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                Crumbling Ideologies, Hope, and Baby Steps toward Wiser Ways Forward

                                                                                                       Tiffany B. Twain, Doctor of Philosophy

                                                                                                                                   November 1, 2008

Some embarrassed Texans on a jerry-rigged raft were once caught on a snag near the banks of the Mississippi River below Lover’s Leap, just south of Hannibal, Missouri.  They ruefully observed:

“If all you ever do is all you’ve ever done, then all you’ll ever get is all you ever got.”

That makes sense down home.  You betcha!  It’s probably what Albert Einstein meant when he noted:  “We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” 

Remarkable, Really

A figurative tectonic shift is taking place in international economies and American politics due to the economic crisis and the revealed flaws of deregulatory policies and unfairly regressive changes in tax policy and the irresponsibility of record levels of deficit financing.  “Trickle Down” tax policy has resulted in wealth gushing up into a new Gilded Age of extreme inequality.  One percent of Americans now own about 40% of the wealth in the United States. 

Alan Greenspan testified before Congress in October 2008 and made the stunning admission that he was really “shocked” to realize that the ideology of deregulation has been proven to be partially wrong.  Many people saw the risks inherent in policies that hyper-stimulated the economy and created an unsustainable economic bubble.  Some warned of an inevitable economic crisis.  But those who dissented from established views were shut out of the debate by those who championed the certitude of conservative ideologies that serve interests vested in the status quo.

Market-fundamentalist doctrines promote laissez-faire capitalism in recognition of a basic truth about human nature:  people work harder when they are able to personally benefit from the fruits of their labors.  This is why private farm plots were much more productive than public ones in Russia during the heyday of the Soviet empire.  This is also why centrally-controlled economies are not able to compete as well as ‘free-market’ economies.  But make no mistake about it:  capitalist economies are structured to primarily benefit certain constituencies, and there is another aspect of human nature that market fundamentalism turns a blind eye to:  the potential negative impacts of unregulated greed.

Greed has a powerful influence on competitive impulses.  Avaricious greed, when not sufficiently tempered, creates speculative excesses and scams that can put the entire economic system at risk.  This is particularly true when there is poor transparency in economic activities, and when businesses are not subject to adequate control and oversight.  Many people are afflicted with ideological blindness to the risks inherent in laissez-faire greedy impulses, and this condition is a significant factor contributing to the severe crisis embroiling the U.S. economy today.  The detrimental consequences of unwise encouragement of such unleashed drives confirms the lessons of history, which caution us that we must prevent the most anti-social and dangerous aspects of these compulsions.  But those lessons have been ignored or denied by Alan Greenspan and ideologues  in the Bush administration.

   “Selfish, adj.   Devoid of consideration for the selfishness of others.”    (Ha!)

                                                                                                 --- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

History has shown over and over again that wrongheaded rules and incentives create conditions that allow greater good goals to be subverted, and workers to be exploited, and investors to be whipsawed by volatile markets, and the environment to be unwisely damaged, and the stability of the economy to be upset by financial panics and recessionary times.  This was glaringly apparent during the Panic of 1907, and during the “Great Depression” of the 1930s, and during the Savings and Loan debacle of the late 1980s, and again after the dot-com bubble burst in 2001-2002.  The lessons of history make it abundantly clear that the immoderate stimulation of speculative impulses creates economic bubbles that are destined to burst and cause unacceptably great harm.

Desperate little guys rob banks and are sent to prison when they are caught.  In the mean time, trillions of dollars have been lost worldwide in the Panic of 2008, and many banks became nearly insolvent.  An enormous infusion of money was required to save them.  None of those bankers and CEOs who assisted in facilitating this outcome by stimulating speculation and enabling corruption have been put in prison.  Countless of those who shrewdly exploited rashly-conceived speculative opportunity are sailing around the world with tens of millions of dollars in ill-gotten spoils.  Not only do we let fat cats get away with this, but we even submissively go along with the lowering of tax rates on their gains.  As a society we seem happy to generously assess taxes on these people at low upper-end marginal rates that are obscene in light of the size of national deficits and the costs incurred and hardships caused by their self-interested activities. 

At the moment I write these words, ExxonMobil just announced that it made a world record profit of almost $15 billion dollars in the three-month period from June 1 to September 20, 2008.  This is an increase of 58% over the prior year.  During this same period, struggling people have been dragged over the coals of challenges associated with high-cost gasoline.  And in the background, we still have hundreds of thousands of troops and contractors occupying Iraq and Afghanistan to supposedly defend our national interests and maintain access to oil that we desperately need from the Middle East. 

In light of this financial state of affairs and the profiteering of giant corporations, it should come as no surprise that the Bush regime couldn’t even make it to the end of its reign before the harsh consequences of idiotic and unsustainable initiatives wreaked havoc on the world economy!

The Calm Before the Storm

Think about the fact that people strive harder when they personally benefit from the fruits of their own efforts.  In the past eight years, almost all the benefits of increases in productivity have been taken as a prerogative of capitalists and the wealthy, and they have not been shared fairly with working people.  Great profits and advantages have consequently accrued to the benefit of high income earners and investors, while at the same time the wages of workers have not even kept up with the rate of inflation.  The result has been that our society has become much less fair and less empathetic, less fairly democratic, less stable, and less sustainable.

By depriving people of a fair share of benefits generated by productivity increases, the United States becomes more like the communist societies we feared so tremulously during the Cold War.  In the former Soviet Union, collectivist farms were not productive because the workers did not have their own selfish best interest vested in them.  The fact that crop yields were thus far lower than on private plots of land where the workers reaped the benefits of their work make me think of a carrot and a stick.  Productivity is good, and it can best be achieved with positive incentives rather than by cracking the whip and imposing ever more oppressive requirements on working people.

An American political economist and philosopher named Henry George played a key role in the late 19th century in a national debate over what to do about rising inequality and excessive corporate power.  George believed that the government had a responsibility to establish policies that would prevent resources and wealth from being monopolized by the few.  He felt that it was more important that the government take effective steps to promote the material well-being of the many.  This idea formed the basis of progressivism in the early 20th century and beyond.  Henry George also made a compelling argument that extreme inequality threatens democracy because it forces people who live in poverty -- and thus have little opportunity to improve their condition -- to be able to enjoy either a reasonable modicum of republican liberty or a fair-minded degree of democratic equality. 

Henry George called for breaking free from the tradition of laissez-faire government that had made sense in 1815, when most Americans lived in small towns and earned their living as farmers, because excessive corporate power rendered the government incapable of preventing monopoly and protecting broad opportunity.  George basically made a compelling case for attending to the Common Good.  He acknowledged that individualism was a key American value, but he made it clear that it was not the only value.  Individualism and the Common Good are not mutually exclusive.  They operate in tension with one another, and the Common Good should take precedence.

