagination. The cool thing about the
increasingly refined revisions of these ideas is that they represent an ever
bigger picture way of seeing things that positions this revisionism in crystal
clear contrast to many other undertakings of historical revisionism that tend
to have a purpose of manipulating understandings toward a more narrowly
prescribed way of seeing, like Texas textbook writers who try to construe the
past in a context of a more religiously ideological framework.
The passage of time serves to help elucidate every issue, and this is
one reason I have so busily modified this manifesto as the years pass.
The first three books of the Earth Manifesto alone have already undergone
a total of more than 100 separate revisions submitted to Lulu Publishing, prior
to their latest iterations.
Reflecting on my own somewhat obsessive and passionate preoccupation
with expressing my convictions in this manifesto, it has only been about three
months since I began reducing the font size in Common Sense Revival, rather
seamlessly adding more than 25 pages of content to keep it at a total of 212
pages. (The first Three Books had been Comic Sans 11, and are
now Comic Sans 10. Some of the
rest of this Book Eight remains at the old Comic Sans 11 size, pending modification.)