The first big step we must take in our quest to make our society fairer, more stable and more sustainable is to elect a new progressive-minded president.  We need a leader who:  (1) is extremely well-organized;  (2) understands what we must do to ensure the long-term well-being of our communities and nation, and world;  (3) is honest and open-minded enough to develop a consensus on right actions;  (4) can articulate and clearly communicate a comprehensive perspective on the nature of the challenges facing us;  and (5) can motivate people to unite and positively accept a share of the responsibility for helping accomplish the changes needed.

The insights contained in Sliding Doors, Shifting Perceptions and Transcendental Vision are included by this reference for the understandings they provide into Mark Twain’s perceptive perspective relating to the original Gilded Age of the late 1800s.  That essay also explores important issues involved in our neo-Gilded Age compulsions today, like economic inequities, social injustices, and regressive changes in taxation.

Some Things are Simple and Straight-Forward

Good governance requires a proper balance between unfettered capitalism and overly burdensome regulations, between stimulated activities and systemic restraints, between government collaboration with socially-damaging extremes of corporate profit-making, on the one hand, and tight government regulation on the other hand.  Societies do not prosper under either anarchy or martial law, so the ideal is to create a progressive system of incentives for people to work productively, and to simultaneously ensure that there are distinct disincentives to prevent systemic threats like financial disruptions, unstable speculative economic bubbles, and dangerous extremes of inequality.

Architects and engineers know that a durable building requires good design, solid foundations, competent workmanship, and the right mix of cement and structural reinforcement.  They conversely realize that poor design, inferior materials, shoddy workmanship, too much rigidity and shortsighted corner-cutting can result in unsafe edifices that will have unacceptably short life spans.

The businessman, political activist and philanthropist Leo Hindery discussed the dark side of deregulation and excessive industry concentration in his book It Takes a CEO – It’s Time to Lead with Integrity.  Hindery wrote about the deregulation of the airline industry and the problems caused by this action.  Massive government intervention in the airline business was required to create greater security.  Leo Hindery also analyzed the deregulation of the electric utility industry, a move that led to extortionate electricity pricing, and about the ‘gaming’ of the electricity market in California and the collapse of the corrupt corporation Enron that devastated the retirement savings of thousands of workers.  He also delved into the deregulation and concentration of media ownership, particularly of radio stations and television networks.  Such industry consolidations have resulted in abuses of power, and then to government interventions in reaction. 

Corporate concentration in the media arena distinctly erodes the quality of news that Americans receive.  It also limits the diversity of viewpoints expressed, posing great threats to the proper functioning of our democracy.  The need is growing for the Fairness Doctrine in broadcast media to be reinstated by the Federal Communications Commission.

Deregulation of financial industries in particular has caused terrible consequences for people in our nation, as well as in countries around the world.  It is currently quite unclear how much more far-reaching this damage will prove to be.  But it seems apparent to me that the irresponsible fiscal and monetary policies of the past eight years have caused us to back ourselves into a foolishly tight spot, and an extremely risky and detrimental one.  Ideologues like Grover Norquist may think that drowning the U.S. government in a bathtub has a nice ring to it, but drowning our best hope for balanced policy-making and figurative salvation in a deep sea of debt may turn out to be one of the worst plans in history!

A National Foresight Agency?

Alex Steffen, executive director of the online magazine worldchanging.com, talks about solutions-based ideas, not just problem-based ones.  Steffen recommends “a bright green” approach to problem-solving that would create a prosperity that is more widespread and more broadly-distributed.  This “is crucial for gaining support for moves to protect the environment and for addressing poverty, public health, violence and civil rights.”  He notes that desperate people are not good stewards of resources or natural systems, and writes:  “We can design ways of living that offer a high quality of life with a fraction of the ecological footprint.”  He also expresses the considered opinion that we should act in smarter ways to design a better system in which sustainable actions become good investments rather than burdensome costs. 

Our current “ecological deficit spending” will almost certainly have severe consequences for future generations.  The findings of the Global Footprint Network indicate that we are ratcheting up our demands on natural resources and ecosystems.  These understandings should not be ignored.  We clearly should increase our efforts to create ways of living that are sustainable, instead of speeding in the opposite direction.  Let’s create a Foresight Agency that is modeled along the lines of the ‘British Foresight Programme’.

The time is NOW to embrace such ideas!  The United States should lead rather than obstruct actions to create a new cleaner renewable energy regime, and to prevent disastrous climate change, and to make the world more just and peaceable.

“The crisis is a crisis in consciousness, a crisis that cannot anymore accept the old norms, the old patterns, the old ancient traditions.”    “It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

                                  --- J. Krishnamurti, in the Internet film Zeitgeist Addendum

What’s the Story, Morning Glory?

When Ronald Reagan entered the White House in 1981, he said “Government is not the solution to our problem;  government is the problem.”  With these words, Reagan launched his agenda of cutting taxes, eliminating regulations, borrowing heavily to finance big increases in military spending, advancing laissez-faire ideologies, and undermining collective bargaining rights that would otherwise benefit workers.  These policies are proving to be extremely unfair and distinctly harmful to people, the economy, and the environment.  As a consequence of Reagan’s policies being carried to an absurd extreme by Neoconservatives and the Bush/Cheney regime, we are now dealing with an extraordinarily harmful and dangerous economic crisis.  This disastrous state of affairs will likely help Democrats win a landslide in both houses of Congress and the White House in the November 4, 2008 elections.  But great challenges will continue to beset us until truly transformational policies are enacted.

The pendulum has swung from New Deal big-government policies that built a strong middle class to the Reagan Revolution that began to dismantle the New Deal safety net and eliminate the rules that kept our banking system secure.  Reagan’s policies had the collateral advantage for his wealthy conservative supporters of dramatically promoting the interests of the rich at the expense of the middle class and working people and the poor.  George W. Bush jumped on the Reagan bandwagon by cutting taxes and indulging in large increases in government spending and even bigger budget deficits.  He embraced policies that increased social inequities and ramped up government intrusiveness against the civil liberties of Americans.  And he used the divisiveness of war to advance Big Oil and other corporate interests in the United States, the Middle East, and around the globe.

Now the impetus is strong to have the federal government once again focus on creating fairer institutions and more effective regulations.  The probabilities are high that the same forces of insider influence and political corruption that the right wing has allowed to damage our nation in the past eight years will skew remedial efforts into a new set of initiatives that will be vulnerable to wrongheaded actions.  To ensure positive public planning remedies, long-term impacts of decisions need to be more scrupulously taken into account.  We must demand better outcomes by insisting on the implementation of wiser priorities and a far-sighted progressive agenda for a saner human race.  See Part Four of the Earth Manifesto for good recommendations, like those in the Progressive Agenda for a More Sane Humanity.

Among the most important things we need to do is to get Big Money out of the driver’s seat in our politics by enacting comprehensive campaign finance reforms and creating publicly-financed Clean Elections.  We must also make it easier for people to vote instead of allowing Republicans to engage in voter suppression efforts.  And we need to put in place revolutionary Congressional Ethics reforms to stem the tide of corruption in our government.  It is ironic that the longest-serving Republican Senator in history, arch-conservative Ted Stevens of Alaska, has been convicted of seven felonies for corruption and lying just one week before the November elections. 

We Americans are tired of the lying, cheating, deception and dirty-trick campaigning that characterizes our political system.  We should not overlook the dysfunctional impacts of established churches being involved in politics, for the separation of Church and State should be more strongly codified, and tax breaks for religious institutions that engage in political activities should be eliminated so that they are on fair footing with all other political action groups.

The Bottom Line

Awareness is the key.  The bottom line is this:  when our leaders sell the people some story, it should be the ‘biggest picture’ version of the story, not just a one-sided story, or a small-minded aspect of the whole story.  We must present a narrative that acknowledges and addresses the causes of problems, not just their symptoms.  This is true of tax and economic policy;  it is true of the role of war in foreign policy;  and it is true of the role of the government in such arenas as banking regulation, health care, family planning, the war against drugs and the criminalization of sex workers. 

This is also true of religious fundamentalism.  It is desirable to allow people the freedom to believe in whatever religion they desire, but it is undesirable to allow religious fanatics to strongly influence government and to impose their closed-minded dogmatic certitudes upon others.  This is why a wise society establishes the freedom of speech and religion, AND it is why a strong separation between Church and State must be made a distinct feature of democratic self-governance.  These rules concern fairness and true national security, not just narrow ideologies.

The Empirical Nature of Pyrrhic Victories:  When Capital Quashes Labor

In the early years of automobile manufacturing, Henry Ford paid his workers higher wages than were paid in other industries.  One reason he did this was so that his workers would actually be able to afford to buy the products they were manufacturing.  This philosophy is distinctly at odds with many of the capitalist motivations of today, in which influential corporations and investors gain great advantages for capital by ensuring that policies are enacted that limit the wages, benefits, and collective bargaining power of working people. 

Denying workers the benefits of increases in their productivity reduces mass purchasing power and erodes long-term prosperity.  The Center for American Progress has published an analysis called “Understanding Bushonomics: How We Got Into This Mess in the First Place”.  This analysis notes that George W. Bush’s economic policies have the opposite strategy from those of Henry Ford, and as such they have contributed to the current economic mess.  Instead of striving to ensure that workers are reasonably compensated, the Bush administration has worked tirelessly to undermine the prerogatives and job prospects of American workers by embracing flawed policies related to taxation, trade, regulations, immigration, collective bargaining, minimum wages, and offshoring.

Passionate free-market capitalists like Jack Welsh, the former Chairman and CEO of General Electric, argue vehemently that lower taxes on capital are needed.  He says the way to create jobs is to lower taxes on capital.  He gets almost angry in TV discussions about unions.  These issues are complex, but the bottom line is that we must find better ways to create meaningful jobs and fair compensation for work, so that less injustice is perpetrated in the name of prerogatives and high returns for capital and rich people.

This issue brings up thoughts about the Communist Manifesto.  I personally lived through many years of Cold War propaganda and vitriol against communism, so I know that even writing about this issue creates a risk of engendering emotional reactions against rational ideas.  The Communist Manifesto advocated that workers use the power of their large numbers to gain greater benefits in the face of the dominating influence of capital.  With the severe inegalitarian trends that have been taking place in the past few decades in the United States, we should take a fresh look at ideas and policies that could substantially increase economic fairness.

The United States spent trillions of dollars on staunchly opposing communism during the long Cold War.  Oh, evil woe!  Those communists are such a dastardly bunch of … other people!  What, one might wonder in retrospect with regard to the Cold War, was the whole costly, hyper-competitive and destructive episode of anti-communism about?  Why did we propagandize ourselves into such a frenzy of extreme fear of communism?  Think about this honestly.  The Communist Manifesto was written in response to a pure and simple movement:  it opposed capitalist ideologies that give primary prerogatives to capital while basically damning workers for wanting to get a fairer slice of the economic pie. 

Communism was essentially an alternate theory of economic organization that declared, “Workers, Unite!”  There are a lot more workers than fat-cat capitalists, so the best way for people to gain a better balance of power against the abuses of domineering capital is to organize together.  I’ll bet we can find an improved way of organizing our societies than the ways we have been pursuing in the last eight years -- better ways for the greater good of the vast majority of people.

Make no mistake about the pervasive extent of the abuses in the capitalist system.  In the first century of the Industrial Revolution, abuses by Big Businesses grew until they were intolerable.  These abuses included shrewdly unethical monopoly practices, long working hours, low wages, unsafe workplaces, abusive child labor, gender and race discrimination, irresponsible pollution, and environmental degradation.  A revolutionary reform movement was launched in response to muckraking exposés, and a host of Progressive Era initiatives were undertaken in the early twentieth century.  The so-called Square Deal of Theodore Roosevelt, and the New Deal created by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and the great social and environmental advances of the 1960s helped to somewhat mitigate these problems. 

Fierce competition with socialistic ideas forced capitalistic societies to adopt many of the most important tenets of democratic socialism.  You know, like sensible regulations and some basic social safety net plans, including Social Security and Medicare.  Deep underpinnings underlie this epic competition between capitalism and communism.  They are found in the fundamental conflict between the ideals of freedom and equality.  When societies allow complete freedom, they tend to create big and growing inequities of opportunity and wealth and power.  When societies try to enforce greater equality, freedoms must be curtailed to an extent.  As in many things, a smart BALANCE is the best policy.  So we should strive to create well-managed capitalism in which reasonable freedoms are balanced with reasonable provisions for fairness.

Collaborative efforts should be made so that we solve problems by bringing together business leaders, investors, universities, governmental agencies, non-profit organizations, community leaders and our political representatives, and have them work together for the common good.  Cooperation can override excessively ruthless competition and make our societies healthier and more forward-looking.

Countersupporting Conjecture

John Fowles wrote about the concept of “countersupporting” in his thought-provoking book, The Aristos.  His interpretation of the forces that shape history is compelling.  When something is strongly opposed, the action tends to strengthen what it opposes, and opposition galvanizes societies to achieve purposes that it could not otherwise realize.  For this reason, it is organizationally convenient for political parties to create enemies, and to magnify perceptions of the threats they represent, in order to gain power and advance the agendas of special interest groups. 

Threats of communism during the Cold War, and threat of terrorism in the past decade, have been the two principal straw men that politicians have hyped up to exploit public fears and gain narrow advantages.  Using the divisiveness of insecurity and the benefits gained by being able to more easily control people when they are fearful, moneyed interests use deceitful spin to help advance elitist agendas that allow the few to dominate the vast majority.  This is a shrewdly clever strategy, especially for gaining an outlandish share of the spoils;  but is it socially wise?  No! 

As Civilization Falters, What Do We Do Now?

Right now, poor people and the middle class are unable to contribute to helping save the world by investing in the well-being of our society and protections of the environment.  Right now, governments are severely strapped, torn between anti-tax forces and generous largess to giant corporations and investors, on the one hand, and powerful spending drives for economic stimulus, the military, infrastructure investments, and social programs like affordable public education and universal healthcare and Social Security.

Nonetheless, we simply must make more focused investments in our own society.  We must invest in needed infrastructure construction and maintenance, and in good public education and the well-being of the populace and other forms of fairness-oriented and equality-engendering initiatives.  We should make epochal investments in an alternate energy regime to wean ourselves from our addiction to fossil fuels, and to supplant the use of non-renewable fossil fuels that pollute oceans and the atmosphere and alter the climate, and encourage dirty politics and geopolitical strife. 

Sometimes things are even more simple and straight-forward than they seem.  Necessity marvelously clarifies the mind.  Forget hot button social issues.  People, Unite!  Forget all the ideological arguments, the economic fundamentalism, and the capitalist rationalizations.  Ninety percent of the people in the world are unable to do much about investing in making their societies healthier and more sustainable, or in helping reduce poverty and make sure we have social justice.  Governments are likewise constrained, having borrowed themselves beyond fiscal stability.  Regular people and governments are often just the pawns in the game, anyway. 

Let’s focus!  Who could finance, who should finance, the necessary investments in a better world?  Aha!  Yes, the wealthy people could afford to finance it.  Let’s ask them nicely to step forward and contribute more to this vitally important goal.  It just happens to turn out that rich people are demonstrably the Kings, Queens, Knights and Rooks in this chess game, and often the Knaves in our world civilization, to boot! 

Well, this is poetic irony indeed!  Those who can finance bold investments are the VERY SAME PEOPLE who (1) are benefiting the most from the way the system is structured, and (2) have been receiving the biggest portion of irresponsible profit-making and government largess, and (3) have ecological footprints that are huge, and whose outlandish consumerism is practically obscene in the face of the full scope of the world’s problems.  Ah, poetic justice is to come!

What should we do?  There are many possibilities, and all of them center around the people and organizations that are most financially well off under current conditions.  Here’s one approach:  Require every person who has more than $10 million in net worth to invest 10% of their wealth into a Big Fund.  Every nation should join in to do this.  Each country will control its own Big Fund.  The proceeds are to be invested according to priorities determined by special bodies of citizens in each nation, people who are fairly chosen, with half of them representing center-right interests and philosophies, and the other half representing center-left interests and philosophies.  No extremists are to be included.  Simultaneously, assess a 10% sales tax on all weapons and munitions sold every year in every nation, and put these proceeds into an international Compensation Fund, and then apportion this money out to all the Big Funds around the world to pay interest to the rich people on the money they have been required to contribute.  There you have it -- a solution that figuratively takes care of three birds or so with just one stone!  Strategic!

What’s the Matter with Kansas?

A century ago, Kansas was known for its radical politics and the activism of its workers and farmers.  Progressives and populists fought to save America from ruthless industrialists and the plutocratic rule of the wealthy, and they opposed abuses of federal government power.  Today, Kansas has become extreme in its social conservatism and pathologically anti-progressive.  What happened?  This is a remarkable transformation from liberalism to conservatism, and it has taken place in defiance of common sense and contrary to the rational economic self-interest of the people of Kansas.

Today, using shrewd and cynical Karl Rovian strategies, dirty tricks and divisive hot-button wedge issues, conservatives have managed to co-opt progressivism and make Kansas a rather reactionary place.  They have managed to get the common people to embrace inequities and inegalitarianism.  Instead of Kansans being concerned by Big Issues, they have fallen hook, line and sinker for God-fearing dogmas, gun-ownership protectionism, anti-gay prejudices, and misguided false patriotism.  This tale of the folly of Kansans highlights the sad legacy of those who advocate Neoconservatism, which has caused so much harm to broader prosperity by using trickery in the name of narrow special interests.

Rebelling Against the Great Backlash

This tale of Kansas involves a “Great Backlash” that has taken place against the liberalism of the late 1960s.  This backlash mobilizes voters by using emotional wedge issues, and then marries social and religious conservatism to pro-business economic policies.  The backlash is exploited by using the energy of anger, frustration and religious piety to marshal support for an unrelated conservative agenda that promotes the narrow economic ends of the wealthy.  The blindness of conservative rank-and-file workers to the patently manipulative insincerity of conservative leaders is one of the real cultural marvels of this Great Backlash.  Read the provocative book by Thomas Frank, What’s the Matter with Kansas for deeper insights into the cynical hypocrisy of this strategy.  The final sentence is this book states:  “Kansas is ready to lead us singing into the apocalypse.  It invites us all to join in, to lay down our lives so that others might cash out at the top;  to renounce forever our middle-American prosperity in pursuit of a crimson fantasy of middle-American righteousness.”  (Let’s NOT do this!)

We are basically allowing the gospel of religious righteousness and the unfettered power of the rich to triumph over the American Dream, and to devastate the hopes it represents for millions of people.  This is tragic because critical thinking is a key to a better future, while ignorance and blind adherence to ideology, dogma, orthodoxy and evangelical religious doctrines are counterproductive and detrimental to society in many ways.  Having an open mind is adaptive;  having a closed mind is reactive and antagonistic to progress.

I personally believe in moderation and balance.  Somehow many people tend to try to achieve balance by marching from one extreme to the other, and today we have gotten much too far to the right.  Rigidity and blind adherence to fundamentalist beliefs is both risky and dangerous.  Flexibility and open-mindedness to fuller understandings are safer and more sensible attitudes, and they are more propitiously adaptive.  This is why we need calmly reasoned debate to examine tenets of conventional thinking and ideological certitudes. 

Maya Angelou and Nikos Kazantzakis

   “The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart.”     --- Maya Angelou

<The day shone brilliantly.  I felt like Zorba the Greek.  The higher I went, the more my spirit soared and became purged and exalted.  Once again I felt the influence on the soul of pure air, easy breathing, and a vast horizon.  As I climbed, I felt as if I were clambering over ranges of the mind within me, passing from base and petty cares to nobler ones, from the comfortable truths of the plains to precipitous conceptions.  “Here,” said Zorba, “a gentle, sober spirit could cultivate a religious exaltation that would match the stature of men.  Neither a precipitous, superhuman peak, nor a lazy, voluptuous plain, but what is needed, and no more, for the soul to be elevated without losing its human tenderness.”>

                  --- Comprehensive Global Perspective: An Illuminating Worldview

Calling Again for a Paradigm Shift

A revolutionary paradigm shift is needed to a new set of comprehensive understandings.  Rather than following failed Trickle Down economic policies, we need to try Trickle Up strategies.  We should once again establish priorities that are effective in building the middle class, and we should reject policies that undermine it.  We should, for instance, demand that the federal government give stronger support to affordable and well-designed public education, and create public works programs that increase investments in vital infrastructure programs.  In light of the housing crisis, we should find ways to freeze mortgage loan increases that are causing foreclosures on people’s homes, and we should promote democratic ideas like extending unemployment benefits to people who lose their jobs and providing emergency aid to state and local governments because such policies have positive economic ripple effects. 

Ideological blinders allow people to seize on partial truths and deny understandings that are more all-encompassing.  The truth in market fundamentalism is that free markets and free trade take advantage of natural self-interested human motivations to stimulate productivity and hard work.  But market fundamentalism conveniently denies an equally profound truth about human nature:  that greed, when unfettered by sensible controls and transparency and oversight, always leads toward speculative excesses and increased risks of economic inequities and instability, and often to fraud and corruption as well. 

A primary reason that Karl Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto was to renounce the capitalist ideologies that champion prerogatives of capital over the rights of workers.  The fact of the matter is that a fairer balance is needed between the power of capital and the power of labor, and between the socially damaging impulses of stimulated greed and socially propitious impulses of self-interested motivations.

Think about an idea presented in Zeitgeist Addendum:  “Slavery is but the owning of labor, and carries with it the care of laborers.  The European plan of the nineteenth century was that capital should control labor by controlling wages.  This can be done by controlling the money. … The fractional reserve banking policy perpetrated by the Federal Reserve, which has spread in practice to the great majority of banks in the world is, in fact, a system of modern slavery.”  To the extent that there is truth in this idea, it behooves us to investigate it, and think about it, and do something about it!  Watch this film online for deeper insight, and let me know what you think.

The Perversely Contradictory Duplicity of the Washington Consensus

Consider, for a moment, the so-called Washington Consensus.  This in an economic ideology that prescribes the deregulation of financial markets, the lowering of taxes on capital, the reducing of restrictions on imports, the strengthening of private property rights, the privatizing of state-owned enterprises, and the imposition of austere social program budgets.  Often, the Washington Consensus is used in foreign policy to advocate the devaluation of foreign currencies so that the U.S. can import resources at cheaper prices.  It also often contributes to serious environmental degradation.  The Washington Consensus is not actually a consensus of broad-based thinking, but is instead a narrow laissez-faire ideology that excludes fuller truths and denies wiser understandings. 

The Washington Consensus is an expedient debt-manipulative tool of the dominant forces of capitalism.  It unfortunately ignores deeper economic truths and critically important social and ecological truths.  It ignores the fact that everything is interconnected and interdependent, and that we can no longer pretend that it is an expendable luxury to take environmental concerns into account in our planning.  It is a simple fact that the fundamental basis of the economic well-being of our societies is a healthy environment and ecosystems that are not severely compromised or damaged.  We must make overarching commitments to ensuring that ecosystems are able to continue to provide the services we get from them every year, indefinitely.  The Earth Manifesto opus, Comprehensive Global Perspective, explores this topic in extensive detail.  Check it out!  

Market fundamentalism abhors government interference in the marketplace and places the highest value on maximizing private profits.  But this ideology conveniently champions initiatives that are intended to increase corporate subsidies, reduce business taxes, undermine the collective bargaining power of workers, mobilize the military to protect corporate interests, and generally allow costs and risks to be externalized onto society.  Market fundamentalism appears to be an almost evangelical embrace of narrow ideologies over expansive visions that emphasize the common good.

The ideological foundations of free-market economics and a consumer society are being repudiated by recent developments during the current economic crisis.  Financial elites seem to be out of touch, incompetent, and blinded by greed and power.  They seem to be intellectually and morally bankrupt.  The blatant corruption of our political system is facilitated by Big Money, with corporations and elites wielding large influence over both Democratic and Republican politicians. 

Living in a moment of rapidly changing history, it is hard for us to fathom the transformations that are underway.  Most people are in shock and denial.  We cling to old structures of meaning and outdated ideas that describe them.  We do not yet realize that many of our conventional economic and political ideas are being altered, right before our eyes.  As our reality is altered, we grasp, on a subliminal level, that laissez-faire capitalism is changing, but we are unclear where these trends are leading.  We will soon return to basics, according to journalist Chris Hedges:  to jobs and food and health care and affordable places to live.  We will discard the old ideas that are still used by the Democratic and Republican parties, and learn to speak in a fiery language of populism and long-term common sense fairness. 

Chris Hedges does not hedge.  He states:  “We will turn with a vengeance on the 1 percent that has amassed more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined.  The populist conflict will see a battle between a frightened and dispossessed majority and the corporations and elites who seek to ruthlessly cling to power and wealth.”  Stay tuned!

Many Americans have become disengaged over the years.  This crisis is forcing them to pay more attention because it directly affects our economic future and ability to put food on the table.  Outrage will lead to more involvement.  This outrage will fuel powerful social movements that may tend either to right-wing populism or to progressive populism.  “The question is not whether we will build state socialism.  This process has already begun.  The only question left is whether this will be right-wing or left-wing socialism.”  The question is also whether authoritarian control of our nation will assert itself, or whether we will be able to preserve the civil liberties and democratic fair-mindedness of our great republic.  Right-wing populism of the Christian Right is, according to Chris Hedges, the most dangerous mass movement in American history.  It must be emasculated!

After the wrenching  political losses by Republicans in the imminent November 4 election, this hijacked political party should be in for a rough period of soul searching.  Analysts and some party activists say that losing the White House will highlight the pitfalls of relying too heavily on a narrow foundation of conservative Christians whose support has become crucial to the electoral success of Republican politicians.  What about moderates?  How about those who feel that they did not leave the Republican Party, it left them!

P. Oui’s Big Adventure

A gripping drama unfolds in the film The Wave by director Dennis Gansel.  The film is based on a real-life high school classroom experiment in which students went from being normal undisciplined and somewhat cynical teenagers to being a cohesive group that accepted authoritarian order, discipline and conformity, all within the span of a single week’s time.  The film is a provocative revelation of the fact that human behaviors can be easily and quickly manipulated.  We must try to structure our societies so that our collective behaviors are manipulated in positive ways, with liberty and justice for all, rather than allowing shadow elements to drive us ruthlessly toward ruin and mean-spirited extremes of unfairness and greed.

“One is not free from the laws of nature, not free from the motivations of instinct, not free from the influences of social conditioning.  Only knowledge is freedom;  by imagination and reason we turn experience into foresight.” 

                                        --- Baruch Spinoza, a Dutch philosopher of Portuguese Jewish origin               

Money Makes the World Go Around, that Clinking, Clanking Sound

“Only the small secrets need to be protected. 

   The big ones are kept secret by public incredulity.”   

                                                                               --- Marshall McLuhan

Money in the form of coin and paper currency came into being to facilitate trade.  Money initially represented value because it had intrinsic value, like gold coins.  Later, money was supported by underlying assets like deposits in banks or implicit guarantees by governments to cover obligations through the power of taxation.  Money has been a convenient form of exchange that was adopted and guaranteed as “legal tender” even when it became divorced from actual value and began to be created as debt. 

Money created as debt?  What?!  Check out the simply-explained but mind-warping film Money as Debt on the Internet.  It is difficult to comprehend the complexities of how the global monetary system really works, but this film gives a compelling analysis.  It discusses in basic terms the nature of the fractional reserve banking system that was created to expand the availability of credit and fuel economic activities.  This system requires central banks to protect against the dangers of regional financial panics and insolvency risks.  Laws allow individual banks in the U.S. to loan out 9 times more money than they have in deposits.  This is a clever provision for making profits that is called ‘leveraging’.  When depositors lose confidence in a bank, the risk of a “run on the bank” by depositors who want to take their money out can quickly make the bank insolvent.

The film Money as Debt casts an astonishing, simple and perplexing light onto the entire international banking system, which is fundamentally intertwined with debt, interest, leveraging, expanding money supply, taxation, inflation and an escalating utilization of resources.  This system is in some ways like a giant pyramid scheme, and the system itself may ultimately prove to be unsustainable.  This explains why periodic episodes take place in which the system becomes vulnerable to crises of confidence and increased risks of banking panics and bailouts.

The film Money as Debt provides provocative insights into how the banking system and our societies could actually be made sustainable, so that we would really be living within the limits of renewable resources.  We could have a stable money supply, and even a non-profit government banking system that is fair, sound, value-based, non-inflationary, and independent of usury and private profiteering.  Why not?! 

Reforms to the monetary system, like real reforms to the electoral system, run into powerful resistance in the form of established interests that are vested in keeping things the way they are.  Wall Street moguls, central banks, and investors who profit from the current system strongly oppose changes to this system.  They even oppose the shining of light on this whole “secret”, and on ‘thinking outside the box’ in general.  Until a crisis arises!  Now is the time to better understand;  now is the time to make positive and progressive far-sighted changes!

Change will come, after sufficient calamity, sometime in the future.  In the interim we will keep tweaking the system to balance public risk against the merits of private profit-making.  In any case, we can probably keep the monetary system going much longer than other unsustainable practices -- like, for instance, the wasteful uses of fossil fuels in the face of Peak Oil and the eventual inevitable declines in oil production.  Nonetheless, we should embrace revolutionary reforms in this arena.  Keep on tweaking! 

During the harsh depression of the 1930s, sensible reforms like the Glass-Steagall Act were implemented to keep the U.S. banking system safe.  These reforms were undone by anti-regulatory officials in 1999, and we are currently paying extremely high costs for the consequences of this foolishness.  Now is the time to make new reforms, no matter how strong the resistance is by shrewd and conniving bankers!  Let’s re-enact the Glass-Steagall Act, and take steps to deal with the risky too-big-to-fail phenomenon.

Tectonic shifts are taking place in managed capitalism as the reality of the risks of unfettered speculative activities becomes obvious, and as the need for wiser rules and better enforcement becomes clear.  Someday the issue of the “carrying capacity” of our Home Planet for our species will be thrown into stark relief.  Someday we will more clearly understand the folly of the unsustainable growth in human numbers that underlies all these problems.  At such a time, humanity will be forced to make difficult decisions instead of figuratively sweeping such challenges under the carpet. 

Someday we will be forced to reconsider our cherished beliefs that encourage us to reproduce without planning, and without acknowledging ecological limits.  We will also be forced to realize that our compulsion for endless consumption cannot be sustained without tragic consequences.  We are courting catastrophe for ourselves by blindly adhering to marketing and ideological and even Biblical strictures that say we must religiously stick to the advice that God allegedly gave humankind:  “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it:  and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” 

Enough of subduing -- when does the wise and sensible stewardship begin?!

The Dawning of the Age of Aquarius?

Invocation:  Lord, may these words find a receptive audience of people who truly care about fairness, peace, intelligent planning, good governance, ecological sanity, and sustainable human activities.  May this document be a Progressive Game-Changer!

Here is an interlude of lyrics from the rock musical Hair, which opened on Broadway in New York in April 1968:

music_noteWhen the moon is in the Seventh House

       and Jupiter aligns with Mars

       Then peace will guide the planets

        And love will steer the stars

     This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius

     The Age of Aquarius

      Aquarius! Aquarius!

      Harmony and understanding

      Sympathy and trust abounding

      No more falsehoods or derisions

      Golden living dreams of visions

      Mystic crystal revelation

      And the mind's true liberation

      Aquarius! Aquarius!  music_note

In the decade of the 1960s, a protest song cried out that we are on the “Eve of Destruction”.  Not long afterwards, a song reacted by proclaiming that we are on the “Dawn of Correction”.  Today’s economic crisis presents us with a great potential for a new and real dawn of correction.  We are on the threshold of a paradigm shift, a tipping point, a dangerous opportunity in which we can choose to make positive growth choices rather than negative fear choices.  We can choose to champion intelligent ideas that are focused on progressive change, or continue to allow anti-progressive demagogues to implement their narrowly-focused agendas.

One of our biggest problems today is that we are allowing subprime ideas to dominate our politics and our national decision-making.  Vacuous and defensive certitude in these subprime ideas, and stubborn loyalty to them by self-interested ‘yes-men’, are seriously damaging the world.  In the mean time, opportunists who pull the levers behind the curtain continue to be in control.  The problem isn’t necessarily that we are letting sub-par people rule, but that our political system encourages the on-going ascendancy of an establishment and an insidious war on fair-minded good ideas.  Our political and economic systems are focused on achieving short-term-oriented goals instead of honorable and honest objectives designed to make our world fairer, more just, more peaceable and more sustainable. 

An odd force of inertia and vested interest resistance spins us onward with a powerful impetus, obstructing progressive adaptation to change.  Greed and pride too often masquerade as moral righteousness and economic wisdom.  Hate often masquerades as love.  We need to restructure our societies to marginalize retrogressive forces and extremist dogmas and bad ideas and failing ideologies.  We must refuse to allow them to prevail.  The smartest guys in the room are not automatically on the side of virtue, honesty, fairness and smart decision-making, and often they oppose such socially desirable traits.

It has come to pass that our nation is channeling the Seven Fundamental Characteristics of the Decay of Civilization, as if they were some virtuous Holy Grail (see these characteristics enumerated in Chapter #21 of Comprehensive Global Perspective).  The historian Arnold J. Toynbee ominously noted: "Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder."  Let’s act to save ourselves!

Speaking of Salvation

Think of how the rest of the world regards us.  One third of Americans adhere to conservative religious fundamentalism that is the most anti-progressive in all of the Western World.  It is likely that if a reincarnation of Jesus Christ walked amongst us right now, preaching love and tolerance and peace and turn-the-other-cheek forgiveness and charity toward the poor, such a Lord would be ignored or ridiculed, or slandered, shouted down, despised, persecuted, made homeless or even killed.  If he were killed, it would probably be by an ignorant, hateful, gun-toting religious fanatic who expected Jesus to come in a different form.  A reborn prophet simply will not be announced by trumpeting horns, a brightly shining star, or a trio of wise men.

Speaking of Jesus Christ, it is valuable to think about the idea of “sublapsarianism”.  This is a dogma that explains that a Supreme Being created humanity and allowed a Fall in the Garden of Eden, and elected some people to be saved, and provides hope of salvation for those few who are true believers in this story.  This type of myth was pervasive long before the Bible was written, and in many different cultures. 

The End Times Rapture, you say? -- Ha!  This is fiction, folks!  It turns out that the Jews will not, after all, be forced to either convert to be saved or be burned to death.  “Nice try” by dominion-oriented fundamentalists on these prophecies that exploit archaic fears and hopes for a ‘better afterlife’ for blind believers!

Dr. Nicky Stiletto recently said, with her cute stuffed cow and wonderful sidekick dog running in circles around her:  “What’s up about that?  The psychologist in each of us wants to know!”  As Voltaire once wrote:  “The progress of rivers to the ocean is not so rapid as that of man to error.”  He also noted:  “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.”  For deeper understanding of issues related to religion and true spirituality, see Revelations of a Modern Prophet in the Earth Manifesto.

Knowledgeable scientists tell us that the Earth will continue to revolve around the Sun for billions of years.  The End Times that are relevant to us will be ones that eventually involve the extinction of our own species, most likely as a result of our own myopic actions.  We will no doubt do great harm to the Earth and its beautiful ecosystems and all the other plants and animals that we share the planet with, before our eventual demise.  When the rapid increases in the number of human beings on Earth is considered, and our unbridled competitive urges, and our aspirations for domination, and our ethnocentric foolishnesses, and the “murder traits” that John Steinbeck talks about in his Log from the Sea of Cortez, it seems likely that these hard times may come sooner rather than later.  They will probably come relatively soon from the frame of reference of the long sweep of geological time. 

More than 99% of all species ever in existence have gone extinct.  The fossil record indicates that the average species exists for about 5 million years before it goes extinct.  Let’s see, our species Homo sapiens has been in existence for maybe 150,000 years.  How will we make it to 5 million years?  Or even another 1,000 years?

“Our fate is in our own hands to a large extent;  no other species has ever had such potential control.  If we want our species to survive another century, another millennium, another ten thousand years, another one hundred thousand years, or a million years -- mere blips in geological time -- we must begin to work together, rather than to ruthlessly compete and aggressively conflict.  Intelligent long-term-oriented policy-making and progressive-minded ideas must gain ascendancy over shortsighted neoconservatism and short-term oriented ideologies.”

                                                             --- Comprehensive Global Perspective – An Illuminating Worldview

We sure could improve our prospects by adopting a Bill of Rights for Future Generations and a good portion of the Progressive Agenda for a More Sane Humanity.  See links in the Earth Manifesto for these and other provocative ideas.

In concluding my thoughts about salvation, I recommend Bill Maher’s funny, irreverent and oddly frightening film, Religulous.  The film gives audiences surprising insights into the bizarre nature of the cherished beliefs of some crazy religious fundamentalists.  The “Creation Museum” in Petersburg Kentucky, which isn’t all that far from Hannibal, actually shows dinosaurs and human beings playing together, glossing over some 65 million years of geological history in service of its ridiculous dogma.  Gosh, no need to let scientific facts get in the way of one’s cherished beliefs, I guess!  Religulous also exposes the “Holy Land Experience” in Orlando, Florida.  People just seem to LOVE to see fictions reenacted like the bloody crucifixion of Jesus Christ!  Let the ‘Truth’ go marching on, hallelujah!  Does anyone have any spare time for more real truths?

Visceral Connections:  The Intimate Impacts of Creative Destruction

Capitalist economic systems sometimes facilitate a process that economist Joseph Schumpeter called “creative destruction”.  By allowing businesses to fail that cannot compete successfully, a winnowing-out takes place that ensures a kind of survival of the fittest.  This can have positive effects by letting innovative forces transform markets, products, equipment, methods and organizations.  This makes capitalism quite adaptive, when the competition is fair.  But it can be extremely maladaptive when vested interest groups use unfair tactics like monopoly practices, or when they take advantage of the power of their size to quash competition or corrupt government to get special advantages, privileges, and wrongheaded subsidies. 

Creative destruction can have salubrious effects on production processes, product quality and consumer prices, but even then it can also wreak terrible dislocations and hardships on workers, investors, and the environment.  To manage change well, individuals, businesses and governments must be more flexible and forward thinking. 

When the government is forced to bail out organizations that are “too big to fail”, this thwarts the market process.  Taxpayers should be generously rewarded for coming to the rescue of those who indulged in speculative risks and other types of “moral hazard”.  This fair reward to taxpayers should come in the form of significant stakes in the profits that the bailed out entities make in the years after they recover.  It is wrong that we have risked national bankruptcy to save banks and other financial institutions, only to have them rebound to make big profits at a time when the speculative gambits they have taken are wreaking havoc on society as a whole.

Creative destruction often merges with ruthlessly exploitive aspects of capitalism, as explained by Naomi Klein in her book Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.  As a result, our overall standard of living can be at risk, as well as our financial, physical and ecological well-being.  Even our liberties and basic human rights are at stake.  It is my contention that we can take control of these dysfunctional aspects of capitalism by understanding them better, and that we should accordingly reform the system to more providentially protect people!

The Trojan Horse

Virgil, the Roman epic poet of antiquity, wrote the famous epic poem the Aeneid a few decades before the birth of Christ.  This poem tells the legendary story of Aeneas, a Trojan hero who made a journey to present-day Italy after the fall of Troy, and is said to have founded the city of Rome.  The Trojan War had pitted the Greeks against the people of the walled city of Troy.  The reason for the war?  Three of the goddesses of the Greek pantheon had quarreled bitterly over a golden apple inscribed with the words, “to the fairest”.  Zeus, the supreme ruler of the Greek heavens, told Aphrodite and Athena and Hera that a prince of Troy named Paris would decide who was the fairest of them all.  Paris famously chose Aphrodite in the ‘Judgment of Paris’.  This Greek goddess of love and beauty had promised that she would reward Paris for his favoritism with the love of the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen of Sparta. 

As luck would have it, Helen was already the wife of a wealthy and powerful king of Sparta named Menelaus.  When Paris met the beautiful Helen, he was smitten, so he abducted her and fled to Troy with her.  A thousand ships were sent to get the fair-faced Helen back, and a terrible ten-year siege of Troy ensued.  “Beauty, terrible beauty!” intones Homer in the Iliad.  (They always blame the woman, right Eve?)

Finally, after many futile years of fighting, Odysseus, the Greek king of Ithaca, hatched a clever ruse.  A giant hollow wooden horse was constructed and left for the people of Troy, and then the Greeks pretended to leave the scene of the battle.  The Trojans dragged the wooden horse into the city and celebrated the end of the war.  During the night, Odysseus and fifty warriors emerged from the wooden horse and threw open the city gates to the Greeks, and every one of the Trojans was massacred.

This classic strategic military deception gave rise to the modern adage, “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.”  Those who profess to offer to do good often have hidden motives.  Take, for instance, the United States in its support for the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization.  Read on!

The Sophisticated Trojan Horse of Modern America: Strategies of Empire Disguised as Ideals of Free Trade and Economic Development

Development can be beneficial, if it is managed carefully and intelligently.  When it fails to recognize larger impacts on resources and ecosystems, development can be harmful.  The foreign policies of the United States sometimes advance ‘economic shock doctrines’ that involve ideologically-driven initiatives such as those of the Washington Consensus.  This policy cocktail was developed as an economic and political prescription for developing countries.  It consists of a set of market fundamentalist policies that have become tarnished for their exploitive use of debt, their unfairness, and their frequently harmful and destabilizing impacts. 

The Washington Consensus prescribes the opening and deregulation of financial markets along with reductions in import restrictions and the privatization of industry in general.  Often, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and the Treasury Department have used Washington Consensus proposals to browbeat other nations into adopting budgetary austerity that hurts their people by exacerbating unemployment, poverty, inflation, national debt obligations, and social instability.  Goals of sustainable long-term development have been harmed by these plans.  Some say that this so-called Consensus contributes to a “regulatory race to the bottom”, and even eventually to the necessity for costly government bailouts.  IMF policies have, in the past, sometimes made economic downturns worse, and even helped precipitate them. 

Many countries in Latin American have recognized the insidious failings of IMF policies, and consequently stopped borrowing from the Fund.  Fairer foreign policies, in my opinion, would make for much better international relations!

An Even Bigger Perspective

The fundamental existential questions of philosophy are:

  What is the ultimate nature of the Universe?

    What is real?

     What is the meaning of life?

      Who are we? 

       Do we have free will?

        Why are we here?

         What should we do with our lives?

          How can we cultivate higher purposes that serve society without being hijacked by materialistic

            pursuits, destructive activities and foolishly shortsighted behaviors?

Philosophy and science have certain unsuspected affinities.  For instance, two categories of scientific instruments have allowed humankind to see the Universe with dramatically clearer perspective:  telescopes and microscopes.  These instruments have given us the ability to more clearly understand the universe and our place within it.  Telescopes gave us an astonishingly expansive insight into the scope and nature of space and time.  An early telescope was invented or significantly improved by Galileo, and soon thereafter the earth-centric view of our solar system gave way to the more accurate knowledge that Earth revolves around the Sun.  Later it became apparent that the Sun is only one of billions of other suns in our Milky Way galaxy.  These clearer ideas about the universe allowed us to see the stars in the ‘firmament’ as entire solar systems and other galaxies, rather than just points of light in God’s heaven or mythical constellations in astrology.

Microscopes, on the other hand, gave us the ability to see extremely small views of matter.  They gave us insights into the causes of diseases and the structure of matter and cellular life.  These discoveries led to remarkable advances in physics, medicine and technological innovation.  Since light consists of photons that are larger in size than electrons, scientists eventually discovered that by bombarding something with electrons, an electron microscope could detect images with significantly greater magnification and resolution than a microscope that relies on reflected light.  Electron microscopes work on a principle similar to the greater sensitivity to detail of finger tips in feeling an object rather than elbows, as one might well imagine. 

The applications of instruments such as these, and of others like spectrometers, are far-reaching.  They have expanded our understandings and led to great scientific advances and deeper introspections into fundamental questions of science and philosophy.  Nonetheless, denial and ignorance and anti-scientific myths have curiously gone marching on, with stubborn insistence, as if knowledge is not better than ignorance for our future well-being.  I feel strongly that knowledge, not ignorance, is the key to hope of a better life on Earth.  Creationists, repent!

I recommend viewing the two-hour Internet film, Zeitgeist Addendum.  (The original Zeitgeist Movie is also compelling:  see Reflections on War in the Earth Manifesto for a discussion of it.)  The Zeitgeist Addendum deals with a host of issues that are explored in this manifesto, such as the poorly-understood role of banks and the Federal Reserve in monetary policy, debt and money creation, and the dangers of using economic hit men and “jackals” and military aggression in foreign policy, and the folly of allowing a ‘corporatocracy’ to control our government, and the wrongheadedness of the ‘war on terror’ and the like.  Check it out!

In conclusion, clearly-conceived ideas and understandings can lead us to a fairer and more intelligently realized future.  My hope is that the ideas in the Earth Manifesto contribute greatly to such a better future!


          Dr. Tiffany B. Twain